Newsletter # 40— February 16, 2021
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I've been struck over the last few weeks by the numbers of things that came into my inbox, or otherwise caught my attention, that focused on the importance of thinking positively about events, one's own life, other people, one's community and the world, rather than thinking negatively. It is extremely easy, perhaps even "natural," to be dragged down psychologically by the current state affairs. I need not list the litany of things we are all worried about, angry about, and afraid of. But as I wondered aloud yesterday, does being worried make us happy? I know it doesn't for me (though I do it a lot!) What about anger? Does that make us happy? Maybe—when it makes us feel better than the person we are angry at, perhaps it does. But it also raises our blood pressure, makes us agitated, and overall, I would guess (though I am no psychiatrist or psychologist), that it makes us less happy than when we are not angry. And it makes us do what former President Obama so eloquently advised us not to do: "Don't do stupid stuff!"
One of the lovely items that came across my screen recently was an article shared by Naomi Kraenbring, one of the highly talented and perceptive students in my George Mason University course on Reconciliation. I had asked the students to find articles that related to "reconciliation" and post the links along with an analysis of what they had to say about the theory and practice of reconciliation as we were beginning to discuss it in the class. Naomi posted a story published in the Los Angeles Times in honor of Valentines Day, entitled My father's belief that he was in an ideal marriage actually made it so."
The story started out by saying "My parents were married for 46 years. Right up until my dad died 10 years ago, he lived by a simple maxim: On all matters, big and small, my mother was right." It continues: "Regardless of whether such unswerving faith was good for my mother, I have come to realize it was very good for my father. His delusional belief in her allowed him to lead a very happy married life." The author, Shankar Vedantam (the host of NPR's "Hidden Brain") does not advocate that everyone turn over all decision making to their partner as his father did. Sometimes being too trusting can get people in trouble, he admits. But, he asserts "Most relationships, accordingly, benefit from a certain degree of self-deception. At some point, successful relationships involve transitioning from being with the one you want, to wanting the one you’re with. People in successful relationships are not those who have partners without flaws. Rather, they are people who discount their partners’ flaws and accentuate their partners’ virtues. They embrace “useful delusions” about each other." He later quotes Ruth Bader Ginsburg's advice for a happy marriage: "It helps sometimes to be a little deaf."
What's this all mean for conflict resolution and peacebuilding? I think it means that we should stop thinking about how all the problems we face are insoluble, that all the people in the "other" group are incorrigible, that the only way we can get what we want is if we take it away from the undeserving other.
I wrote in a past newsletter, I believe, about South African Ambassador to the U.S., Ebrahim Rasool's talk at the Alliance for Peacebulding in December of last year. It struck such a chord in me that I keep on coming back to it, over and over again. He said that South Africa was able to recover from Apartheid without an all-out civil war (which many of us alive at that time expected) by taking seven steps toward reconciliation. The first step was recognizing that "the other was there to stay." The second step was deciding "that South Africa belonged to all who lived there" and acting accordingly. If we put that idea together with the idea from Vedantam's article, we come to the conclusion that we are in a marriage, or at least a family, with everyone else who lives in our community and our country, and that the vast majority of those people are here to stay. So in order to be happy (which, I assert, is a healthier psychological condition than being angry or afraid), we should start giving the other people in our figurative family, no matter how large" the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that most of them are well-intentioned until we know firmly otherwise. We know firmly otherwise about some. But we don't know the character or the intentions of others, even if they did vote differently than we did in the last election, or are in a different "identity group." Those people, I think, deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least until we get to know them personally and find out that they really aren't deserving of that benefit.
While we don't have to, and indeed, shouldn't, turn over all decision making authority to "the other," we should, it seems to me, try to figure out how we can work with them collaboratively to make our families, communities, nation, and world the best it can be for everyone. So that means rather than continuing to focus on how to "beat" the other, or "make them pay" for their past behavior, we should rather turn our attention to how we can work together to make this a better world for everyone. Let's start, as President Biden appears to be doing, to figuring out how we can work together to get a handle on Covid. Let's then figure out how we can work together to get a handle on climate change while trying to help the people who will inevitably lose their jobs as we switch away from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy. Once we start working together effectively, peacebuilding experience shows that relationships improve. Trust is built. Then, perhaps, we might be able to work together to address past wrongs in a way that is fair and respectful to all involved as the best truth and reconciliation commissions have been.
Our recent posts are illustrative of an effort we are now working on to accentuate the positive in conflict resolution and peacebuilding more than the negative—looking at things that have been done successfully to address difficult and intractable conflicts, and hence, according to Boulding's First Law (if it exists, it must be possible), they can be done again. Intractable conflicts are NOT impossible. They are just very difficult. But as was reportedly said during World War II, "The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer."
From the CCI Blog:
- A More Positive "Take" on "The Jeep Ad" -- The outcry over the ad was more a reflection of ourselves than it was about the ad. If we look more deeply at our reactions, we might be able to see the value of its basic message. #mbi_cci -- Feb 15
- Avoiding a Category 5 Socio-political Hurricane -- We need to figure out how we can live together if we want to avoid a threatening disaster. Prospective reconciliation helps us do that. -- Feb 04
- Identify--and Scale Up--Your Areas of Influence -- We need to think about the complexities, where our areas of influence are, and how we can scale up our influence go over the tipping point. #mbi_cci -- Feb 04
From the Conflict Fundamentals Seminar:
- Retrospective Reconciliation: Looking Back to Right Past Wrongs – Part II -- No matter how hard forgiveness may seem, there are strategies that have been successfully used to make it work. #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 14
- Retrospective Reconciliation: Looking Back to Right Past Wrongs – Part I -- Using Lederach's "Meeting Place' metaphor, we consider how "truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed." #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 11
- Prospective Reconciliation: What Should We Work For—And How? -- If you want reconciliation to “stick,” you need to design it in collaboration with all affected parties, designing a place everyone would want to live in, not just your side. #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 10
- Ingredients of Reconciliation -- Using the metaphor of baking, reconciliation can be made with a variety of ingredients, in different amounts, and added in different orders. #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 09
- Reconciliation as a Noun and a Verb (Outcome and Process) -- Reconciliation can be visualized as a balance beam, where everyone needs to maintain their balance to keep reconciliation from failing. #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 08
- Complexity-Oriented, Massively Parallel Reconciliation -- Simple solutions won't work in complex conflicts; one needs a complex solution to match the complexity of the conflict. #mbi_fundamentals -- Feb 07
From the Colleague Activities Blog:
- Is That Literally True? -- Exaggeration and sloppy word usage can lead to misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 15
- Putting dialogue to work for climate justice -- A description of the Karuna Center's dialogues between envionrmental justice advocates and advocates of carbon pricing (market) controls on pollution. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 11
- Pledge to Listen -- Pledging to listen doesn’t just mean pledging to hear--it means pledging to make an effort to understand. This article gives tips on doing that. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 10
- Dr. Joseph Bock and Team of Mediators Helping to Diffuse Political Violence Across U.S. -- Kennesaw State peacebuilders describe their work defusing election violence in Kenya and now in the U.S. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 09
- Democracy Fund -- An independent and nonpartisan, private foundation that confronts deep-rooted challenges in American democracy while defending against new threats. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 08
- Act Locally: Doing Nothing is Not an Option -- From Not in Our Town, lots of resources on combatting hate and violence at the local level. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 07
- From Rugged Individualism to Self-organized Connected Communities -- An essay illustrating the trend of participatory, collaborative leadership replacing individual leadership in organizations. #mbi_colleague -- Feb 04
From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog
- The Bombhole Era -- An eye-opening look at how the media, on both the left and the right, is deceptively driving the hate spiral. Is it any wonder we can't get along? #mbi_context -- Feb 15
- The Doublethinkers -- From Natan Sharansky, a look at what it's like to live in a society where the powerful are able to enforce a self-serving narrative on the larger population. #mbi_context -- Feb 15
- 5 Looming Environmental Crises That Rival Climate Change -- The threats to the global commons are much more multifaceted than climate change and pandemics. We really need to learn how to better work together. #mbi_context -- Feb 14
- Amish country loves God, Donald Trump and refugees -- This is one of those plentiful, but too rarely told, stories of compassion and kindness that runs contrary to our political stereotypes. #mbi_context -- Feb 14
- The Return of the Peace Processors -- From an Israeli perspective, a thoughtful critique of the many post-Oslo peace processes -- a critique that explains much of why peace remains so elusive. #mbi_context -- Feb 11
- Atlas of Economic Complexity -- A stunning collection of data visualizations that reveal the complexity of the global economy and the difficulties faced by the planet's problem solvers. #mbi_context -- Feb 11
- What the next generation of editors need to tell their political reporters -- A really good idea -- get reporters to start focusing more on what government is and isn't doing to help us and less on political horse races. #mbi_context -- Feb 10
- How the Biden Administration Can Help Solve Our Reality Crisis -- A compilation of promising ideas for addressing the disinformation crisis and helping us work together to address the real, underlying issues. #mbi_context -- Feb 10
- Fearing violence and political uncertainty, Americans are buying millions more firearms -- Another reason why we all need to do all that we can to help diffuse our hyperpolarized politics. #mbi_context -- Feb 09
- The Science of Changing Someone's Mind -- For a time when lots of us need to change our minds about a lot of things, look at the science of persuasion. #mbi_context -- Feb 09
- How Complexity Ruined the World -- A provocative analysis of how unscrupulous elites have effectively weaponized complexity in ways that reinforce their hold on power. #mbi_context -- Feb 08
- What The Woke Don’t Get About the Old -- For the younger, "woke" generation, an explanation of why the "boomers'" old-fashioned ideas of liberalism and free speech are worth defending. #mbi_context -- Feb 07
- Why the U.S. Needs the Romney Family Plan -- A detailed look at at the complex politics surrounding what could be a genuine bipartisan effort to address the problems faced by US families. #mbi_context -- Feb 07
- We can improve health care. It just takes compromise. -- An example of what a realistic, bipartisan compromise might look like in the highly contentious field of healthcare. #mbi_context -- Feb 04
- If You Want Peace, Study War -- A reminder that peace is not something that just happens. You have to work at it by really understanding what threatens it. #mbi_context -- Feb 04
About the MBI Newsletters
Every few weeks, we will compile BI/MBI/CCI news, along with selected the new posts from our various seminars and blogs into a Newsletter that will be posted here and sent out by email to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy on our Newsletter Sign Up Page and find the latest newsletter here on our Newsletter page. Past newsletters can be found in the Newsletter Archive.
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