Original: September, 2017, Updated Nov. 2019
You won't abandon your core beliefs, so why will your opponents do so? If you seek total victory, you are demanding (or assuming) they will.
Unless we want civil war, co-existence is our only option!
When one lives in a diverse society--as almost all are--people are not going to agree on everything. Neighbors, co-workers, even family members will often prefer different ways of living, and different public policies that support or allow those ways of life. For example, conflicts between people who advocate conservative policies versus those who advocate more liberal public policies are common in many different countries. So are conflicts between people with different religious beliefs. These differences lead to tension, and sometimes even violence or war.
It is tempting, particularly when the conflict involves fundamental moral values, to refuse to compromise and to seek total victory. After all, people cannot --and should not -- change their fundamental beliefs -- right? However, if this victory leaves no choice to your opponents other than to capitulate and give up their own fundamental values, or to move somewhere else (which may, in practice be neither possible, nor desirable), then the demand for total victory is a recipe for continuing and deepening strife.
Therefore, developing some way to co-exist with others with whom we disagree is essential if we want to avoid continued destructive conflict. A side benefit is that if we allow others to live as they want to, it greatly increases the chance that they will let us live the way we want to as well. So co-existence is a win-win approach to deep-rooted moral differences, while total victory is usually a lose-lose approach.
For more information about these ideas, see:
- Beyond Intractability (BI) article on Moral Conflict
- BI article on "Into-the Sea" Framing -- another way of saying "total victory framing"
- BI article on Co-Existence
- BI article on Tolerace Note: while this concept is closely related to "co-existence," there are differences, evident in the two essays.
- Expert Scholars and Practitioners talking about the nature of and how to deal with deep-rooted moral differences
- Other experts describe different approaches to co-existence in this set of interview segments.
Have you done this in a particularly tricky or difficult conflict situation? Did it help? Did that change the conflict dynamics? How? Share your answer by email and we'll post it here!