Conflict and David Brooks’ Moral Bucket List

Recently David Brooks published a popular opinion piece titled “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. In it, he contrasts two categories of virtue, one which he dubs “résumé virtues,” the other “eulogy virtues.” Describing his admiration of striking and enlightened individuals who excel in the latter, he argues that culture in the United States encourages people to focus too heavily on cultivating the first category, frequently at detrimental personal expense.

“We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”

While acknowledging the importance and gratification associated with résumé virtues and career success, Brooks insists that this trend results in a kind of institutionalized disassociation.

“You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.”

Brooks paints a compelling picture, and when it went online the piece struck a chord with a substantial readership. As a mediator I was struck most poignantly by the way Brooks’ perspective relates to interpersonal relations, and the consequences of putting the human aspects of our lives beneath our professional imperatives. All too often such an imbalance manifests in our relationships in the workplace, in the community, or at home. And all too often, it results in avoidable conflict or escalation. Reading Brooks’ piece inspired me to write this blog post about conflict related insights that can seem at odds with marketplace pressures, but that are essential for maintaining our humanity and, ultimately, the sense of humanity in all the social spheres we inhabit. [Read more…]

Cultures of Peace: Is it cliche?

Newsletter Edition: February 2015 

In light of recent tragic world events in France and the Middle East I thought it was timely to write about cultures of peace, a phrase we’ve been seeing in many different contexts.

What is a culture of peace?

If you look up the phrase “culture of peace” in any online search engine, it is likely to spit out a long list of varied and disparate results. Environmentalists, musicians, educators, activists, and mediators (myself included now, of course), all have resources online explaining how their work relates to realizing cultures of peace. But what is this broad maxim?

First of all, what is meant by peace? This is a terribly complicated question. If we poll the hive, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on peace reads “Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence.” This is a good place to start, but then it gets more complicated. Does peace mean we don’t want any conflict at all? That’s a problematic notion. In conflict resolution we often emphasize that conflict is a part of all societies, and when managed mindfully, it can be healthy, important, and productive (in businesses and organizations, for example). To think through “peace,” especially from a conflict resolution perspective, it’s helpful to turn to the idea of “nonviolence,” which explores more concretely the ways in which conflict becomes harmful and begins to threaten “peace.”

Once the ideal of “peace” or “nonviolence” is outlined, there are many approaches to its realization. A “politics of peace” might be understood as attempting to structure policies of governance in a way that promotes as limited harm as possible to all. Mediation and conflict resolution might be seen as “peace strategies,” emphasizing the active and procedural elements of peace, and employing particular formations of interpersonal peace “making” or “building.” A “culture of peace,” then, implies another angle. It suggests that collective habits, consciousness, and normative practices of interaction can inhibit or contribute to peace – and also that we can learn and choose which kind we prefer. [Read more…]

Dialogue: An Opportunity to Create Meaningful Communication

Dialogue is more than just idle talk. It is conversation with a purpose of deepening understanding and finding common ground. Today’s article discusses the characteristics of dialogue. We hope that leaders will use this form of discourse when the issues are vital and the need for developing deeper trust is critical.

[Read more…]