A Paradigm For Theorists and Practitioners

Prof. Lise Hunter

New York City Technical College

The purpose of this essay is to make observations and suggest a paradigm for resolution of domestic and international disputes. In an effort to open the dialogue of what might work, it is necessary for conflict resolution professionals to examine the significance of personal relationships. My thesis is that relationship building is the gravamen of successful conflict resolution. I further submit that trust and power are the key components of relationships. We must create a paradigm which will identify trust engendering activities and re-structure the balance of power between the disputants.

Myopia

It is becoming more apparent that disputants tend to view conflict through myopic lenses. That is, the situation is evaluated from a self-centered perspective. I argue that commonality of interest and background filters the myopia. Therefore, in the conflict resolution vernacular, disputants are more apt to negotiate when they are familiar with what the opponent is seeking and why. This familiarity typically occurs in community-based disputes. However, the most recent conflict in the Middle East demonstrates that commonality of ideology is not dispositive to conflict resolution. For example, despite the shared ideological vision between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, their distinct political agendas impede the negotiations. In this instance, national interest may inhibit the peacekeeping dialogue. Therefore, theorists and practitioners should identify factors which will correct the myopia when there is no common understanding in disputes.

Personal Trust

A second factor crucial to relationship building is the element of personal trust. We know, in response to the query about what we know, that spiritual leaders are among the most respected members of the community principally because they are trusted. However, the trust may be endemic to the position. One challenge for conflict resolution professionals is to identify the characteristics of trust which may be imbued to individuals without regard to position. Personal trust, or lack thereof, is central to the parties’ willingness to negotiate. The triad in the current Middle eastern conflict is illustrative. I make the following assumptions about trust in these relationships: 1. there is no trust between Israel and Palestine 2. there is a tenuous, at best, trust between the United States and Palestine and 3. there is a rapidly deteriorating trust between the United States and Israel. According to my thesis, the various levels of trust are based upon the strength of the personal relationships between the disputants.

Balance of Power

It is beyond cavil, that in conflict there can be no dialogue if there is a perceived imbalance of power. I argue that power shifts depending upon how one views the conflict. For example, if a conflict is viewed in light of the righteousness of position, one party may be perceived as being on top. However, if the same conflict is viewed in terms of military superiority, a different party may be perceived as the more powerful. This, of course, is the problem with pyramidical power. Each leg of the pyramid has independent strengths and weaknesses. The new conflict resolution paradigm should create a non-hierarchical structure in which power is diffused and distributed evenly between the disputants.

Conclusion

These are but a few suggested examples of how we can frame new directions as we move from theory to practice.