Posts Tagged ‘peacebuilding’

Peace, Justice, and Systems Thinking

December 30, 2011 @ 7:54 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

I’ve been writing an article this fall on religion and peacebuilding that will, hopefully, be published in 2012. I’m fascinated by systems theories as it relates to conflict resolution and address this in my text as follows: 

In an interesting, new book called “The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts,” Dr. Peter Coleman at Columbia University and a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, mathematicians, anthropologists, conflict managers, and others explain that intractable conflicts are intractable because they have self-organized into a complex, interrelated, and mutually-reinforcing system. These systems are understood in a simplified “us vs. them” narrative. To get out of these conflicts, Coleman suggest, means to empower the “latent attractors” in the system and to break the institutionalization of conflict narratives.[i] Coleman looks at conflict from a systems point of view, which requires examining the underlying patterns of the system and the role that “attractors” can play in moving the system into a state of greater equilibrium.

What that means in more practical terms is working with individuals or groups who are using their social capital to stay connected to the “other side” and to support what is working. Along these same lines, I often wonder whether policymakers and practitioners are paying too much attention—and giving too many resources—to the dividers in society vs. the connectors?  For example, conflict entrepreneurs are often the main actors at peace negotiations for the sake of getting a peace deal in the short term (witness the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia). But, are such strategies really sustainable over the long term? Keeping such individuals in power often leads to more corruption and criminal violence. More importantly perhaps, many innocent victims who have suffered untold misery at the hands of these oppressors see these approaches as grossly unjust. In short, it sets terrible precedents where justice is concerned. Peacebuilders seem to increasingly believe that “spoilers” must be brought into the peace process, but I’m not all that convinced by this argument. It seems a short-term gain for a long-term loss. As Winston Churchill once said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

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Functional Collaboration Required

October 15, 2011 @ 3:12 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Andrian Gonsalves, art.gnome.org

I had an email exchange with one my clients this week about educational programs for peace. He noted that there has been criticism in the past few years of people-to-people programs because they rarely have a lasting impact. Hence, he said, there has been an increased focus on programs that promote functional collaboration. This theme also relates to a blog I came across recently, which talked about the Robbers Cave Experiment. This experiment was done in the 1950s with a group of boys at a summer camp in the U.S.  The boys were divided into two groups and became increasingly competitive and mean. Just being in contact wasn’t the answer. Their relationships did change in a positive direction, however, when the boys had to work together in a cooperative way on “superordinate” goals.

If you take a look at the criteria on the MoU site, I’m looking for case studies where this functional collaboration is happening across divides, i.e. in the form of development projects. Having these criteria makes the models harder to find, but I think they are important because it’s the difference between just bringing people together vs. working together for a common goal and, thus, forming tighter social bonds. This month, I feature a story from Harar, Ethiopia where civil society groups are working across ethnic and religious divides to advance these “superordinate” goals in their community.

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Rethinking Political Protests

April 22, 2011 @ 3:57 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

In Spring 2011, the wave of political resistance across the Middle East has gotten the world’s attention. Clearly, there are leaders that have been in office way too long and it’s time for them to go, but I’m concerned that the media has been so enthralled by all the “hype” (including using cell phones to organize protests) that they aren’t asking very critical questions about what it all means. Namely, is real social change and conflict transformation going to happen via protest? In my view,  that’s a last step, not the first.  Susan Glisson at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation perhaps says it best: “The need for such locally focused, community-based conversations is tied to a basic principle of social change: effective social change occurs by focusing on local issues, using grassroots, nonviolent strategies.These first steps are followed by careful analysis of the problems and negotiation with stakeholders who can make a difference. Massive protests are actually a final step when all previous work has failed, not a first-strike response. In the absence of such work on the ground, massive protests fail.” A house won’t stand without a foundation.

Don’t get me wrong, social protests can be a tool for political change in the short term, but I think one has to look down the road for the success rate. The Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 brought democratic elections, but did it stem corruption, bridge ethnic-linguistic divisions, or lead to significant social and economic development? I’m not an expert on Ukraine, but I don’t think so. Protests may be one tool in the toolbox, but just one. We need to think so much bigger. It’s the longer-term building of relationships and trust that are going to create the social cohesion necessary to move societies beyond “us vs. them” dynamics which, one way or the other, ultimately fail. Creating community-based conversations about what matters is much harder work, which is why I suppose it doesn’t get that much attention. It’s not “sexy,” but it’s critical.

 

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