“Peace equals an ability to handle conflict with empathy, non-violence and creativity.” – Johan Galtung [i]
Major conflicts, such as wars between or within countries, often lead to large-scale violence or injustices. Every day conflicts can arise on a smaller scale: conflict in the home, at work or within the community. Such conflicts present a potential to disrupt, reduce the quality of life and cause considerable harm. If accumulated over a long period of time this may result in discrimination and violence in neighborhoods, localized riots, and at an individual level the onset of mental health problems.
Lederach, a distinguished scholar and peacebuilder, believes peacekeeping is “a comprehensive concept that encompasses a full array of processes, approaches and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships.” [ii] Galtung, the Norwegian sociologist and one of the founding fathers of the discipline of peace and conflict studies states, “Peace equals an ability to handle conflict with empathy, non-violence and creativity.” Against the current world backdrop of fragile states and fragmented societies, there is a growing need for innovation, creativity and interdisciplinarity when it comes to understanding and resolving conflict.
Creative peacebuilding supports an easy to adopt approach to conflict management; equally applicable to conflict at both an international and local level.
Below are five factors to consider for a creative approach to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
Step away from your existing knowledge and activities.
Bringing outside ideas into your work and trying new activities is key for creativity. Generate innovative and creative ideas for peacebuilding solutions using art forms like painting, film, photography and sound therapy. Initiate new creative dialogues for action and social change through trying something different. Allow both artists and participants to open up the field for creative resolutions and encourage a recognition that no single story exists. Opening ones mind and spirit will allow endless possibilities for conflict resolution, creative problem solving, and will nurture healing and reconciliation.
Photo: Hanna Qadir and New York based 84 year-old photographer Alex Harsley, founder of Fourth Street Photo Gallery. Harsley believes in the power of photography as a tool to open up powerful inter-generational dialogues and resolve conflict over a passage of time.
Take multiple perspectives.
The developmental psychology of creativity focuses on an ability to take on multiple perspectives. The American psychologist Gruber inspired a creative approach through his shadow-box experiments, [iii] which consisted of concealed objects hidden in a shadow box. This simulation focused on each participant’s discovery of what they saw in the shadow box, with each participant seeing a different image on the basis of the shadow projection and profile of the object enclosed. This simple experiment illuminates how differing views of the same scene are easily formed. It also recognizes the value of taking multiple perspectives when assessing any conflict situation; an essential component when understanding the various relationships, interests and discourses that may shape how a conflict situation is perceived and subsequently transformed.
Accept that not all communication is verbal.
The role of communication is a critical component of conflict transformation and peacebuilding. We often think of communication as a verbal process but the way we use our hands, bodies and movements can also offer a powerful means of conveying a message. Recognising such non-verbal forms of communication, including body language, facial expressions and tone of voice can have a big impact on transforming conflict resolution into a more creative process. Finally, the power of silence may also offer a valuable communication tool.
Harnessing the power of the visual arts.
If you asked 10 people to look at the same photograph, chances are they would all see something different. A photograph offers a simple tool for creative conflict management and an opportunity to discover a range of interpretations and perceptions. Such perceptions are based on how each person interprets the information they see in the photograph, and opens up an opportunity for collective dialogue with other observers. When used in a conflict situation, photographic analysis may allow a deepened understanding of feelings, motivations and fears. Such additional insights may be used to determine the needs and motivations of each party in the conflict, but can also be tied to initiating appropriate conflict resolution and peacebuilding techniques.
A few years ago in Sri Lanka, a project called ‘Voice of Image’ involved working with young people to give them opportunities to explore their communities and discover themselves – through taking photographs. Through these activities, participants discussed the social issues facing their communities and were able to talk with people different from themselves; increasing understanding and tolerance in a country with deeply rooted civil divides.
Human needs and behaviors can be transformed into a more creative conflict resolution process through collaboration
Conflict and collaboration may not be two words that are often used together. However, evidence shows that taking a multi-faceted peacebuilding approach by collaborating with others has multiple benefits. Collaboration allows a better understanding of the complexity of human life, the nature of differing human needs, and an appreciation for analyzing multiple sources of conflict. Joint workshops, dialogue and deliberation sessions and open forums (allowing participants to voice their opinions and concerns) may all offer a means to creatively intervene in a conflict situation. Using music as a means to collaborate may also allow further creative connections to be made.
Remember that introducing creative solutions can often initiate new social dialogue and change the way others think in a conflict situation. A collective discovery of multiple relationships and perspectives will support creative conflict resolution practices and also have an ability to transform our daily battles from conflict to cooperation at home, at work, and in the world.
[i] Galtung, J. (2004). “On the Coming Decline and Fall of the US Empire.” In Transnational Foundation and Peace and Research (TFF) Retrieved from http://www.oldsite.transnational.org/SAJT/forum/meet/2004/Galtung_USempireFall.html
[ii] Lederach, J.P. (2010). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. New York: Oxford University Press.
[iii] Gruber, H.E. (1990). "The Cooperative Synthesis of Disparate Points of View." In Rock, I., (ed.), The Legacy of Solomon Asch: Essays in Cognition and Social Psychology. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.