In the long foreword to our previous regular issue (Vol 13, No 2), I wrote about the way in which a breakthrough to mutual understanding can change the atmosphere of talks and lead to a problem-solved outcome. Here, in a very short foreword, I wish to preface the articles in this issue with an emphatic reminder that understanding can be the beginning of a chain reaction of change.
Three of these articles highlight the bad news about the tragedies and tenacities of fighting. Three focus on the good news about ways of resolving the fighting, and the first three also contain recommendations in this regard. As one reads about lethal conflict between government and rebel forces in neighbouring countries and ethnic groups, or between culturally, politically and/or economically antagonistic population sectors, you can become overwhelmed with pessimism, and even feel tempted to consider a laissez-faire conclusion.
One can also read the same material, however, while bearing in mind that the possibility of change should never be ignored. In fact, it can be said with good reason that ‘[a]ll conflict is about change’ (Anstey 2006:3). After all, whenever an aggrieved party gets to the point of initiating a conflict, it is always (or almost always?) driven by its craving for having an unwanted status quo changed. The slogans and demands of such a party usually articulate clearly what the pivotal change is towards which they are struggling or fighting.
At the same time, however, a confronted party may be equally passionate about preserving the status quo and thwarting any substantial change. In such a case, refuge to cosmetic change cannot serve any useful purpose. But understanding can open and pave a way to effective change – either in the direction of the confronting party’s objective, or in a creative, new direction.
What I therefore wish to share with our readers is a suggestion which I have found most useful when examining a case study and also when negotiating or mediating: Keep asking the understanding-oriented question why? I can assure you that this apparently trivial question might become a crucial key even where inter-cultural or inter-ideological mindset clashes seem to be irrevocably dead-locked.
- Anstey, Mark 2006. Managing change, negotiating conflict. Cape Town, Juta.