Conflict resolution are two words that very much need to be taken into consideration in today’s political, social and economic climate. I would like to add a third word, which is honourable. When we are taking into consideration the bigger picture, the benefit to the whole, changing our perception to a more holistic one, then we are on the path towards honourable conflict resolution. Where each part matters, where each part has value, much akin to the animist’s view of the world wherein all of nature has inherent value, this worldview can help us to provide the solutions necessary in order to solve some deep problems. Too often it is easy to criticise; we often forget we must also offer solutions.
I spoke to my apprentices a couple of weeks ago at one of our Druid College sessions about ethical leadership. Leading on from that discussion, in the next weekend we will be exploring ways in which groups with differing opinions, mindsets, politics and worldviews can still operate co-operatively. Many aspects found within permaculture are a brilliant source of inspiration. Druidry is all about relationship, and relationship is also at the heart of permaculture. Nature works co-operatively in order to provide a functioning homeostasis. Yes, there are brief flashes of competition here and there, but for the most part every aspect of nature works with others in order to survive.
If we look at mycorrhizal fungi, those tiny filaments of connecting threads that run underground, connecting tree to tree in a forest, connecting many other plants and fungi, we see in a microcosm paradigm that everything is connected. Furthermore, there have been studies wherein it was found that through these connecting threads plants could help other plants, working co-operatively instead of competing for the best space and light. Trees that were in the sunlight could and did collect nourishment and nutrients that were then sent to trees in the shade that had little or no access. They did not even have to be of the same species: trees and other plants simply helped each other.
Unless we are hermits, we will have interaction with other humans. What we need to relearn is how to do so in a beneficial way, without falling into modern day society’s obsession with competition. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there. So how do we work with people whose perception is so different from our own? How can be bridge the gap, find the language, work honourably and sustainably with one another?
If we are working with a group, and that group begins falling apart, with bickering or power struggles, we need to look closely at how that situation came about in the first place. If we are in the role of leader, then it is up to us to communicate with all involved, and find out just what is going on, getting different perspectives on the matter. We then need to look at the situation from a different perspective altogether, which is where permaculture can help us to widen our perception further, outside the human element, allowing the authority to come from nature.
If there is a problem in a garden, a proponent of permaculture would look deeply into the issue. If there is a mould or damaging/invading insect in the garden, the solution would not be to just tackle the mould or the bug. Instead, one would look at the conditions that allowed such a thing to occur, looking deeply into the issue without any bias. Only then can more than one solution be offered, and perhaps one that is more effective.
If we relate that to group dynamics, we could be more successful in addressing more than one problem at a time. If there is conflict within the group, we could solve a single problem by kicking out the ones who are perceived to be creating the conflict. But then another person might take their place, doing the same amount of damage. If we took a permaculture perspective, we would also look at the reasons why such a thing was allowed to occur, and the reasons could be many and varied. We may find that if we address the climate and conditions that created the tension in the first place, it would all stop and no one would have to leave. Only when all issues are addressed will there be any honourable conflict resolution.
As a Druid, I take my inspiration and my authority from the nature. Nature is my teacher. Through nature I learn how to function in my environment, and how to take the lessons that I have learned in my own locality and apply or adapt them to any location that I find myself in. Talking to the spirits of place, the ancestors, the gods, I can get a feel for what it is that I owe in return for what I have been given. I can work towards balanced, reciprocal, sustainable and inspired relationship.
That doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict. But when there is, we can see them as challenges and opportunities, to learn more about ourselves and about the world. We don’t have to have everyone like us, and we don’t have to like everyone, but we can learn how to operate in a society where we want or desire very different things. And where honourable conflict resolution is unobtainable, perhaps through continuing abuse or damage to our own well-being in any shape or form, we can learn to extract ourselves from the situation and find a new path forward. Much as when I am walking in the forest, if I see a patch of nettles, I will not walk through them trying to find a relationship with them; I can honour them for what they are, but still avoid them. Some things simply will not work together, no matter how much we would like them to. Acceptance is a large part of permaculture, and of peace of mind.
When we are working in such a manner, we will find peace not only for ourselves, but hopefully for others as well. Justice only arises when we have found some semblance of peace, in ourselves and in the world. Working holistically, honourably, in a desire to be utterly integrated then we truly walk the path of the Druid.
For more on finding peace in a world of unrest, you can buy my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World from Amazon. All royalties from books sales go to charity: The Orangutan Appeal UK and The Woodland Trust.
Joanna Van der Hoeven
Writer, Poet and Singer
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.