A cracked cup repaired by the kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by highlighting the cracks with gold. It's a metaphor for how the repair can make an object (or relationship) beautiful through embracing the repair process, rather than trying to erase it.

Generative Conflict as a Practice of Liberation

I recently did something that felt risky and a bit scary – I called in a friend. And though White Supremacy Culture showed up (as it always does), I’m grateful that we managed to move into practices of liberation, together.

We were in conversation last week and she was trying to be helpful by giving me advice, but the advice didn’t resonate with me. Intellectually, it made total sense, but somatically, my body was telling me “NO.” I found myself trying to justify my decision to her, and when I saw her facial expression (which felt a bit like a smirk), I felt judged. The story I was telling myself was that she thinks I’m being silly for not following her advice, and it had the energy of One Right Way written all over it.

I knew the advice was coming from a place of love, so I actually tried to follow her advice. However, every time I attempted to take action, I felt blocked. Finally, after multiple attempts, I decided to honor what my intuition was telling me and respect my No, but I was still feeling bothered over the whole interaction.

Internally, I debated a lot – should I say something? Should I not? Can I just let it go, in order to “preserve the peace”? I was experiencing a total Fear of Open Conflict, and elevating her Right to Comfort, particularly as a white woman. I also was bracing for Defensiveness and Denial, almost expecting to be gaslit. Not because I would necessarily expect it from her, but because I’ve experienced it so many other times in my life.

THIS is the internal stress that so too many Black, Indigenous, People of Color face when raising microaggressions in relationships. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. And it’s so hard to talk about because the action is so subtle, it’s easy for the other person to deny and gaslight us.

In fact, the majority of the time, these conversations don’t go well. Reactions I typically get include, but are not limited to: defensiveness, denial, justification, and/or getting emotional or making it about themselves so that I end up feeling the responsibility of taking care of the person who caused me harm. The decision to say something becomes an internal debate, because bringing up the microaggression could cause more exhaustion and further harm, and so raising it actually is quite risky.

If my friend had reacted this way, I would have probably given up. There would have deepened the invisible wound in the relationship, and I would probably never bring anything like this up to her again. A gradual distance would have slowly widened. She would have felt me pulling away, and probably wondered why.

So when I finally gathered my courage to say something, I was so glad that she knew what I was talking about and immediately acknowledged what happened. She shared her intention to support me, but acknowledged impact, and also named where she still had work to do. Specifically, she said that just because something worked for her, doesn’t mean that it would work for me. She also owned that she knew she had impacted me in the moment and didn’t acknowledge it in the moment.

Y’all. I felt so seen and validated. I could feel the micro rupture in our relationship healing. If anything, I have more confidence in our relationship and our ability to weather the inevitable storms of conflict that will come our way. I feel more trust. It felt like generative conflict.

I’m sharing this story because if we want to break free of white supremacy culture and create cultures of regeneration and liberation, we must build the capacity for navigating conflict in generative ways, but too often we don’t get to see this in action. Being in strong relationships and community requires that we navigate conflict well.

So my ask to you is to think of a relationship that you value and want to deepen, and consider sending this blog post. In a moment of calm, when tensions are not high, ask each other the following questions:

How do we want to:

  • courageously practice naming the rupture when it happens?
  • practice moving through our discomfort so we can show up courageously, in both giving and receiving feedback?
  • listen for what is true in what is shared back with us, rather than falling into defensiveness and denial?
  • take accountability and thus practice restoration after the rupture in our relationships?
  • honor our own and each other’s boundaries in navigating conflict?
  • offer ourselves and each other grace in the process?

And lastly, what do we need from ourselves and each other in order to practice the above? As we practice together, I hope this will allow us to build stronger relationships and communities that we need in order to shift our world to a culture of liberation.

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