Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Evolving away from extinction

Conflict can be understood as the motor of change, that which keeps relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth. (Lederach, 2003, p. 18).
 When John Paul Lederach writes about conflict, he makes it sound like conflict is our BFF. Excuse us, John Paul--how were our wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq  that which kept "relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth"? When my neighbor with the barking dog tells me to go to hell, how is that conflict helpful at all?
What Lederach is really writing about--and what he practices in our society and all over the world, for decades--is conflict transformation, that is, a transition from the negative sorts of conflict to positive. That war can be transformed, though it would be best to intervene much, much earlier, to turn the path toward a constructive, productive conflict that produces keen insights in response to hard challenges. That should be the essence of democracy, the system that theoretically eliminates violence from politics because we peacefully transition with universal suffrage.

Where the Lederach model is so helpful is when we try to improve the essence of the best of democracy, which is not the tyranny of the majority, but rather the protection of the minority. Democracy is not supposed to be the dominant ethnic group deciding who can be discriminated against in a 'free' country. Lederach was writing about the escalation of conflict using methods that would generate social change where it was needed, which is almost impossible to achieve using anything except nonviolence and its higher levels of conflict skills.

When coercion is necessary to protect the vulnerable, it is most effectively accomplished using the Lederach thinking, so that the coercion isn't as likely to produce sustained resentment, but is rather more likely to produce wider appreciation for the stories and humanity of all parties to a conflict.

So, yes, conflict is our new BFF, if we use it to achieve more positive growth, structural nonviolence, a deeper mutual respect among conflictual parties, and a blunting and mitigation of the natural human desire for revenge. The only ones to get even with are those who helped you. Nonviolence can eliminate the revaunchist by making him reasonably satisfied and less desirous of sharing his pain, since no pain is inflicted with nonviolence. This is our evolutionary path, if we wish to see this evolutionary experiment continue.
Lederach, John Paul (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

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