Recently a friend said to me, “Quaker meetings attract conflict-averse people. Quakers are afraid of conflict.
The short reply is, no, Quakers are not afraid of conflict. In fact, there is quite a bit of conflict when a new, major meeting minute (recording of a decision by the meeting as a whole) is being considered; and the conflict can last literally for years, because discernment on these major minutes can take years.
However, conflict does not equal confrontation. In my experience, most Friends are not necessarily “conflict averse,” but are most definitely “confrontation averse.” We tend to seek ways to prevent conflict or to resolve issues quickly so that conflict doesn’t degenerate into confrontational charges and counter-charges. The latter doesn’t get a conflict any closer to being resolved; it escalates a source of
disagreement to an argument that is unlikely to lead to any of those involved feeling any resolution– regardless of the outcome. It’s the nature of Quaker meetings to try to resolve conflict instead of allowing confrontation.
My friend observed a pattern in her meeting: If A has a grievance and raises it with Elders and Oversight, they don’t leave the statement of the grievance as A has stated it. They edit it so that specific individuals against whom there is a complaint are not identified by name, even if they were identified in the original complaint.
But in my home meeting, a problem brought by one person (A) about another, specific, person (B) is dealt with privately. Overseers might speak privately to (B) about the problem or they might arrange a clearness meeting for both to attend. Most of these issues are resolved privately between (A) and (B) with mediation by Overseers.
If a problem concerns the meeting community as a whole, Overseers encourage (A) and (B) to bring it to a Clearness Committee. This step then acknowledges the issue, because the committee must be appointed by Nominating Committee and approved at Meeting for Business. The process is there, and it is followed carefully.
Another “conflict avoidance” practice: In describing conflicts, conflict-averse people tend to use the neuter and the passive rather than the personal and the active. Thus “A and B have refused to attend a Meeting for Clearness” is rendered as “it has not been possible to arrange a Meeting for Clearness”. At best this is a lack of transparency. At worst I have known it to result in outright lies.
My experience, is that this is basic Quaker process. The intention is to avoid blame, which tends not to produce progress but rather makes the blamed person dig in heels deeper, so to speak. Confrontation tends to lead to entrenchment; mediation tends to lead at least to talking over the issue which gives hope of resolving it.
If confrontation is necessary, which it is in some situations, the best strategy is for (A) to confront (B) in the presence of a disinterested witness. The witness is vital, because someone with no bone to pick will be able to look at the exchange and verify who said what without rancor.
But in Quaker meetings, confrontation is avoided at all costs, as, no doubt, we all know.