Summary of "Transforming Conflict Through Insight"

Summary of

Transforming Conflict Through Insight

by Cheryl A. Picard and Kenneth R. Melchin. 

This Book Summary was written by Alessandra Cuccia, School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), George Mason University, in September 2012.

Citation: Cheryl A. Picard and Kenneth R. Melchin. Transforming Conflict Through Insight. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2008.

Transforming Conflict Through Insight is an intuitive guide into the world of conflict resolution, focusing on Bernard Lonergan's philosophy of Insight Theory. Cheryl Picard and Kenneth Melchin focus on the roles of learning, feelings and values when confronting a conflict narrative. The overarching idea is learning not just "from" conflict, but "in" conflict as well. The authors' goal is to turn destructive, violent conflict into a constructive learning experience. The main obstacle to resolving conflict that is presented in this book is the parties' feeling of threat. The authors' hope is to navigate beyond this feeling with the help of insights.

Chapter 1: Conflict and Insight: Setting the Stage

Chapter 1 focuses on the different ways in which society deals with conflicts and understanding how resolving conflicts can change us. Picard and Melchin give an outline of three "Snapshots", which seem to be overarching themes that are further broken down into two ways in which conflicts are resolved within society. The first "Snapshot" is called Everyday Conflict. Within this "Snapshot" the authors' compare the roles of adjudication and mediation. The authors' stress the differences in adjudication and mediation, such as the formal, authoritative, win-lose side of adjudication and the consensual, impartial, facilitating side of mediation. Both of these tools involve the learning and settling of certain conflicts, but both in different ways.

The second "Snapshot" is labeled Conflict and Justice. This section compares two types of justice: retributive and restorative. The main difference the authors' see between retributive justice and restorative justice is the role of the state's interference in the justice process. In regards to retributive justice, the state is deducing justice on the behalf of society as a whole, while in restorative justice society is playing a larger role in deciding the fate of the perpetrator.

The final "Snapshot" is Conflict and Democracy. The two main views the authors compare are centered around Thomas Hobbes' notions of inevitable conflict in democracy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's idea that conflicts are resolved in democracies. Instead of the state working on society's behalf, as in Hobbes' view, Rousseau believes that the role of the state in democracy is simply to make sure everyone in society has the chance to participate in resolving the conflict.

The authors strongly suggest the benefits of greater citizen participation in public life. They also highlight a few reasons for a growing interest in conflict: international affairs, environmental factors, multiculturalism and postmodernism. The authors also point out that human beings develop "meaning perspectives" which can in turn serve as interpretative lenses for different events that occur in our lives. However, the art of learning can change these "meaning perspectives" that we have and therefore change the way we interpret these events, thus leading to insights.

At the end of Chapter ne the authors introduce Jack Mezirow's Learning Theory and relate it to Jürgen Habermas' idea of emancipatory interest while keeping in mind William Rehg's awareness to the personal knowledge of insight. Picard and Melchin also introduce the main overarching theory being used in the text, which is Bernard Lonergan's Insight Theory.

Chapter 2: Studying Conflict: Where Have We Arrived and Why Think About Insight?

Chapter 2 explores the evolution of the field of conflict resolution. The authors start their timeline around the 1970's and 80's with the emergence of conflict resolution as an independent field of study. They focus particularly on the work of Kenneth Boulding, and Dean Tjosvold as early leaders in the field. They also draw on the works of Karl Marx, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lewis Coser and Morton Deutsch, all of whom addressed the idea of conflict being a positive experience that could be used in a productive manner.

The authors present an overview of theories within the field of conflict resolution. The discussion of Game Theory focuses on John von Neuman and Oskar Morgenstern's prisoners dilemma and the consequences of these types of studies. The second, more practical theory introduced was the Interest-based Theory, with the example of William Ury and Roger Fisher's Getting to Yes. John Burton's Human Needs Theory follows with the suggestion of intractability. The last theory the authors mention is Communication Theory, largely indicative of George Herbert Mead's "role taking".

The end of Chapter 2 looks at the use of mediation and the three models of mediation that arise from these theories: interest based, transformative and narrative mediation. The fourth model is Insight Mediation, which is based on, what the authors call, the "transformative moment in learning".

Chapter 3: Insight Theory: Transformation through Learning

Picard and Melchin introduce Lonergan's Insight Theory through a family conflict. Within Chapter 3, the authors focus on Lonergan's idea of "reflective practice" which is a shift from not understanding to an insight of understanding. The four operations that Lonergan outlines are experience, understanding, verification and decision. These operations are the points at which an insight, or "a-ha" moment, moves in between not understanding and understanding. The authors stress, in this chapter, the importance of curiosity in learning. Without curiosity there can be no questions, and without questions there can be no insights. The two types of insights are described as direct and inverse. Direct insights are about gaining understanding through asking questions, while inverse insights refer to discovering that we are asking the wrong questions.  Another important note in Chapter 3 is the fact that insights can be wrong. This is where the verification operation plays a critical role.

Verification does not seem to be a new insight, instead it is taking an existing insight and confirming that it is true or realizing it is false. There is a difference between common-sense verification and technical verification. At the end of Chapter 3 the authors introduce four levels in which we relate to values: experience values, understanding values, verifying values and decision or acting on values. The reversal of these levels is what the authors call the "cycle of innovation".

Chapter 4: Insight Mediation: Applying Insight Theory to Mediation

Chapter 4 explores what the authors call "the magic of mediation", which is closely linked with insights. In 2002, the Insight Model of Mediation was created in response to both the Transformative and Narrative Approaches. The mediators at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada used Insight Mediation to explore what differing parties care about and how they see their cares/interests "threatened" by other parties. The authors briefly describe the 5 Steps of Insight Mediation: 1. Attend to the process 2. Broaden understanding 3. Deepen insights 4. Explore possibilities and 5. Make decisions. These steps address threats linked to previous encounters, existing behaviors and expectations of the future.

There are four principles of Insight Mediation that the authors offer. The first principle addresses the social nature of persons: the idea that human beings are proponents of meanings and this shapes the way we view the world around us. The second principle is that peoples' actions are not purely out of self-interest. This is explained through the idea that values are noticed through feelings. The third principle looks at the way values, cares and threats work in conflicts. The fourth and final principle refers to understanding that values can change how we experience conflict.

The authors also spotlight the role of feelings and their relation to values, cares and threats inside the value narrative. This involves a "strategy of linking" which adds insight to the cares and threats that parties hold of one another. The authors propose that conflicts occur and are important because something significant needs awareness brought to it. The goal of Insight Mediation is not about finding solutions, but rather using questioning to summon curiosity. Some of the main concepts the authors touch on are responsive intentionality, deepening and finishing.

This chapter also addresses what to do when expected threats are valid and gives some examples of how Insight mediators "de-link" conflicts. De-linking is a shift of the parties' view of others from "certainty to uncertainty". This "shift" is a key component in the process of learning. The end of the chapter delves more deeply into the strategy of verification. It stresses the importance of verifying one's insights and how verification comes to play in the process of learning.

Chapter 5: Insight, Conflict and Justice: Two Case Studies

The last chapter focuses on two case studies through the lens of insight mediation. The first case study is a story of a gas station employee who was robbed. The robber, Charles, was caught and sentenced to jail time, however Elizabeth, the employee, did not feel as if she had obtained any sort of justice or closure with her perpetrator. In fact, the justice system all but ignored her victimization. The authors outline how this scenario was resolved with insight, because Elizabeth sought out her perpetrator and was on a "quest" for answers, even though she did not have many specific questions. The authors explore not only Elizabeth's trauma, but dig deeper into Charles' life and past experiences.

The second case study was about a man named Allan who was a repeat offender. Instead of continuing the cycle of jail time, the judge decided to involve the community in deciding how to stop this intractable cycle. After Allan heard his community testify how they wanted to help him and integrate him back into society, an insight was achieved. The authors look at the involvement of the community and how this could change his behavior patterns. Instead of granting Allan more jail time, a rehabilitation process was agreed upon with the community and Allan's needs in mind. The authors conclude with applying the Insight Theory to this story and looking at the direct insights, inverse insights, feelings, values and learning that was achieved in this case study.

Chapter 6: Concluding Remarks

Reflecting back on the past chapters, the authors reiterate and solidify the importance of learning in transforming conflicts. Curiosity as a necessary skill for gaining insight is also a concept that is stressed. The curiosity must be genuine and focused on others. Picard and Melchin warn of the dangers of self-interest when dealing with insights. Overall, the final chapter summarizes the main points of the previous chapters and pursues a greater advance in learning about learning.