Taxi is a small and little known society on Earth where humans unlearned the belief that authorities and rules were necessary for conflict resolution. Roberta who is an old and attractive woman has an informal and straight forward conversation with Ivan a young and inquisitive man. Both are open minded people.
Ivan: As a young person, it is not easy for me to take for granted that humans are prepared to cope with conflict. How do the people in Taxi deal with conflict?
Roberta: For conflict management people utilize poetry, movie scenes, music, singing, dancing and painting instead of argumentation.
Ivan: Do the parties to a conflict trust authorities and rules for solving conflict?
Roberta: No, the core of conflict resolution processes focuses on what is creating the conflict; what is happening in the moment —perception of situations and reading of emotions; that is the focus on inquiry in Taxi, not history. So, making decisions based upon precedents is alien to our system.
Ivan: I see that the solution of conflicts is extremely personal and flexible. But why is this so important to us?
Roberta: Because each conflict is unique and the parties enjoy great liberty for negotiating solutions that are based upon merit. Conflict resolution skills are something that we all develop naturally. It is inconceivable to invite a third person to decide the conflict outcome; it is a question of personal pride and dignity.
Ivan: If one of the parties to a conflict in Taxi doesn’t want to solve it, is there a way to force her or him to do so?
Roberta: No, that person is simply socially ostracized by others.
Ivan: Social rules are flexible and may have exceptions if the situation calls for it and most conflicts concern breaches of contracts and rituals. Sometimes complex social conflicts arise with multiple parties.
Roberta: Yes, but those perceived “breaches” are often not so simple. A close examination of the origin of the dispute, and clarification of motives and intentions, usually brings new understanding that dissolves the controversy.
Ivan: Our processes for managing conflicts require the presence of the parties, usually face to face. Normally, personal contact inhibits aggressive impulses. This is simply a genetic characteristic of humans.
Roberta: If emotions are hot, caucuses may take place with someone like a mediator or other people who are important to us. I also must say that strategies about how to solve conflicts are always considered provisional since each new conflict may require a new approach for a negotiated solution.
Ivan: When conflict arise the regular strategy of the parties is first to look at the conflict in its context, including germane rituals. Every context is unique; no two contexts are equal. Contexts are models that serve to identify the elements that influence the existence and manifestation of a conflict.
Roberta: I think it is unique in Taxi that no decision about resolution will be made without the input of all who are affected by the decision. As a result, unwanted and unintended consequences on others are avoided.
Ivan: That seems complicated to me. Can you really anticipate all unintended consequences?
Roberta: Probably not, but that is the aspiration. Taxi is not a Utopia; it has only achieved a good conflict system that favors amicable solutions.
Ivan: I see, you mean that personal and social conflicts in Taxi are unpredictable; people in Taxi are not like super-computers.
Roberta: We cannot speak only in terms of black and white. In some way we all are predictable; some of our behaviors follow the same kind of patterning in interpersonal interactions. We tend to repeat patterns over and over; these patterns then become the bases for predicting what comes next. So memory and emotion may be relevant in predictability, or not under new contexts.
Ivan: I don’t really understand why are we so concerned about knowing the future since we cannot program the future? May be we could predict humans relationships only, and only if nothing changes and there were no conflicts at all. But there is no life without coexistence and there is no coexistence without confrontation.
Roberta: I wonder that the human instinct for safety is manifested as a fear of the unknown future; and this drive is what lies behind human made rules for conflict resolution. Am I wrong?
Ivan: No, I believe the philosophy that cements normative thinking, including legal systems, is precisely the illusion of anticipating how the future will look like.
Roberta: In Taxi the challenge is how to deal with conflict not how to prevent it. The concept of conflict prevention seems artificial. Conflict is life and provides the foundation for creative processes.
Ivan: In Taxi, everyone is considered unique and valued for their uniqueness.
Roberta: That reminds me of a popular Russian saying: “each human looks at the world from the bell tower of his town.” It is part of the collective wisdom in Taxi that each human reacts to her or his representation of the world, not to the world. Ivan, the ideas we have about the world create the world we live in.
Ivan: Human conflicts are always esteemed as personal and subjective in Taxi. It is foreign to think that there is anything objective about human conflicts.
Roberta and Ivan stopped conversing. Night was falling between grey and blue, dusk. From the window a young person could be seen walking, a group of children, a couple with their arms around each other and a woman playing with her feet in the water of a fountain. No car noise could be heard.
Roberta: Human skills for conflict resolution were learned by the human species during evolution and each individual is born with that learning.
Ivan: In Taxi we follow, develop and adjust those personal skills; but in other cultures they seem to have unlearned them.
Roberta: Those evolutionary skills for dealing with conflict are contextualized during our lives with linguistic, cultural, social, economic, political, and religious factors to which we add professional and technical skills. However, lifetime learning dies with us; we only bequeath to our descendants the evolutionarily conditioned skills.
Ivan: But this is not just a matter of biology, but also of human language.
Roberta: And to complicate it more, from an evolutionary perspective, languages have not been tested like our biology has.
Ivan: You are correct, languages and words are very new in our evolution. The agreed age for the Earth is 5 billion years. The appearance of human as transmitter of individual learning happened only 5 million years ago, when consciousness was born.
Roberta: My life experience has showed me that languages easily fool us and make human communication deceptive. We confuse words with the things or processes they represent; and words transform processes into things. We tend to take words too seriously and convert them into part of our identity.
Ivan: Furthermore, the meaning of words is given by the user and therefore the belief of meaning of words out of context is a misapprehension. In Taxi conflict resolution processes disentangle the complexities of language use in order to ascertain what the parties represent.
Ivan gets up from his chair. He caresses Roberta’s cheek with the palm of his left hand and returns to his seat. His eyes radiate emotion and surprise. Roberta looks at him with an enigmatic smile.
Roberta: While no known society lacks rules of conduct, the content of those rules varies in time and space.
Ivan: In ancient languages, words referring to rules did not exist. Rules were a matter of personal choice. Roberta what kind of work do you do?
Roberta: I am a registered anthropological nurse. In relation to your observation, language about rules emerged in later evolutionary stages when humans began living in larger groups and deciding what ought and ought not to be for the survival and functioning of their group. In this way, humans moved away from their natural environment.
Ivan: Did we cease to be part of nature?
Roberta: Yes, that was our second birth as humans. What we have done in this very small portion of evolutionary time is to convert the intuitive learning of rules for survival into human made rules for social life.
Ivan: And both the intuitive evolutionary learning and the original human made rules were adequate for humans living in small groups.
Roberta: Yes Ivan. However, large human groups are new phenomena from an evolutionary perspective, and human biology has not had time to learn the skills necessary for dealing with human conflicts in large, mostly urbanized groups.
Ivan: As you put the scenario Roberta that problem has no solution because it would take thousands or perhaps millions of generations for human biology to acquire new knowledge from this new human made milieu.
Roberta: The good news, however, is that we don’t need to wait so long for our biology to learn. We can consciously design new contexts and uses for proven intuitive learning. And, we can formulate new rules for conflict management in large groups with a human personal touch.
Ivan: I agree that we can consciously make such choices. One constant is that societies adopt views of the universe that appear as immutable truths, but after time the views change, and we adjust our thinking.
Roberta: Just think of how the theories of Copernicus and Einstein arose and changed the paradigms of how the universe functions. In the future new scientific models and points of view will be formulated that will make the current explanations of the universe seem naïve.
Ivan: Roberta, the big difference is that in contrast with the functioning of the universe that performs independently of our will, we can decide how we organize the social world; we can exercise choice. Societies are always changing modes of organization and rules.
Roberta: Yes Ivan but in an unwise direction. It seems to me that the always increasing enactment of more rules for conflict resolution has twisted into a malignant tumor of unlimited growth that creates more conflicts than it solves. It is like a cancer.
Ivan: In Taxi it was necessary to re-think known conflict resolution systems. The founders pondered human evolutionary learning for peaceful conflict resolution; and emotions, passions, necessity to belong, spirituality and flexibility. The most remarkable conclusion was that fewer rules are better than more rules.
Roberta: What do you do Ivan?
Ivan: I am a bell ringer in a church and mathematics student.
The force of the wind had diminished. In the high heavens a metal bird crossed clouds leaving a light white trail. For some long seconds the environment was full of silence and interrupted only by flashes coming from the Internet screen.
Roberta: In most places solutions to human conflict are made by authorities interpreting legal rules. The original conflict between individuals is converted into a legal problem. The nature of the original conflict is transformed into competing legal interpretations of the world. And, it seems like people have moved so far from what the conflict was really about in the first place.
Ivan: In addition to the intrinsic generalization of legal rules that ignores the uniqueness of individuals and situations, people that represent authorities project their own prejudices.
Roberta: Legal systems presuppose the impossible—authorities represented by humans that have neither emotions nor their own individual consciousness. Also, the anonymity of such deciders unleashes decisions without a human touch.
Ivan: Do you believe that having authorities decide conflicts originates in the belief some humans were born to rule and others were born to be ruled?
Roberta: Yes Ivan and this belief needs to be unlearned and substituted with the belief that all humans are able to mange their conflicts.
Ivan: What if the parties themselves are unable to find negotiated solutions?
Roberta: First, in Taxi nobody can impose a decision and also be part of a conflict. However, from this rule it doesn’t follow that a third party should therefore decide the conflict since such a rule would make the cure worse than the illness. Second, mediation is an option where the parties themselves decide but a third person assists them in reaching agreement. The mediator assists the parties to recognize first what is common among them. Then through teamwork, the parties and mediators place the conflict in context and work out proposals for solutions. Artistic activities are used to this purpose.
Ivan: So management of conflicts in Taxi is entertaining.
Roberta: Mediation of complex problems requires the complementary views of gender and experience. The amalgamation of female, male, old and young perspectives are considered in each conflict. Reconciliation rituals are a common outgrowth of conflict resolution and are fundamental for social stability.
Ivan: I realize why the outcomes of conflicts have such an important impact on social life in Taxi. Parties and mediators concentrate more on the human side of the conflict and its social implications than on the precise conflict. Mediators are venerated, and can often help the parties be more creative than they are on their own.
Roberta: All kids want to play simulated mediation in Taxi. The most popular reality show television drama is called “The untested mediator.”
Ivan: Why in Taxi artistic activities are used as tools for conflict resolution?
Roberta: We can learn much from art. A person may expand his or her knowledge of conflict management through art creation and appreciation. Art depicts universal experiences that may be appreciated by all and may serve to educate us about creative processes. We are biologically conditioned to appreciate beauty.
Ivan: Do you mean that creativity in art is much like creativity in the negotiation of solutions for conflicts?
Roberta: In particular for complex conflicts characterized by the amalgamation of numerous elements over time: the lack of useful standards for predicting future results; multifaceted dimensions in space and time; the involvement of multiple parties, competing rituals, and differing values and opinions about the same.
Ivan: In reality, few human conflicts are truly simple and linear.
Roberta: In Taxi we chose liberation from the bewitchment of rules and authorities. It was more a question of unlearning than learning.
The coffee pot was empty. Tobacco smoke wafted through the room. Roberta and Ivan appear like minds looking for direction. For some minutes there were no words, as if there was nothing more to say.
Roberta: Ivan, I suspect you and I are missing popular beliefs that impact on conflict resolution. We assume people in Taxi are masters of their lives; but what about people who conceive themselves as agents of god? Are people in Taxi immune to those beliefs?
Ivan: Are we ignoring historical interpretations that suggest the lack of freedom and power of individuals to change social structures? Are we closing our eyes to human diversity that includes perversion, ambition, violence, greed, and bad faith as driving forces of some individuals?
Roberta: Are we dogmatic in reducing humans to independent wills that experiment with their lives? What about interrelated invisible things, forces and fields that may affect human freedom for conflict resolution?
Ivan: Are we playing with our imagination?
Roberta: Is the conflict resolution system in Taxi as unreal as authorities without prejudices interpreting objective rules to decide human conflicts?
Roberta and Ivan started to walk a road without knowing where to go and when to continue their inconclusive conversation…
Leslie Brown contributed to this article and Merri L. Hanson edited and improved this text. Merri is the Director of Peninsula Mediation & ADR in Williamsburg and Hampton, Virginia. www.peninsulamediation.com