Saturday, July 10, 2010

New frames, new lenses, better vision!

All conflict is intercultural conflict.
This is a growing perspective in the field of conflict analysis, since we are all identity groups of one. My identity is different from yours and yours is different from every other human now or ever. Yes, there are identity groups, such as redheads, tea party devotees, Filipinas, Sufis, women, professors, cricket players, warmongers, and so forth. We are, in the aggregate, each in our little Venn diagram of one, if all our identities are considered. So all conflict that is not solely intrapsychological is intercultural (and even then...).
If we could all understand this in its complex totality, we'd be so gracious that conflict would become conversation and constructive negotiation, not hot, not destructive.
If I could understand that the Muslim fundamentalist who beats his wife is an insecure, beaten man himself, I could want to work with his to negotiate a better outcome. If my student who hates my assessment of her work could understand that I am afraid I'll be regarded as an inadequate teacher unless I grade with discipline and strict attention to requirements, we could negotiate a result that would please us both much more.
And if we could understand broader cultural differences, such as cultural approaches to time, to power, to context and so forth, we could negotiate so much more appropriately and with superior results.
So, for example, when I worked with the tribes in the Lake Superior basin, I had to learn a new relationship to time, talk, humor, and meaning. It all added up to respect. I learned how to give it and I got it back. I was able to be of assistance.
I made mistakes. I learned. The more I learned about culture the better the collaboration.
When I made a meeting time, I learned to bring a book. If the other person wasn't on time, that was almost always because he or she was involved with another person and did not want to show disrespect by cutting them off and leaving for our meeting. This value was well understood and tolerated in that community. Sociologists call it polychronic. Time is a flexible concept. Learn that and learn to adapt in another culture. Your operational capacity will increase. Conversely, when a student of mine is late for class or a meeting and tries to pass it off as just cultural (I'm Palestinian, I'm Greek, etc.) I am quick to also note that the academic culture I operate in is closer to the train schedule. If you miss it, you miss it. They need to adapt to my culture in that situation. It's all about respect and it works inside cultures, so those who come in need to learn or negotiations don't go well.
When I became an Anishinabe niijii (friend of the Anishinabe) that did not mean I was from the Wannabe tribe--I am just a Scot-Swede-French-German-American--but it did mean that I was an accepted ally, someone whose support for their nonviolent struggle was serious enough to mean I devoted time and whatever talent I had to helping, to supporting and to following. Following is so very hard for dominant culture individuals, but we either learn to do that (up to the point of violating our own principles, which is not appropriate, ever, so, for example, I would never support violence, no matter how justified, because I am a pacifist) we either learn to be followers or we will never be regarded as true allies.
Framing each conflict as intercultural can help us all develop cross cultural strategies and competencies.

Using the lens of the other party in any conflict leads to stronger chances for negotiations that have much more positive outcomes.
This is part of how we improve our vision as we struggle to wage nonviolent conflict.

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