Constructive Confrontation Initiative*

Online learning opportunities that explore realistic options for limiting the destructive conflict dynamics that commonly undermine our ability to protect our interests.

Constructive Confrontation | An Online Learning Initiative | Participation Options | Core Learning Resources | Additional Learning Resources

Constructive Confrontation*

The highly escalated, increasingly dehumanized, and deeply intractable nature of today's big (and little) conflicts can threaten pretty much anything that we have ever really cared about.  In the United States and far too 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 are framing the 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 real 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 – one that helps 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/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 big (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.

Core Initiative Learning Resources

Core Initiative learning resources are organized into four major sections which are directed toward participants with differing levels of background, interests, and time availability.

For those with limited time, and little conflict resolution background:
Things You Can Do to Help -- Ideas outlining simple but effective steps that can be taken to better handle community and interpersonal conflict. 

For those with more interest and a few hours:
The Conflict Challenge & Frontiers Unit 1 --  An overview of why this problem is so important and the Initiative's complexity-oriented approach to conflict dynamics, advocacy, and conflict transformation. 

For those interested in learning conflict resolution “basics:”
Conflict Fundamentals Seminar succinct explanations of the conflict field's big (though often underutilized) ideas -- ideas that will help you more constructively engage in interpersonal conflicts as well as broader civic issues.

For those wanting to explore today's really tough conflict problems:
Conflict Frontiers Massive Open Online Seminar (MOOS) -- an exploration and discussion of strategies for more constructively addressing the many unmet challenges posed by the large-scale, complex, and intractable conflicts that threaten contemporary society.

Participation Options

There are variety of options for people interested in taking advantage of Initiative learning materials (These options are described in more detail on our Following Moving Beyond Intractability page.)

The Social Network "Newsfeed" /  Email Newsletter Options
For those with extremely busy schedules, perhaps the best option is to add Initiative posts to your "newsfeed" with the goal of balancing the destructive-conflict-as-usual information that we all normally see with materials highlighting more constructive approaches. 

Initiative learning opportunities range from lists of short articles / videos that you can read / view when you have time and interest  to structured, semester-length, online non-credit seminars and discussions.

There are a variety of options for doing this. You can follow the core Initiative posts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Or, if you prefer, you can subscribe to a more extensive series of posts which adds links to quality news and opinion articles from our BI in Context Blog that we think are especially thought-provoking.  This larger collection of posts is accessible from the Beyond Intractability pages on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Keep in mind that the mysterious algorithms that social networking systems use to determine exactly what you see are likely to omit many of our posts. To get around this problem, you can simply simply leave your newsfeed and go to our pages on the systems (following the links highlighted above) to see a complete chronology of our posts. You can also Subscribe to our Newsletter, and we will send you weekly email updates with links to and descriptions of everything that we've posted since the last newsletter.  Finally, everything is posted to the Moving Beyond Intractability website where the homepage highlights the latest post to each section of the system.

Each option for following the Initiative provides you with links to and short descriptions of each post on the assumption that, when you have time, you will look at posts that you find interesting.  Core posts also have an inset box with links to other Initiative posts including the syllabi used in the online seminars (see below). 

The Non-Credit Seminar Option
For those with the time and energy, a preferable approach is to systematically work through the syllabi for the Conflict Fundamentals and/or Conflict Frontiers seminars much as you would for a conventional course. In a similar way you can work through our our list of things You Can Do To Help. All of this (which is explained in more detail below) allows you to better see the various Initiative components as a coordinated argument for what we regard as a much more sensible approach to conflict.

The Active Contributor / Discussant Option
In this Initiative, we aspire to more than the simple, one-way distribution of learning materials. Our goal is to involve Initiative participants in an ongoing exchange of ideas through our online discussions. These are primarily attached to Conflict Frontiers Seminar and Things YOu Can Do Posts, and focus on the provocative and challenging ideas and questions that we will be raising there. (See our Discussion page for more information.) 

In addition, we are interested in your feedback on the Initiative and your suggestions regarding ideas or materials we should include (which can easily be submitted on our Contact Form). We also want to help make Initiative participants more aware of the many efforts that our colleagues are making to better address the intractable conflict problem. These are listed on our Colleague Activities blog where there is also a link to a form for submitting your activities.

The Search/Browse Option
If there is something that you just want to look up, you can use our search system. And you can browse our various lists of resources (as you might a virtual bookstore or virtual library "bookshelves").

Additional Learning Resources

the Initiative's core resources are supplemented and supported with additional learning resources from the larger Beyond Intractability knowledge base and the Moving Beyond Intractability project.

For those looking for more information on conflict -related topics:
BI Knowledge Base -- An extensive collection of resources covering the destructive dynamics of intractable conflict, strategies for limiting those dynamics, and techniques for more wisely and equitably resolving disputes.

For those interested in seeing what we're reading:
BI in Context -- A blog highlighting readable news and opinion articles, "infographics" and reports that help us better understand the nature of the conflict problem and work of those who are pioneering more constructive approaches.

For those interested in seeing what our colleagues are doing:
Colleague Activities Blog -- A place to find out about the intractable conflict-related work that others in the peace and conflict field are doing and to tell us about your work.



*We have a new initiative called the "Constructive Conflict Initiative" which is calling for a dramatically expanded, long-term effort to improve society's ability to constructively address the full scale and complexity of the challenges posed by destructive conflict.  While related to the ideas presented here, the Constructive Conflict Initiative is much broader than this Initiative.  We apologize for the potential confusion, but each title does say, we think, what the initatives are about better than alternative titles.