"understanding" with Betty Pries

“Understanding” with Betty Pries

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 12
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 12: “Understanding”, with Petty Pries was released on March 29, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In this week’s episode, ~ing Producer Ben Wideman is joined by Betty Pries, co-founder and CEO of Credence & Co., a consulting agency dedicated to working with organizations and their leaders to help them thrive and flourish. Betty will talk with Ben about themes from her book, The Space Between Us: Conversations about Transforming Conflict, available from Herald Press. In her book, Betty gently guides readers toward seeing discord as an opportunity for positive change and a way to build resilience. Rooted in the conviction that conflict can strengthen our relationships and deepen our self-knowledge, Pries offers practical skills for engaging conflict and casts a vision for a more joy-filled future based on understanding our differences.

Betty Pries, Angela Williams Gorrell, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… People who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Betty Pries  00:27
I have found it helpful to differentiate between “outcome hope” and “existential hope,” or what is sometimes called “mystical hope.” And outcome hope is, “I need tomorrow to be this way.” And a more existential hope is, “I can be in the world that I’m in right now. And I can find moments of beauty and wonder and joy in this very moment, even as the external context is not at peace.”

Ben Wideman  00:58
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Well, hello friends welcome to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be sitting down with one of MennoMedia’s authors, with Betty Pries. And Betty, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Betty Pries  01:18
Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Ben Wideman  01:20
Your bio from our website says that you’re the co founder and CEO of Credence and Company, a consulting agency dedicated to working with organizations and their leaders to help them thrive and flourish. But I’m guessing if someone were to ask who you were, you would introduce yourself with more than just that tagline.

Betty Pries  01:39
It’s true. I am the co founder of Creedence. And I have been doing this work really my entire career. I got tapped on the shoulder when I was 23 years old to work in a mediation center.

Ben Wideman  01:50

Betty Pries  01:51
In Winnipeg. I started there and then moved here to Ontario. And I’ve been doing this work with congregations and with workplaces. Since that time, since since 1993. And I live here in Ontario, Canada, together with my husband and three children who are now adults, or almost adults.

Ben Wideman  02:12
Well, as an aside, I’m glad as someone who also grew up in Ontario, to be increasing our Canadian content as a denominational publisher for both Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, we have not had enough Canadian content on ~ing Podcast. So thank you so much for helping to correct that just a little bit. I appreciate it. You recently published a book with Herald Press called The Space Between Us: Conversations About Transforming Conflict. And I wondered if a way of beginning would be for you to talk about how you arrived at that book project.

Betty Pries  02:46
I’ve been working as a mediator and as an organizational health consultants as a trainer, coach, conflict specialist since 1993. And pretty early in my career, like really early, I noticed that although the… so much of our focus is on the space between people, the conversation between people what happens in the, in our dialogue with one another real transformation, really deep transformation always had to go through the landscape of the soul of the individual soul. Yes, there’s lots that happens in this space between us. And that dialog and a space between us can influence our personal selves, obviously, in a really good ways. And how we show up, the interior journey that we make, has a profound influence on our interpersonal relationships. And so I began really early. So I began as a mediator in 1993. And around 1995… 1996, I, I started meeting with a spiritual director, I started learning about prayer and meditation in new ways. And so for me, for really, quite early on in my career, I started exploring this intersection between spirituality and and conflict and how those two intersect, and of course, spirituality… As much as we often think of spirituality as a collective exercise. There’s a significant portion of it that’s goes through the landscape of our souls.  I once did a mediation between two friends who have been colleagues and they had a very serious conflict. One of them moved away for eight years. And then when he came back, he was, well, the organization preemptively hired me to do a mediation because they didn’t want to see this old conflict, emerge.

Ben Wideman  04:30

Betty Pries  04:31
But the fellow who had gone away for eight years, had been so transformed. He’d been through therapy, he had been doing really significant personal work. He had been so transformed in those eight years away, that when he came back, I had mediated and, you know, I think I did a good job. But at the end of the day, the star of the show was this fellow who had gone through this major transformation, and he walked into that mediation session with such grace and his counterpart, the other fellow in the conflict, had to, by definition, almost respond with grace. And so we did our mediation thing. But it was the inner transformation of this one individual. And the way that energy shifted the energy in the room. That was the transforming moment. And that moment, I knew we can’t focus conflict resolution only on the dialogue. And so much of mediation in the history has been focused on the dialogue between us. But the stuff that goes on inside us is found. There’s a saying, by a fella by the name of William O’Brien that says, the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener. The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener. By translation, the successful mediation depends on the interior condition of the mediator. And I would say the interior condition of the parties involved. Well, when we come to each other in conflict, I think a really provocative question is what’s going on inside of me? What are my biases? What are my ways that I’m prejudging the situation? What do I need to learn? What am I contributing to this situation? That doesn’t mean I’m all wrong, but I need to be looking at my own stuff.

Ben Wideman  06:11
I love that. And I sounds like I could have used this book in a number of different ways.  For six years, I ran a campus ministry here at Penn State University. And we chose to call it 3rd Way Collective with the awareness of the increasing polarization in our world and the hope and dream that there is a third way to so many different conflicts. But I think my impulse during so much of that time was that if we just bring differing sides to the table, we’ll find a third way. And actually, the the depression, I guess, of the American political system over the last few years was an awareness of myself that just bringing different opinions to the table doesn’t necessarily lead to transformation. And sometimes it actually leads to us, deepening our opinions. We need to actually come with a set of ground rules, we need to come with an awareness of who we are what we bring to the conversation even before we start talking. And boy, that seems like it’s so healthy. And yet I think, for so long. Those of us who’ve worked in in spaces like this have just assumed if we can just get people to the table. The solution will be there in front of us.

Betty Pries  07:24

Ben Wideman  07:28
It strikes me as I was hearing you talk about your work. We do tend to talk about churches being like a family system. But we also have created these spaces that are a lot based around choice. And so we we pick the church that’s right for us. If it’s not right, we move on from it right. And so we assume, often that we when we are in church, or when we are with our faith community, we’re all sort of on the same page. And if it’s not working, then we we go somewhere else. But that’s really not the case. There’s often conflict that comes up despite that choice that we have. And so can you talk a little bit about why it’s important for people of faith to care about conflict transformation, conflict mediation?

Betty Pries  08:11
That’s an interesting question. I might start with telling a brief story, back in the day when we used to fly more and back in the day when people used to talk to each other on the airplane. Because that’s when I call people, you know, people would ask what I did for a living. And by virtue of the answer, how people responded to my answer, told me a lot about whether or not they attended church. If some, if I told them I work with conflict churches and conflict, if the person said “Oh, really? Churches have conflict?” I knew they didn’t attend church…  If the person said “Oh that’s tough,” then I knew that they attended church.

Ben Wideman  08:45

Betty Pries  08:47
In my experience… and then there was a third group, there was a third group would say, “Oh, that would be tough. And let me tell you, why no longer attend.”

Ben Wideman  08:55
Oh, yeah.

Betty Pries  08:56
There was a whole group of wounded travelers who would tell me their… poured out their story.

Ben Wideman  09:00

Betty Pries  09:00
Why they left church… and usually it was connected to a really deep and painful conflict. Not always, but often. Yeah, it’s churches unfortunately. Feel often that just disagreement is wrong. Just the fact of disagreement is wrong. And yet we know that if we want to be healthy with one another, we have to have the capacity to disagree with one another. In fact, we are smarter when we disagree with each other like we need. If everybody just always agreed with me, we’d make bad decisions. One of the things I say in my book is we are always only smart in community. None of us is smart alone. None of us is wise alone. It’s wisdom happens in dialogue and with sharpening one another. And one of the things that happens, unfortunately in creations is we’re afraid of conflict for good reason. Because we’re afraid of conflict we then become afraid of disagreements, like to differentiate between disagreement and conflict disagreement is you and I sort of stress you know, trying to puzzle something out, but it’s not become personal. And if we don’t have good practice with that kind of puzzling together, we are going to make things personal, that don’t need to be personal. And so churches are so committed to being good to being kind, being generous being Christian, that under that, under that flag of being Christian, we allow a lot of unChristian behavior to pass, because we’re too afraid of having disagreement with one another. And so if I often think if we could just be better at disagreeing, we would have fewer painful conflicts. And if we could be better at disagreeing, we would be sharper and smarter as people of faith, and we could actually find our way forward more effectively. Now, having said that, spiritual a lot of our some of our disagreements, at least, some of our disagreements are about things about, you know, how we do church, how our spirituality, our, you know, our, the, you know, the things that are important to us with respect to our church, arts or faith leaving our church building. And disagreements on those topics, don’t just tend to sit sort of in our heads, they tend to go deep into our bodies. Disagreement… disagreements are harder in church, because those disagreements take us to the very core of our being. So when I say we should get better at disagreeing, I don’t want to be flippant about that disagreement in the context of church is really hard, because it touches us so deeply. And we need to be able to figure out how do we have those good conversations, important conversations, so that we don’t end up in these painful conflicts where we are profoundly unChristian to one another.

Ben Wideman  11:39
I’m sure wrapped up in all this is our, our long tradition of wanting to be certain, and not really having much room for doubts or questions. It seems like our Jewish siblings have a much healthier tradition, of sacred argument, of like, being willing to wrestle publicly and as part of worship, right to have people with differing views share in the same space.

Betty Pries  12:06
You know, it’s true. I once did a mediation for a group of rabbis… 14, 15, 17 Rabbis, something like that. And afterwards, I thought, wow, they disagreed strongly with one another. And for the most part, they never made it personal. We need! Can you come teach us? Because we take our disagreements and make them personal heartbeat. And they have this, like you say, this tradition of disagreement. And they could disagree theologically, they could disagree on all manner of things, as you know, as voices why I was there. And they needed somebody to fund to help them with the conversation. But they never made it personal. They never said you’re the therefore you are a jerk or whatever. And we do that we don’t like those words. But we we harm each other and our disagreements and we don’t need to, don’t need to do.

Ben Wideman  13:02
So you’ve got this book written, reflecting on this field that is so important. Who did you have in mind when you were writing it? Is it for individuals? Is it for congregations, faith leaders? Who should be picking this up?

Betty Pries  13:17
That’s a it’s a very interesting question. Because I struggled with that. I work I teach lots of workshops. And over the years, people have often said to me, can you please write a book. And so then I thought do I write for I work with churches, I also work with in, you know, in the world, with organizations, workplaces, government, that kind of thing. And I was trying to write a book that mediators would find interesting facilitators, but also that your average person sitting down, you know, on a couch and evening would find interesting leaders and both leaders and people who are just reading for their own personal interest for the professionals and non professionals, people in the church world and in the non church world. And so finding that path forward to speak to all of those different audiences is not straightforward. But I tried.

Ben Wideman  14:10
I like that. We talked a little bit off-mic about this particular moment in human history, a lot about the way we’ve communicated, has changed over the two years of navigating a pandemic. Can you talk about the different challenges that have emerged during this time when you’re trying to do this kind of work?

Betty Pries  14:29
Well, I would say that that we communicated changed well, before the pandemic, the pandemic just brought something into consciousness that was already brewing already in the 1990s and through into the early 2000s. Part of that is social media. And part of it is that we as a society, already, if we go all the way back to the 60s, have been shifting some of our sort of foundational philosophical worldviews, while collectively not speaking individually, but collectively. And so there’s Some big big shifts that are happening in our time and in our culture. And you know, there’s a workshop that I teach called Transforming Polarized Thinking. And the requests for that workshop skyrocketed around 2015, 2016. And then through the pandemic even more. We have a harder time with each other than we used to. We are polarizing. And part of the reason we polarize is that when we we are what I describe as we’re in the we’re in a change curve, our society is changing, we’re in the middle of a change curve. And the change when you’re in a change curve, the curve goes down before it comes back up. The problem is, when we’re in the midst of the change, whenever at the bottom of that curve, when we’re in the valley, we tend to get frightened and we look for security, we look for safe, look for certainty. And we’re in the bottom of the change curve, we we run the risk of polarizing. My mother always says in life, you look for mountaintop experiences, ie. you don’t want to be in a change curve. But the fertilizer’s in the valleys. And so we’re in fertilizer time, and fertilizer time on the one hand is so transforming right fertilizers when lots of things ferment and we are transformed. We need fertilizer time to be the people that we need to be. In fact, I always say that if you look biblically, every time you see wilderness, or the world, I guess the word wilderness or desert, when you see those words in the Bible, it’s like a little flag going up. The flag says Pay attention transformation is about to happen. So you read through Old Testament, New Testament wilderness shows up desert shows up flags going up, that says, Be careful watch out transformation is about to happen. So wilderness time, change time is a real gift to us, collectively as a society and as a church. But it’s a really risky time. And the risk is that when we’re the bottom of the curve, when we’re in the bottom of this change, we’re at risk of polarizing and trying to climb the mountain backwards to some good old days that no longer existed, no longer exist, and probably didn’t exist in the first place. And so we are living in in a time of great well, COVID, you know, sort of lurched us all into a big change curve all in one jump. And so we have jumped into polarization headlong and we are struggling with it. We are deeply struggling and we haven’t found our way out yet.

Ben Wideman  17:19
I like shifting that perspective, though, to one that sounds much more hopeful than then optimal than pessimistic about, you know, living through this period of time.

Betty Pries  17:33
I think it’s hopeful and pessimistic at the same time. It says that we’re seeing painful forms of polarization, I meet people in deep pain around polarization. And this fertilizer time, I mean, this is if we look biblically, right? This is Jacob in the wilderness, this is Jesus in the wilderness. This is the children of Israel in the wilderness, right that we have metaphors that can help us. Now the children of Israel wanted for 40 years might not be rushed our way out of this one. But there’s transformation that happens here. We emerge differently. And I, if we’re, if we’ve got our, if we’re really listening to the way the Spirit is seeking to work with us, we might just come out on the other side, more mature, more grounded, more faithful, more joyful.

Ben Wideman  18:21
I bumped into a member of our school board recently, and we’ve had a fairly significant altercation up in at our high school around racism. And I was sort of apologetic, like, What a time to be elected to our school board to have to deal with this. And he flipped it on its head a little bit and said, actually, this provides us with an incredible opportunity to start talking about some of the racism present in our schools that has been very hidden. And suddenly we’ve got this public thing where we get to actually put it out on the table and talk through it. And it strikes me just now that the pandemic kind of does that same thing. It gives us opportunity to really recognize some of who we are, in a way that pre pandemic times we could pretend we were fine, you know.

Betty Pries  19:07
And I would also say that in the last, if I look at just on the topic of spirituality and faith over the last 20 years, we have seen a kind of a deepening of understanding a deepening of spirituality. That is kind of that is exciting. And you know, we’re not living in boring times. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got front row seats and for this transformation that we’re living in, and we get to play us we get to play a role in that transformation. Yeah, I think that’s pretty much but it’s not coming doesn’t come without a cost.

Ben Wideman  19:43
Well said! One of the things that we like to ask our guests here on the podcast is what what gives you some hope for the future – either for the future of the work that you’re in or the future of the church. Are you optimistic amid this interesting fertilization? Things that we are currently navigating.

Betty Pries  20:03
I can respond to that in a couple of different ways. I will say that a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post, shortly after Ukraine was invaded. And I was deeply… I mean, you’ll see if you read the blog posts, you’ll feel my sadness in the blog posts. There are times when I am despairing. And there are times that I think, how are we, after all the positive steps we’ve made towards being more peaceful as a world that recognizing there are many parts of that world that still experienced great harm, not only Ukraine. Others like Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, we are not there yet by any stretch. The situation in Ukraine, my parents are born there. It…  I was… I was a very low space after Ukraine was invaded. I will say, however, that I wonder, when I think about hope, I have found it helpful to differentiate between outcome hope and existential hope, or what is sometimes called mystical hope. And outcome hope is, “I need tomorrow to be this way.” And a more existential hope is, “I can be in the world that I’m in right now. And I can find moments of beauty and wonder and joy in this very moment, even as the external context is not at peace.” And so I do see, I mean, I do see changes happening, like, you know, this last weekend, I was working with a group for several days. And there were some participants in this organization, who began to hit home runs around how to speak to each other on really hard topics. And you just, you know, I was applauding them, I was excited doing it. And so I do see those kind of changes happening. And those give me a lot of hope for the future. We’re having important conversations around racism around all manner of topics that we weren’t having a number of years ago. And so that gives me hope, even if it’s hard. And I would say that that kind of hope is never enough.

Ben Wideman  22:13

Betty Pries  22:13
Because hopes can be dashed so so easily, because something happens, and people go back into their corners. And then what? And so you know, I’m reminded of all manner of, especially when a matter of writers coming out of hard times, including war. And one of the things I’m thinking now about Elie Wiesel, or, or Viktor Frankl, and people like that. You know, when I read them, and I read others, as well, in this similar genre of hope coming out of pain, I see always again, and again, this kind of a leaning into a kind of a, a deeper truth, a deeper truth, in the midst of our hardness, or hard stuff in the midst of these hard moments. If we can hang on to a moment of beauty, hang on, to wonder, hang on to joy, that our spirit is not destroyed, if we can hang on to goodness to kindness and sight. And it’s why years ago, I tried to, for myself, take on a spiritual practice of looking for at least one moment of wonder every single day. And when I see it, to acknowledge it, and to sort of lift it up to my own consciousness, to remember that there is goodness and hope and beauty around us. And not to hang on to that. Because that helps me to have energy, I guess and courage to go back in and to keep doing the work.

Ben Wideman  23:42
I love that. As a final word. If folks have been inspired by what we’ve talked about here today is is there a way for them to follow what you’re doing? Is there an online presence or where do you direct people who’d like to stay in touch?

Betty Pries  23:57
Sure. Our organization Creedence & Co, we have a website. I regularly post blogs as part of our newsletter. So you can follow us there. And yeah, we’ll see. I think that’s the primary way.

Ben Wideman  24:13
Perfect. Betty’s book, The Space Between Us: Conversations About Transforming Conflict is available now from Herald Press and available wherever you purchase books. Betty, thanks so much again for being here with us today.

Betty Pries  24:27
Thank you, it was a real privilege.

Ben Wideman  24:30
This year this season of Lent corresponds with Women’s History Month. Next weak on ~ing Podcast we sit down with Rev Dr. Angela Gorrell Williams, author of the recent book, The Gravity of Joy: A Story of Being Lost and Found.

Angela Williams Gorrell  24:45
These women that I’ve met in prison, they have suffered. So where is God in all of this? And how might joy minister to all of us in the midst of them?

Ben Wideman  24:58
As always, we’d like to thank our guests guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.