Sunday, November 10, 2013

Raising hope leads to raising hell

Some societies will exist under extreme repression, poverty, disease, filth, violence, and illiteracy for generations without much of a murmur. Suddenly, they revolt, refuse all cooperation with a despotic government, and the government falls. WTF? Why were they so fatalistic for so long?

Hope is a very dangerous thing--it leads, say the conflict researchers, to action. Kriesberg and Dayton (2012, p. 49) note that for conflict to emerge, one of the normally necessary elements is that "members of the aggrieved party must believe that they can indeed bring about the desired change in the antagonist." Until some leader, some event, some campaign, some crack in the wall of oppression opens, people will remain long-suffering. Give them that inch of hope and they will try for a mile of results.
I use Kriesberg and Dayton--Constructive Conflicts--as a text book in a class and one of the ways I test students' understanding is basic True/False questions. Here is one: "Kriesberg and Dayton seem to say that, 'Conflict is most likely to emerge overtly once people with grievances believe that all hope is lost.'" Slightly more than half of my students answer that incorrectly--they choose True. This indicates that the 'common sense' approach is taken by some students who believe that the information they learn in my classes is just an academic expression of the normal received wisdom we all know. My quizzes are thus frustrating to those students who fail to study or fail to study properly, to note the concepts that might not be what their other general knowledge might make them 'know.' In many discussion posts I read variations of "the authors just say common sense information in fancy academic language." Actually, that is only true sometimes. Sometimes, research will disconfirm what is 'understood' in society.

This is related to some of the issues surrounding any emerging discipline, which is certainly what Conflict Resolution is. As more research informs our most academic, peer-reviewed writings by our experts, we will slowly be understood to be a science, not a mere intuitive art. Students struggle with this, understandably, and yet they will be the seed crop that helps society gain a new 'common sense' as they gradually learn and share the basics of conflict forensics we teach in our colleges and universities. It's a process with a few bumps in the scholarly road, but it is underway.

And when my students confront me about my tests, I know that they "believe that they can indeed bring about the desired change in the antagonist" (me), and sometimes they do--and sometimes I can help them see that we need to change what we 'know' in our culture.

Kriesberg, Louis, & Dayton, Bruce W. (2012). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (4th ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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