Most probably our readers will join us in agreeing about the constant need for research and about the great advantages of implementing valuable research findings. But some of us occasionally find ourselves in situations where the importance of research is debated, and where extreme pragmatists are denouncing research as an abstract luxury. Most of us will surely have potentially convincing responses ready for use in such cases, but will also remain on the lookout for new advantages of worthwhile research. Obviously, our openness toward fresh research findings is not only meant to provide us with arguments for discussions, but also and especially to increase our own effectiveness wherever we are dealing with conflict personally and/or professionally.
In the articles presented in this issue, good examples may be found of research results that may lead to new understandings or applications. As I was reading, and as editor rereading, these articles, several thought-provokers struck me. Realising very well, of course, that each reader will be prompted by different things according to her/his situation, cultural context, experience, insight and attitude, I am nevertheless inclined to share some of my lines of thinking.
The method used in some versions of customary mediation in the Sudan (1st article), where the mediators divide themselves into “doves” and “hawks”, caused me to think about the thrust which such a combined approach may have. Normally, I tend to regard tactfulness and firmness as alternatives between which a choice has to be made according to the conflictual and cultural situation and the personalities involved. But now this time-proven tradition points to the possible advantages of supplementing such or-thinking with and-thinking.
With regard to South Africa’s peacekeeping role (5th article), combined planning is also emphasised. The need for multilateral, political and military, responses to crises is emphasised. And the growing recognition, in military circles, of conflict resolution in the light of common interests and responsibilities is welcomed and encouraged. In the conclusion to this article, the interrelating of politico-military pressure and preventive diplomacy is clinchingly stressed.
Similar inclusive emphases are found in the discussion of issues in conflict resolution (4th article). Mediation should be deadlock-breaking and trust-building. Conflict resolution should not only be oriented towards terminating violent behaviour and changing offensive structures, but also towards building confidence in order to improve attitudes.
Another thought that influenced my own thinking, was the importance of widespread awareness wherever an inter-human problem has to be solved. With regard to water management (3rd article), the focus is on a need for regional and global awareness of serious, even health and survival threatening, problems. Recognition is given to organisations and projects that are alerting the public not only in their own and neighbouring countries, but in an interdependent world to urgent problems and possible solutions.
The same challenge to increased national, regional, and global awareness is unequivocally posed where the grave and tragic problem of child soldiers is discussed (2nd article). The hope is expressed that an increased awareness and growing consensus will lead to the definite implementation of problem-solving recommendations and possibilities.
The last line of my thinking I wish to share, is the ever-intriguing and always-relevant one about the complexities of cultural rigidity and flexibility. It was with some feeling of helpless disappointment that I read how and why the traditional institution of mediation in the Sudan “has been losing its sanctity and effectiveness in a changing society” (1st article). Societies all over the world are indeed constantly changing for the better or the worse. There are changes that seem to be inevitable, but there are those that may be counteracted to some extent. It is therefore not necessary to accept an apparently detrimental development as if nothing can be done about it. So, where a warning is sounded that a valuable cultural element may be phased out, we may remain committed to the preservation and promotion of customs and attitudes that are oriented towards human and humane co-existence. We may keep on doing our various bits, not only in the particular cultural contexts where we happen to find ourselves, but also wherever an opportunity of wider cross-fertilisation presents itself.
What these few examples are supposed to communicate, is a strong encouragement to take research outcomes seriously, by being on the lookout for meaningful ideas, or implications of ideas, or implementations of ideas, and being oriented towards putting such possibilities into practice. By so doing, we can contribute to a wider acceptance of the value of research, and especially also to the greater effectiveness of our attempts to deal with conflict. And if the fascinating phenomenon called intertextuality causes each of us to come up with a different set of impressions and intentions, so much the better. In the diverse field of dealing with conflict, a diversity of skills and commitments is exactly what is needed.