There is no doubt that the tension is present in Northampton at the moment. With elections on the horizon, the question is, what are we doing about it?
As a family therapist who is called into the lives of families in some of the most important times they have faced, I have a few ideas to offer.
First of all, a crop. When tensions and conflicts are present, it can be unbearable and painful. When I see strong emotions and conflicts, I also see something else: a deep investment in the present and future conditions in which people live.
And if the conflict is division, it is also much more. It means a group of people who have various complex relationships with each other, caring enough to make their voices heard, even with possible social and emotional consequences. It means that they have hope that things could change by voicing their grievances, and it means that they feel they have the power and the power in their relationships to facilitate that change. So frustration, anger, division and conflict are actually not the worst things for a family or a community. Apathy is.
When we are faced with conflict in our lives – as individuals, as parents, as partners, as young people – our instinct is sometimes to expect disaster, chaos or an end. looms on the horizon.
We all have a life to lead – putting food on the table, getting kids to school, dealing with pressures in the workplace, or making happy the powers that are in our lives. Conflict sometimes seems contrary to progression, as it looks like it will disrupt what is to follow. And so it can be human enough to avoid conflict at all costs, because it seems like living your life means putting one foot in front of the other and moving on to the next thing on the to-do list. Especially if we think what comes after the conflict is a disaster or some end, which would really put a damper on navigating the to-do list.
And so, while this is counterintuitive, we actually need to embrace conflict as early as possible, whatever its form. What we do know is that strong emotions and opinions in relationships and in communities are actually a good thing because they facilitate growth and change. When proper space is not given, the results are bad: it leads to repetitive repression or apathy in relationships, which leads to a much more disruptive and damaging dynamic in the long run.
Similar to families, the city of Northampton has a job to do. There are potholes to be filled, renovations to be made, conflicts between neighbors to be resolved, and much more. The instinct to get things done is human and self-protective.
But there can be a risk in prioritizing the to-do list first. Sometimes this leaves residents and even city councilors in a dilemma: can I make my voice heard at the risk of slowing things down? Or do I refrain from saying something to get the train to move on the tracks, confident that the conductor will stop the train if necessary? What if I see something the driver doesn’t see? Can I speak? Or will I face too many consequences for slowing down or stopping the train?
Doubt, confusion, and frustration can set in when faced with such a dilemma, causing a stopping reaction. If it happens too frequently, it can get worse, leading to desperation, withdrawal, and a lack of agency. It causes people in relationships or communities to stop trying at all. But luckily, that’s not where some of us are now.
My assessment of Northampton is actually that strong emotions are not a terrible thing, even if they are a little painful. Because conflict and dissonance can create positive change with the right facilitation and support, and that’s fundamental to moving forward. If a choir all sang the same note, the performance would fall flat. Likewise, if everyone in government or in our community is singing the same tune, voices are likely being left out.
I know there are candidates like me ready to demonstrate the possibility and the opportunity that local government has to offer our residents. I believe in a Northampton where disagreement can be appreciated, welcomed and appropriately channeled as a necessary part of the governance process.
We can do it, but the only way out is to go through it.
Emily “Lemy” Coffin is a candidate for Northampton City Council for Ward 1.