For the past fifteen years, I have partnered with artists to learn about leadership in conflict. Artists know a lot about leading, and they know that conflict is physical and felt; spiritual and sensed as well as being the subject of cognitive attention. Neuroscientists’ work has buttressed the importance of arts-based work as ways to shift negative or unproductive neural pathways.
Artists draw on the elements—earth, fire, water and air—for their work. They combine these elements in new ways, bringing the fluidity of water together with solid ground to create vessels for food or flowers; they speak to the fire of our passions; they are quick like wind, arousing our imaginations. They know something of alchemy—not the turning of lead into gold—but the turning of ourselves, through our experiences, into wiser and more thoughtful conflict intervenors.
Artists also know that when everything, or everyone is the same, things don’t work as well. We humans thrive on diversity, change and challenge. When we nurture cultural fluency and welcome insights from alchemy, we can bask in the beauty of difference.
This session will draw on the wisdom of American scholar Mary Parker Follett, who wrote in 1918 that conflict is useful and necessary if we welcome it:
“Instead of shutting out what is different, we should welcome it because it is different and through its difference will make a richer content of life… Every difference that is swept up into a bigger conception feeds and enriches society; every difference which is ignored feeds on society and eventually corrupts it. (Follett 1918: 40).
Professor Michelle LeBaron is a conflict transformation scholar/practitioner at the University of British Columbia Allard School of Law whose work features creativity, culture and interdisciplinarity. A tenured professor of law, she speaks around the world on her work in organizational conflict. Michelle’s current research is on artful approaches to leadership. Michelle has been a fellow at the Trinity College Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in Dublin and holds a Wallenberg Fellowship at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, South Africa Her books include Changing Our Worlds: Art as Transformative Practice; The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience; Conflict Across Cultures: A New Approach for a Changing World; Bridging Cultural Conflicts; and Bridging Troubled Waters.