It has been years since Rodney King famously uttered, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Having been beaten by the Los Angeles Police and more importantly, having it filmed for all the world to see, this became the final spark that began the LA riots in 1992.
I remember watching the footage, naive to the political and cultural conditions, incredulous at the behaviour of the “law enforcement” In my rigid bipolar world of good and evil, I could only see the wrong of the police who, seemingly without restraint, were pummelling a guy that was presenting no resistance.
It was all there on tape, but the whole story is much more complex. I can’t write about all the complexity, but I want to consider just one small bite. I want to consider the answer to Rodney King’s question, “Can’t we all just get along? ”
This simple question has so many meanings:
“We may have our misunderstandings but let’s just choose to respect each other.”
“Yeah things are complicated but let’s just agree to be civil and not hurt anyone.”
“Let’s not rock the boat, keep everything like it is, and keep things nice and ordered and controlled.”
In any of these translations the answer to, “Can we all just get along?,” is a big fat no. No we can’t all just get along, because by it’s very nature, conflict is about stirring up the order and essentially creating a new order.
I am talking about the real getting along, not the illusion that things are good and we try to control any anger, tension or soul depleting disrespect. Real “getting along” means somebody with more power is going to lose their power in order that someone with not enough power receives more access to power. And typically, people who have more power, are not really good at giving that power up.
It happens between sibling, parents and children (at any age!), corporations, classrooms, friendships and lovers. It happens in churches and it happens in schools both public and private.
I am not saying there are ways of working with conflict that can avoid pummelling, undermining or vilifying one side over the other (usually the side with the least power is “evil” or “lazy” or
“barbarians”). In fact, I am banking on it, because that is a vital part of my livelihood. In one way or another, I help facilitate conflict, whether it exists in your body, your story, your collective culture or in your learning.
I believe that it is possible to manage differences without war or painful disrespect, but I also believe that it is impossible to manage conflict without death. Some belief has to die, some understanding has to die, some imbalance of power has to die.
Even if you stand to gain power, there is a great deal of responsibility and an uncomfortable learning curve that is going to take place. Being a powerless victim can afford you tremendous freedom. So, you too, will die to something.
Getting along, sharing understandings, always means you have to say yes to the unknown. You have to say yes to something uncomfortable, You enter into chaos, you expose your vulnerabilities or they are exposed for you, and you recalibrate a new balance.
Restoring the imbalance of power happens in our bodies and in our cells. It happens in our families, our institutions, our earth – it is everywhere.
The “formula” to Rodney Kings’ question is messy, painful and chaotic.
You agree to enter into chaos and into the unknown.
You agree to give up your illusions that everything is working just fine.
You agree to evaluate the rules and see who benefits from the “order” and who does not.
You die to something.
BC has overtly made social responsibility a component of the latest round of “New Curriculum.” Teachers, Administrators and Counsellors do a great deal of the front line work in delivering that curriculum. This is necessary and important. It is also important that we start talking past the illusion of controlled, linear, conflict resolution models, and equip students with the message that getting along is meant to be messy, painful and challenging.
So, can we all, “just get along?”
The short answer is no. The long answer is no.
Addressing conflict means you run the risk of feeling much better and having a more intimate connection and understanding with loved ones.
Or the opposite might happen and you will feel a whole lot worse.
It requires children, adults, politicians and poor to give up something, accept something, forgive something, change something. It may take an hour to see the sparks of transformation or it may take decades. Either way, its work.
My hope is that we do the work, from cradle to grave.