“True community has little to do with mutual compatibility.” ~ Henri Nouwen

A friend posted this Nouwen quote on Twitter Monday, the timing of his nugget impeccable. For the past several days I’ve been an internet lurker to a heated disagreement between people who claim to share the same faith. I’m not making a jab at faith or religion here; I’ve seen people mismanage conflict in all sorts of circles. It certainly isn’t limited to faith associations.

The disagreement isn’t over anything life or death; I believe it’s simply a series of knee-jerk reactions to differences in perspective and experience. It makes me think of three witnesses to the same car accident all with different accounts of what “really happened.” Is one more right than the other, or is it merely a difference in vantage point?

I hate conflict. In my immediate family I’m akin to a bulldog with her teeth wrapped around a bone, unable to let go until the conflict is resolved. I can’t stand any lingering tension. Outside my family, I’m more of a turtle, preferring to avoid conflict, even if it means avoiding the people involved. I don’t recommend either the bulldog or turtle approach; both can make things much, much worse.

This quote by Nouwen cost me a couple hours (ok, days) of pondering: Have I been trying to build community by constantly preserving the status quo? In so doing, am I limiting the potential for personal and communal growth, growth that can only come from the occasional and temporary tensions arising in normal relationships? I believe that our conflicts, if handled with honor and respect, can actually create cohesion in a community. Without occasional tension, there isn’t much glue to keep us all sticking together or impetus to keep us growing.

What relationship exists between conflict, compatibility and the growth of community? What are you doing to allow for healthy debate in your relationships?

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