People tend to be so focused on defending themselves from the "enemy," they don't notice that destructive conflict dynamics are a bigger threat--and their defense from the enemy is actually making things worse for everyone.
Help people understand the danger of destructive conflict dynamics--and begin to confront conflicts in more constructive ways.
When they get involved in a difficult and important conflict, people typically try to fight as hard as they can. This is particularly true in intractable conflicts--ones that typically involve non-negotiable issues such as moral disagreements, identity issues, or very high-stakes distributional issues. These issues are so important, people think, that they can't afford to lose. So they keep fighting as hard as they can, even in the face of continuing defeat.
When both sides do this, however, the conflict not only doesn't get resolved; it often gets increasingly destructive to both sides. That means that every action taken doesn't just hurt "the enemy," it hurts one's own side as well.
A much better way of looking at--and responding to--deep-rooted and intractable conflicts is to understand that conflict dynamics are actually a greater impediment to "winning" or successful problem solving than is the other side. A first step towards both ends has to be de-escalation. Only by stopping the conflict spiral, by stopping the destructive dynamics, can one actually begin to envision and craft a "way out" of any deeply-rooted, or intractable conflict.
More information about these ideas can be found in:
- The Conflict Frontiers Post on Why Can't We Fix Anything Anymore
- The Conflict Frontiers Post on Intractable Conflict as a "Climate Change-Class" Problem
- The Conflict Frontiers Post on the Critical "Power-With" vs. "Power-Over" Choice.
- Beyond Intractability (BI) Essay on Factors Shaping the Course of Intractable Conflict
- BI Essay on Psychological Dynamics of Intractable Conflicts
- BI Essay on the Ethos of Conflict
- BI-Essay on Destructive Escalation
- Scholar/practitioner Mari Fitzduff explains how conflict strategies can make things worse in this interview segment.on Northern Ireland.
- BI-Essay on Polarization
- Expert conflict scholars and practitioners talk about polarization in these interview segments.
- BI Essay on Limiting Escalation and De-escalation
Question for You:
Have you done this in a particularly tricky or difficult conflict situation? Tell us about what you did and how it worked out. Did it help? Did that change the conflict dynamics? (Answer below in the comment field, but in order to do that you need to be registered as a MBI Discussant.)