One of the things that gets in the way of making sound collective judgments is that, too often, we avoid facing the tensions inherent in the problems we share. When we sit down to talk about what to do about some community problem, we avoid tensions and indeed we actively seek to remove them when they crop up. There is a whole field devoted to “conflict resolution.”
Unproductive conflicts between people and groups should indeed be reduced, diminished, and healed. But when we need to make collective judgments about what we should do about some community problem we share — how to produce public safety, how best to educate our young ones, how to create more wellness, how to address economic change — we need to lean into the tensions inherent in these goals.
For example, if I want to live in a community where people are safe, there is a tension between group security and individual freedom. The more security I have, the less freedom I may experience. And there is a similar tension between personal freedom and being treated fairly. A great deal of freedom may result in my being treated unfairly.
These community problems are so difficult because such tensions are embedded and unavoidable. We cannot choose between them, they are not binary. There will be no “solution” but instead a collective judgment, for now, of how we will live with these tensions. The answer we come to today may not hold tomorrow.
Further, the tensions are not tensions between groups of people — they are within each of us. All at once, I want to be secure, to have freedom, to be treated fairly. This is how we are wired as human beings who live in groups.
Sometimes when I talk to people about community problem solving, and I raise the idea of tensions between these things that all hold valuable, I get the sense that what is being heard is “tensions should be reduced.” One hears it quite clearly these days: many see the healing of divisions as the clearest path to improvement.
Certainly tensions between people that develop into conflict need to be mitigated. But the tensions within issues need yet more attention. We may, for instance, heal relations between members of marginalized communities and institutional police forces. But we will still have the collective challenge of living in a safer society and how we ought to do that — and in making that decision we will have to face up to the tensions within that question.
It is in clearly looking at, and accepting, these tensions within issues that we can make sound judgments.