Shannon Kupersmith: We are at a complicated intersection with lots of roads. What if we use this opportunity to move forward in a better direction? 

 

Coronavirus

This post is part of the Constructive Conflict Initiative / COVID-19 Blog

 

Shannon Kupersmith, a Yosemite Park Ranger and graduate student in Heidi's Reconciliation Course at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (SCAR) turned in a particularly thoughtful essay for her latest discussion board post--which also echoed the notion of "a crossroads." This wasn't intended to be a "coronavirus assignment," but Shannon turned it into one, and again focused on the notion of "a crossroads." She, to my knowledge, hadn't read our Coronavirus essay, so this isn't technically, a response to that.  It is, however, a restatement and elaboration of the crossroads idea, so I thought it was worth posting here.

The prompt for her post read as follows:  "Start by thinking about how one might build an "index" of reconciliation.  Following on Elise Boulding's future visioning exercise, think 30 years into the future with respect to the post-conflict society of your choice (the US is fair game, and to my view--a very interesting and important challenge!)  Say by that time, reconciliation had been achieved. What would it "look like?" What level of conflict would/should still exist in a "reconciled" society?  Put another way, what are the social, psychological, political, and economic attributes that would indicate to you (and others) that reconciliation had, indeed, been accomplished?  How would these attributes be measured?   Putting this more broadly, how does one measure the degree to which reconciliation has--or has not--been achieved in any context? Then as a next step, use Elise Boulding's approach of looking back from the future to the present, and imagine what changes it would take to get from where your chosen society is now to the reconciled future you envision?  What are the short-term, intermediate -term and long-term steps that must be taken in order to achieve your imagined future?  What are the obstacles to taking those steps?  Can you imagine a few realistic steps that might be started to try to start moving along this 'reconciliation path?'

Shannon's response was as follows: 

Life as we knew it in 2019 is gone.  The world is about to change, and what if we use this opportunity to move forward in a better direction?

"While we all start our fourth or fifth week of sitting around our houses in our pajamas, boredom eating, and maybe cutting our own hair, I think it’s pretty clear to see that we are at a crossroad.  

Actually, we may be at a complicated intersection with lots of various roads, highways, and the occasional bikeway, really; regardless, life as we knew it in 2019 is gone.  The world is about to change, and what if we use this opportunity to move forward in a better direction?

What would a reconciled US look like in 2050 if we took this moment in history to realize we all basically want the same things (to live, work, and be safe)? 

Groups that socially respect and appreciate their similarities and differences come together much more easily in the face of threats, like a pandemic, allowing for a swifter, more appropriate response for all.

Socially, we’ll still be divided into groups in some ways, that’s just human nature.  There will still be blue and red politics, Southerns, Northerns, nerds, jocks, you get it.  Only in a reconciled US, those difference would no longer be threatening.  People can respect that not everyone agrees (nor should they), and those difference can generate positive change instead of polarizing rhetoric or violence.  Groups that socially respect and appreciate their similarities and differences come together much more easily in the face of threats, like a pandemic, allowing for a swifter, more appropriate response for all.

Psychologically, we’d have to address Bar-Tal’s (2000) conflict ethos, changing it into a peace ethos. Of his societal beliefs, I think ending our delegitimization of the opponent and instead pursuing unity are the biggest shifts needed in our national psychology.  In a reconciled US, we no longer view each other as the enemy, racking up examples of “see how they did wrong!?” but recognizing that differing views is useful.  Instead of using those difference as ways to further alienate each other, they are used as ways to move towards a common goal in a stronger way.

Political change is profound in the reconciled US.  Although the current state of the US is a much more complicated conflict than just saying “Democrats vs. Republicans,” it is the facet most commonly attributed to "the divide."  It’s hard to imagine how much it can change in 30 years.  The binary system that’s currently in place would likely have to change, but honestly, even a 3-party system would be a substantial improvement.  Regardless of the makeup, the biggest change in the political future is tolerance.  Van Doorn (2014) describes political tolerance as an emphasis on equal civil liberties.  The current push of intolerance would dissolve into a system that, while believing in individual ideas, does not feel the need to subject the entire population to them.  Furthermore, Van Doorn discusses social tolerance, another red flag in our current political system.  In 30 years, a shift away from xenophobia and bigotry would allow people to participate in the political system for their ideas and not their appearance or station in life.

Economically, it’s difficult to imagine where we can be in 30 years considering how we all just witnessed the razor’s edge that is our economy.  A reconciled US would have some level of a more equal distribution of wealth.  We would have a living wage for everyone, or be well on our way to it.  

Elise Boulding (1999) describes an activity she does with inmates in prison, imagining how the world can be improved, and where they’d be in 30 years.  The answers are, of course, utopian, but the steps the designed to achieve that world are realistic.  

We need to recognize that this moment in time is Lederach’s (2005) concept of “moral imagination,” or the possibility to venture down a new path.

Thirty years is not enough time to fully overhaul the divisions, structural violence, and other conflicts in the US, but there are perhaps goals we can achieve to at least move towards the right road.  We need to recognize that this moment in time is Lederach’s (2005) concept of “moral imagination,” or the possibility to venture down a new path.

For a short-term goal, we must create a common goal.  This common goal will have to be powerful enough to overcome a lot of other aspects of division.  

Perhaps an international health crisis with no resolution and no end in sight could be a great place to start. Coming together as a community at every level (local, state, national, international) to defeat an enemy that is blind to political divide is exactly the incident that could trigger a first step down the path.

Perhaps an international health crisis with no resolution and no end in sight could be a great place to start.  Coming together as a community at every level (local, state, national, international) to defeat an enemy that is blind to political divide is exactly the incident that could trigger a first step down the path.  Recognizing that we all have the same goal (survival and preparedness) can help equalize fear or hatred of our differences because there are currently no differences with the virus.  The teamwork needed to overcome this pandemic is unprecedented and a real opportunity, or Lederach’s (2005) “critical yeast” to get people moving en mass.  However, it would require a leadership style bent on unification, and not politicizing or blaming, to rally enough yeast to move even these first few steps to reconciliation.

A medium-term goal would be to, again, use this international crisis, once under control, to look back to see where the holes in society were during the worst of it.  Even a short life disruption of a month or two lead to evictions, starvation, homelessness, etc. while billionaires set up foundations for other people to donate to. People didn’t seek medical treatment for fears of financial destruction.  If we use the pandemic as a reminder of how these weaknesses made it harder for us to overcome the problem as a community, we can inspire people to move towards the above-mentioned society as a safety net, if nothing else.  We don’t have to agree about tax rates for the rich to recognize that even the slightest hiccup in our society created a cataclysmic effect on our economy, which in turn impacted us all.  Using these lessons, we can move forward towards a healthier, happy society that agrees on the basics and works towards those goals.

 If we get our country walking down the road to reconciliation motivated by self-preservation, well, at least we’re walking.  

The long-term goals would be a transition in motivation from “because we must!” to “because it’s right!”  If we get our country walking down the road to reconciliation motivated by self-preservation, well, at least we’re walking.  But to stay the course, that motivation needs to transform to something more compassionate and righteous. Perhaps as we achieve our medium-goals and reap the benefits of a more equitable society, those satisfied feelings will help more people see that life is happier and easier when we work together for its own sake.

 

Notes: 

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