The Book: Conflict is Not Abuse:  Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman.

The Reviewer: Sarah Todd, Associate Professor/ Graduate Supervisor in the School of Social Work.

I often think books find us at times when we can make the most use of them and this could not be truer than it was with my reading of Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse:  Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. The title drew me in over the holidays as my ears rang with the never ending reports from one or the other of my children that the other was “being mean”.   It is without a doubt the most interesting book that I read in 2016.

In it, Schulman explores how we have developed into a culture that overstates harm in order to avoid accountability.  In other words, she considers how we sometimes make claims of, for example, abuse, when in fact what we are experiencing is conflict that is, in part a result of our own behaviours, fears or misunderstandings.  We do so, in part, so that we don’t have to do the hard work of facing our own frailties and working through the conflict. One of the most fascinating elements of her critique is that she examines this tendency within our most intimate relationships, our workplaces, and in global politics.

Schulman then carefully maps the cost of such responses to conflict, which include dehumanizing one another and tending to give power to the state institutions (i.e. police, tribunals) to solve our problems. She challenges us to rethink our desires to blame and punish and to consider how we often mishear and accuse as a result our own anxieties.  Schulman challenges us to see shunning responses to conflict as unethical.  She suggests that when we are in conflict with people, we need face-to-face communication where we can tell them how we feel and where we can humanize each other.

I found the book immensely helpful for reflecting on my parenting, teaching, and how we negotiate the current political climate.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 in
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