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As we embark on a new decade, our big question is whether we will sink further into the morass of destructive "us-vs-them" conflicts that are increasing the risk of large-scale violence, opening the door to autocratic rule, and preventing us from working together to wisely and equitably address a wide range of common problems. Or will we begin to "turn the corner" and pull ourselves out?
As we've been saying since we started the Constructive Conflict Initiative (CCI), we think that those of us with interest and expertise in conflict and peacebuilding-related fields have an obligation to pool our expertise in ways that can make people more aware of the dangers posed by current trends and options for more constructively handling today's challenging conflicts. We need to publicize constructive approaches to conflict that are doable by everyone—not just by experts. We also need to work to give people the skills they need to more effectively pursue those options.
As our small, but we hope significant, effort to contribute to this goal, we are continuing our efforts to develop and recruit participants for our Constructive Conflict Initiative and we are continuing to post related learning materials on Beyond Intractability as part of the new Constructive Conflict Massive Open Online Seminar (CC-MOOS).
Currently, in most of the political discussions in the U.S. and elsewhere, people still seem focused on decisively beating the other side and are largely disinterested in compromise. So prospects for successfully reversing current polarization trends seem pretty bleak. But there is a significant possibility that this could change as more and more people come to understand the dangerous outcomes of such behavior. We have been seeing an increasing number of articles that recognize the need for alternative conflict and problem-solving mechanisms—so the time for promoting such ideas is now!
What we are trying to do with Beyond Intractability and the Initiative is to help show people that alternatives to all-out us-versus-them confrontations do exist. We are hoping that many of our colleagues will help us collectively demonstrate viable ideas for improving the way our society addresses conflict. We are not trying to push some sort of clever solution to the problem (that everybody else has somehow missed) because we do not believe that such a solution exists.
What does exist are a lot of bright ideas developed by many thoughtful people who are struggling, in various contexts, to find better ways for us all to work together. This winter and spring, we want to do more than we have so far to showcase these efforts, and show how they can be used more widely. Ideally, we will highlight strategies that can be used by people in a wide range of roles and with different types of expertise. Some approaches will be useful for grassroots people, others for top-level leaders or people in between. All are intended to help people begin to de-escalate our polarized societies, and start making real progress toward solving our many social, political, economic, and environmental problems. We also hope to get many more people engaging in such activities -- developing, refining, and multiplying these efforts in many more places and contexts and inventing additional creative approaches to the many challenges we now face.
This Update highlights some of the recent additions to Beyond Intractability and the Constructive Conflict Massive Open Online Seminar and provides links to more information on both these efforts.
We hope readers will share with us what they are doing and other efforts they know about which are trying to improve relationships in the U.S. and elsewhere, or are trying to otherwise improve the way we deal with difficult conflicts. And, for those of you who are not yet doing anything along those lines, we hope you will begin reading some of these materials and start thinking about things you can do to bring about positive change. For instance, everyone can spread the word about the Initiative to their networks. In addition, our Things to Do to Help Blog highlights about twenty things that everyone can do to make their own personal conflicts more constructive. In the coming months we will be adding even more ideas to this blog. So there is a role for everyone in making the way we handle conflicts more constructive!
Let's make this the decade where trends start turning in a more positive direction. Happy New Year!
Guy and Heidi
Updated Meaning of Civility Article
Among a wide range of materials being posted in conjunction with Constructive Conflict MOOS is an updated version of one of Beyond Intractability's most popular articles, The Meaning of Civility. This short article explains why civility must mean much more than simple politeness (a definition that opens the door to the "excuse me please while I stab you in the back trap"). It makes much more sense to think of civility as a synonym for what we call "constructive conflict." This approach calls on people to actively address the issues that matter to them (not simply rolling over and playing dead), but engaging in discussion of these issues in respectful and constructive ways.
Constructive Conflict Initiative
Constructive Conflict Massive Open Online Seminar (MOOS)
After taking a few weeks off for the holidays and a variety of system upgrades, we are now reconvening our Constructive Conflict MOOS seminar with an extensive series of new posts. We are also renewing efforts to develop the Initiative. Please contribute your thoughts.
BI "Resource Clusters"
Later this month, we will start adding to the Constructive Conflict MOOS and the BI system a series of new, "resource cluster" posts that focus on specific topics related to one of the daunting challenges raised by the Constructive Conflict Initiative. These posts will bring together resources that we have identified from the Beyond Intractability in Context and Colleague Activities blogs as well as Moving Beyond Intractability's Conflict Frontiers and Fundamentals seminars and the underlying BI Knowledge Base.
We will begin focusing on topics that historically have not received enough attention from the conflict and peacebuilding fields, but which are highly important if we are to make progress on any of the challenges laid out in the Initiative. We will start with compilation of articles addressing the problem of "Divide and Conquer Partisans," which directly relates to our second challenge: Resist "Divide and Conquer" Politics. A second post will bring together articles addressing our challenge on Psychological Complexity, and a third post will focus on Information Technology and Social Media (which addresses several of our challenges: Limit Deception and Misunderstandings, Scale Up Small Group Processes, Make Fact-Finding Work, and Depolarize and De-escalate Society.)
While some of the individual articles in these posts will continue to lay out the nature and extent of the problems, in keeping with our goal of presenting solutions, we will also be highlighting more articles that begin to present ideas about how we can go about constructively addressing these challenges. We will not, however, give "best practices" or one—or even a few—answers to how to meet each challenge. We believe that there are many different answers--depending on the specific situation and the people addressing it. So these posts will be collections of things to think about and ideas, perhaps, to try—but not firm answers to how to address each challenge (because there are none).
Our strategy for addressing the intractable conflict problem focuses on making as many people as possible aware of the importance of addressing all aspects of the problem and things that they can do to help. Given the large number of topics that need to be addressed, the only way that we can do this is by systematically identifying, organizing, and providing links to materials published by others. While our Colleague Activities and Beyond Intractability in Context blogs have assembled an initial collection of the needed materials, we are a long way from having conducted the kind of systematic search that is needed. We also haven't done write ups of many of the articles, projects, and programs we know about.
At this point, we are looking for volunteers willing to help us build our collection of materials in specific topic areas. This is a great way to either share your expertise, or advance your studies. See our new Volunteer Opportunities page for more details.
Selected Recent Posts
Here are a selected set of posts, drawn from our various seminars and blogs that were posted within the last several months, but not included in any of the last few newsletters. To see all recent posts, go to All CC-MOOS Posts.
Constructive Conflict Initiative Introductory Materials
- Constructive Conflict Initiative -- Before we can meet the many challenges posed by intractable conflict, we need to figure out how to get more people working on the problem. -- 10/31/2019
- The Constructive Conflict Imperative -- For students, an article explaining why the promotion of more constructive approaches to conflict is central to solving all of society's big problems. -- 12/5/2019
- Teaching Materials -- Free materials that educators can use to help students better understand more constructive ways of handling serious conflict. (Donations appreciated.) -- 12/9/2019
Conflict Frontiers Seminar
- The Return of "I'll Fight You for It" Rules -- Are efforts to solve problems collaboratively losing to naked contests of Machiavellian power? -- 11/14/2019
- The Backlash Effect & Coefficient -- The Backlash Coefficient – measuring the degree to which the quest for victory intensifies, rather than subdues, the opposition. -- 11/19/2019
- The Meaning of Civility -- Before civility can provide an alternative to today's hyper-partisan dysfunction, we need a clear image of what it is and isn't -- 12/17/2019
Conflict Fundamentals Seminar
- Complex Adaptive Systems -- Successfully working with complex systems requires us to challenge many of our assumptions and understand the limits of rational planning. -- 11/15/2019
- Coexistence -- We used to talk about coexistence between the US and the USSR. Now, is it time to talk about coexistence between the left and the right? -- 12/12/2019
Things to Do to Help
- Confront Constructively -- Use a mediator's "tricks" to more effectively address conflicts on your own. -- 11/14/2019
- Don't Take the "Hate Bait" -- Hate begets hate, fear, anger, and eventually violence. Don't fall into the trap! And if you are in, climb out! -- 11/21/2019
Colleague Activities Blog
- Network Weaver -- This organization has tools for building, mapping, navigating and strengthening large-scale social networks. While not necessarily designed as a conflict resolution mechanism, these tools are very valuable for teams hoping to address any intractable conflict or the challenges we have listed in the CCI. -- 11/19/2019
- Report for America Goes Big -- The demise of local news is one of the problems that has led to grassroots' disengagement from the political process. It has also allowed highly partisan mega-news organizations to spew "fake facts" that come to be believed by a wide swath of America. This report on "Report for America," illustrates an innovative effort to bring more reporters to the struggling local newsrooms that are critical to a well-functioning civil society. -- 12/4/2019
- Transformative placemaking: A framework to create connected, vibrant, and inclusive communities -- An interesting effort to figure out how, exactly, to create peaceful, prosperous local communities that work for everyone--not just for the rich elite. -- 12/10/2019
- News Deeply -- This is another in our series of posts examining ways to get people more engaged in their communities and the problems facing them--but here the focus is on digital communities. News Deeply "designs topic-driven communities built around high-quality information and strategic stakeholder reach. Deep, stakeholder-driven discussions can be found here on refugees, women's advancement, peacebuilding, Syria, water, and a number of other topics. 12/12/2019
- Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies -- Treating people with simple dignity is a powerful antidote to the destructive energy that arises when people are humiliated. This global transdiciplinary network of scholars, educators, practitioners, artists and others meets twice a year and puts out an amazing array of materials on ways to promote human dignity around the world. -- 12/12/2019
Beyond Intractability in Context
- These 526 Voters Represent All of America. And They Spent a Weekend Together. -- A report on a fascinating experiment in democratic decision-making. How could we scale something like this up to the societal level? -- 11/6/2019
- The America That Isn’t Polarized -- A look at the 50+% of the US population that hold both liberal and conservative views and who are not engaged in our polarized politics. -- 11/7/2019
- There’s Hope for Local Journalism -- One key to reinvigorating democracy is making local journalism work. This is a hopeful story about how to do it. -- 11/7/2019
- Marc Benioff: We Need a New Capitalism -- A billionaire's welcome appeal for a new kind of capitalism where companies work to advance societal not just shareholder interests. -- 11/15/2019
- How a closed-door meeting shows farmers are waking up on climate change -- A hopeful report about much-needed climate change discussions that are occurring away from the partisan spotlight. -- 12/9/2019
- The Economist Who Wants To Ditch Math -- A look at an economist who wants us to move beyond quantitative, rational, econometric models and look at the complexity of human thought. -- 12/17/2019
About the MBI Newsletters
Every two weeks or so, we will compile the new posts from our various seminars and blogs into a Newsletter that will be posted here and sent out by email to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy on our Newsletter Sign Up Page and find the latest newsletter here on our Newsletter page. Past newsletters can be found in the Newsletter Archive.
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