ТОП 10:

Conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change.



Acknowledgments

 

Writing a Little Book was much harder than it appears. I had help along the way. First, I want to extend a warm and deeply appreciative thank you to Howard Zehr for conceptualizing this Little Book Series and encouraging my involvement. More importantly, he had the first crack at helping me move from a verbose text to one that got to the point. I appreciate the excellent editing and sharpening that this text received from Phyllis Pellman Good. It would not read this well without her advice and suggestions. I had a great boost on the computer-generated graphics from my good friends at the Consortium on Conflict Resolution from the University of Colorado, particularly from Heidi and Guy Burgess. Of particular note, I had the wonderful opportunity of having the Master’s students from the Kroc Institute’s (Notre Dame) class of 2002-2003 read my first draft and spend a full day of class improving and clarifying the concepts. Their ideas and suggestions are found throughout.

 

I would like to extend a big note of gratitude to John and Gina Martin-Smith for the use of their house in Nederland, Colorado, where I got to watch the aspens turn from green to yellow at 8,500 feet as I wrote this text.

 

Finally, I recognize that none of my writing would take place without the patient support and encouragement of my family, especially Wendy, with whom I have had many coffees while discussing the ideas found in this book and how to say them better.

 

Table of Contents

1. Conflict Transformation?

2. The Lenses of Conflict Transformation

3. Defining Conflict Transformation

4. Conflict and Change

5. Connecting Resolution and Transformation

6. Creating a Map of Conflict

7. Process-Structures as Platforms for Change

8. Developing Our Capacities

9. Applying the Framework

10. Conclusions

11. Endnotes

12. Selected Readings

13. Related Books by John Paul Lederach

14. About the Author

 

Conflict Transformation?

 

Conflict resolution . . . conflict management . . . but conflict transformation?

 

I began using the term conflict transformation in the 1980s, after intensive experience in Central America caused me to re-examine the language of the field.

 

When I arrived there my vocabulary was filled with the usual terminology of conflict resolution and management. I soon found, though, that my Latin colleagues had questions, even suspicions, about what was meant by such concepts. For them, resolution carried with it a danger of co-optation, an attempt to get rid of conflict when people were raising important and legitimate issues. It was not clear that resolution left room for advocacy. In their experience, quick solutions to deep social-political problems usually meant lots of good words but no real change. “Conflicts happen for a reason,” they would say. “Is this resolution idea just another way to cover up the changes that are really needed?”

 

Their concerns were consistent with my own experience and perspective. My deepest sense of vocation, and the framework that informs much of this book, arises from a faith context that is grounded in an Anabaptist/Mennonite religious-ethical framework. This perspective understands peace as embedded in justice. It emphasizes the importance of building right relationships and social structures through a radical respect for human rights and life. It advocates nonviolence as a way of life and work.

So the concerns of my Latin colleagues hit home. In my work of helping to find constructive responses to violent conflict in Central America and elsewhere, I became increasingly convinced that much of what I was doing was seeking constructive change. “Conflict transformation” seemed to convey this meaning better than conflict resolution or management.

 

Conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change.

 

In the 1990s, when I helped found the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), we had extensive debates about titles and terms. Resolution was better known and was widely accepted in mainstream academic and political circles. Transformation seemed too value-laden for some, too idealistic for others, and too airy-fairy and new-age for still others. In the end, we stuck with the transformation terminology. We believed it was accurate and scientifically sound and that it provided a clear vision.

 

For me, conflict transformation is accurate because I am engaged in constructive change efforts that include, and go beyond, the resolution of specific problems. It is scientifically sound language because it is based on two verifiable realities: conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change. Transformation provides a clear and important vision because it brings into focus the horizon toward which we journey—the building of healthy relationships and communities, locally and globally. This goal requires real change in our current ways of relating.

 

But the question remains, what does transformation really mean?

Over the past decade or so, the terminology of transformation has become increasingly common in both practitioner and academic circles. There are transformational approaches in mediation as well as in the broader discipline of peace and conflict studies. In fact, I am now part of two graduate academic programs that use this terminology, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame and the Conflict Transformation Program at EMU. In spite of this, conflict transformation is not as yet a school of thought. I do believe that conflict transformation is a comprehensive orientation or framework that ultimately may require a fundamental change in our way of thinking.

 

What follows is my understanding of this framework based on my reading, my practice, and my teaching over the past 15 years. This Little Book is not a definitive statement; my understanding constantly evolves, pushed by experiences of practice and teaching.

 

My understanding both parallels and converges from the work of other authors, although I am not able to explore all of those connections here. I do not want to imply that my particular view of transformation is superior to those who use the term differently or to those who prefer the term resolution. In this Little Book I mean to engage the creative tension between themes of resolution and transformation in order to sharpen understanding, not to discredit the work of those who prefer other terms.

 

My purpose here is to add a voice to the ongoing discussion, to the search for greater understanding in human relationships.

Conflict and Change

 

Conflict happens. It is normal and it is continuously present in human relationships. Change happens as well. Human community and relationships are not static but ever dynamic, adapting, changing.

 

Conflict impacts situations and changes things in many different ways. We can analyze these changes in four broad categories: the personal, the relational, the structural, and the cultural.

 

Conflict impacts us personally, relationally, structurally, culturally.  

 

We can also think about these changes in response to two questions.

 

  • What changes are occurring as a result of conflict? For example, what are the patterns and the effects of this conflict?
  • What kind of changes do we seek? To answer this second question, we need to ask what our values and intentions may be.

 

With these two questions in mind, let us consider these four areas.

 

The personal aspect of conflict refers to changes affected in and desired for the individual. This involves the full person, including the cognitive, emotional, perceptual, and spiritual dimensions.

 

From a descriptive perspective, transformation reminds us that we as individuals are affected by conflict in both negative and positive ways. Conflict affects our physical well-being, self-esteem, emotional stability, capacity to perceive accurately, and spiritual integrity.

 

 

Creating a Map of Conflict

 

The “big picture” of conflict transformation suggested in the previous chapter can be visualized as a map or diagram (Figure 1). It is comprised of three main components, each representing a point of inquiry in the development of strategy and response to conflict. We begin with the first point of inquiry, the Presenting Situation.

 

Inquiry 1:

The presenting situation

 

Figure 1 visualizes the Presenting Situation as a set of embedded spheres shown here as ellipses. A sphere is a useful metaphor that helps us think about spaces of exploration, meaning, and action. As opposed to a circle, a sphere has somewhat looser boundaries, as in the phrase, “a sphere of activity.” A sphere invites us into an evolving space.

 

Here the sphere of immediate issues is embedded in the sphere of patterns, which in turn is embedded in the sphere of history. This reminds us that the immediate issues are rooted in a context—in patterns of relationships and structures, all with a history.

 

The horizon of the future

 

The second point of inquiry helps us think about the horizon of the future. The image of a horizon may be an appropriate way to imagine the future. A horizon can be seen but not touched. It can provide orientation, but it requires constant journeying each day. The future is something we can visualize but do not control.

 

In our big picture the future is represented as a set of spheres and is meant to suggest an open and dynamically evolving future. Embedded in this space of engagement and exploration are smaller spheres— immediate solutions, relationships, structures—that involve possible avenues for dealing with the immediate presenting issues, as well as processes that address relational and structural patterns. The inquiry into the horizon of the future brings forward questions like these: What do we hope to build? What would we ideally like to see in place? How can we address all levels—immediate solutions as well as underlying patterns of relationships and structures?

 

If these two sets of spheres or levels of inquiry (the presenting situation and the horizon of the future) were the only components of the big picture, we might have a model of linear change: a movement from the present situation to the desired future. However, it is important to visualize the overall picture as an interconnected circle. We can see this in the energies depicted by the arrows. The presenting situation spheres create a push to do something about these issues. They are a kind of social energy creating an impulse toward change, depicted as the arrow moving forward. On the other side, the horizon of the future harnesses an impulse that points toward possibilities of what could be constructed and built. The horizon represents a social energy that informs and creates orientation. Here the arrow points both back toward the immediate situation and forward to the range of change processes that may emerge. The combination of arrows provides an overall circle. In other words, our big picture is both a circular and a linear process, or what we earlier referred to as a process-structure.

 

Inquiry 3:

Toward something new.

 

In the broadest terms, then, the transformation framework comprises three inquiries: the presenting situation, the horizon of preferred future, and the development of change processes linking the two. The movement from the present toward the desired future is not a straight line. Rather, it represents a dynamic set of initiatives that set in motion change processes and promote long-term change strategies, while providing responses to specific, immediate needs. Conflict transformation faces these challenges: What kind of changes and solutions are needed? At what levels? Around which issues? Embedded in which relationships?

 

Such a framework emphasizes the challenge of how to end something not desired and how to build something that is desired. Remember, this approach connects resolution practices that have often looked for ways to end a particular “iteration” or repetition of conflict with a transformation orientation that works at building ongoing change at relational and structural levels. On the one hand, this framework deals with presenting problems and the content of the conflict, seeking to find mutually acceptable solutions to both. These are often processes that reduce violence and the continued escalation of conflict. On the other hand, this approach goes beyond negotiating solutions and builds toward something new. This requires the negotiation of change processes rising from a broader understanding of relational patterns and historical context.

 

Transformation negotiates both solutions and social change initiatives. It requires a capacity to see through and beyond the presenting issues to the deeper patterns, while seeking creative responses that address real-life issues in real time. However, to more fully comprehend this approach we need to understand more completely how platforms for constructive change are conceptualized and developed as process-structures.

 

 

Both circular and linear

 

Circular means things go around. Sometimes the word circular has a negative implication, as in circular thinking. Circular also has positive implications. First, it reminds us that things are connected and in relationship. Second, it suggests that the growth of something often nourishes itself from its own process and dynamic. Third, and most critical to our inquiry, the concept of circularity reminds us that processes of change are not one-directional. This is particularly important to keep in mind as we experience the ebb and flow of our efforts to create platforms for constructive response.

 

Circularity suggests that we need to think carefully about how social change actually happens. Often we look at change through a rear-view mirror, observing the pattern of how something got from one place to another. But, when we are in the middle of change, and when we are looking forward toward what can be done, the process of change never seems clear or neat. The circle reminds us that change is not evenly paced, nor is it one-directional.

 

The circle of change

 

We can begin by placing the circle in chronological time (see Figure 2). To do this, I have found it useful to pay attention to what change actually feels like, especially when the persons involved care deeply about certain kinds of social change or are in the middle of a difficult conflict. Figure 2 identifies four common experiences, each very different, each wrapped up with the other, each part of the circle of change.

 

Sometimes we feel as if desired change is happening, as if there is progress. Things are moving forward in a desired direction, toward the goals or aspirations we hold for ourselves and our relationships.

 

Change as process-structure

 

Figure 3 graphically displays a simple process-structure. This picture holds together a web of dynamic circles creating an overall momentum and direction. Some might refer to this as a rotini, a spiral made up of multidirectional internal patterns that create a common overall movement.

 

Transformational platforms

 

A transformational approach requires us to build an ongoing and adaptive base at the epicenter of conflict, a “platform.” A platform is like a scaffold-trampoline: it gives a base to stand on and jump from. The platform includes an understanding of the various levels of the conflict (the “big picture”), processes for addressing immediate problems and conflicts, a vision for the future, and a plan for change processes which will move in that direction. From this base it becomes possible to generate processes that create solutions to short-term needs and, at the same time, work on strategic, long-term, constructive change in systems and relationships.

 

Developing Our Capacities

 

As I have moved from thinking conceptually about conflict transformation to applying it, I have found it important to cultivate the following personal practices:

 

Practice 1:

Develop a capacity to see

Multiple time frames

 

The capacity to see through the window of the immediate situation assumes a second important discipline: the ability to think and act without being bound by the constraints of a short-term view of time. This does not mean that we think long-term simply to prevent or correct the shortsightedness of working in a crisis mentality. Rather, it means to create strategies that integrate short-term response with long-term change; we must be short-term responsive and long-term strategic.

 

This approach requires processes with a variety of time frames. It is important to be able to be comfort-able with this multiplicity of time lines.

 

One specific tool that helps develop this capacity is to visualize time as connected to specific needs at different levels. A system-wide change process that addresses the culture of an organization—for example, how departments will be re-conceived and coordinated within an organization in order to reflect a new mission statement—may need to be thought about as a multi-year process. Who will be responsible for working Saturdays during this next year while the discussions are ongoing? This need requires a short-term, immediate process that produces clear, workable solutions to a specific problem.

 

If people can see what, when, and why things are happening, if they have a visual time frame that integrates and delineates the types of processes and the time provided for dealing with each one of them, then they can more easily comprehend the idea of immediate problem-solving and longer-range strategic change.

 

The transformation-oriented practitioner must cultivate the capacity to recognize what sorts of process-related time frames may be necessary to address the different kinds of change required.

 

Practice 3:

Develop a capacity to make

The voices of identity

 

 

I have repeatedly suggested that we should look for and see the patterns in the context underpinning the presenting situation, in the epicenter of the conflict. But what do we look and listen for? I have consistently found that most essential is hearing and engaging the struggling, sometimes lost, voices of identity within the loud static of the conflictive environment. In my experience, issues of identity are at the root of most conflicts. Thus a capacity to understand and respect the role of identity is essential to understanding the epicenter of conflict.

 

Issues of identity are fundamental in protecting a sense of self and group survival, and they become particularly important during conflicts. Identity shapes and moves an expression of conflict, often in terms of deeply felt demands and preferred outcomes, to presenting issues. At the deepest level, identity is lodged in the narratives of how people see themselves, who they are, where they have come from, and what they fear they will become or lose. Thus, identity is deeply rooted in a person's or a group’s sense of how that person or group is in relationship with others and what effect that relationship has on its participants' sense of self and group. Identity matters are fundamental to conflict, yet they are rarely explicitly addressed in the conflict.

 

Identity is not a rigid, static phenomenon. Rather, identity is dynamic and under constant definition and redefinition, especially during times of conflict. Identity is also best understood as relational. If we had no other color in the world than the color blue, then blue would be colorless. To distinguish blue we need a matrix of colors; then “blue” in relationship has identity and makes sense.

 

This creates a challenge for a transformational process: how do we create spaces and processes that encourage people to address and articulate a positive sense of identity in relationship to other people and groups, but not in reaction to them? In the middle of conflict, when people are often filled with great fears and unknowns, the challenge is to lower the level of reactivity and blame, while at the same time increasing a capacity to express a clear sense of self and place.

 

What are the disciplines that make such a practice possible?

 

First, we need to develop a capacity to see and hear “identity” when it appears. Be attentive to language, metaphors, and expressions that signal the distresses of identity. Sometimes these are vague: “Five years ago, not one teacher in this school would have thought of proposing such a course. What are we coming to?” Sometimes it is named by “insider” metaphor and language: “The Pioneer Street people no longer even have a voice in this church.” (Pioneer Street is where the church is located, but it is also the inside label for the first-generation members of the church). Sometimes it is explicit and mobilized: “The very survival of the Hmong community is under threat by the actions of this Police Chief.” In all cases, pay attention to the concern behind the voice. It is an appeal to a sense of self, to identity, and to how a relationship is being experienced and defined. It is an appeal to take the discourse from the content to the core. You cannot touch the epicenter if you do not hear the voice. The first step: be attentive to the voice of identity.

 

Second, move toward, not away from, the appeals to identity. Acknowledge that the conflict requires us to address our understandings of identity and relationship. This does not take the place of a process which needs to be designed to address the specific issues and content that surfaced the conflict. Both processes are needed. Generating solutions to specific problems can alleviate anxiety temporarily, but it rarely addresses deeper identity and relational concerns directly.

 

Processes designed to explore these deeper issues will need to have a goal of creating spaces for exchange and dialogue, rather than the goal of creating an immediate negotiated solution. Also, in working with identity-based concerns it is important not to assume that the work is primarily that of direct inter-identity exchange. Often the most critical parts of the process are the cultivation of internal, self, or intra-group spaces, where safe and deep reflection about the nature of the situation, responsibility, hopes, and fears can be pursued.

 

Pushing inappropriately for inter-identity exchange without a framework of preparation and adequate support can be counterproductive and even destructive. When working with identity, I can suggest three guiding principles that should characterize the process: honesty, iterative learning, and appropriate exchange.

 

Honesty can never be forced. We can, however, work toward the creation of process and spaces where people feel safe enough to be deeply honest with themselves and with others about their fears and hopes, hurts and responsibilities. Cycles and episodes of escalated conflict create and reinforce an environment of insecurity that threatens identity. In turn, a threat to identity creates a tendency toward self-protection, which, while not the enemy of honesty, tends to diminish self-reflective honesty in favor of other-reflective honesty: I see clearly and honestly what is wrong with you. I cannot see so clearly and honestly my own responsibility. Deep honesty comes hand in hand with safety and trust. Give constant attention to how the processes are creating and assuring spaces with these characteristics.

 

The phrase “iterative learning” suggests an idea of going around. To iterate is to repeat. It requires rounds of interaction. This is especially true for issues of identity.

 

The questions “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” are foundational for understanding life and community. Yet speaking deeply about self, group, and relationship is never easy or elemental. Nor is identity rigid and fixed. Understanding and defining identity requires rounds of interaction and inner action. The development, negotiation, and definition of identity require processes of interaction with others, as well as inner reflection about self. The whole undertaking is a learning process. And the pace of learning can be very different from one person to the next. This is important because we must recognize that identity work is not a one-time decision-making process. It is an iterative process of learning, and it is done in relationship to others.

 

Applying the Framework

 

I am sitting in a coffeehouse in the town where I live in Colorado, next to several people who are in animated , sometimes heated, discussion about a rising controversy with local police. The town's newspaper has been filled these past two months with letters to the editor deploring recent policing actions. The police seem to have decided that speeding and rolling stops require much more attention.

 

At the table next to me the voices rise as one person details her recent experience of getting a ticket for speeding. She explains that she had not been stopped in 20 years, and she is convinced that the current drive is just a ploy to fill the town coffers. She concludes with a lament about the loss of citizenship in what used to be a friendly town. A few weeks ago a protest march was organized on Main Street, followed by a public forum to air grievances and to decide on the next steps.

 

This is not the first time controversy has arisen around the police. Four years ago the main complaint in the papers was that the police were too slow in responding to calls for help, especially in an area where out-of-state people were starting illegal campfires. Last year the letters to the editor carried wide-ranging views about police personnel issues and what should or should not be done about a recent firing. I overheard one friend of the police comment, “Some say they move too slow. Some say they are too worried about speed. They must be about right.” That remark was not well received by the person who had just gotten a ticket.

 

In the stories at the coffeehouse, the protest march slogans, and the letters to the editor we can see the elements discussed in the preceding chapters. How would a transformational view look at this controversy? What might a platform for conflict transformation look like in response? Let's imagine, in Little Book fashion, what our lenses would pick up and suggest.

 

Conclusions

 

The lenses of conflict transformation raise questions for participants and practitioners that emphasize the potential for constructive change inherent in conflict. These lenses can be applied to many kinds of conflicts; the potential of broader desired change is inherent in any episode of conflict, from personal to structural levels. The challenge before the practitioner is to assess whether the circumstances merit investment in designing a transformational response to a particular situation.

 

A key advantage within this framework lies in its capacity to consider multiple avenues of response. I have suggested that transformation builds from and integrates the contribution and strengths of conflict resolution approaches. But conflict resolution does not necessarily incorporate the transformative potential of conflict. In other words, you can use a transformational approach and conclude that the most appropriate thing to do is a quick and direct resolution of the problem, period. But conflict resolution narrowly defined does not automatically raise the questions and inquiries necessary to spark the potential for broader change.

 

Clearly, a transformative approach is more appropriate in some situations than others. There are many conflicts or disputes where a simple resolution approach such as problem-solving or negotiation makes the most sense. Disputes that involve the need for a quick and final solution to a problem, where the disputants have little or no relationship before, during, or after, are clearly situations in which the exploration of relational and structural patterns are of limited value. For example, a one-time business dispute over a payment between two people who hardly know each other and will never have contact again is not a setting for exploring a transformational application. At best, if it were applied, the primary focus might be on the patterns of why these people as individuals have this episode, and whether the episode repeats itself time and again with other people.

 

On the other hand, where there are significant past relationships and history, where there are likely to be significant future relationships, where the episodes arise in an organizational, community, or broader social context—here the narrowness of resolution approaches may solve problems but miss the greater potential for constructive change. This is especially important in contexts where there are repeated and deep-rooted cycles of conflict episodes that have created destructive and violent patterns. From the perspective of conflict transformation, these are always situations where the potential for change can be raised.

 

Endnotes

[1] The New Sciences are the developments in physics, biology, and environmental studies that in the latter half of the 20th century produced quantum and chaos theories, among others.

See Margaret Wheatley’s discussion of this in reference to learning organizations in Leadership and the New Sciences (San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler, Publishers, 1994) p. 16.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] See Hocker and Wilmot’s discussion of content and relationship in Interpersonal Conflict or Edwin Friedman’s discussion of anxiety, emotional process, and symptomatic content in Generation to Generation.

 

Selected Readings

Bush, Baruch and J. Folger. The Promise of Mediation: Responding to Conflict Through Empowerment and Recognition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994).

Curle, Adam. Another Way: Positive Response to Contemporary Violence (Oxford: Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1995).

Friedman, Edwin. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford Press, 1985).

Hocker, Joyce and William Wilmot. Interpersonal Conflict (Dubuque: Brown and Benchmark, 2000).

Kriesberg, Louis. Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution. Second Edition (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003).

Mayer, Bernard. The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner's Guide (San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).

Rothman, Jay. Resolving Identity-Based Conflicts in Nations, Organizations and Communities (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).

Ury, Bill. The Third Side: Why we fight and how we can stop (New York: Penguin, 2000).

Wehr, Paul and Heidi and Guy Burgess. Justice without Violence (Boulder: Lynne Riener, 1994).

Wheatley, Margaret. Leadership and the New Science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1994).

 

 

About the Author

John Paul Lederach is Professor of International Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, and a Distinguished Scholar with the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. He has worked in the fields of conflict transformation and peace-building for more than 20 years. He works extensively in support of international conciliation efforts in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Central Asia, as well as in
North America. He has authored and co-edited 15 books and manuals in English and Spanish.

 

Dr. Lederach received his Ph.D. in Sociology (with a concentration in the Social Conflict Program) from the University of Colorado.

 

Lederach and his wife, Wendy, have two children, Angie and Josh.

 

Acknowledgments

 

Writing a Little Book was much harder than it appears. I had help along the way. First, I want to extend a warm and deeply appreciative thank you to Howard Zehr for conceptualizing this Little Book Series and encouraging my involvement. More importantly, he had the first crack at helping me move from a verbose text to one that got to the point. I appreciate the excellent editing and sharpening that this text received from Phyllis Pellman Good. It would not read this well without her advice and suggestions. I had a great boost on the computer-generated graphics from my good friends at the Consortium on Conflict Resolution from the University of Colorado, particularly from Heidi and Guy Burgess. Of particular note, I had the wonderful opportunity of having the Master’s students from the Kroc Institute’s (Notre Dame) class of 2002-2003 read my first draft and spend a full day of class improving and clarifying the concepts. Their ideas and suggestions are found throughout.

 

I would like to extend a big note of gratitude to John and Gina Martin-Smith for the use of their house in Nederland, Colorado, where I got to watch the aspens turn from green to yellow at 8,500 feet as I wrote this text.

 

Finally, I recognize that none of my writing would take place without the patient support and encouragement of my family, especially Wendy, with whom I have had many coffees while discussing the ideas found in this book and how to say them better.

 

Table of Contents

1. Conflict Transformation?

2. The Lenses of Conflict Transformation

3. Defining Conflict Transformation

4. Conflict and Change

5. Connecting Resolution and Transformation

6. Creating a Map of Conflict

7. Process-Structures as Platforms for Change

8. Developing Our Capacities

9. Applying the Framework

10. Conclusions

11. Endnotes

12. Selected Readings

13. Related Books by John Paul Lederach

14. About the Author

 

Conflict Transformation?

 

Conflict resolution . . . conflict management . . . but conflict transformation?

 

I began using the term conflict transformation in the 1980s, after intensive experience in Central America caused me to re-examine the language of the field.

 

When I arrived there my vocabulary was filled with the usual terminology of conflict resolution and management. I soon found, though, that my Latin colleagues had questions, even suspicions, about what was meant by such concepts. For them, resolution carried with it a danger of co-optation, an attempt to get rid of conflict when people were raising important and legitimate issues. It was not clear that resolution left room for advocacy. In their experience, quick solutions to deep social-political problems usually meant lots of good words but no real change. “Conflicts happen for a reason,” they would say. “Is this resolution idea just another way to cover up the changes that are really needed?”

 

Their concerns were consistent with my own experience and perspective. My deepest sense of vocation, and the framework that informs much of this book, arises from a faith context that is grounded in an Anabaptist/Mennonite religious-ethical framework. This perspective understands peace as embedded in justice. It emphasizes the importance of building right relationships and social structures through a radical respect for human rights and life. It advocates nonviolence as a way of life and work.

So the concerns of my Latin colleagues hit home. In my work of helping to find constructive responses to violent conflict in Central America and elsewhere, I became increasingly convinced that much of what I was doing was seeking constructive change. “Conflict transformation” seemed to convey this meaning better than conflict resolution or management.

 

Conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change.

 

In the 1990s, when I helped found the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), we had extensive debates about titles and terms. Resolution was better known and was widely accepted in mainstream academic and political circles. Transformation seemed too value-laden for some, too idealistic for others, and too airy-fairy and new-age for still others. In the end, we stuck with the transformation terminology. We believed it was accurate and scientifically sound and that it provided a clear vision.

 

For me, conflict transformation is accurate because I am engaged in constructive change efforts that include, and go beyond, the resolution of specific problems. It is scientifically sound language because it is based on two verifiable realities: conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change. Transformation provides a clear and important vision because it brings into focus the horizon toward which we journey—the building of healthy relationships and communities, locally and globally. This goal requires real change in our current ways of relating.

 

But the question remains, what does transformation really mean?

Over the past decade or so, the terminology of transformation has become increasingly common in both practitioner and academic circles. There are transformational approaches in mediation as well as in the broader discipline of peace and conflict studies. In fact, I am now part of two graduate academic programs that use this terminology, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame and the Conflict Transformation Program at EMU. In spite of this, conflict transformation is not as yet a school of thought. I do believe that conflict transformation is a comprehensive orientation or framework that ultimately may require a fundamental change in our way of thinking.

 

What follows is my understanding of this framework based on my reading, my practice, and my teaching over the past 15 years. This Little Book is not a definitive statement; my understanding constantly evolves, pushed by experiences of practice and teaching.

 

My understanding both parallels and converges from the work of other authors, although I am not able to explore all of those connections here. I do not want to imply that my particular view of transformation is superior to those who use the term differently or to those who prefer the term resolution. In this Little Book I mean to engage the creative tension between themes of resolution and transformation in order to sharpen understanding, not to discredit the work of those who prefer other terms.

 

My purpose here is to add a voice to the ongoing discussion, to the search for greater understanding in human relationships.







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