Discussion 1: Taking the Conflict Problem Seriously

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How can we get people to realize that our “business-as-usual” approach to conflict is destroying our ability to solve our biggest problems?


This question has two meanings, depending on who you see referred to with the words "people" and "our" in the sentence above.  We actually do mean it in two ways.

Meaning (and Part 1):

The first "people" and "our" refers to those of us in the conflict scholar and professional community.  I assume, since we are in this field, that most of us  know that conflict is important.  But do you agree with Guy's and my (Heidi's)  premise that it is the A#1 most important problem of our time that is preventing us from dealing effectively with almost any other substantive problems?

If you do agree with this formulation, than we'd like to hear your ideas about how we can get more people in our field to step up and start addressing what we call "the intractable conflict challenge." How do we get scholars and practitioners to go beyond their often narrowly-focused efforts on a particular conflict or class of conflicts to look at the way conflict in general is "done" in our societies?  What can we, as conflict scholars and professionals, do to influence the way our leadership and/or the general citizenry views and deals with conflict?  

For instance, in the United States, an increasing number of people seem to think of conflict in absolute win-lose terms.  "Compromise" has turned into a "dirty word," and both sides of the political divide are out for the total win.  One can argue that this is normal in an election season (which is upon us as I write,) but most of the social commentators I read agree (as do we) that these divisions and these win-lose attitudes are not going to go away once the election is over.  Indeed, they might even be intensified!  What can we, as conflict professionals, do to address that very dangerous trend?

If you disagree with our assertion...if you do not see the inability to successfully deal with conflict as the A#1 problem, what role do you see conflict attitudes and skills as playing in our current social, political, economic and/or environmental predicaments?  How might we adjust our "pitch" to make it more accurate?

Meaning (and Part) 2: 

The second meaning of "people" and "our" refers to the general citizenry.  I haven't been reading the sociological literature lately, but certainly the poll data and pundit data suggests that the United States populace is getting increasingly polarized.  A surprisingly high number of people are turning to politicians who offer simple answers to complex problems, and who frame most of the issues in "us versus them" terms. The problem is always caused by "the other," and "the other" is anyone who isn't "us."   Facts seem to matter less and less. And this isn't just one side...it is both the Democrats and the Republicans who are doing this.  Some think that this election particularly has made this trend worse, but again, this election is just highlighting trends that have been around for a long time. So again, we have two questions:

  1. If you agree with this, how do we get people to realize how destructive this sort of thought process is -- and how can we get people to stop, think, and listen to what they and the other side is doing that makes the problem worse?  Then, how do we encourage people to stop doing those things?!
  2. And if you disagree with our assertion, what counter assertion would you make?  Do you think the general public is helping reduce tensions in the United States (or elsewhere)? Can you even just highlight a few people who are doing constructive things?  What are they doing to do so, and how can those constructive actions be further encouraged?

Part 3:

Following up on the thought questions we asked in the video comparing intractable conflicts to climate change, what can the climate change movement teach the conflict resolution community about ways to get people to take the problem seriously?  And how can we avoid creating or encouraging "conflict deniers," similar to "climate-change deniers"?