By Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor
We live in a tempestuous and troubled world torn apart by political divisions, religious intolerance, racial prejudice, violence and conflict almost in every sphere of our life. At present, there are more than 40 high-intensity violent conflicts (marked by killing, torture and repression) being waged at the international level. At our home front, hardly a day goes by without news about violence in our homes, schools, at the workplace and in our communities.
According to some authorities, we live in a culture of violence.
When I see all this violence and tumult around, I am reminded of a friend who once said, “We live in a very complex and dangerous world and there is nothing that we can do about it.” That one certainly leaves you with despair and despondency, hopelessness and helplessness. Despite the fact that we live in a world rife with violence and crime, human life goes on striving toward rapprochement, understanding and improvement. In that, I see “hope” and individual human capacity to make a difference. How small that difference may be should not matter. Each of us is capable of performing a modest “random act of kindness” toward our fellow human beings. One’s conscience is the best guide in such matters.
There are no easy solutions to the world’s conflicts, which need to be addressed at more than one level and at numerous fronts using various strategies. In this article, I focus only on some premises and principles that prepare us to deal with conflicts/problems at the interpersonal level. These could be further applied at the global level.
- We need to develop attitudes and abilities that permit us to understand our fellow human beings and human diversity. Such a consciousness and spiritual awareness are essential for our living together in a “global village.”
- We need to face conflicts and difficulties that are inevitable in our modern life in a rational, constructive and realistic way and search for creative solutions to the “material problems” that nurture tension, anger, aggression and violence.
- We need to focus on developing a capacity and inclination to make peace—peace within, peace with brothers and sisters and peace with Mother Nature in order to bring about a nonviolent and just social order to this planet.
- Lasting and sustainable peace would require rearrangement of our relationships and priorities in our life and social structure.
- We need to abandon the idea or mind-set that a certain culture, ideology, way of thinking or life can be imposed on others through the use of force or violence.
These premises clearly suggest the need for peace education and training in conflict resolution. I will not go into detail except to mention that there are now more than 400 universities and colleges in the United States alone that offer such an interdisciplinary education and training both at the undergraduate and graduate levels including about a dozen Ph.D. programs. In addition, numerous school districts and voluntary organizations like Community Boards in San Francisco, the Victim Offenders Reconciliation Program in Fresno and dispute resolution centers in many communities across the nation offer training workshops and seminars in conflict management and resolution. Human relations commissions in various cities offer training and engage in conflict resolution activities. The field is growing in response to a crucial question of our times: “Can we get along?”
I would like to share with the readers some of the guiding principles for nonviolent conflict resolution and interpersonal relationships. This is not an extensive list and more could be added. Readers will notice the influence of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the formulation of these principles.
These principles are as follows:
- Trust in human nature: Never be afraid of trusting your opponent. Your opponent is redeemable.
- Try to win the respect of your opponent. Show deep respect to your opponent’s humanity. Respect is the key to influence.
- Listen well: Active listening is the key to change.
- Be honest, humble and fearless. Be patient and persistent. Persistence is the key to success.
- Persuade your opponent through love and moral force. Hate has no place in nonviolent relationships.
- While ever ready to fight against injustice, tyranny and wrongdoing, be eager for an honorable opportunity for peace/agreement/compromise.
- Be willing to go through sacrifice and suffering.
- Do not use coercive means or threats of physical injury. Nonviolence in thought, words and deeds should be practiced.
- Meet your opponent with kindness but also with firmness in your position. Insist on mutual responsibility to solve the problem.
- Attack the problem, not the person. The goal is to engage your opponent in a dialogue for self-examination. There are no winners or losers at the end. We all become seekers of truth. It is the truth that ultimately sets us free.
Sudarshan Kapoor is professor emeritus, founder and former director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and professor of social work and community development at Fresno State. Dr. Kapoor is the former co-executive editor of Peace & Change, published by the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and the chair of the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or ska