Peace Matters index

transcend and transform




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romancing the stones
- eulogy for our marlon brando
- loving slap
- memories of hebron
- heroic attitudes
- education for peace accross
   the curriculum

- trasncend and transform
- space ethics
- human rights map

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Transcend and Transform is a follow up to Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND reviewed in Peace Matters,autumn 2001. TRANSCEND produces diagnosis of the roots of conflicts, prognosis about what is happening and will continue to happen in the future if nothing is done to modify the trends, and therapy perspectives on how conflicts can be transformed and peace built with an emphasis on countless dialogues with the conflict parties. Such conflict parties are basically fellow human beings with a different understanding of the past, present and future. As Galtung notes concerning the approach ‘Values are fundamental; they set the course. But theory is also needed as a map of uncharted territory. And data are indispensable in order to know where we are. All true research is action research. All true politics is an experiment where value and theory-driven action will be confronted with data on behalf of humanity,’

While Galtung would stress the ‘inner Buddha‘ in all persons as Quakers do with ‘that of God‘ in each person, Galtung is very telling in the loss of vision and compassion which prolonged violence brings. People are apprehensive and confused.  ‘Fear of becoming a victim works on the body, mind and spirit and reduces human beings relative to what they might have been...Every day we can hear, at the micro-and meso-levels, stories of violence from people forever marked by conflict and violence. They have become offended, and have built their lives around the injustice they feel they have suffered. They become dark, sombre persons who radiate nothing, like black holes in the social universe, rather than a source of light that can shine within them and for others,’

Thus conflicts must be transformed so that the parties can live creatively and non-violently. The parties have to break down the polarisation within themselves and between them.

Hints on the process of transformation is what Galtung offers in this book. The subtitle ‘An introduction to conflict work ‘ is misleading. Although the book is organised into seven chapters - one for each day of the week which could be followed in a training workshop, it is not an introduction. Rather, these are wise reflections of a person who has contributed both to research on the causes of violence and who has been involved in mediation efforts. Thus, the book is of value to those who have read widely in peace research and who have already participated in training for mediation. The fact that there are no footnotes and little bibliography does not make it an introduction.

Galtung stresses the importance of experience, of being able to recognize common elements in different situations of tension. Thus, those, like myself who first became involved in possible mediation efforts in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of the late 1960s are today concerned with the Christian-Islamic tensions in northern Nigeria because we have seen Nigeria go up in fire before. The restructuring of the Nigerian federation from three states to more than 30 has changed the institutional and constitutional framework, but at the local level, religious tensions remain dangerous. We recall that the spark of the Biafra war had been religious riots in northern Nigeria and the stories that refugees going south told of their experiences.

There are better handbooks for training for conflict work, including clearer step-by-step presentations which Galtung prepared for the United Nations. Galtung had been originally trained in mathematics, and had there been alternatives to military service in Norway in the early 1950s, Galtung would have taught math to Sami villagers rather than going to prison as a CO. When he came out, and deeply influenced by his reading of Gandhi, he turned to the study of peace largely using the tools of sociology. He continues, however, his interest in math and presents graphs and boxes as tools for analysis - ‘the Cartesian coordinate system’.

As one who has always counted on his fingers and has difficulties reading graphs, much less plotting them, I find this aspect of Galtung’s work not of particular help to me. Rather there are three themes in Galtung’s work which I find crucial and his presentations are useful reminders: the need for creativity, the need for a future orientation, and yet the continuing impact of deep psychological and cultural factors.

What is needed for transcendence is creativity. ‘The problem is that strong emotions will tend to make them look to the past rather than to the future, and to emphasise the destructive rather than the constructive. A destructive past orientation, particularly when shared, can para-lyse all creativity,’ There is a need to arrive at something new that is acceptable and sustainable - new attitudes, new relationships, new institutional structures. But the new should not be so new that it is incomprehensible, even menacing. ‘This birth process has to be assisted and in a loving way. There is an enormous reservoir of energy in any conflict, which can be used to transform the conflict upwards, toward creativity and non-violence. What has to be avoided is a transformation downwards, to aggression and violence, through the flatness of the compromise or the cowardice of withdrawal, let alone fighting for extremist positions.’

The TRANSCEND approach is future-oriented.  ‘Transcendence presupposes hope, and hope is located in visions of a positive, constructive future, not in rehashing a traumatic past.’

If one needs to be future-oriented to get conflicting parties to look ahead, there is also a need for peacebuilders to recall that there are deep, largely subconscious attitudes and behaviour patterns often the result of history and culture.  ‘We are more interested in the subconscious, in the deep texts, which drive the parties without them being fully aware of what is happening, because it has been suppressed, because it has become a habit, or simply because it looks so obviously an expression of what is normal and natural that it remains unarticulated.’

Carl Jung worked on the cultural or collective subconscious. At the personal level, the collective subconscious breaks to the surface in dreams, in drawings, in interpretations of events. The collective subconscious is more difficult to grasp in collective behaviour without falling into the trap of simple stereotypes. It is through dialogue, listening seriously to what people are saying that we see some of what is located beneath the surface and often influences reactions, especially in conflict situations.

The wise observations of Johan Galtung with their emphasis on imagination will be of use to all peacebuilders - those who use the energy conflict generates to arrive at creative solutions.
René Wadlow

Transcend and Transform: An Introduction to Conflict Work. Johan Galtung. Pluto Press. 2004




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