As we’ve seen in the discussion of the Iraq War, actual solutions to conflict are hard to come by. “Stay the course” or “Bring’em home” may make great slogans, but they don’t solve anything. The roots of a conflict (on both sides ) go much deeper than what either side says the shooting is about. And without recognizing the actual causes, no solutions can be implemented.
To complicate matters, applying the conventional paradigm when applied to post-modern war results in the conclusion that combatants do not act rationally: why do they keep using tactics that do not achieve victory? If the combatants do not act rationally, peace is virtually impossible.
The paradigm I have developed, on the other hand, suggests that the combatants do act rationally: that if the tactics they use do not achieve victory, they must serve some other goal. If the combatants act rationally, then under certain circumstances they can be convinced to act differently, and peace is at least possible.Â But it’s still not easy.
Let’s suppose we accept that the combatants act rationally, and we explore and discover the roots of the conflict. There is no magic solution that will cause people to stop killing each other. A quick read through John Paul Lederach’s “The Moral Imagination suggests that solutions are almost as diverse as conflicts.Â But solutions exist.
There are some basic principles to building peace that maximize the likelyhood of success. They’ve been stated in several ways in several cultures. I’ve chosen for this post a selection from the official guidelines for peacemaking of the Mennonnite Church, which is well written and simple to understand. (I have taken the liberty of removing the biblical references; see the link for the original, officially-adopted version):
Go directly to those with whom we disagree; avoid behind-the-back criticism.
Go in gentleness, patience and humility. Place the problem between us at neither doorstep and own our part in the conflict instead of pointing out the others’.
Listen carefully, summarize and check out what is heard before responding. Seek as much to understand as to be understood.
Suspend judgments, avoid labeling, end name calling, discard threats, and act in a nondefensive, nonreactive way.
Work through the disagreements constructively.
*Â Identify issues, interests, and needs of both (rather than take positions).
*Â Generate a variety of options for meeting both parties’ needs (rather than defending one’s own way).
*Â Evaluate options by how they meet the needs and satisfy the interests of all sides (not one side’s values).
*Â Collaborate in working out a joint solution (so both sides gain, both grow and win).
*Â Cooperate with the emerging agreement (accept the possible, not demand your ideal).
*Â Reward each other for each step forward, toward agreement (celebrate mutuality).
Be firm in our commitment to seek a mutual solution…
As I said, these are only one possible statement of the principles, though from a well-respected church with a centuries-old commitment to peace. In our work, we used similar principles as articulated by Sharif Abdullah, one of our team members, based on his own experience of conflict reolution here in the States.
One of our fundamental premises is that we cannot end conflict by creating more conflict– an adversarial approach to peace is doomed to fail. This doesn’t mean we never propose controversial ideas. But when we do, and indeed with everything we do, it must be done in a spirit of inclusivity, inviting all parties to participate. Only then can we transcend the conflict process, in which every party tries to grab power for itself, and address the needs to the whole from which the conflict stems.