The Banana Tree: A reflection on conflict dynamics

Once upon a time, there was a banana tree. It was a very large banana tree, so large that her shadows crept across the whole earth. Her roots reached down into the bottom of the earth, and her trunk found solace in the sky, among the clouds. It is said that if you walked among the roots, bananas would fall from the sky like raindrops, sweet-smelling and fragrant tears of their loving mother in the sky. All across the earth were her children, sharing their fruit among a world at war with itself; full of shadows and disease, but among all of these, the banana trees stood, beautifying the earth and giving food to the hopeless, remembering their mother in the heavens.

This illustration is a vivid image in my mind, a memory of my wonderful time spent in Kenya, wandering the backyard of Dr. Kiiru’s home in Sigona, wending my hands through his red soil and the fresh scent of his farm. After a grueling week-long course in group and conflict dynamics, I can recall the instant that suddenly everything made sense. I was standing before a grove of banana trees, while his wife Nelly was explaining the nature and growth of the banana tree, when suddenly it was like a shaft of beautiful light came down and hit me, bringing everything I had learned that week into sudden perspective. The seven most important aspects of conflict dynamics came into reality, with sharp clarity.

There are seven aspects of conflict dynamics that affected me deeply: 1) having a lack of fear toward conflict, 2) recognizing that as a leader, I am an agent of growth, 3) admitting that I am fundamentally part of a group and that my response towards that group is equally important, 4) learning specific communication skills that will develop my competence in delivering my message, 5) learning how to delegate properly, with the fundamental understanding that delegation is a much larger task than simply giving out an assignment, 6) mastering a set of team-building skills that will allow me to not only lead a team from tragedy into opportunity, but foster new growth from that opportunity, and finally 7) working my way through a tragedy using solid steps that turn conflict into growth. Each step I will illustrate by using the example of the banana tree, preceded by the number of the aspect of conflict dynamics.

1) The banana tree begins its life as a small tree, surrounded by hostile plants and animals that would seek to do it harm. Yet it stands alone and soon grows other trees, without fear of those elements that surround it. It begins weak, but becomes exceedingly strong, with bark as strong as bamboo and as thick as a column of stone. 2) As an agent of growth, the banana tree grows in almost any climate, and needs little water or sun. It is flexible and adaptable in many diverse habitats. While there is a central tree, it supports the building of other trees in duplication. They transform the environment by beautifying the earth, not destroying the soil. Finally, they drive their roots deep, deep into the earth, and continually grow in depth. 3) Banana trees are group-oriented. Every tree forms other trees which are then grown and become reproducers of more trees. They are connected to each other through a root system that sustains them and brings them into a kind of harmony.

4) The banana trees are efficient communicators. They transform the environment around them, shielding plants from the scorching sun with their huge leaves and bringing a sense of peace to the earth. As well, the entire grove acts on behalf of the whole system, even when they are relocated. 5) Banana trees are collaborative, as they are all part of a central tree. Each banana tree has a different personality, in terms of amount of fruit and size, but when together, they form a beautiful team of individual personalities that work towards the whole. 6) The banana tree fruits are sweet-smelling and fragrant, plentiful and grown as a team. The mother tree grows new trees through its roots, rather than scattered seeds and are homeless and without roots. The mother’s roots form new trees, which when cut at the right time, form new groves. They all share the same soil, but each grows independently and strong. The more trees rooted in one spot, the stronger the central root becomes. After a tree has grown to a certain height, it immediately begins to grow another tree. Finally, that new tree then helps to feed the mother tree.

7) The banana tree is not affected by the plants around it, but it does not conflict with them. However, it does conflict with the environment through its very large presence, but it collaborates with the environment by taking up minimal space and shooting her roots down far into the earth. At the beginning, a tree starts out rootless when planted, much like we are when God puts us in a new place, but soon turns this conflict into opportunity by using the nutrients of the soil in order to grow strong and eventually reproduce through its roots, causing the whole cycle to beautifully repeat itself, and begin this cycle of perfect leadership once more.