Thursday, May 19, 2011

Recycle or reuse?

We think about recycling and reuse in terms of plastic bags and soda bottles, but it also applies to our conflict methods. In the case of the bags and bottles, energy and raw material consumption are increased with recycling and reduced with reuse. This would indicate that we should reuse more than recycle. My oldest reusable shopping bag, frayed and faded, dates back 20 years. If grocery stores still sold soda in reusable bottles, I'd buy.

But in our conflict management methods, recycling is transformation and and reuse is a continuation of the same trends. Using violence tends to produce less trust in an agreement and more fear from the other side, which in turn promotes the reuse of violence by both sides, neither of which wants to be the gullible one who waited too long. As long as violence is the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, this BATNA will exacerbate tendencies to employ more violence. This the problem with reuse of the destructive conflict. Kriesberg (2007) observes that "violence can be counterproductive, stiffening resolve and resistance by the opponent, inviting retaliation, and often enabling the other side to mobilize support from outsiders" (p. 301). With violence, reuse=revenge and permanent destruction.

Recycling the conflict methods and transforming them into nonviolence is how we begin to fix that problem at the root. A commitment to nonviolence strengthens trust and relaxes conditions. It is a refashioning, transformative approach if violence or the threat of violence has been used in the past, and this refusal to reuse the destructive methods, when demonstrated consistently and under duress, lowers the severity of the threat and the destructiveness of the responses from all sides.

Does this equate to unwillingness to assert, to confront, or to struggle? No, and in fact it's the opposite for those who recycle the means but keep the ends close. In nonviolent struggle the best alternative to a negotiated agreement may involve sanctions, interposition, noncooperation, blockade, boycott, withholding of all collaboration and general interference. It is a very effective retooled form of fighting. It gave us the 40 hour work week, women's vote, civil rights and voting rights, rights for folks with disabilities, an end to the Marcos regime in the Philippines, rights for migrant workers and much much. Violence is never necessary except for those who have not developed their imaginations and resources toward nonviolence. Reusing swords guarantees more bloodshed. Beating swords into smithereens is great, but beating them into plowshares is the best recycling.

Kriesberg, L. (2007). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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