Finding Potential in Conflict

by Stuart Bartram 
Genesee Valley Meeting


I am interested in the potential in conflict. I’ll try to explain why. The following took place in an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop inside a prison. A young man had shared from his experience and his pain. He was finding his way, he was engaged. I was dearly glad he was with us. That’s a piece of why I was there. AVP works!


The Department of Corrections imposes strict guidelines on what we may and may not do. An example is that we could offer few smoke breaks and only at designated times. On the second day of this workshop the same young man asked me for, then demanded an additional smoke break. I said we could not do it and did my best to explain why. In a near fury of nicotine withdrawal he left the room and the workshop. Did AVP not work?


My involvement in AVP has shown me that there’s more potential in conflict than merely returning to neutral ground—that it offers growth in understanding of and engaging in human connection.


Much later, a year after that episode, the young man returned.  He said to me, “I quit smoking—it was keeping me from what I needed.”  The conflict had been between us but also within each of us. I knew it as dismay. So I recognized the treasure!


In AVP we talk about “transforming power.” We call it our foundation. It is a phrase a person of any faith or no faith may use. For me it is deeply steeped in Spirit. By the roots of the word the power to transform is the power to “change the shape of.” Conflict is part of the human condition; violence is not. We may choose violence in any of its many forms but there are always other choices.  We may change the shape of conflict into opportunity. I’ve seen it happen many times. AVP has helped me to find the faith that it may be so.