Monday, May 5, 2008

Conflict and communication : a guide through the labyrinth of conflict management

Shapiro, Daniel, 1971-Conflict and communication : a guide through the labyrinth of conflict management/Daniel Shapiro.p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN0-9720541-9-7 (alk.paper)
1. Conflict management — Study and teaching. 2. Social conflict — Study and teaching. 3. Conflict management — Study and teaching — Activity programs. 4. Social conflict — Study and teaching — Activity programs.
I . Title. HM1126. S532004303.6’9’071 — dc222004010121


Among the ubiquitous dangers facing humanitythese days, only one threatens extinction of thehuman race: modern war. Until the advent of nuclear,chemical, and biological weapons, recurring conflictshave been compatible with survival and indeedhave provided stimuli to scientific and technologicalbreakthroughs, leading to major advances in healthand welfare, albeit at great temporary cost in livesand human su ering.As the last two world wars have shown, wars canescalate until combatants attack each other with themost destructive weapons at their disposal. Untiltoday, even the worst of these weapons could causeonly regional damage. With the abrupt emergenceof weapons capable of worldwide destruction, anywar waged by modern industrialized nations couldendanger humanity, and indeed all life.!ose struggling to contain this unprecedentedthreat work toward achieving two interacting andmutually reinforcing goals: verifiable, enforceableuniversal disarmament and substitution of e ectivenonviolent for violent methods of resolving conflicts.!e search for disarmament, although making alittle progress periodically, has always been frustratedby the underlying belief of all contending parties thatsuperior destructive force still is the ultimate arbiterof international quarrels, as it always has been.Superior destructive power, however, has become achimera, no longer achievable by industrially and scientificallyadvanced nations.!is realization forces those working for humansurvival to develop e ective nonviolent means forresolving group conflicts. A major obstacle towardachieving this goal interacts with reliance on superiorviolence. It is that humans as group creatures regardsurvival of the group, not its individual members, asthe paramount good. Witness the worldwide posthumousacclaim of heroes who have sacrificed theirlives in battle for their comrades or their country.Another aspect of psychological primacy of thegroup has been termed ethnocentrism. Membersof each group typically regard its values, customs,and achievements as superior to all others. Whentwo groups come into conflict over territory, food,or other limited resources, as well as for other reasons,each combatant sees its own goals and behaviorsas the only legitimate, praiseworthy ones. Eachdemeans and ridicules its opponent who becomesthe “enemy.”Each contender justifies its own atrocities by theatrocities of the enemy and seeks revenge. !esemutual images and behaviors are powerfully supportedby value systems, traditions, and codes ofconduct. In consequence, armed conflict, often lastinggenerations, typically leads to escalation of violenceuntil each combatant seeks exterminating theother, often including women and children, as asacred duty. In a nuclear-armed world, this is a recipefor mutual extinction.Two available and mutually reinforcing ways ofbreaking out of these traps are to work simultaneouslyfor disarmament and nonviolent conflict resolution.!e hope that this goal can be achieved restson the workshops in conflict resolution and communicationskills burgeoning throughout the world.To be sure, one must be cautious in drawingconclusions as to the success of these workshops. Incomparison to the enormous extent of the problem,the number of participants in them is still minuscule,which limits the generalizability of the results. Moreover,the conditions under which the workshops arebeing conducted and evaluated contain many inevitablesources of bias.What makes this particular program especiallyappealing is that it is no armchair exercise. !e participatingteachers and students are living in some ofthe most conflict-ridden parts of the world, and thedesigner of this curriculum has spent months in theseregions organizing and participating in the exercises.!e curriculum is methodologically and conceptuallysophisticated.Since production of basic change in culturallyingrained attitudes is di cult and slow, humanitywill have to live under the Damocles sword of civilization—destroying weaponry for a long time. Until thesword drops, however, there may be time for humansto achieve the massive psychological transformationeventually leading to exclusive reliance on nonviolentmethods for resolving group disputes. A dauntingtask indeed, but there is no other alternative.Hopefully, programs of conflict managementlike this one will in time become sufficientlywidespread and sophisticated to mitigate andeventually replace violence in domestic and internationalconflicts. Only a distant hope, to besure, but in the wise aphorism of Krishnamurti,an Indian philosopher: “A pebble can change thecourse of a river.”!is curriculum is such a pebble. As more andmore such pebbles accumulate, we may hope theywill grow to form a dam mighty enough to divert thecourse of human events from its present destructivechannels.In the meanwhile, I heartily recommend seriousperusal and implementation where possible ofConflict and Communication: A Guide rough theLabyrinth of Conflict Management to all who cherishhopes for the future of humanity.

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