Can conflict ever resolve?

For someone who hasn’t been in a fight since those sibling battles of childhood, I somehow have picked up an interest in the conflicts of others. Perhaps it was living in Belfast for a while and working for a charity that engaged in peace and reconciliation that did it, though I can’t say for certain.

And of course the whole area of conflict creates all sorts of questions, huge questions. Well I’m not going to look at them all here and now, or I’d end up filling a library full of books. But I had a very interesting experience this morning which caused me to reflect on conflict and how it is present in all of us, every day. Here’s what happened.

I came across a report on Twitter about a group of people protesting against the destruction of their village in the West Bank. There were reporters at the village live-tweeting what was happening, and since the Israeli army was present, clearly prepared for an escalation of tension, it seemed appropriate to employ Twitter in what it does best and spread the word. Perhaps some international attention might have a dousing effect on the situation, you never know.

There was some response to my communication, some of which was heartening and some of which was mildly upsetting. Of course you expect that when delving into such a sensitive subject there will be a wide variety of responses, but the difference between expectation and reality is like the difference between seeing a picture of the Niagara Falls and actually standing in the midst of the spray and hearing the massive roar of the water in your ears. In this case, comments of a personal nature were made about me (!), judgements that surprised me, and yes, offended me. Of course I wanted to challenge the assumptions that were made about me, certainly I did…and it took a fair bit of self-consultation to decide not to respond at all. And a fair bit of discipline to stick to the decision.

So that was my own experience of conflict today. And given how much work I had to put into not engaging with one person I had never met before, making completely unfounded judgements about me based on one single tweet, I can’t imagine the scope of work that would be necessary for one society to disengage with another, with all the historical complexity of politics, religion and culture to unpick, never mind the economic implications present in any modern conflict. But I can’t help thinking that without some attempt to help individuals living with conflict to work through their own responses to it, any international negotiations are only pasting over the cracks. Political treaties are important in bringing about peace, yes, but only when drawn up alongside the grassroots work that allows individuals to understand their own place within conflict and how they can contribute to coming out the other side. Where the incentive comes from to engage in such work, well that’s a whole other question…


2 responses to “Can conflict ever resolve?

  1. The reality is that under cover of Twitter, or any means of quasi-anonymous commentary, people have the freedom to say just what they like because there is no personal engagement. It is similar to people who will make obscene gestures to you from inside the cocoon of their car if you have got in their way, which they would not think of doing if you accidentally bumped into them in the street, when they would probably apologise instead.

    That probably adds force to your argument rather than explains it away – institutionalised conflict enables us to express things in a way that we can not do if we have to rub along together on a day to day basis. It is in the latter circumstances that the insults become very painful; when you can see, or indeed cannot avoid seeing, the pain in their eyes. I suppose that’s why we have solicitors to negotiate for us in conflict and divorce, when sitting down together with an facilitator/arbitrator makes us face up to the problem in had and seek resolution.

    • Yes I see what you mean, but I think I’d argue that there is personal engagement. You feel more protected by the social network environment, but nevertheless you are aware that the words you communicate elicit a response in others, and vice versa. We can’t see each others’ responses, but we can guess from the replies we get! Perhaps it’s about accountability…I liked your comment about eyes, I think we somehow feel the consequences of our actions with much more strength and immediacy when we see the other person’s face when they are responding. Not that that would put everyone off from being confrontational or aggressive…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s