Arbitrary rule

Recently, the Auroville Council has presented a draft paper, for feedback, containing the envisioned future conflict management procedure of the township. A significant part of it deals with the final steps of conflict resolution, namely arbitration as a means to finish the dispute.
Let me explain why I think arbitration is detrimental to what we are seeking to achieve in Auroville, and what we could try instead.

From the collection of Mother's explanations of Auroville's aims and ideals we know that its society is supposed to be what she calls a “Divine Anarchy”, a community in which each individual, and the township as a whole, is guided by a higher consciousness. In effect, we would not need to be governed by any worldly authority because we would take responsibility for our deeds ourselves, acting in the interest of the common good. We would still have different opinions, but we would not deem them more valuable than anybody else's needs. Embracing our diverse world as it is we would make decisions in consensus with others. That requires a great deal of understanding of people's needs and motivations.

In the old paradigm, the civilization we have been born into, it is understood that, in a world of scarcity, the needs of individuals compete with each other for fulfillment. Therefore my gain is your loss, and vice versa.
In order to overcome this kind of thinking we must learn to resolve conflicts by achieving a win-win situation, i.e. the needs of everyone involved getting met. Just like NVC [non-violent communication] it doesn't come easy to us; it has to be trained, dispute by dispute, until it becomes our natural habit to look for common ground. From this new point of view, each conflict situation is a challenge rather than a problem, and it becomes an opportunity to learn and grow. Conflict must not be suppressed in favour of superficial harmony, but rather lived through consciously.

To a large part, the Council's draft reflects this understanding, describing a procedure that ranges from rather informal talks to facilitated, strictly reglemented methods, including restorative circles, reconciliation, mediation, NVC-meetings, and negotiation. If no agreement is reached the Council imposes arbitration on the conflicting parties and everyone else involved.


Arbitration, basically, is a settlement of affairs by judgement of appointed, ideally non-partial, persons. Their sentence is binding, leaving no choice to anyone affected by it.
As far as the Council is concerned, the conflict, and hence the suffering, ends there.
This is a misapprehension.

Arbitration may shorten the timespan until the issue is off the Council's table, true enough. But it also stops the process of conflict resolution within the minds of the quarrelling people. It takes their responsibility for coming to a conclusion off their shoulders, and hands it over to an authority which they have no power over. To say that arbitration puts an end to suffering is objectionable for two reasons.
First of all, every time we suffer life tells us that something in our thinking, something in our strategies, something in our actions is not working out. We run into walls, physically or mentally, get hurt, analyze what has happened, and adjust to our new understanding of the world. That's how we usually learn the important lessons in life. Some call it “trial and error”, some call it “learning by doing”. In short, we need suffering in order to be able to let go of non-functioning thought and behaviour.
Secondly, with arbitration being used to end a dispute, a person's suffering from the pressures of conflict is getting replaced by suffering under the felt injustice of the verdict. Usually one, often both sides feel that their needs have not been met, their position not been understood. Rightly so, because we all know that even the most respectable arbiter is not free of bias. The pain of being degraded to an object in a decision-making process, to powerlessly having to bear the judgement by another, can be some of the most agonizing among all perceptions. Arbitration thus undermines the belief of the individual in the just, equitable functioning of its society. Authoritarian approaches such as arbitral verdicts are IN THE WAY of achieving a true dissolution of conflicts because the arbiters' view suppresses contradicting opinions, thus creates rejection instead of acceptance, and the grudge against our opponents, and society as a whole, remains as a splinter under our fingernails.

We should not get forced to accept arbitral verdicts. Not to be willing, though, to do the inner work necessary to achieve the kind of human unity mentioned in Auroville's charter makes our presence in the township pointless, or even disruptive. Personally developing solutions to our conflicts is therefore a must, a top-priority task given to us, an order to learn. If our consciousness is not evolved enough to come to an agreement with our fellow human beings, we should be forced to work on exactly that issue.
How do we do that?


Time seems, to me, of cruical importance in matters of conflict. The longer the quarrelling lasts the more we get used to the rhythm of strike and counterstrike. We adjust to the constant presence of pain. In time we also lose the confidence that struggling will eventually end. If, however, the opponents are kept in close proximity, their suffering will be more intense; so will be their efforts to solve the problem, as well. We may expect a speeding up of the process, resulting in a quicker finalization.

Let's call the last step of conflict resolution “intensification”, and let's say we make the opponents meet each other daily for two hours, under the guidance of an NVC-trained facilitator. NVC as such may have failed before when some of the persons involved have learned the phrasing technique, but refuse to consequently actualize its meaning. The objective in intensification is to bring about a deeper understanding of the other's needs, deep enough anyway to be able to propose how those needs may be met. The method consists of the following steps:
a) collectively attempting to phrase each person's needs until they feel exhaustively understood
b) reciprocally proposing actions that are likely to meet our opponent's need, until that person feels satisfied
c) harmonization of the proposed actions
d) written agreement that is binding to everyone involved. Its contents should be quantifiable in time and amount.

It is the duty of each party to find acceptable solutions for its (former) opponents, and the process must not get interrupted until we have come to a written agreement. As there is no deadline to the process, and as the meetings are happening daily, unavoidingly confronting us with the suffering of our neighbour (and our own), eating up a sensible amount of our precious time, with impacts on both work and private life, we cannot help but break our inner resistence. There is only one way out: achieving a consensus. Having truly understood this, suddenly there is motion.

Persistent resistence

What do we do, then, with those resisting to collaborate? – Well, the same as with those resisting to abide by the arbitral rule, now. Only would I propose to expand the range of tools into the realm of social control, before we go into exclusion from the Master list. Step by step we would be approaching friends to make them have a talk with the person in question; respected Aurovilians may later take the role of a coach to carefully steer the person into understanding the need for opening up. A denial of service and a temporary stopping of work engagement may further help with achieving the insight that society and individual are in a mutual relationship of dependency, which means that a society can only support the individual if the individual contributes sufficiently to its functioning. Only after it is made sure that someone will persist, regardless, is it justified to exclude people from citizenship in Auroville due to their involvement in a conflict. While it is not asked too much to deliver on the promise that we made when we came here by our own free will (to collaborate and constantly evolve), it is  important to note that imposing “solutions” produces the exact opposite: resistence and rigidity. We must avoid, by all means, what literally becomes an arbitrary rule.


Refoaming the system

"This issue [to reform Auroville's entry process] – which should have been a normal phase of changing and renewal of a policy – has become a winning and losing situation [...]
Yes, we could have insisted and we have no doubt this proposal would have gone through easily and if the present Entry Service did not accept it, the community could have asked them to step down and a new one formed to implement it  [...] 
Or the community could have imposed the present Entry Service to implement it. These are both nightmare scenarios and we did not wish to create neither of them." 
(Report of the Entry Task Force, a residents' initiative)

Now imagine a similar situation in any of the Western democracies.
Would a citizens' movement have the power to overthrow an administrative body just like this?
And if they had the power -- or any political party had it – would they step back from their demands on encountering strong objections?
Would anybody in a position of strength try to make an attempt to come to a consensus with the opposing forces, with the help of a facilitator?

Auroville surely needs reforms, revolutionary changes even, on all levels of public life. But if you asked me what's so special about this township, it is events like the above I would point at – people daring to live by a higher consciousness. Knowing that overpowering another will not create solutions, only conflict. Or, in more brash words, War doesn't decide who is right, just who is left.