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Conflict Escalation


One thing that all humans can agree upon is that we make assumptions. Whether we like it or not it is part of our nature. We are constantly making assumptions about our surroundings and the events that occur within it. The issue is that assumptions can often present themselves as a dangerous and sometimes not so useful trait when regarding human interactions and thoughts. They misconstruct our intentions, by somehow making us believe that our friend, or a family member, meant something else through what they were saying when instead they actually meant well by, for example, asking you that question about your grades or asking that question about food, or whatever it may be.

One of the authors of conflict theories, Mahatma Gandhi, used what is known as satyagraha as his method of explaining the concepts and “steps'' into how to live in peace while not evading, but managing conflicts. His approach, as one may guess, is nonviolent, with concepts such as the peaceful control of a group who shares a common cause is in fact possible when addressed the right way. Another one would be the belief that people can indeed accomplish their objectives peacefully through solidarity, something that might seem extinct in our society today. In no surprise to anyone, following Gandhi's theme, his method must require and ensure mutual support from however many parties are involved in whatever conflict may be. And last, but of course not least, the desire of violence as a punishment and method of conflict resolution is absolutely frowned upon, considering that violence simply creates and instigates even more violence in the foreseeable future.

By instipulating such methods Gandhi argued that groups or parties where conflicts were present would resolve themselves in a peaceful way by each and every member of the group holding accountability to a higher standard and enforcing such accountability upon their peers. By doing so there would be no need for authority because every member has the same amount of power therefore there is not the possibility of a certain member rising to power and enforcing their own demands upon the inferior member of the group. As history has shown us before, conflicts get violent once authority feels threatened. By doing so, authority could now depart safely, and the cause of the conflict could now simply surrender to the greater good.

Satyagraha is known to be nonviolent direct action, and it is only activated and enforced when other conflict resolution has been implanted and one nor both of the parties happened to be persuaded and have not come to a conclusion regarding the matter in discussion. As Gandhi called it, “Satyagraha is a “law of suffering”, taking on rather than inflicting the suffering that is inherent in the situation.” Which in theory is the prime method for conflict resolution, peaceful and it presents itself as a win-win outcome for all of those involved. But as we know, satyagraha isn’t always the road that society chooses to take when it comes to conflict resolution, this strategy involves things such as, strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, and the defiance of orders. The only problem with this method is that it is time consuming and it often takes time to see results from such efforts. And that’s why, as a society, we have a history of leaning towards the violent conflict resolution, because it produces results in a more timely manner.

In “Difficult Conversations” we, the readers, are presented with the concept, should you adapt to it or not, of disentangling intent from impact, and that’s where I believe most of us struggle, disassembling yourself from a personal situation where a conflict is present and analyzing it from an outside perspective is found to be extremely challenging, because we carry ourselves a certain way where we are always trying to put ourselves as the number one priority, and most important of all, we, as humans, tend to think that whatever we believe in is the right thing. That belief tends to carry certain complications that can sometimes make conflict resolution a bit tricky.

When putting Gandhi’s beliefs regarding conflict resolutions side by side with “Difficult Conversations” I can see somewhat of a similarity. On page 49, “Accusing Them of Bad Intentions Creates Defensiveness” (p.49) relates to what Gandhi believe can be solved through solidarity, meaning that if we refer from accusing someone and instead present solidarity towards them any conflict can in fact be deescalated and solved in a more peaceful manner. Now, of course any conflict will carry some kind of hostility and it is up to one of the parties to identify it and know how to deal with such problem so that both parties can benefit from a solution, on page 52, “We Aggravate Hostility–Especially Between Groups”, there’s this old saying that you must fight fire with fire, which is completely disagreeable, such actions would only inflict more pain and create more problems to those involved, but as Gandhi methods show, “It was not ultimately desirable to inflict punishment”, showing that violence or aggravated conflict is only present when both parties have said mindset. And as for the last one, “Good Intentions don’t Sanitize Bad Impact” (p.50), meaning that if you simply came from a good place of mind and did not mean to hurt someone does not mean that you can not hurt them. Words carry weight and so do intentions. The things we say, whether as an individual or as a group can still have an effect on those who such words are directed to, whether we like it or not. 



Stone, Douglas, et al. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, 2020. 



Heitor Rodrigues

Heitor Rodrigues is an international student from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He moved to the United States when he was fourteen years old. Currently he is majoring in Business with a focus in Operational Analytics, as well as a minor in Economics at the University of Oregon. He had the interest of learning about… MORE >

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