Newsletter # 9

Every week or so, we will compile posts from the Frontiers Seminar, the Fundamentals Seminar, the Things Everyone Can Do to Help Blog, and the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog into a Newsletter that will be posted here and sent out by email to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy on our Newsletter Sign Up Page and find all past newsletters on our Newsletter page.

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MBI Newsletter

Newsletter #9: Introducing the Constructive Confrontation Initiatve

March 21, 2018

Beyond Intractability took a break from posting new Frontiers and Fundamentals posts for awhile, as we readied the Spring 2018 Constructive Confrontation Initiative which we are now starting in late February, 2018. This initiative will run for about three months, taking us into May.

Simultaneously we are also starting a major publicity campaign (please share this newsletter widely!) in an effort to get more participants and more discussants on the Frontiers and Things You Can Do Discussions. We have recently added an overarching "introductory" discussion topic which we hope will get a number of you interested in participating in the discussions--and then the Constructive Confrontation Initiative. That iinitial question is:

How Do We Build Peace and Resolve Conflict in the Age of Hyper-Partisanship and Donald Trump?

Please sign up for the discussions and share your thoughts with us!

Constructive Confrontation Initiative (CCI)Background

The highly escalated, increasingly dehumanizing, and deeply intractable nature of today's big (and little) conflicts are beginning to threaten things that many people care deeply about. In the United States and many other places, these conflicts have now reached the point where it seems that most everyone has concluded that compromise is no longer a realistic option and that, like it or not, they are involved in a win-lose confrontation that they simply cannot afford to lose.

Given this, we have decided to frame this Spring's MBI Initiative around the phrase "constructive confrontation," rather than more traditional terms (such as conflict resolution, compromise, and peacebuilding) that you would expect to hear from a conflict and peace-related organization like Beyond Intractability.

This "reframing" reflects a lesson that we learned early in the history of our Conflict Information Consortium program. Most people see themselves as advocates on one side or the other of a conflict, not as neutral intermediaries who, by implication, see the validity of arguments on all sides of an issue. Such advocates tend to be distrustful of "conflict resolution." They worry, for example, about being pressured to make unwanted compromises or, in the event they do decide to compromise, about being double-crossed. However, we also learned that these same people tend to be deeply aware of the dangers of all-out confrontation and are very interested in limiting the destructiveness that they know commonly accompanies their advocacy efforts.

We need to quit thinking of our conflicts in "us vs. them" terms and realize that we have a common enemy, destructive conflict dynamics, which we need to learn how to work together to limit.

In framing this Spring's Initiative in terms of constructive confrontation, our goal is to show how applying a more sophisticated understanding of conflict dynamics can help advocates better defend and advance their interests. For example, conflict resolution skills are critical to building and maintaining strong alliances. The ability to empathize with one's adversary also allows you to more accurately identify the things that you may be doing that provoke unnecessary opposition. (Successful advocates don't make their adversaries any madder at them than they have to.) We, of course, also want to show those interested in taking on "third side" roles how they can make critically important contributions to de-escalating our countries' and the world's "big problems" and we want to explore with professional colleagues how we can improve what our field offers in the realm of highly-complex, societal-scale conflicts.

Given the intensity of many ongoing conflicts, it's clear that the continuation of "business-as-usual" approaches will yield a continuation of "destruction-as-usual" outcomes, with many trend lines pointing toward real catastrophe. The alternative is not an unrealistic grand compromise, but the promotion of much more constructive confrontation skills – the kind that harness conflict as an engine of social learning – ones that help produce a wiser and more equitable society.

An Online Learning Initiative

If we, as communities and societies, are going to be able to bend the trend lines in more positive directions, then we have to commit to the search for more constructive approaches to current intractable conflicts. We (meaning both the general public and conflict professionals) are going to have to learn a lot more about the many destructive conflict dynamics that underlie our problems, and the steps that we can realistically take to limit those dynamics. While conflict professionals already understand a great deal of this, clearly we don't understand enough! Beyond improving our general understanding of the problem, every one of us needs to take responsibility for limiting the destructiveness of those interactions that we are in a position to influence.

Destructive conflict dynamics and strategies for limiting those dynamics play out at all levels of society – from the interpersonal to the societal.

Regardless of the type of conflict you face, BI is likely to provide illuminating and useful insights.

To do this effectively, many of us are going to have to learn new skills -- something that we have always had to do any time we wanted to do something new. Learning new things takes time, but Beyond Intractability's learning materials are structured in a way that they can be used effectively by even the busiest people. You don't need to sign up for an entire seminar and you don't have any required readings. Rather, you can read or watch whatever you want, whenever you want. Each post, we hope, will teach you something useful. Put together, these materials can teach you (and through your discussions, teach us!) a great deal about better ways to address both simple and the most challenging of intractable conflicts.

Over roughly the next three months, Moving Beyond Intractability's Constructive Confrontation Initiative will provide a series of succinct, easy-to-understand short video and text-based posts outlining both the multifaceted nature of our conflict problems and available opportunities for limiting those problems.

Built on the foundation of the long-standing Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base project, the posts will highlight the important (and generally underutilized) ideas that have emerged from conflict and peacebuilding-related fields, as well as a series of new, more tentative ideas that we (Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess, and colleagues) are developing for addressing the big, as yet unmet, challenges that lie at the frontier of the conflict field. Here, for example, our focus is on tough problems like the complex, and often non-rational, nature of human thought; the willingness of Machiavellian political actors to promote divisions for selfish gain; and the need to "scale up" more constructive, small group conflict-management techniques so they can reach millions of people in a mass-media environment.

The CCI will be built with elements drawn from MBI's Conflict Frontiers and Conflict Fundamentals Seminars (each of which are starting again at the beginning for the CCI) and the Things You Can Do to Help Blog. Supplemental materials will be added from the BI in Context blog, the BI Knowledge Base, and the MBI Colleague Activities Blog.

Although we welcome people to follow the CCI all the way through from the beginning to the end, we know most people don't have enough time to do that. For those with extremely busy schedules, the best option is to add Initiative posts to your "newsfeed" on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.(with the goal of balancing the destructive-conflict-as-usual information that we all normally see with materials highlighting more constructive approaches). Or, if you prefer, you can subscribe to a more extensive series of posts which includes all the BI in Context links to quality news and opinion articles along with the other "core CCI" posts. This larger collection of posts is accessible from the Beyond Intractability pages on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Most of the posts are "stand-alone" (or sometimes groups of two), but each one will present at least one new idea--the Fundamentals Seminar and the Things YOU Can Do to Help Blog presents Conflict Resolution "basics" for people new to the Conflict and Peace field; The Frontiers Seminar discusses more controversial and new ideas which we propose as ways for our field to better grapple with the world's many increasingly polarized and intractable conflicts. You can pick and choose which posts and seminars interest you more, but I hope many of you will choose one of those seminars to follow and participate in as your time permits.