Conflict – an integral part of society’s on-going evolution?

TransConflict is pleased to present additional contributions to the inaugural Peacebuilders’ Panel, which is designed to stimulate debate about peacebuilding and conflict transformation. To read the initial contributions, please click here!

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The first debate focuses on the principle that:

“1. Conflict should not be regarded as an isolated event that can be resolved or managed, but as an integral part of society’s on-going evolution and development;”

Mike Lowe, Discover the Other

In any grouping where people interact, from the smallest family unit to the largest international level, there are inevitable conflicts of interests. What one individual, group or sub-group wants is at odds with what another individual, group or sub-group wants. The Status Quo describes a situation in which people accept the way that those various competing interests are balanced against each other. That balance may look unfair to either the people whose interests are involved (stakeholders) or to outside observers. But so long as the balance is accepted, there is a status quo.

Where the balance of interests is not accepted by one or more stakeholders, there is a potential for conflict until a new balance becomes accepted. This conflict can be expressed either through violent means or by non-violent means, including statements of discontent, requests to negotiate a new agreement, peaceful protests, non-cooperation and political activism.

Societies rarely remain static. Change comes about through a combination of changing circumstances and changing perceptions. Examples of changing circumstances include population growth, migration, technological developments, environmental change, exploitation of natural resources and economic change. Examples of things leading to changing perceptions include cultural change, education, greater access to information, greater awareness of basic rights and empowerment of previously disempowered groups.

Whenever there is change, the balance of interests is open to question and may no longer be acceptable to one or another group, leading to conflict. This should be regarded as a normal and expected part of life, particularly as the pace of change accelerates in many societies. Violence is an inefficient and destructive way of doing conflict. By normalizing conflict, we can begin to learn to ‘do’ conflict less destructively and more efficiently. When conflict is seen as inherently bad and abnormal it tends to be suppressed. As a result, people outwardly accept a status quo that is privately unacceptable until the scales of change are tipped so far that they feel compelled to step into conflict – often with great emotional force. The greater and longer the suppression of conflict, the stronger the emotional force will be when conflict errupts. And the greater the emotional force, the greater the potential is for the conflict to be violent.

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Dr. Ani Casimir, Institute of African Studies and the Centre for Peacebilding and Poverty Reduction, University of Nigeria

The idea of conflict flows from the dialectical nature of life and reality that presupposes that there is a duality of movement and change that defines all transformations in society, nature and life. The historical and dialectical concept of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis is at the theoretical base of this concept of conflict, as it sees conflict as part of the natural and social cycle of growth, development and evolution of society. Every conflict is rooted in the historical and dialectical processes of each society and the management of the same must be sourced from within the context of the variegated factors and forces that struggle for ascendancy and control of the resources of the society.

Thus a conflict that manifests at the religious level of a constitutionally secular state cannot be solved only at the level of the inter-religious dialogue or military surge. Issues of economics and social injustices and deprivation must be contextualized into the strategy for a solution. The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria is not only a religious problem of extremism or radicalism, but symptomatic of deeper levels of poverty at the educational, economic and political levels of Nigerian society. Military solutions to the problem can not bring about a sustainable solution. Instead, a sustainable solution needs to factor in the over-aching challenges of Islam and the rising army of marginalized youths – socially and politically marginalized by the state since their childhood – known as the Almajiris. Only such a sustainable strategy can transform conflict and lead to the peaceful development of that particular society.

Lura L. Lunkenheimer, MS, President of Peaceful Schools

At Peaceful Schools our work and mission take place at the micro level, as we work with students and teachers to transform schools into peaceful communities. We hope that our work produces citizens who will ultimately make positive contributions to society.

Our mission includes the goal to help grade school students, teachers and school stakeholders “recognize, manage and resolve conflict in a peaceful, productive and positive way.” The work we have done for the past 15 years; working at the individual level to build problem solving and communication skills enabling youth to see conflict as an opportunity for meaningful and (hopefully) lasting change – rather than a situation that escalates into verbal, physical and social violence -supports the principal of seeing conflict within the larger social context and not as an isolated event.

By analyzing mediation data we are able to identify common social issues and unmet needs. We have seen the value and positive impact of looking at conflicts within the broader social context, seeking solutions to root causes and taking the time to improve conditions for the greater school community. The interpersonal conflicts of individuals may appear isolated; however when looked at as a collective, data reveals trends faced across the student body and points to the school wide issues that require further administrative and community attention. In other words, the students’ conflicts are a symptom of the larger unaddressed social struggle(s). And from that perspective it is clear that our experience supports the assertion that conflict not be regarded in isolation but as an integral part of the [schools] on-going evolution and development.

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Rev. S Chandra Mohan, Adviser, Association for Women and Children Concerns, Tamil Nadu, India

Indian society is characterized by poverty, lopsided economic policies, gender insensitivity, cosmetic spirituality, ritualism, and religious fanaticism, added to caste and untouchable practices. Whilst 2% of its population is brimming with wealth, 59% of its large population (27% of them are the untouchable and indigenous people) is undergoing problems of malnutrition and social security. The poverty syndromes – added to by an attitude of neglect demonstrated by successive governments – has resulted in the emergence of Maoists who are branded as separatists and terrorists. A society which lived as feudal a century ago, has now become a society under the control of global capitalists who look forward to a greater number of middle income groups who continue to worship consumerism.

Indian society – which forgot the ethics of Buddha – has adopted into all walks of life the Vedic Religious dogmas, still considered as the ‘Constitution of the Soil’, which upholds segregation of people into castes and sub-castes. Though the Indian Constitution speaks of abolishing untouchable practices, they remain rampant in India from birth until death. The untouchables are still denied land, access to clean water, decent housing and even dignity in burial. Untouchable women are raped, burnt to death, and paraded naked as a matter of rights of dominating castes. The Vedic religion speaks of duties of each caste group, but denies equality and dignity of each human being.

In recent years, the untouchable and indigenous communities have started to assert their human rights under the tenets of the Constitution of India. Dominant communities are telling the untouchables not to assert their rights. They perpetrate atrocities on untouchable and indigenous communities.

Conflicts in India, therefore, are not isolated events that can be resolved or managed, but an integral part of the evolution of Indian Society.

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