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Understanding Conflict


Understanding peace

‘Peace' is an inconveniently vague word. For some people it is easily associated with 'nothing happening', an unwelcome 'silence', or straight-up boredom. The problem is that to different people and in different ways of life 'peace' has different meanings. If we want to transform a conflict situation so that it stops being violent, we need to know what we mean by the 'peace' we want to achieve.

DISCUSSION/Q. What does the word 'peace' mean to you? It may have several meanings, according to what you are thinking of. ('Peace and quiet'? 'Law and order'? The end of a quarrel?....)

Peace is also the word for the end of a period of war or violent conflict, and a peace agreement may be signed to indicate that the period is at least officially over. In this sense, 'peace' means 'the absence of war or armed conflict'.

DISCUSSION/Q. We began by saying that war or armed conflict 'solves few problems, creates many, and breeds more unhealthy conflict to come'. Is there any doubt that this is true? And if it is true, can peace as 'the absence of violence' be a real and positive peace?

Certainly most people want to live in societies in which there is healthy conflict leading to change and progress - we are an evolving species - but in which this is achieved without fighting and killing. Most people would like it to be possible for individuals, groups and cultures to live together without violent conflict, though not resisting progress and constructive changes. Most of us would prefer our systems of law and order to be reasonable and open to reform and change, and certainly not imposed on us by force. Most of us would like a world in which human rights are respected, cultural differences are seen as enriching any society, and co-operative efforts are made to deal with problems of poverty, deprivation, injustice, and abuse of power.

'Change', 'progress', 'reform': all these things need time. They are processes. Conflict is a process. The movement towards peace is a process. Peace itself is a process. in which nonviolent solutions to healthy conflict are repeatedly explored and developed in a co-operative and collaborative way.

DISCUSSION/Q. How, do you think, does the existence of the preparations for war (setting up and training armies, inventing and manufacturing armaments - all of which use up money that could be spent on improving civilian life ) prevent the evolution of societies to true (and therefore lasting) peace?

NEXT: handling 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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