Thursday, February 11, 2010

Standing at the confluence

We stood at the place where the Kicking Horse river joins the Yoho river in Yoho National Park, part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, five contiguous national parks, wild and free and, well, yoho! (Yoho is the Cree word for astonishingly magnificent.) One river was rushing and clear, one was rushing and cloudy. It was quite a sight. While both had likely come off some part of the Columbian icefields, the clear river had come in and out through some tarn--a glacial meltwater-fed mountain lake--which settles out the particulate around which a snowflake formed scores of thousands of years ago. The other river was straight off the icefields with all the ancient particulate still suspended in the water.

Kicking Horse river

One might call the theories of conflict resolution the clear river, the settled river, the dynamic but less opaque waters. The theories of nonviolence might be the more cloudy, straight off the frontlines of struggle with all the human emotional particulate still suspended in the jumping, dancing, loud and wild waters.

The Kicking Horse and the Yoho rivers combine to form a more powerful river and you can see that it takes a ways downstream before all the waters are commingled, which adds to the drama of the scene. Like the combined river of much more power, the addition of the theories of nonviolence to the practice of conflict resolution--and vice versa--produce a much more robust model.

Of course the great masters have already done this. I am only trying to identify when they do and how they think about it and make it work.

Gandhi used forgiveness and reconciliation in his nonviolent campaigns, starting with his original work in South Africa. He forgave the Muslim man who almost beat him to death, an amazingly powerful act of self-sacrifice for the greater cause, and the allegiance of Muslims to his leadership was made immeasurably stronger for that.

Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham jail about using direct action to get to the negotiating table.

Cesar Chavez overrode some in his United Farmworkers Union struggles who wanted to make it a Hispanic-only organization, using the conflict resolution principle that all stakeholders belong at the table.

In their germinal volume Getting to Yes, Harvard Negotiation Project researchers Roger Fisher and William Ury recommend some tactics that are essentially nonviolent resistance and noncooperation--offering to leave negotiations when one party is using dirty tricks until they can recommit to not doing so.

In this instances and many more, the theories of conflict resolution and nonviolent action complement, serve, and strengthen each other.

If you get a chance, paddle in both streams and in the confluence. It's wild and sometimes not too clear, but the joy and frisson makes it all worth it.

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