Conflict Improvement

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Compared to conflicts where efforts towards “resolving” it make sense, in other conflicts based in unresolvable differences of worldview or identity another goal may be necessary.  From a conflict improvement school of thought, it’s valuable to more explicitly recognize and accept the inevitable collision of countervailing desires for unique identity and collective cooperation.  Indeed, in some cases a conflict may be necessary for the integrity of the communities involved.

With this explicit awareness of inevitable tension between two goods, there is no expectation that social or personal peacefulness requires an ultimate resolution or end to conflicts.  Thus conflict itself is not the problem; the way it is engaged is the problem. From this vantage point, the question becomes: how to sustain the conflict in a mode that improves the lives of those involved? How do we both engage in mutually desirable conflict and live in mutually desirable peace?  The answer from the conflict improvement school is to replace attitudes, habits and structures for contentious belligerence with respectful contestation. (J. Grenny et. al., Change Anything 2012)

In these situations, such contests will likely be continuous and any notion of tranquil consensus should be discarded from social expectations for peace.  In a world of divergent perspectives about truth, good and purpose, living in co-resistance and collaboration with trustworthy critics and rivals at home and abroad is seen as a more realistic goal.  To reach for more brings utopian disaster.  To work for less leaves us where we are—trusting our adversaries so little that suspicion, envy, contempt, resentment, anger and fear outweigh the collaborative good we desire to do and feel. The intention becomes learning to live peacefully in the tension of these conflicting desires that require relations of continual co-resistance and collaboration (like most long-married couples well know!)

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Have you ever experienced a situation where a conflict was not resolved, but improved somehow instead?

Conversation Catalysts: 

Bitter, Jean Nicolas, Les Dieux Embusqués

Lederach, John Paul. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Contributors: 

Charles Randall Paul, Jacob Hess

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