In Search of Common Ground
Auf der Suche nach der gemeinsamen Basis
A number of kids who needed help with their own aggression were taught to be conflict mediators. This not only helped them to settle fights between others; it gave them tools to control their own behaviour. The introduction of peer mediation led to a 50% drop in school violence. This is the largest effect I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of doing this type of work, said Canadian professor Chuck Cunningham in 1995 when he released a study of the results of “peer mediation” in three schools in Canada.
|1) Good conflict resolution skills today help to improve the climate in schools in many parts of the world. In some of the roughest districts in Los Angeles, USA, child volunteers, some as young as six, are being turned into “Conflict managers”. In an environment where children kill each other with guns, they stroll the schoolyards in pairs and step in at the first sight of an argument, armed only with their four ground rules: no interruptions; no name-calling or put-downs; be as honest as you can; agree to solve the problem. The programme gives the pupils self-esteem, it teaches them to take responsibility for their own behaviour and gives them techniques for resolving conflicts without resort to violence.||1) ||2) But schools are just one of the fields where peaceful and non-violent conflict resolution is flourishing. It has grown at a tremendous pace all over the world during the last four decades in a fruitful cross-fertilization between universities and practical life. A rich and varied body of academic study has been transformed into practical reality in many sectors of society, in family relations, business, management, and law enforcement. Lawyers are taught ways to get better results for their clients and industries to opt for softer solutions, — even if you have the strength or chance to win a total victory, you may be much better off keeping a good relationship or business connection. Training in the conflict resolution methods and skills has meant a distinct improvement in peoples’ lives as they learn to respect themselves and to accept differences in others. Predominant values in the conflict-resolving society are freedom of choice, self-esteem, self-responsibili! ty and promotion of more just and equitable relationships. ||2) ||3) The range between the powerful and the powerless becomes smaller as skills in conflict resolution empower those who previously did not believe they had a voice or were permitted to participate, — that is one of the experiences harvested by the extremely successful Conflict Resolution Network (CRN) in Australia. From its first modest beginnings in 1973, as the Peace and Conflict Resolution Programme of the Australian UN association, peace has been an underlying motive for the network. Its great expansion started in the international Year of Peace in 1986, with 12 principles for conflict resolution (see separate article) as an important teaching motor.||3) ||4) Drawing on a worldwide treasure of academic studies, traditional life wisdom and culture CRN developed 12 basic principles, which could be understood by everyone and applied in the most diverse settings. Within 1988 CRN had a group of 37 trainers and needed a staff of 12 to run their education program. By 1993 conflict resolution was firmly integrated in all of the Australian society. One could not open a newspaper without finding several references to conflict resolution. The CRN operation had grown to a size where it had to be further divided up in separate consultancies.||4) ||5) — The network believes that to have control over the conflicts that affect you is a basic human right, like the ability to read and reckon and that freedom, democracy and social development depend on it. The complexities of the end of the century demand that everyone be able to read, write, reckon and resolve, says Stella Cornelius, who together with her daughter Helena Cornelius, have been key figures in developing the conflict resolution network from its very start. They have been very conscious to take their topic into the mainstream. While CRN has included and worked with academics and top management, this has been to assist rather than to limit a wide outreach. Australia has no doubt become the country in the world with the highest percentage of people with training in Conflict Resolution skills.||5) ||6) Most people are in principle for non-violent solutions. However, faced with conflict they do not feel sufficiently equipped to handle them and turn instead to withdrawal or aggression. CR skilling changes this situation. The network in early 1986 decided to focus on teaching, and the change of emphasis from advocacy to training resulted in a great leap forward. Teaching is made as widely available as possible, and is offered to all age groups from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, to ethnic communities, to institutions within education, in the health system, to religious groups, the corporate sector, public service and community organisations. A special parenting training has proved useful for all families, and particularly in helping those hit by separation or divorce to make good parenting agreements. The police (“service” rather than “force”) have much to earn by soft ways of handling difficult situations. The network has taught CR in prisons, even high securi! ty units, seeing good conflict handling as a vital social skill and the need for inmates to learn an alternative to violence. ||6) ||7) Language is a key factor in the training. Our choice of words makes the difference between adding fuel or cold water to a heated situation. Use I statements to tell what your own needs and concerns are, rather than telling the others what they should have done. “You should have come to me first, before going to the Manager,” says the same as “I would have preferred it if you had come to me first, before going to the manager”. But the first one is judgmental. There is a range of “do-nots”, such as name-calling, put-downs, blaming, threats, bringing up the past, making excuses, not listening, but also a general invitation to a reciprocal venture to explore options and solutions that can work for all involved. “Everyone Can Win” is the optimistic title of the CRN’s main title in a wide selection of teaching resources. The book has been translated into several languages. CRN trainers have also travelled to teach in other countries. ||7) ||8) Lately CRN Australia has also taken the political culture to task, in a Conflict-resolving Government project. Listen only to Keith D. Suter:||8) ||9) “Politicians are digging their graves with their own tongues. The sarcasm and personal abuse of each other is adding to the public’s skepticism about the entire political system. The core of the problem is the adversarial nature of politics: the institutionalization of the impulse to oppose. There is a need for a new political culture: one based on conflict resolving elections and a conflict resolving approach to governance. Democracy is short-changed when the motivation to be diverse automatically becomes the motivation to be adverse.||9) ||10) Diversity in politics as in the exchange of ideas is based on a sound philosophical point of view: that no one necessarily has all the right answers and that all views should be subject to scrutiny. In other words there should be no elite stratum of the population which alone makes the decisions. Experience over the centuries has shown that reliance upon such an elite is risky and ultimately self-defeating.||10) ||11) After all, it is often from the people with whom one disagrees most often — rather than agrees with most often — that a person obtains new insights.”||11) ||12) With this point of departure, the CRN went on to ask all candidates for the 1996 election to make four commitments (and publicise their answers): 1) to address the issues and refrain from making personal attacks on opponents, 2) to promote one’s own policies firmly and discuss dissenting views without abuse, 3) to seek common ground, and 4) to work for change to make political discussion and behaviour more respectful. The program may have resulted in a subtle but significant change in political culture, manifest in increased unpopularity of personal attacks and greater appreciation of co-operation and collaboration between politicians who are sometimes — but not necessarily always — political opponents.||12) ||13) With all the progress at the national level, there remains the international level. The UN has had a tendency to think of conflict solutions in terms of traditional military means. A number of academics have long maintained that the UN should be much better equipped to master international conflicts and internal strife. The need is to develop an “Early Warning” in the international system, — and connect it with a system for “Early Action”. More than anywhere else, in questions of war it is true that prevention is much better than cure.||13) ||14) If conflict resolution as an equalizer of power could translate to the international level, it would be both welcome and important for peace. A CRN trainer had a surprising experience with one of the largest men ever in his classes. The trainer had always thought that smaller people had the most to gain from this kind of problem solving, but only a few minutes into the exercise the big man started jumping up and down, yelling with relief: “You don’t need strength!”||14) ||15) A culture of conflict resolution is now in rapid expansion in Australia and worldwide. The advantages are getting more widely known and appreciated. In the long run this culture will unavoidably and gradually seep into the international arena as well. The Conflict Managers of todays’ schoolyards will be tomorrow’s politicians and diplomats.||15) |