Inaugural Discussion Topic
Many of us in the conflict resolution and peacebuilding fields have spent decades traveling the world advising people on how they should handle the deeply intractable conflicts that have torn their societies apart (often in extremely violent ways that have left a terrible legacy of unrightable wrongs). Now we are witnessing similarly deep divisions within the U.S. and Europe, fortunately, so far, without large-scale violence. Even without widespread violence, however, these divisions are preventing effective governance (perhaps even destroying democracy), sowing hate and fear, and threatening almost everything peacebuilders generally hold dear both in the U.S. and around the world.
For those of us based in the United States (and other countries facing similar problems) this raises an obvious question: How can we better apply what we already know to our own conflicts—and what more do we need to learn?
In other words, how many of the ideas and processes that we have been advocating for and applying abroad can be applied at home?
- For those ideas that seem applicable, how can we get these processes going—and thriving?
- For those ideas that don’t seem like they’ll work, can they be modified and improved in ways that do apply here?
- If we think they can’t, what changes need to be made to accomplish peacebuilding on our home turf? And how do we start that?
For example, when we are abroad, we advocate that adversaries sit down together in dialogues or problem-solving workshops to diminish negative stereotypes and begin to build positive relationships that will enable mutual understanding, empathy, and problem solving. How can we get our own right and left together to sit down in a similar way? Will we (who tend to be mostly left-leaning) have the credibility to convene such meetings? If not, who can? And how can we get influential people to attend such meetings and spread what they learn outside the workshop context to a large-scale audience?
And are such table-oriented processes enough? Can we figure out how to scale up these processes so that they diminish polarization, distrust, and disrespect throughout our entire society?
And how do we deal with new neurobiological findings that suggest that some people are biologically pre-disposed to distrust outsiders and new ways of doing things, finding their identity and security in traditions of religion, family, and community, while others are biologically pre-disposed to be mavericks, seeking and thriving on diversity of ideas, people, and environments. Can these groups learn to understand, respect, and coexist with each other? How can we use our skills to help bring that about?
If our skills and processes are not up to these tasks, what do we need to do to re-tool to meet our current home-grown challenges?
Lastly, why AREN'T we "walking our talk?"
To be fair, some of us are!
But more of us, it seems, are not. Many of us have “joined the resistance,” or have continued to focus our efforts abroad, thinking (perhaps), that other people will take care of the situation at home. But the situation here is getting worse and worse, the damage to U.S. democracy, society, the economy, the environment, and the international system is growing daily. Joining “the resistance” and pushing just one side of the agenda, we believe, is only making our divide deeper and wider, entrenching our conflict in ever-growing intractability and governmental dysfunction. Isn’t it time we stepped up and intervened to help bring both sides together as we do abroad? Shouldn’t we work with both sides to improve cross-group communication, understanding, and respect as a way to reinstate effective politics, governance, and problem solving?
If your answer is yes, how can we get more people to help do that?
And if your answer is “no,” how else do you think we can get out of the fix we are all in? Is "joining" the resistance the best way we can defend our ideals? If so, how can we make resistance efforts more constructive?
We know these are a lot of questions, but please grab on to one that interests you and share your thoughts!
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