Misunderstanding Migrants, Part iii: Strategies for Intercultural Communication

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

In my last two posts I began to explore the challenge of intercultural communication, and its immense relevance, given current issues in the world today. This week, my last post in this series, I’ll outline a few strategies for approaching communications with someone who doesn’t share your own cultural context.

Culture & Communication: What’s the big deal?

Barring language differences, most of us take the process of basic daily communications for granted. The way we greet one another, ask about a bus seat, or navigate an exchange of goods. If we take a slightly closer look, we realize that there’s much more going on than we’re normally aware of. This can give us clues into what might sometimes go wrong. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part II: Exploring Intercultural Communications

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

Last week I introduced this short series of posts I’m doing related to intercultural communications, given the world’s immense preoccupation with migrant crises in both Europe and South and Central America.

First, we must stress the urgency of sorting out intercultural communication challenges in the face of a situation such as this.  As Bradford J Hall writes, “Misunderstandings all too easily leads to distrusting and hating other communities, which creates cycles of emotional, social, economic, and physical violence that injure the quality of life for us all.”[1] The migrant crisis is already a major logistical and political challenge without adding an unnecessary layer of disputes based on confusion. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part I

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

During the past few months we have all been hearing a great deal about the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe. For many of us, this situation is in reality far away, abstract, hard to imagine. But with all the media coverage – and now the recent wave of terrorist attacks – it sounds a little frightening, and perhaps we find ourselves chewing on uncomfortable questions: given all the upheaval in the world, will our communities at some point face a similar situation? What is the right thing to do when a large group of people, needing and deserving of basic needs, arrive on our doorsteps? How should differences be accommodated or addressed? [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…]

Public Policy Mediation: Deliberating for Democracy

Late last year I ended my Mediation and Social Justice post with an example of a steering committee facilitation in Colorado Springs that’s integrating diverse community voices into decision-making processes regarding transportation issues. This facilitation falls into a category of mediation/ADR referred to as “public policy mediation.” Given the testy headlines we’ve all been reading since last year’s mid-term elections, and given that we get to inaugurate their effects after ringing in the new year, I wanted to elaborate on this category, and further discuss how mediation can be integrated into the policy making process.

What is Public Policy Mediation?

In their article in Dispute Resolution Magazine online, Howard Bellman and Susan Podziba give the following definition of public policy mediation:

“…a method for securing actionable agreements among a broad range of interested parties who participate as negotiators, often on behalf of constituencies. It creates a forum for deliberative negotiations among government, representative stakeholders, and the general public.”

Public policy mediation creates the opportunity to integrate many perspectives and areas of expertise, and facilitates a process through which consensus can be established where at first glance it looks untenable. [Read more…]

Mediation vs. Justice? : Social Justice through Process

For many of us, mediation or ADR represents a method that transcends more painful forms of communication that can arise in conflict – disrespectful or ineffective communication, the prolonged frustrations of the traditional justice system, or even violence. It’s a method to turn to that allows us to work towards our goals with the help of a third party, when we are struggling to feel comfortable communicating with the other disputant. But mediation is not always seen through this positive lens. Since the field of mediation and ADR began to grow and become popular, there have been debates about its relationship to justice. While the goal of mediation is often to move both parties in the direction of an acceptable solution, some have argued that by giving all parties an equal voice at the table, mediation can pacify, dampen, and privatize deep grievances that need to be addressed through more traditional, adversarial forms of justice such as court procedures and, if necessary, political redress. This is a terribly important question for mediators and ADR practitioners to consider – but there is more than one way to consider it.

 Justice vs. Settlement

In 1984 Owen Fiss, law professor at Yale, published a controversial essay titled Against Settlement, and sent ripples through the fast growing field of ADR. Fiss argued that ADR overly emphasizes settlement and peace in the place of justice, and that by assuming a rough equality between the parties involved in a bargaining process ADR masks real power imbalances. He posited that despite all critiques a more overtly contested process, such as the traditional court system, provides a more just and socially beneficial outcome.

Fiss’ intervention was an important one, and there is still significant support for his arguments today, despite the growth and continuing maturation of the ADR field. For a great response to the “gap” problem between mediation and justice, I suggest reading through Charlie Irvine’s post on Mediate.com.

However, this configuration also sets up a dichotomy that we can challenge. Justice is not simply a matter of chasing an idealized outcome. Often crippling injustices occur throughout such a pursuit, and mediation can play a very important role in achieving social justice through process. [Read more…]

Intractable Conflicts in Society: It’s not just you and me, here

Much of my work and writing focuses, naturally, on conflict transformation or resolution, emphasizing strategies that take parties at odds into a constructive process. However, when we hear about conflict in society, or read about it in the newspapers, it often sounds far beyond the reach of a mediator’s typical toolbox. What are the differences at play? This post is about acknowledging and understanding social conflicts that come to be understood as intractable. 

Social Conflicts and Intractability

The concept of intractability is, itself, controversial. Some people in the conflict resolution community feel it is simply too negative, designating some conflicts as impossible and thus discouraging people from investing in the hard work of transformation. However, there is wide consensus, as Guy and Heidi Burgess describe on the resource page Beyond Intractability, that certain conflicts present themselves as particularly entrenched and challenging. They offer a descriptive list that expands on the meaning of intractability, including adjectives such as protracted, destructive, deep-rooted, grid-locked, identity-based, complex, and malignant. Examples today abound around us, unfortunately, from political issues in the United States such as abortion or race relations, to long-running international conflicts such as the Israel/Palestine gridlock. The recent flares in Ukraine constitute a prominent escalation of potentially intractable conflict. [Read more…]