Resolving Intractable Conflicts: An Inner Approach (Part I)

A conflict arises when one or more parties want to change the status quo. If all parties are satisfied with the way things are, no conflict arises. The scope of a conflict can be defined as the difference between the current state of affairs and the desired state of affairs.

An example: “I want to paint my house purple, but I cannot because my neighborhood council’s bylaws forbid it.” If I would be content with a white house, which in our example would be allowed by the bylaws, there would be no conflict. Conversely, if there were no bylaws relevant to paint color, I could paint my house purple with no problem.

One of the first rules of conflict resolution is that in order to non-violently reach a solution (that is, in order to find a new state of affairs with which all parties feel satisfied), the parties need a safe space within which to meet and interact. In our example, if the house-owner was so angry that he was breaking into the council’s offices and smashing the computers, and the council members were stealing the house-owner’s stuff and sabotaging his car, it would be very difficult to create a safe space for negotiation.

And yet, on the world stage, this is often how various peace processes unfold. On the ground violence is happening while in the conference room a small group of people is meeting to discuss peace. Have the parties truly created a safe space? Does a tiny oasis in the midst of a sea of violence feel safe?

If there exist two entrenched parties, each bent on getting all of what they want, then violence will continue until the discomfort of the violence becomes strong enough to encourage people to negotiate in good faith.  Another example: If Team A wants a given land mass to be governed under Religion A laws, and Team B wants the same land mass to be governed under Religion B laws, we might be in for a long conflict for the simple reason that religious beliefs are so ingrained that to change them is more painful, in some cases, than the worst physical torture imaginable. “Kill the children, burn down the homes and fields, pull out my fingernails, but I will not allow you to impose your religious rules on me or my township.”

Once the opposing parties decide they wish to seek a non-violent resolution of their differences, there exist many techniques and methods which can be employed to find solutions, even in very complex situations. (Richard Holbrooke’s book, “To End a War,” about the Bosnian peace process, provides excellent examples.)

But how to get to this point? How to get the two or more warring parties to choose good-faith negotiation over violence? Holbrooke offers one answer to this vexing question. He argued that the United States should threaten to send its army to Bosnia if the violence continued. Two teen-age boys are fighting, and the father comes along and says, “Cut it out or I’ll give you a good whipping.” While this approach has pros and cons, and may or may not work in the medium and long term, it presupposes the existence of a force sufficiently large to overwhelm both opponents. This approach also requires the political and financial will needed to employ it.

There is another approach. It is admittedly more subtle, and will require time and patience to bear fruit. In my exploration of the inner world, I have found that all dark roads lead to the same place: the fear of death. I can begin in my mind, thinking at length about philosophy or religion or art. I can explore various desires: for money, power, prestige, women. I can delve deeper into the realms of dark emotion: anger, aggression, jealousy, hatred, greed.

But if I keep going; if I keep asking myself, “What is underneath this thought? What is underneath this feeling? Why do I hold onto this philosophical position? Why do I feel greed?” ultimately I get to the same answer: “Because I am afraid of dying.”

The root blackness inside of me is the fear of death. Put another way, the root blackness inside of me is the desire for life. (The Buddha taught that desire is the root-cause of all suffering, and for me, the root of all desires is the desire for life.)

(One caveat here: the blackness is the *desire* for life, not life itself. Life is a well-spring of delight; a fresh river running through a misty forest. It is the *desire* for life, the clinging to life, which creates suffering.)

I am fortunate because I have discovered meditation. And for a variety of reasons, the clod of stuckness inside of me I label “fear of death” has been partially dissolved. It is not as strong as it used to be. For this reason, I feel much more freedom in my life: I feel I have many more choices in many dimensions. I am happier, and I find I can get along with just about anybody. I hold very few intellectual ideas for which I am willing to fight. The light of awareness has partially melted the fear of death, and I have become more peaceful.

It is in the candle’s very nature to extinguish darkness. If you bring a candle into a dark room, the room will light up — the darkness will vanish.

If you have a rusty pipe, and you run scalding water through it, eventually some of the rust will loosen, and the inside of the pipe will become cleaner. It is the nature of running water to cleanse.

If a person is filled with unconsciousness (greed, hatred, rage, aggression) and the person is greeted with consciousness, awareness, light, and love, eventually the hatred will dissolve. Eventually the behavior of the unconscious person will shift. The beliefs he once held so dear will begin to loosen. The bargaining positions he once was so attached to will become more fluid. Slowly, slowly, more options will begin to appear on the negotiating table.

Does this mean when you sit across the table from Adolf Hitler, you appease him? No. What is needed is fewer leaders who are mired in the thick, black filth which Hitler was stuck in.

So the question becomes: how do we seduce people into the process of becoming more conscious? More light? More flexible? More loving? More sharing? More collaborative? How do we seduce people into participating in the variety of activities that are now available to us which deepen meditation and right prayer?

To begin with, I will offer one answer to my own question: those of us who practice need to enjoy ourselves. People want to be around people who are happy, celebrating each moment, smiling, enjoying. Joy, when it is not forced, when it arises from a true place inside, is infectious and magnetic.

If anyone has other ideas for seducing people into consciousness-raising activities, please do not be shy: comment away!

(As always with words, there is so much more to say. I see this post as a catalyst for dialogue, rather than an end in itself.)

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About musingsofadisciple

What is essential to say? My name is Prahas. I have worked in the arts, in technology, and in business. I spent ten years in a school of meditation. Love.
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2 Responses to Resolving Intractable Conflicts: An Inner Approach (Part I)

  1. Carolyn-Rodham says:

    “Thou hast power only to act, not over the result thereof. Act thou therefore without prospect of the result and without succcumbing to inaction.”

    Lord Krishna to Arjuna
    [Bhagavad Gita]

  2. Yes, and — in my experience, when I act with as much consciousness as I can muster, the results tend to be more “beautiful,” whereas when I act while I am snoring, the results tend to be less harmonious. But I concur with Lord Krishna, and will re-state in Lao Tsu’s words: “Do your work, then let it go.” (IE — let the cards fall where they may.)

    Thanks for your reply!

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