It is 2 am, the morning after the US political race, and I am wide awake. My mind is reeling at the results. I am trying to reflect on what unfolded before me all evening. No matter which candidate you supported, we might all be able to agree that both of the major candidates had flaws and both provoked very strong emotions in people. I am feeling many of those emotions as I write.
Like many others, I’ve worried for some time that the political divide separating the supporters of the candidates could lead to a greater, more dangerous and damaging divide within our country. No matter which candidate won, I’ve questioned how our country can recover from such a rift. How could we find our way back to a place of partnership when we fundamentally disagree on so much? How could we support each other’s work when we can’t get past political opinions and hurt feelings? Yet, now more than ever, we have to find a way to come together as a nation rather than use the election as a catalyst towards more division, hatred and violence.
While it is easy – and temporarily gratifying – to spend some time wallowing in destructive responses, that will only divide us further. In a time when our nation is vulnerable, we can’t let our reactions contribute more to that vulnerability. This is the season to put aside our own opinions and support positive change. This is the time for more than conflict resolution. We need a true transformation in conflict.
As John Paul Lederach said in his book The Little Book of Conflict Transformation, conflict transformation is different from conflict resolution or conflict management. It is not just a technique to handle or solve an issue. At its core, conflict transformation requires people coming together to jointly create solutions while working to impact social change. Looking past just how we resolve the conflict, conflict transformation seeks to understand how we resolve the conflict while making the world a better place. With half of the population unhappy about either candidate in the election, we are in need of some unique approaches to conflict and social change.
How can we model constructive conflict transformation to others? We have at our fingertips the perfect place to start. The constructive responses in the Conflict Dynamics Profile can help put us in a position to lessen the divide. Immediately I think about the active constructive responses. While people feel raw, it isn’t always easy to reach out to the person on the other side and actively listen to their different opinion. However, working together to find common ground, creating solutions on how we can work and live better together could provide a place for healing.
To our non-US friends, while my thoughts in the last few months have been more US-centric than I’d like, the issues we are facing here are no different from the issues faced in other countries. I was reminded of recent issues in the UK, Turkey and Brazil, to name a few. So regardless of our location, now is the time for conflict transformation.
As conflict practitioners, it is our responsibility to explore conflict transformation in a divided world together. Now, who would like to begin?