A moment occurs when people step back and realize how dysfunctional the dynamic of a project has become. Some simply leave, to avoid the stress. Others isolate themselves within the group, working alone or with a few people but avoiding meetings or group events. But many get involved in the conflict -- trying to kick someone out, splintering into factions, or bringing official charges against each other. These can be solutions when the factions can be self-sufficient, but often cause hostility over shared resources. Sometimes the conflict drags on over a long period, with people jockeying to have each other kicked out.

Hostile conflict is also something we create for its own sake. Though it seems counter-intuitive, conflict draws in many people. For many groups, the best attended meetings are the ones about kicking someone out, or when someone has some serious charge against someone else. The meetings about getting work done are not as compelling. If an activist sends an email to their group's listserv asking for help or opinions, it might well go ignored. But if they accuse someone of something, replies often start clogging our inboxes. The FBI, in its Cointelpro program, was exposed for disrupting activists by getting them to re-focus their sights on each other. But regardless of whether these behaviors are part of a conspiracy, or just our own pathologies, they disrupt our important work.

So, what is the best path for dealing with conflict? What can be learned from groups that don't have much conflict? What is a model that can be held up within the peace community and can be instructive to other types of groups? I find we do best when we are willing to challenge ourselves, asking some tough questions, like -- If my group is not supporting my approach, do I want to continue addressing them at all? Do I want to yell at them? Do I want to complain about them to others? Do I want to find another group? Am I achieving progress towards my goals, or do I often find myself needing help from others in the group who don't seem to do what I want? How can I frame my concerns in the terms of the whole group and its mission? How can I describe my concerns about others in terms of their words or actions and avoid being derogatory about their character? Do I take all criticism of my words or actions too personally, as a challenge or threat? Am I only open to my own solutions / tactics / approaches, or have I been listening to / seeking out the ideas of others? If I am not achieving progress towards my goals, how can I change my actions so that I am? While I accuse or confront others, can I also try to acknowledge that I have problems? When someone gets aggressive, can I respond to them in a way that is less aggressive? What are the tactics I want to use and what are the tactics that are unacceptable to me? How could I get more people to want to work with me? Is my anger level too high for me right now to continue to try to create a world with less war, prejudice and hatred?

Consensus decision making, role switching, autonomous workgroups, and many other methods and structures have been developed to help groups avoid authoritarianism and concentration of power. But most importantly, individuals who want to be part of groups that aren't constantly tearing themselves apart have to commit to constructively challenging authoritarianism within themselves and others. If we are to be someday successful and create a world without wars and oppression, it won't be because of one particular campaign or project, because we have proved that we were right, or even because we have gotten the truth out, it will only be because we have understood and worked through our self-defeating behaviors, and demonstrated ways of working together that are superior to those of governments and corporations.