Sunday, February 15, 2015

Conflict chicken and egg

Which came first, the weapons and testosterone, or the verbal skills to manage conflict without violence?

We have no particular way to know for sure, but language, conflict, creativity, and violence all seemed to co-evolve in connected, sometimes dependent sequences. Tools were creative; thieving was destructive and caused conflict, avoided by further creativity in word and gesture. Weapons made everything possible and everything worse, especially when used against other humans. They do not equalize so much as they breed domination.

How far along are our nonviolent de-escalation techniques? German psychiatrist Dirk Richter (2007) asserts that evidence is scant that psychiatry has learned much about verbal de-escalation. I don't think that the folks who do just that every day in formal settings during operations by groups that have de-escalation as their primary mission would agree. These groups are proliferating and include such organizations as Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and more. Dr. Randy Janzen is a professor at Selkirk College in British Columbia who has launched a database and case studies of such groups and their efforts. His work is to compare to the UN peacekeeping operations (2013) and he indicated that results show a clear advantage to unarmed peacekeeping in the limited but growing numbers of examples available to examine.

What if police were unarmed? Obviously, the first requirement for that would be the repeal of the stupid Second Amendment so that a society awash in guns could begin to rid itself of them. That will take a long while indeed.

If Black Americans knew that white cops would not be coming in guns blazing perhaps they would not be so rightfully apprehensive and resentful in the presence of police. When, on 16 July 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts police got a call that two African American men were breaking into a home, was it unreasonable that police should ask for some proof that the man who had just forced open the door was the actual owner (Staples, 2011)? Why didn't Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard and a man known to presidents, go find proof or simply ask the officers to accompany him to any of his neighbors' doors to verify his residence? Why didn't police believe Dr. Gates? Why did the Harvard professor, a smart man, challenge the authority of the police? Would he not want police to inquire of anyone else, no matter how distinguished in appearance, who broke down the door of his home? Did the police really not know the luminary they were harrassing? Did Dr. Gates believe every cop should know his face and reputation? Of course, the cops and the doc all claim to be the calm cooperative ones trying to deal with rogues and belligerents.

From a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective, it appears to be a blustering group of manly egos afflicted by testosterone poisoning overlain by institutional racism and tinged with classism. But I wasn't there. Would it be different if conflict were managed nonviolently?

Conflicts are "natural, inevitable, and esential parts of social life" (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012, p. 3). There will be conflict when interests clash, when scarcity seems to be shared unequally, and when someone or some group exerts power over others instead of power with them. It is made more likely and worse when certain actions, scenarios, and even skin color evoke collective memory of injustice.

Still, even with all those stressers, we can do it nonviolently. Men need to gain some self-awareness of the testosterone problem that tends to flood many of us with nearly uncontrollable rage under some circumstances. Luckily, we mostly do control that rage. If we didn't and if we consider how many guns exist in America, we would expect a daily slaughter into the thousands instead of an annual slaughter into the thousands.

So all this means we not only have the legacy of the stupid Second Amendment (more guns per capita than any nation on Earth and the notion that this is good thing) but the legacy of past injustices of white to black, white to red, white to pretty much everyone, men to women, and rich to poor. Exacerbating these harmful legacies is the lack of nonviolent communication education and nonviolent conflict management skills in our children's education.

We have a long way to go. Time to step up and on and on...


Janzen, R. (2013). Determinants of success in UN peacekeeping operations. International Journal on World Peace, 30(4), 87-89.

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

Richter, D. (2007). De-escalation in mental health care: a review of non-physical conflict management techniques. BMC Psychiatry, 71. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-7-S1-S146

Staples, R. (2011). White power, black crime, and racial politics. Black Scholar, 41(4), 31-41.

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