By Francisco Mateo
“Man is at bottom a dreadful wild animal, a beast of prey which will pounce upon a weaker neighbor as soon as he notices his existence.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
“Change is our enemy…Change means crisis. And crisis means conflict.” Daniel Suarez
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”, Matthew 5:9
Just on observation I’ve seen my fair share of conflict escalations over the last few days. It got me thinking that just on account of the weather people young and old appear to be edgier, less tolerant to differences that could otherwise be easily resolved. But could this be more than just the hot weather? Can the economic downturn be indirectly influencing people’s attitude towards conflict. If this hypotheses makes any sense than I’m motivated to seek a deeper understanding of how to defuse conflict–especially since the basis of our economic stability has been and will continue to be shaken to the core.
With surprising regularity we hear of workplace shootings; “bossnapings”, besides taking account of numerous labor conflicts around the world. These incidents have been exacerbated by the prolonged economic recession. A look around the world reveals that conditions are rife for social conflicts. An eroding safety net would give rise to further protests, riots and deeply rooted resentment. Economic analyst report overwhelming signs of double dip recession in the US and many the European Union. Funny that global politicos and finance gurus assured the world that the advent of economic and political interconnectedness among the concert of nations would lead to growing prosperity. What we have today is a fragmented international economic system; where conflicts have proliferated since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Systemic disintegration will result in a sharp rise in the number of conflicts worldwide over diminishing resources. I guess “the rising tide that lifts all boats”, turned out to be a tsunami. But I digress….
Meanwhile the psychological toll we are all exposed to is tremendous. Uncertainty is one condition difficult for the average human to comprehend and subsequently manage. The stress felt during long term exposure to this state of mind can lead to both physical and psychological overload. Enough motivation to usher in a new order where solutions are organic; in other words where economic growth is organic or secure at the local level, in our communities, cities and regions and made strong enough to permeate out to the global system. Perhaps through this we’d turn the “continuous conflict among the people” paradigm on its head. Doubt and insecurity about our economic present and future are directly linked to the basic human need to feel secure. Unless we deal with the root cause of our problems in a similar systematic way, our ability to predict and contain conflict even at the interpersonal level would be severely limited.
Think of how a holistic approach to conflict resolutions would work for a second. If we were capable of developing such a system in the Western world, we could ensure quick diffusion by retrofitting or building-up new multinational corporations with high levels of ethical and social values to be standard bearers for conflict resolution the same way some unethical companies engage in acts of “corporate insurgency” today, using their weight and influence to stoke violence and disrupt the flow of aid in the name of profits in what can only be described as the death spiral of efficient markets.
Our current economic situation should lead us to new ways of thinking and acting against these problems. From my own vantage point the solutions we find to physical security vulnerabilities at the micro level, we can extrapolate them to fit the macro level. As a security analyst I first look to assess vulnerability, as well as the possible immediate threats to a given asset, be it people or valuable object. I then use my knowledge of protection strategies to counteract the aforementioned threats and minimize the vulnerabilities. The strategies can go from the affordable awareness education to the investment in technology spread over a period of time. A similar strategy could be applied to develop a new sustainable economic paradigm. We should start by taking a deep look at the economics that influence our families, our communities and our cities. We should identify vulnerabilities and possible threat scenarios long before they become a reality, no matter if the threats are foreign or local. Once we detect a possible threat to our collective well-being the appropriate countermeasures should be put in place. The farther we can see over the horizon would determine how prepare we would be. Let’s not forget that in our interconnected economies contagion travels at stealthy speed. Like a protective perimeter fence we would have to act in lockstep in order to give whatever countermeasures are devised and applied the strength of consistency and continuity.
Little thought is given to how the rates of interpersonal conflicts within a city rise. We only remotely consider how changing elements such as climate change (especially summer months), job opportunities, and ability to support basic life necessities to name a few, become a Petri dish sample of larger societal ailments. When an African American man complaints to his downstairs Latino neighbor about the lack of water pressure coming up to his apartment, he doesn’t automatically place blame on the city’s water shortage and strain on a century-old water system; he’d zero in on the stereotypical misconception that all Latino’s live in overcrowded apartments. Our inability to conceptualize about these fundamental problems represents part of our limitations when it comes to dealing with these conflicts. As population all over the world continue their exponential growth, the increasing strain on natural resources (energy, fresh water and food) would become sources of conflict and instability which we must be prepared to handle.
Another seemingly cause of conflict in inner cities appears to be the effect of homes vacated by owners unable to pay their mortgage. The fact is that as more houses get run down the quality of life in many neighborhoods would also be set back. My hypothesis is hinged on the Broken Window Theory (James Q. Wilson y George Kelling) by which these social scientist came to the conclusion that neglected, dirty and visibly disorganized areas become breeding ground for crime and violence. According to this criminal theory the rate of crimes would be commensurate to the pace at which residents begin to abandoned homes and public areas. During the first stage due to lack of financial security and on the second stage due to fear of violent gangs and the bazaar of violence that follows. And if you think conflict can only take place in the physical realm, think again. Our ubiquitous access to technology makes network communication systems an adequate medium by which to drive conflict through. For prove just look at the amount of hate rhetoric that is channeled through the web.
Having mentioned all this, what strategies are there to effectively defuse conflict? Here are 8 easy to grasp elements of conflict resolution from Professor Harry Webne-Behrman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which I found during my research:
1. “Know Thyself” and Take Care of Self
- Understand your “perceptual filters,” biases, triggers
- Create a personally affirming environment (eat, sleep, exercise)
2. Clarify Personal Needs Threatened by the Dispute
- Substantive, Procedural, and Psychological Needs
- Look at BATNA, WATNA, and MLATNA
- Identify “Desired Outcomes” from a Negotiated Process
3. Identify a Safe Place for Negotiation
- Appropriate Space for Discussion/ Private and Neutral
- Mutual Consent to Negotiate/ Appropriate Time
- Role of Support People (Facilitators, Mediators, Advocates), as needed
- Agreement to Ground rules
4. Take a Listening Stance into the Interaction
- “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (Covey)
- Use Active Listening skills
5. Assert Your Needs Clearly and Specifically
- Use “I-messages” as tools for clarification
- Build from what you have heard – continue to listen well
6. Approach Problem-Solving with Flexibility
- Identify Issues Clearly and Concisely
- Generate Options (Brainstorm), While Deferring Judgment
- Be open to “tangents” and other problem definitions
- Clarify Criteria for Decision-Making
7. Manage Impasse with Calm, Patience, and Respect
- Clarify Feelings
- Focus on Underlying Needs, Interests, and Concerns
- Take a structured break, as needed
8. Build an Agreement that Works
- Review “Hallmarks” of a Good Agreement
- Implement and Evaluate – Live and Learn
Unfortunately there can’t be a cookie-cutter approach to conflicts as each would bring their own set of complications, which the parties involve must learn to recognize as much as to avoid the pitfalls as well as to get to quick resolutions. What these eight elements provide are frameworks for approaching conflict logically, with a clear head and strong position from which to negotiate durable agreements for both sides. Compromise and agreements should substitute prejudice and irate behavior which only breeds hate. These strategies can also be the foundation for more dynamic conflict resolution tactics, which can be scaled according to your particular set of issues. When push comes to shove personal, labor, or even at the macro level, conflicts involving nation states, resolution would depend on the willingness of each side in the conflict to give and takeaway in a manner that avoids forceful confrontation and encourages fairness and justice.