Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Political healing

The nightly news is full of proclamations of commitment to healing.  A couple of days ago, it was a very different story.  Healing was the last thing on anyone's mind as the knives were sharpened and wielded publicly as the ALP brawled over who should (or should not) lead the party and therefore the country.

It's good to hear it being considered.  Healing in the aftermath of conflict is something often overlooked.  When I am asked to mediate a dispute, the focus is on resolving the conflict and little attention is paid to what happens next.  Resolving the conflict is certainly important, but it's not the end of the story.  Especially in the context of workplace conflict.

When hostility is openly directed towards others, the instinct is often to fight back.  If this dynamic is left alone for too long it is that much harder to have a healthy relationship once the conflict is resolved.  It's even more difficult when the hostility has been hidden, rather than in the open and questions of bullying arise.

Most people probably don't expect too much of politicians.  I think this is a shame.  Public service through the holding of public office should be a noble thing to be respected and rewarded.  But when the media is telling nothing but a story of jealousy, disloyalty, thwarted ambition, midnight coups and stealth campaigns to undermine leaders, it's hard to cast our leaders in a positive light. These plots are what Shakespeare wrote about in his enduring stories.

The stories of conflict are compelling.  They are hard to turn away from, holding a grim fascination.  I will admit to being drawn in despite feeling shame at the behaviour of those I worked so hard to get elected in 2007.  As the conflict is over (for now?) the story is less compelling.  Watching people make friends again and talk off a script about healing has no drama.  I work with people to resolve conflict, so normally I find this stuff really interesting.  I wonder why?

If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way perhaps the so-called midnight coup that saw Kevin Rudd ousted as Prime Minister may have been avoided.  We all know that it went ahead.  If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way after that unprecedented action, perhaps the we wouldn't have a hung parliament now.  If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way...and so it goes.

At other times I become more ruthless and think the biggest mistake in any coup is leaving a warm body, with a beating heart which can be resurrected later.  By then that heart won't only be beating, it will be filled with vengeful thoughts, if not hatred.

The ends were left loose, unexplained.  There was pain and ego.  The vanquished Kevin Rudd was always going to fight to get his crown back.  Even when it was clear he couldn't win, he went ahead anyway, completing the ritual of political death.

Perhaps the act of bringing the leadership speculation to a head using the formal mechanisms within the ALP has also been part of the healing process.  It may have been the necessary thing to close that chapter and get on with the next.

Healing can be painful.  Think of what it takes to heal an injury - I tore my gastrocnemius (the big muscle in the calf) a few years ago.  The injury was swift and the pain over in a second.  The healing took weeks of intense focus and painful visits to the physiotherapists.  And I still need to be aware that I have a weakness in that leg and be careful.

Same with healing after conflict.  I wonder if they're equipped?

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