Constructive Conflict Initiative*
A joint call for a dramatic expansion of efforts to improve society's ability to constructively address the full scale and complexity of the challenges posed by destructive conflicts
May 2019 Draft --- v1.2
Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
Co-Directors, Beyond Intractability Project, Conflict Information Consortium
University Of Colorado, UCB 580, Boulder, CO, USA email@example.com, 303-492-1635
You are invited to participate in and help shape a new* effort to limit the increasingly destructive conflicts that are tearing apart the United States and so many other countries.
- Increase Awareness of the Threats Posed by Destructive Conflict – Chronic conflict problems are leaving us increasingly vulnerable to some combination of three dystopian futures: authoritarianism, anarchy, and war.
- Promote Understanding of the Dynamics that Make Conflict So Destructive –Intractable conflict arises from a complex array of factors that have to be understood before they can be successfully addressed.
- Expand Utilization of Proven Strategies for More Constructively Handling Conflict – We already know how to minimize a great many conflict problems. We need to find better ways of overcoming obstacles that prevent us from using that knowledge.
- Encourage Efforts to Advance the Frontier of the Field – We need to try harder to move conflict and peacebuilding-related fields beyond the limits of current approaches by finding better ways of addressing today's daunting challenges (see below).
- Persuade Everyone That They Have an Important Role to Play in Limiting Destructive Conflicts –Conflict professionals cannot possibly mediate all of our difficult conflicts. We all must learn how we contribute to conflict intractability and what we, ourselves, can do to help remedy the problem.
- Expand the Funding Base – Destructive solving threatens everything we care about. Addressing the problem will only be possible if we work together to to find the resources needed to address a problem of this scale.
Conflict Challenges To Be Addressed
Our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren depend upon finding wiser and more equitable ways of meeting a wide array of daunting conflict challenges. We need to:
- Develop a Broadly-shared 21st Century Democratic Vision – We need, and do not now have, a broadly shared image of the kind of society that we would all like to work toward – one that transcends partisan differences, builds on past ideals, and addresses the unrightable wrongs of the past (and prevents their recurrence).
- Resist "Divide and Conquer" Politics – We need much better ways of preventing people from using sophisticated propaganda strategies to advance their selfish interests by deepening social divisions in ways that make it impossible for us to work together to pursue the common good.
- Limit Deception and Misunderstandings – We need more effective ways of correcting the highly polarized and often inaccurate and hostile images that the various social groups develop of one another based on today's complex system of "narrowcast" media and social networks.
- Work with Psychological Complexity – Rational arguments for more constructive approaches to conflict need to be adapted to better work with the complex neuropsychology of human thought with its less rational and more subjective decision-making.
- Scale-Up Small Group Processes – We need effective mechanisms for scaling up small group facilitation strategies to the point where they can produce transformative experiences in a mass media environment with literally millions of participants (who are likely to also be bombarded with destructive-conflict-as-usual messages).
- Make Fact-Finding Work – More effective mechanisms are needed to help the public understand social problems and evaluate the efficacy of possible solutions. This requires improved procedures for assuring that experts resist conflict-of-interest pressures and act in trustworthy ways that are, in turn, trusted and understood by the larger society.
- De-polarize and De-escalate Society – We desperately need strategies for defusing today's "us versus them" politics with its increasingly dehumanized, hateful, and potentially violent rhetoric. The goal can't be to hurt the "other" — we have to learn how to work together.
- Take Advantage of Mutually-Beneficial Opportunities – Collaborative skills and institutions need to be strengthened to the point where we can routinely take advantage of opportunities to advance both our individual and collective interests.
- Govern the Commons – We need institutions that effectively defend the social, economic, and environmental commons on which we and future generations depend. We also need institutions that protect individual rights and encourage us to fulfill the responsibilities that accompany those rights.
- Develop a Positive-Sum, Win-Win Economy – We need an economy that generates meaningful and dignified work for all and then equitably distributes the product of that work. The key to getting ahead can't simply be taking something from somebody else.
The "Find Out More" inset box at the top of this page provides links to much more information about the Initiative.
We Need Your Help
Meeting this daunting list of intractable conflict-related challenges will require a long-term, very large-scale effort comparable in scope to the climate change movement. The goal of this Initiative is simply to start laying the groundwork for such an effort.
For the Initiative to be successful, we need your help in strengthening, promoting, and financing it. More importantly, we need you to take an active part in efforts to meet the above challenges. As a start, please let us know either privately or publically on our discussion board 1) what you think about this effort, 2) how you think it might be strengthened, 3) who else is doing related work and should be invited to participate, 4) what next steps would be most effective, and 5) whether you would be interested in getting involved in some way.
* We have another initiative called the "Constructive Confrontation Initiative" which is designed to show people how the skills typically used by third parties (for instance mediators) can also be usefully applied from an advocacy (i.e. confrontation) perspective. This initiative is different from that one. The Constructive Conflict Initiative has a much broader scope. We apologize for the potential confusion, but each title does say, we think, what the initiatives are about better than alternative titles.