Newsletter #33


Newsletter # 33 — August 29, 2020

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COVID-19 has been joined by a host of other problems capturing our attention. All are interconnected--and must be addressed in terms of the complex adaptive system they are part of.


COVID, Racism, and Conflict -- More Thoughts

In our last newsletter, I noted how much had changed since the previous newsletter--it seemed the world had turned itself inside out.  Now, sadly, it doesn't seem like much has changed at all.  The hoped-for summer respite from COVID-19 turned into summer surges in many places, and at least in the United States, we are no nearer surmounting this challenge, it seems, than we were then.

Some of the uproar over the George Floyd killing has subsided, but protests are still ongoing in a number of places, sometimes spurred by Federal actions (as in Portland).  A few token changes have been made, but little serious action has been taken to address racism in America.  All of the problems we were discussing in the last newsletter are still first and foremost in most of our minds, which isn't surprising, since COVID-19 and racism are both intractable problems. 

We are continuing our CCI Blog on these topics, adding (among others) several articles that examined how the way we frame current events has a huge impact on what we think and do about them. These posts include one by Carrie Menkel-Meadow entitled Words Matter! "Words," she, argues, "become talismans for use in creating the kinds of “tribal”  loyalties that inspire political action, as well as voting behavior and everyday interactions." As a result, she argues that "we now face a crisis of wordsmithing and slogans on all sides of political discourse." She goes on to argue that we [conflict resolution professionals]

need to own the complexity of the issues we now face and use our professional skills to really “reframe” not just the words, but the concepts and commitments we need to engage in really transformative thinking and acting.  ...  We need to do more than speak and scream and yell, whether eloquently or angrily. We need to “frame” the problems realistically and motivationally and then try to engage seriously with what we can do to 1) stop the violence 2) change the narrative and 3) come up with some workable possible “solutions” (in my book, always contingent, as we learn more and conditions change). ..More

Sanda Kaufman contributed a another framing post asking whether (and how) understanding and noticing our frames can help us make better sense of current events. After explaining the difference between "sense-making frames" that let us interpret the information we take in and "instrumental frames" that help us shape the information we put out, Sanda shows us how destructive both types of  framing have become. But, she argues, reframing can also help us get out of the polarization trap we are in: 

We can begin by checking our frames: what have we left out? What is the basis of some of our firmly held beliefs about causes and effects, and about what needs to be done to solve problems? How useful is it in problem solving to group the entire population of the country in two categories by party affiliation and then deem one of the groups unworthy of engagement? Do we like the current paralyzing polarization that prevents any change? Do some of our frames prevent us from heeding one of our own central conflict management tenets that we should focus on interests (many shared) rather than on positions? We need to remember other tenets, such as that you can't always negotiate with people you like, and it is not necessary to like them in order to come to an agreement; but it helps to understand where they are coming from, in order to propose solutions they might accept. Currently, we tend to cut our noses to spite our faces: we'd often rather not get something we want than get it with the help of despicable others. Mutually-advantageous trade-offs and concessions are helpful when not framed as losses. ... More

Finally, Guy and I (Heidi Burgess) added two more framing posts to the blog: a short one on "Into-the-Sea Framing" and longer one entitled Framing the Events of Spring and Summer 2020. Briefly, people are using "into-the-sea framing" when they frame images of a desired future as being one in which their opponents "disappear" or completely "go silent." Since that will not (and likely should not) happen in most cases, and since both sides tend to think the same way, we argue that "this black/white, 'there's only room for one of us in this space and the others best disappear' mindset is not a recipe for peace or justice. It's a recipe for war.

In our longer framing article, we discuss how Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are framing both COVID-19 and racism very differently. We then discuss why these differences matter:

First, one side describes a situation as a problem that needs to be fixed, while the other does not. But both of these problems—COVID and racism—are not problems that can be fixed by one half of the country and not the other. As long as we stay divided on the definition of the problem, no effective solutions can be developed. 

Second, to the extent that each side blames the other for the problem and fails to see their own role in perpetuating the problem, we are only going to deepen our society's polarization and inability to work together to solve mutual problems. The catch phrase "we're all in this together"—which is, in essence, another frame—applies to COVID-19 and it applies to racism. It also applies to climate, it applies to the economy, health care, crime—all our social problems. None of the problems are White problems, Black problems, or Brown problems, although they do tend to affect White, Black, and Brown populations differently. But the problems are of ALL our making, and they are going to take action by all of us of all colors and political persuasions working together to solve them. That means that we need to stop blaming each other for what's going wrong, we need to start recognizing our own role(s) in exacerbating these problems, and we need to start working with others—including others of differing political views from our own—to start figuring out ways to address these problems.

Other recent blog posts have been: 

  • Dehumanization in Politics -- Political rhetoric has been moving toward increasingly dehumanized enemy images. If we want to save democracy we have to reverse this trend--NOW!  -- Jul 22
  • Civil Rights Mediation Oral History Project -- Stories from people with vast experience in de-escalating and resolving the most difficult racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation conflicts.  -- Jul 13
  • The "Two Taproot (or Fuses) Theory" of Social Unrest -- To prevent violence, you need to respond to more than the immediate incident. You need to look at the structures and processes that led to it.-- Jul 08
  • Theories of Change -- Expressions of anger and unfocused demands are unlikely to fix things. You need a workable plan and a strategy for building the needed support.-- Jul 07

Other Recent Posts include:

From the Conflict Frontiers Seminar: 

From the Conflict Fundamentals Seminar: 

  • Mass Media -- Everything we know about world events is filtered through the media. When those filters are flawed we can wind up fighting against our interests. -- Jul 28 
  • Constructive Escalation -- By choosing one's conflict strategies carefully, it is possible to build support without the destructive consequences that usually accompany escalation. -- Jul 27 
  • Destructive Escalation -- Destructive escalation is the most dangerous force on the planet. The "enemy" is not the other side, it's the escalation. We must learn how to control it.  -- Jul 26
  • Morton Deutsch on Understanding and Overcoming Oppression -- In order to win the struggle against oppression, you need to understand its multifaceted nature. This recently updated series of essays can help.  Jul 23
  • Principles of Justice and Fairness -- Like, beauty, "justice" is "in they eye of the beholder. " Or is it not? Can it be objectively measured? -- Jul 14
  • Theories of Change -- This essay catalogs the many theories of change used by peacebuilders with the goal of giving us all ideas for increasing our effectiveness. -- Jul 07

From the BI Knowledge Base: 

From the Colleague Activities Blog:

From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog

All CC-MOOS Posts


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