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Understanding Conflict



The statistics of war are so appalling that they raise a question everyone ought to ask: are such levels of suffering, imposed by human beings on each other, really necessary? Aren't there better ways of managing and resolving the differences between people, and groups of people, which bring about war and violent conflict?

Conflict is a characteristic of human existence. It is part of the dynamic of life that drives us into the future. But it needs to be managed constructively. When associated with violence, destruction and killing, it is no longer a healthy part of living. Violent conflict solves few problems, creates many, and breeds more unhealthy conflict to come.

Conflict has characteristics of its own, and it is possible to analyse its structure and behaviour. When conflict is understood, it's easier to find ways to predict it, prevent it, transform it, and resolve it.

Starting to understand conflict
What is conflict? It is the expression of disagreement over something important to both (or all) sides of a dispute. The first important thing to grasp is that it is entirely dependent on the people involved. It depends on their having a particular point of view, which may or may not have independent facts and evidence to support it, and on how they behave when they encounter an opposing point of view. Violence is only one kind of conflict-behaviour, of course.

Q. What other sorts of conflict-behaviour can you think of?

The structure and process of conflicts are much the same, whether a conflict is between individuals or between groups and nations. The first thing to look for is the immediate cause, the event that triggered it off. Then it's necessary to look for the underlying causes - the state of affairs which makes that explosion likely. It is the underlying causes that are particularly important to understand.

Q. But first, what examples of immediate causes can you think of? When discussing underlying causes afterwards, you'll be able to understand better how the 'triggers' came about.

NEXT: underlying causes of conflict



underlying causes of conflict
life-cycle of a conflict
understanding peace
handling conflict short term
handling conflict long term


see also:
- nonviolence
- pacifism








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