The Betzavta Method: Turning Conflict into an Opportunity for Growth

September 1, 2015

“Conflict is a different form of aliveness” ~ Wendel Meldrum

After gaining invaluable experiences and skills in conflict resolution, my perception of everyday conflicts and misunderstandings is increasingly met as a chance for gaining greater self-awareness, self-transformation, building trust and security, and improving relationship bonds.  I have learned that it takes a lot of willpower to take a pause when triggered, and a lot of chutzpah to lean into conflict rather then avoid it, blow up or shut down.  So many of us walk through life unconscious of the ripple effect of our own behavior, and how unresolved conflicts continue to fester and impact us.

We perceive conflict through a belief system based on our own life experiences, culture, and values, and often respond based on those perceptions rather then through an objective review of the facts.   This is why it is incredibly important to be aware of your own belief system, and the lens in which you interpret your experiences.

The Betzavta Method

Last month I participated in a three-day training on the Betzavta Method, which provided an empowering opportunity to develop creative conflict resolution skills and increase self-awareness.  Betzavta means togetherness in Hebrew, and uses the language of democracy to look within.  The overall goal was to get us to mutually recognize every individuals equal right to freedom.

The Bezavta Method was created as a tool for political education work in Israel, and was founded by Dr. Uki Maroshek at the Adam Institute in Israel.   It was internationally adapted in 1996, initially in German at the “Centrum für angewandte Politikforschung” (Centre for Applied Political Research) at the University of Munich, then subsequently through the Adam Institute cooperating with international partners in Northern Ireland, Switzerland and South-East Europe. Today Betzavta is an internationally renowned democracy education programme used in school and non-school educational institutions..

During the entire workshop, a list of the Betzavta principles were hanging on the wall, which included: no right or wrong; no role-play; voluntary; transparent; experience and exposure; and differentiate between a person’s behavior and character.  Applying a democratic framework helped us to gain a better understanding of our belief systems and behavior patterns, and how they impact the way we respond to conflict and make decisions.

“Democracy is not only a characteristic of a state or social system- but above all a way of life.”

During the training, one of the group discussions revolved around what democracy really even means.  Generally speaking, we knew that it encompasses the values of freedom, equality, inclusion of minorities, inclusion in general, fundamental rights and safety.  By the end of the training, we all walked away with the understanding that democracy is also a system that exists within each of us, and is a much deeper, nuanced and rich concept then what we normally think of.

We explored themes of democratic decision-making though interactive activities, which were always followed by a session where we shared our personal reflections on both the process and result of the activity. Through the group dynamic, we became more aware of our own thinking and roles, and how those interactions can lead to creative solutions in conflict situations.

Not about the guilt

The international facilitator of the training, Tali Padan, did an excellent job in allowing us to guide our own process, and make discoveries about ourselves along the way.  Tali explained, “my role as a facilitator is to get you to see if you’re aware of yourself and your effect on other people, and discover this through the group interaction.  I get the participants to reflect on their own internal dilemmas, such as how they may say one thing yet behave differently, or to look at themselves when they may be blaming others.   With this process comes guilt and emotions, and so I try to get them to realize this is not about guilt, but rather about acknowledging and observing the judgment, and taking a deeper look.”  As a participant, I really appreciated Tali’s approach because I strongly believe that at the end of the day, self-reflection and taking ownership of our behaviors ultimately makes life more managable and rich.

Fight the system = fight yourself

Tali shared a story about working with a group of anarchists.  “They would say fight the system, fight the system, but realized that the system is within us and we’re ultimately fighting ourselves.  An example is how they wanted to fight the racists, and ended up discovering that part of their fear of the racists had to do with fearing the racist within themselves.”  Following the training, they told Tali that they needed a monthly self-help group to provide support as they kept breaking down their identity, and were learning to be fighters in a different way.  Her experience with them sounded incredibly powerful and rich. I respect how they’re really doing the deal by wrestling internally and as a collective.

Many Layers

We had an incredibly important discussion around how racism is deeply embedded in society, and the critical need of being mindful of the language we use.  The conversation was inspired by an African American woman in the group, who bravely spoke up about her concerns with how we were attaching colors to the words we were using, and that hearing them felt hurtful to her.  I could absolutley see why it would feel hurtful, and admired her strength to speak up and get her needs met. From there, we began to look at the terms white lie, black sheep, blackmailed, getting caught red handed, or equating light and dark as being good and evil.  This important conversation showed us how we often say things that we don’t understand, and so we continue to say them.  I know I have much to learn and become more mindful of.

Olive Branch

One of the activities she had us do was to get into groups of four, and create our own country, and decide who gets to vote.  I really wanted to make the voting age 16 and up, however, there was another woman in our group that felt giving 16 year olds the right to vote was very inappropriate. We began to get triggered by one another, and couldn’t find resolution.  I decided to take a pause, and realized my reaction was largely due to being upset over an unresolved conflict I experienced with someone else at the beginning of the year, and had been building up inside.  I pulled her outside to communicate this, and she responded to my vulnerability with tremendous support.  She also let me cut an olive branch from her own tree, which I was able to offer to the other person and finally make peace.   When I told her how they had accepted my branch, she said, “how profound that you feel you made peace with the woman you sent the olive branch to! That doesn’t come about through force or demands, but through utter grace.”  Her words meant a lot to me.  My interaction with her highlighted how conflict can strengthen bonds, increases self-awareness, and can be the catalyst for healing and transformation.

Reaching our youth

I strongly believe that educators should be teaching our youth conflict resolution skills within the classroom.  reGeneration, the organization that hosted the Betzavta training, also believes in the importance of teaching peace education to children as early as possible.  reGeneration, is an interfaith non-profit seeding the Middle East with an educational philosophy that embraces life, learning, the arts, the earth and all the children.

The co-founder and president of reGeneration, Shepha Vainstein, explained why the organization supports the training.  “The Talmud says that the world rests on the breath of school children.  reGeneration understands that education is key to developing a peaceful, just and sustainable future.  We are living at an unprecedented time where there are a number of proven social technologies that can be part of a peace education curriculum.  Betzavta is one of them.   reGeneration sponsors Jewish/Arab kindergartens in Israel based on the Waldorf approach because we believe it is important to teach peace education to children as early as possible.  Yet we also provide support for adults in a variety of interfaith peace education programs because we know that all those who are responsible for children – parents, teachers, policy makers, and politicians – must be exposed to trainings to improve their capacities for inclusivity and cooperative problem-solving.  Children learn through imitation. As adults we must continually work on ourselves to be worthy of them imitating us.”

By reframing conflict as a powerful opportunity for all sides, you can discover how conflict resolution skills can be a total game changer.   The Betzavta Method is a holy tool for helping us to navigate when we may be wrestling within oneself, amongst other souls, and as a part of the collective.  I hope the collective strives to better equip the younger generations all around the world with these tools, so that they can navigate life’s challenges with a little less heartache, misunderstanding, and frustration.  We can teach them how choosing to take a pause when triggered, and learning to have calm, non-defensive, non-blaming, and respectful reactions to conflict, may fill them with an incredible sense of dignity and pride at the end of the day.

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