From Agonism to Resonance in Creative Conflict Engagement

There is much antagonism in the world. Is the antidote consensus? Or is it rather effective difference? I’d suggest, after working in some of the hottest hotspots in the world, it is the latter. Not only can we not get rid of difference, we shouldn’t try.  Life would end without it. There is nothing created, nor nothing sustained without a bit of creative tension, or friction, or growth.

So how do we do difference better? That’s the job of leaning in to conflict. That’s the effort to forge resonance out of antagonism. I view resonance in creative conflict engagement as a harmonious fusion of different horizons brought forth through a process of deep dialogue and reflexivity. Resonance occurs when disputants incorporate their different subjective frames into a shared intersubjective definition of their core narratives, meaning and motives. I define resonance as a state of “emotional vibration” brought forth through empathy. And yet, there is a transition phase that is neither antagonism nor resonance that I believe makes all the difference. That is the phase in which fundamental, even radical difference – or the agonism of worthy opposition –  is articulated and lessons are mined from it.

Let me switch now to the reality and metaphor of dance.

When I dance, I feel alive in the moment. What was before and what comes after are quieted by the focus on now. My body, moving to sound, rhythm and with other bodies, has a language. It is proprioceptive, expressive and it is receptive. Movement includes friction – energy opposing energy to create new energy – against gravity, against the floor, against other bodies perhaps. And most of all, it’s about resonance. The frequency of my body that moves in synchrony– even if  juxtaposed –  to external frequencies of sound, rhythm, movement. In short, it is a embodied, sensual resonance.

This sensual resonance can be a metaphor for creative conflict engagement. When the friction of conflict goes right, creative imagination is unleashed. My ideas, aspirations, fears, perceptions, experiences, bounce off someone else’s and become generative. In much conflict engagement, this friction is often negative, with resistance, hurt and fear attending. But what if instead, we stopped the normal flight/fight response to this friction and asked: Why am I so moved? What is going on within me that makes this encounter – this rubbing together of myself and another –  so troubling, powerful, moving? How can I take this internal energy and guide it creatively? That is, what within this antagonism that is closing me down, could instead be opening and catalyzing? How can I take this moment of conflict encounter and engage it to figure out what matters to me so deeply and why, why, why?

When conflict gives us access to our own Whys and each other’s, it sets the stage for resonance within and between us. These Whys provide coherence, intention and choice making, in to the space between conflict stimulus and response.

Ultimately, the resonance that can emerge from conflict is a reflexive reverberation of Self to Self through Other. What Martin Buber calls the I and Thou encounter. What Mary Parker Follett calls the “Circular Behavior” of conflict encounter. We illustrate it here:

Happy conflict dancing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *