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..:: Conflict III ::..

"The Resolution of Conflict"


Alan Schneider


              We have come to the final installment in this three-part series on human conflict, and perhaps the most challenging one, both to write about, and to apply to life.  To a very great extent, history is the story of human strife and conflict. In the preceding essays we have examined some of the causes of the origin and development of conflict, and raised some very difficult questions regarding whether conflict can or even should be peacefully resolved, given the compelling Karmic influences at work at the most fundamental generative level in all conflict situations. Yet, if most of us are warriors, at least some of us are peacemakers, and peace is often created out of the most tragic discord. As a methodology of presentation, I have decided to begin with the worst-case scenario in conflict – armed, violent modalities allowed to proceed unchecked to an unmediated outcome. 

            This outcome will generally be the eventual “victory” of one political element present, following an unspecified interval of human suffering and loss of life on all sides. On rare occasions, both or all of the conflicted parties will fight to their mutual extinction or exhaustion of resources, leaving a wasteland where once productive cultures may have existed. The Spiritual Truth of conflict is that the only real victory for any of the participants resides in the successful peacemaking effort that may terminate the hostilities at some point before the apparent political victory can be achieved by one faction or another involved. We all have something meaningful and valuable to contribute to life and each other, and these contributions are lost in violent death. It is one thing when this loss occurs accidentally through mishap, but quite another when it results from organized, willful mass destruction.  Who can say what levels of human achievement might have been reached by this point in history had not so many violent conflicts resulted in the loss of so much life? Would we be peacefully colonizing the Solar System, or perhaps beyond? Would we have already conquered disease and poverty? How many Einsteins, Gandhis,  and Mother Teresas, to name but a few great individuals in history, may have been tragically, needlessly killed to sustain the Culture of Conflict previously identified in these articles? This is the real cost of unchecked conflict – the cost to the apparently victorious parties in terms of lost human potential represented by the dead on all sides.  This is why it can and must be said that nobody ever wins

             How can we learn from our violent, belligerent animal nature, and thus at least partially transcend it?  This is the crux of the question of intervention, even in relatively non-violent conflict situations. How can the contestants be shown the Karmic Truth of their actions? How can they be convinced to stop posturing and look at what they are doing from a morally responsible perspective?  

            I have said that conflict is inevitable as long as at least one element involved feels it has a clear tactical advantage, whether this is an accurate perception or not. Certainly it is in the vested interests of the Culture of Conflict to promote this perception of advantage on all sides of a conflict situation. I have already maintained that the logical cost of aggression is unacceptable in terms of lost human potential. The problem here is that the application of logic in human affairs is a relatively recent development overlaying literally billions of years of brute force evolution and jungle law, dating back to the first amoebas – the earliest creatures known to have been unable to synthesize their own protein complexes from intrinsic sugar metabolisms supported by photosynthesis. The amoeba was first a scavenger, then a predator on the microscale of evolution, establishing a trend that has existed ever after. It is this trend that supports the Culture of Conflict today, and the one that the successful negotiator must counteract. This is the biological origin of Jung’s battle of life, and forms the underlying validity of his argument. In the face of this grim observation, I say that we have evolved into creatures of choice, and can choose to defy evolution and biology, and practice reason and compassion. If such a choice be made, then the art of negotiation becomes our first priority in the battle of life. 

            If active hostility has already begun, the first challenge is the achievement of a cease-fire agreement for a specified period of time, allowing for a cool-down interval to take place while the cultural dynamics of the situation continue to be assessed by the negotiation team. If a less violent, but still hostile, conflict situation is the case, a strategy of separation of the conflicted parties is the necessary first step – essentially the same operation taking place under less extreme circumstances. Frequently, the separation approach can be instrumented as a long term solution if it can be rendered permanently – an example would be transferring two or more hostile employees to different facilities, or departments within a large enough single facility.  If this cannot be done for some reason, then the resolution strategies begin to converge in both cases – dialog must be instituted among the conflicted parties to begin the negotiation process. 

            In the case of active military conflict, the participants must be convinced that it is in their best interests to offer some initial concessions to each other. If feelings of hostility are running high (as they probably will be) this can be a most difficult first step to take, and a lot of angry outbursts and protestations can be expected. These are the necessary manifestations of emotional venting, and should be viewed as constructive as long as they do not proceed to renewed violence. The fear and resentment of out-groups is a normal consequence of the powerful in-group identification that is frequently a causative factor in violent conflict, and must be released verbally and emotionally in order for the perception of the out-group entity as humanly present in an equivalent sense to the in-group to take place. If the participants do not become fast friends in the process, at least they will gain some perception of their similarities as human beings in the human condition, and this is a start! The concessions involved must be tailored to what the participants respectively feel are most valuable – medical supplies and/or treatment, improved access to identified critical resources, yielding territory, and prisoner exchanges are some possibilities. A thorough study of the cultural dynamics involved will be invaluable in understanding what will be most effective as initial concessions for the participants. 

            The considerations are much the same for non-violent conflict. The participants must be shown each others human similarities. Here, the initial concessions are more frequently symbolic and involve social acknowledgement of the rectitude of the respective participants’ sentiments. In any conflict, the participants are each always partially justified in feeling as they do, albeit usually not to the extent that they do.  This justification should be granted – initially under separate circumstances, to be sure – thus creating an atmosphere of emerging trust and respect for the negotiation team in the process.  This condition of mutual trust and respect from all conflict participants is essential for the successful outcome of negotiations.  The participants will only accept the intervention of a third party that they have trust and confidence in, since they have neither in each other.  Diplomacy frequently involves the administration of large amounts of ego salve as an anesthetic to the wounded self, and if this will help bring the participant to the negotiating table, it should be viewed as a positive initial measure.  

            It is quite possible that there will be elements of the Culture of Conflict – i.e. individuals who have something to gain from the situation – nested on both or all sides involved.  One should expect these elements to work very hard to undermine the negotiation process and the negotiators’ personal credibility as well. The first phase of the cultural analysis of the conflict must be an attempt to answer the question “Who has the most to gain from the situation under the identifiable outcome scenarios, particularly the ongoing one?”  The gains involved may be as simple as the gratification of hatred, or as complex as the manipulation of hidden mineral rights, but they must be fully identified as quickly as possible, whatever they are.  Just as the participants are always partially justified in their perceptions of the conflict, so at least some of them will also have real vested interests in the outcome scenarios.  There were elements of the Culture of Conflict that literally cursed the day that peace was made at the close of World War II, because the lavish life styles they had engineered for themselves were terminated thereby.  Again, wars can be very profitable for those who do not actually have to fight in them!  

            Perhaps the best method of countering those with vested interests is to confront them with hard evidence of their vestment, if this can be determined. An efficient, cautious conflict investor may, however, have elaborate measures in place to prevent this from happening, particularly if there are potentially dire personal consequences that may result from the discovery of their vestment. Depending on the severity of conditions, it mat be appropriate to cross-examine suspected investors regarding their motives and involvement whether much evidence is present or not. Generally, these individuals carry a great emotional burden of fear and guilt regarding their activities, and an effective, sustained examination will reveal some of this. If lives and careers are hanging in the balance, such measures are a service in the highest terms to the real victims of the ongoing conflict situation – the participants without substantial investment. Once an investor has been clearly identified, the subsequent step is an unequivocal rebuke of their position, thereby discrediting them and their arguments, which should not be difficult by that point. 

            In the very unusual case where there are no investors present, the negotiation will come down to the painful process of determining a mutually tolerable series of long term concessions for the participants, who will probably still be nourishing the lingering belief that victory is possible somehow, under some circumstance.  In long term conflicts, this will be particularly difficult for the participants, who may well feel that it will be easier to go on in conflict than face the reality of all that has been lost once peace is finally made. The apparently endless struggle in Ireland between the rival Protestant and Catholic factions, which has spanned generations on both sides, is a good case in point.  Duration does not matter: for peace to take place, concessions must be made, no matter how humiliating or frustrating they may be. Humility is, after all, a virtue, and frustration is the friend and partner of enlightenment...  

            Once a set of concessions has been delineated, and an agreement ratified, some type of oversight of the concession process must be put in place as a guarantor of legitimate ongoing participation. This is frequently accomplished by the establishment of an independent oversight agency, acting as a long term third party mediator. As the inevitable conflict recurrences manifest, this agency can intervene appropriately, if necessary with binding arbitration, to reestablish peaceful coexistence.

            In this life of turbulence and confusion, lasting peace is elusive.  We are born into struggle with each other, and destined to struggle within ourselves – it is the task of the peacemaker to reveal to humanity that the personal inner struggle is the root of the external social struggle.  This is the essence of the battle – we are challenged to see that all that we blame the world for originates within us. When we look into the enemies face, we see our own faces reflected there. When we hate an individual or group, however justified that hatred may seem to be, we are ultimately acknowledging that we hate ourselves in the process. It is the condition of hatred that is the real enemy, not the hated.  It is the condition of fear that is the enemy, not the perceived object of that fear.  In some sense, love is born of familiarity, where fear results from the strange and unknown.  The skilled negotiator understands this dynamic, and knows that the familiarity of the conference table is the first step to healed human relations and lasting concord on the battlefield of life.


                                                                                - With Love, Alan -

                                                                        (CR2007, Alan Schneider)


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