Eastern Mennonite University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: What are the most common obstacles in dealing with a conflict in which there are different world-views?
A: I would say that there are two things. I think there are process obstacles that 3rd party neutrals or interveners. I don't like the word neutrals, for obvious reasons, having to do with world-view, but there are obstacles that we bring which include trying to push people to act as rational interest based actors. Another obstacle would be to not recognize fully that everybody in a conflict is a meaning making creature and giving space for the meaning making process and activities inside of the negotiation process. So there are problems that we bring procedurally and those include things like shutting down the discussion of reality so quickly to a narrowly defined problem to be solved that people are left with, either they can't say what they want to say, or the real issues for them are not on the table.
Q: So, what does that sound like, can you contextualize that?
A: It sounds like an environmental negotiation process where you are trying to decide what to do about rangeland and the third party facilitators who've been brought in focus on "how do we determine the condition of the land, how many people can be brought on? They turn it into a very technical problem. So the case is treated as a technical problem primarily where at the deeper level, the real pressing question for the larger area is how do human beings live in relationship to a fragile ecosystem and where do ranchers fit into that? And you never get that hard question on the table. Another thing that it looks like in process is that we can convene processes where we basically push people into a single identity. So you can convene a large scale process to talk about forestry management issues or range land management issues and people participate as ranchers or environmentalists or land management agency personnel or citizens in the local city, you even get urban people involved there. And they put that identity hat on and they come to the table with that sort of identity.
The reality in those rural communities is that people have multiple identities. The person, who's the rancher, may also be the head of the school board and has to worry about the tax base for this rural community school district. He may see the need for sustainable ranching and he's the kind of person who says, my grandfather managed for beef, my father managed for grass, with beef just being a by-product of grass, and now I'm trying to learn how to manage for eco-system health because my community won't live. My children won't have a place to be and my grandchildren won't have a place to be if we don't do it that way. And he's told, you know we'll speak for the ranchers on this technical problem when what he's really wanting to do is negotiate for the long term life of his community. A lot of the way our work is done, as A problem, bounded shaped by this, doesn't allow us to engage those larger discussions.
Q: The image that I'm getting from this is a camera with a very big zoom lens and that normally we're going to zoom in as tight as we can and you're saying we may need to pull back a bit before you can get there?
A: And to make sure that eventually, you do have to come up with some, how are we going to decide how many cattle, how are we going to decide what's good practice in range land management, but don't turn it into a technical problem too quickly because that will just exacerbate the long term conflict in cases where really world-views are significant. I would like to see us in this country thinking about some of these large scale resource management conflicts using peace building models that we use over seas for post-conflict kind of reconstruction which includes community development work, capacity building work, in a very hierarchical kind of from top level all the way down to grassroots. We need to face the facts that these communities are traumatized, that there's a lot of trauma recovery work that needs to happen, similar to what we do in Liberia, or in post-conflict settings.
When you whip the financials base under a rural community by changing the environmental laws, you throw the whole community into a traumatic reaction. It impacts schools, their churches, their whole economy, you see tremendous increase in alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide, those are all trauma responses and we're not constructing processes for looking at those like range management issues, forestry management issues, that include all of those interventions in a coordinated fashion. Because they are technical issues and part of it is because the environmental policy of the conflict resolution field is the most highly developed and professionalized that it is actually working against us now, in terms of doing the best possible practice in some of these instances. I don't know what people are going to say when they hear this. It's professionalized; people can make a living at it, that's great. But all those practices becoming so disconnected with the real long term problems of the communities that we're working with; they're running the risk of becoming a Track I Oslo Accord that never gets wired down into a community and you end up with Intifada.
Q: Other obstacles?
A: I said 2, so there are process obstacles that we bring, then there are the cognitive obstacles that everybody brings, including third party practitioners, and the parties involved, which is the worst cognitive thinking obstacle because you can't see your own world view, it's just lived. Well of course the world is that way, how else would it be?! So, you can't see your own world-view until it bumps up against somebody's that's different. When that happens, we have the tendency to demonize the other person and to demonize their world-view. We're not taught very well in our culture to say, "Oh is that how you see the world-view, how interesting!" We find it very threatening that somebody doesn't see the same reality that we do, so there's that problem. Then there's the world-view that's blind to world viewing, which is the world-view that tends to dominate a lot of policy and practice which says, there's a reality and people may have different perceptions of that reality. We don't start very often with the assumption, people actually build different realities and occupy different realities. So this is a whole social constructionist orientation that most people in western culture are really not comfortable with.