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COVID, Racism, and Conflict -- More Thoughts
In our last newsletter, I noted how much had changed since the previous newsletter--it seemed the world had turned itself inside out. Now, sadly, it doesn't seem like much has changed at all. The hoped-for summer respite from COVID-19 turned into summer surges in many places, and at least in the United States, we are no nearer surmounting this challenge, it seems, than we were then.
Some of the uproar over the George Floyd killing has subsided, but protests are still ongoing in a number of places, sometimes spurred by Federal actions (as in Portland). A few token changes have been made, but little serious action has been taken to address racism in America. All of the problems we were discussing in the last newsletter are still first and foremost in most of our minds, which isn't surprising, since COVID-19 and racism are both intractable problems.
We are continuing our CCI Blog on these topics, adding (among others) several articles that examined how the way we frame current events has a huge impact on what we think and do about them. These posts include one by Carrie Menkel-Meadow entitled Words Matter! "Words," she, argues, "become talismans for use in creating the kinds of “tribal” loyalties that inspire political action, as well as voting behavior and everyday interactions." As a result, she argues that "we now face a crisis of wordsmithing and slogans on all sides of political discourse." She goes on to argue that we [conflict resolution professionals]
need to own the complexity of the issues we now face and use our professional skills to really “reframe” not just the words, but the concepts and commitments we need to engage in really transformative thinking and acting. ... We need to do more than speak and scream and yell, whether eloquently or angrily. We need to “frame” the problems realistically and motivationally and then try to engage seriously with what we can do to 1) stop the violence 2) change the narrative and 3) come up with some workable possible “solutions” (in my book, always contingent, as we learn more and conditions change). ..More
Sanda Kaufman contributed a another framing post asking whether (and how) understanding and noticing our frames can help us make better sense of current events. After explaining the difference between "sense-making frames" that let us interpret the information we take in and "instrumental frames" that help us shape the information we put out, Sanda shows us how destructive both types of framing have become. But, she argues, reframing can also help us get out of the polarization trap we are in:
We can begin by checking our frames: what have we left out? What is the basis of some of our firmly held beliefs about causes and effects, and about what needs to be done to solve problems? How useful is it in problem solving to group the entire population of the country in two categories by party affiliation and then deem one of the groups unworthy of engagement? Do we like the current paralyzing polarization that prevents any change? Do some of our frames prevent us from heeding one of our own central conflict management tenets that we should focus on interests (many shared) rather than on positions? We need to remember other tenets, such as that you can't always negotiate with people you like, and it is not necessary to like them in order to come to an agreement; but it helps to understand where they are coming from, in order to propose solutions they might accept. Currently, we tend to cut our noses to spite our faces: we'd often rather not get something we want than get it with the help of despicable others. Mutually-advantageous trade-offs and concessions are helpful when not framed as losses. ... More
Finally, Guy and I (Heidi Burgess) added two more framing posts to the blog: a short one on "Into-the-Sea Framing" and longer one entitled Framing the Events of Spring and Summer 2020. Briefly, people are using "into-the-sea framing" when they frame images of a desired future as being one in which their opponents "disappear" or completely "go silent." Since that will not (and likely should not) happen in most cases, and since both sides tend to think the same way, we argue that "this black/white, 'there's only room for one of us in this space and the others best disappear' mindset is not a recipe for peace or justice. It's a recipe for war."
In our longer framing article, we discuss how Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are framing both COVID-19 and racism very differently. We then discuss why these differences matter:
First, one side describes a situation as a problem that needs to be fixed, while the other does not. But both of these problems—COVID and racism—are not problems that can be fixed by one half of the country and not the other. As long as we stay divided on the definition of the problem, no effective solutions can be developed.
Second, to the extent that each side blames the other for the problem and fails to see their own role in perpetuating the problem, we are only going to deepen our society's polarization and inability to work together to solve mutual problems. The catch phrase "we're all in this together"—which is, in essence, another frame—applies to COVID-19 and it applies to racism. It also applies to climate, it applies to the economy, health care, crime—all our social problems. None of the problems are White problems, Black problems, or Brown problems, although they do tend to affect White, Black, and Brown populations differently. But the problems are of ALL our making, and they are going to take action by all of us of all colors and political persuasions working together to solve them. That means that we need to stop blaming each other for what's going wrong, we need to start recognizing our own role(s) in exacerbating these problems, and we need to start working with others—including others of differing political views from our own—to start figuring out ways to address these problems.
Other recent blog posts have been:
- Dehumanization in Politics -- Political rhetoric has been moving toward increasingly dehumanized enemy images. If we want to save democracy we have to reverse this trend--NOW! -- Jul 22
- Civil Rights Mediation Oral History Project -- Stories from people with vast experience in de-escalating and resolving the most difficult racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation conflicts. -- Jul 13
- The "Two Taproot (or Fuses) Theory" of Social Unrest -- To prevent violence, you need to respond to more than the immediate incident. You need to look at the structures and processes that led to it.-- Jul 08
- Theories of Change -- Expressions of anger and unfocused demands are unlikely to fix things. You need a workable plan and a strategy for building the needed support.-- Jul 07
Other Recent Posts include:
From the Conflict Frontiers Seminar:
- See the Complexity It's not Just "Us versus Them"
- Parties, issues, dynamics, power, and relationships are among the conflict elements one must clearly understand. -- July 15
- Promote Escalation Awareness
Conflict escalation, Guy Burgess asserts, is "the most dangerous force on the planet." How to avoid its damage. -- July 14
- The Complex Causes of Social Problems
We need to think about social problems as complex adaptive systems requiring massively parallel problem-solving. -- July 12
From the Conflict Fundamentals Seminar:
- Mass Media -- Everything we know about world events is filtered through the media. When those filters are flawed we can wind up fighting against our interests. -- Jul 28
- Constructive Escalation -- By choosing one's conflict strategies carefully, it is possible to build support without the destructive consequences that usually accompany escalation. -- Jul 27
- Destructive Escalation -- Destructive escalation is the most dangerous force on the planet. The "enemy" is not the other side, it's the escalation. We must learn how to control it. -- Jul 26
- Morton Deutsch on Understanding and Overcoming Oppression -- In order to win the struggle against oppression, you need to understand its multifaceted nature. This recently updated series of essays can help. Jul 23
- Principles of Justice and Fairness -- Like, beauty, "justice" is "in they eye of the beholder. " Or is it not? Can it be objectively measured? -- Jul 14
- Theories of Change -- This essay catalogs the many theories of change used by peacebuilders with the goal of giving us all ideas for increasing our effectiveness. -- Jul 07
From the BI Knowledge Base:
- The US Government Has a Long Way to Go with Reconciliation: Japanese Internment Camps. -- 1988 Civil Liberties Act, with all its imperfections and incompleteness, is proof that the United States is capable initiating reconciliation -- Jun 28
- Reconciliation Lost – An Examination of 19th Century Post-Conflict Practice in American Reconstruction -- What lessons can modern peacebuilders learn from the Reconstruction Era following the US Civil War? -- Jun 25
- The Intersections of Civil Discourse and Privilege -- Civil discourse is not intended to change minds of others, but to help the participants to be curious and grow themselves.-- Jun 24 -- edit
From the Colleague Activities Blog:
- With the Groundbreaking Women, Peace, and Security Act, Washington Could Be a Model for the World -- An update on little noticed, bipartisan legislation mandating a "whole of government" effort to strengthen the role of women in ending wars. -- Jul 22
- America's Divided Mind: Understanding the Psychology That Drives Us Apart -- Americans incorrectly believe that members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with them about twice as much as they actually do. -- Jul 07
- USIP Online Courses -- Learn about conflict analysis, negotiation, mediation, peacebuilding, nonviolent action, diplomacy, dialogue and more--all for free! -- Jul 06
- A Call to Defend Democracy -- A welcome effort to mobilize support for democratic institutions which are both under attack and critical to the success of efforts to fight COVID-19. -- Jul 01
From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog
- It’s Time To Retire The Term “White Privilege” -- A thoughtful and persuasive argument for replacing the term "white privilege" with genuine efforts to build relationships across racial lines. -- Jul 26
- Political polarization is dangerous to America; here's how to fight it -- It is nice to see, in USA Today, sound, broadly-accessible advice on things we can all do to help reverse our hyper-polarized politics. -- Jul 23
- We Interrupt This Gloom to Offer … Hope -- Amid the despair, a rapidly approaching opportunity to fix things. Time to build a coalition capable of making & sustaining the needed reforms. -- Jul 16
- How Mass Protests End -- In this era of mass protests, it is worth thinking about how protests end and how this one might be guided toward a more constructive conclusion.-- Jul 13
- Congress’s bipartisan national-service bill would be a powerful tonic for what’s ailing America -- A modest but, nevertheless, still welcome step toward strengthening the ethic of mutual support amid the pandemic. This one is even bipartisan! -- Jul 08
- Do Protests Even Work? -- For those who want to help the current wave of protests bring about positive, lasting change, a look at what does and doesn't make protests effective. -- Jun 24
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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