Common practice in conflict resolution involves a third party, disconnected from the harsh realities of decades of aggression, to mediate in establishing an agenda that brings sworn enemies around the same table to discuss a common way forward. The agenda includes agreed subjects of conversation, and time to listen to the pain inflicted on each other. There is a great logic in this approach. Few, but convincing examples show how this approach can bring an end to long lasting conflicts, including the one in Northern Ireland and Namibia. However, as the recent statistics on conflicts indicate, we seem to add more aggressions than resolutions. Especially our record on fighting extremism seems to suffer from our incapacity to reconciliate. Politicians eager to impress an unimpressed electorate have a clear preference for the recourse to weapons. The key problem is that we fail to understand that aggression today is the seed of counter aggression in years or decades to come. Thus the question is how we can bring opposing parties together - who have paid for their survival, livelihood and dreams with pain and blood. My experience tells me: do not bring them together at all - but get action on the ground without any further delay.
Families who suffered acts of expropriation, expulsion, oppression, humiliation, extended periods of hunger and exploitation, indiscriminate incarceration with innocent children and mothers killed in collateral damage condoned by society on both sides have a hard time imagining ever sitting around the same table with the aggressor. And if they ever do, no one will trust the other, whatever the status of the mediator, whatever the financial and political prowess she or he brings along to entice the parties to talk about a possible agreement. Whenever there are two opposing parties who have two opposing dreams, it is indispensable to elevate the nightmare of one - which is the dream of the other - into a broader context while focusing on the simple basics of water, food, shelter, and health. If you have a problem, bring another one to the table that needs a resolution, and if there are three situations in need of out of the box breakthroughs, even better.
The strategy of bringing the core problems to an outsider for resolution, independent of a physical meeting with the arch enemies, could move societies in conflict towards a peaceful solution. Quick, creative and pragmatic solutions to immediate problems can be embraced by all. After all, a dream is more than a declaration of independence. A dream consists of the capacity to respond to basic needs, especially when it comes to water, food, housing, and jobs. Therefore, the conflict resolution that focuses on getting quick results to priority needs should be the first step in a long healing process. As soon as the hungry are fed, the unemployed youth has jobs, and shelter is provided, then self-confidence builds up. How else can be expect to find any agreement on the bigger picture.
As long as conflict resolution first relies on an agreement on the agendas as a pre-condition to meet, we are facing hostile responses and tedious negotiations with little chance of success. And while patience has always been preached in any resolution process, what we should need is impatience in getting key issues resolved immediately. People who have been neglected and mistreated for generations cannot be requested to take time. We know all too well that the buoyancy of the young generation that has seen its parents suffer beyond reason requires fast, clean and clear results on the ground and now. We have to celebrate that impatience, and work with this tremendous energy as a pre-condition to success.
While this blog on Conflict Resolution is detailed in a separate article with a few concrete cases, and a detailed methodology the bottom line is simple: imagine pathways forward where everyone realizes their dreams, step by step - here and now. And since words can never convince anyone that the only way to realize once’s dream is that the other achieves a dream, deeds though do convince. The attainment of the best for one is actually the precondition for the opposing party to also achieve the best. And when two parties are on a pathway to reach all of their goals, then these ancient enemies empower others who have not been part of the inter-generational conflict to also achieve their best. This creates conditions propitious for a long lasting peace.
Whereas I do not claim that this is the only way to achieve a peaceful society, experience teaches me that it is a novel form of getting things done on the ground, build up the confidence that peace at home and in our minds can be achieved, while spreading the enthusiasm that more can be done - even with the enemy. And when the opponents know that only in the end - when a few dreams have been achieved - there is a need to meet the enemy- that broader peace process can be put on track faster than we believe. We all know that the absence of war is not peace. What we should now realize it that conflict will always be part of reality. However, when a conflict emerges we should embrace it as an opportunity for societies to reach a higher level of common purpose in life, first and foremost within one’s own culture, religion and language.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.