Conflicts have got everything to do with relationships and communication. Relationships turn conflicting because of bad communication, this spark is then fueled by miscommunication and further deteriorates due ego-driven disconnected communication channels. Finally, all these scarred relationships can only be cured by restoring communication.
In Goa, to attend Lex Infinitum 2016, an International mediation event organized by the World Mediation Organization, Berlin and V M Salgaocar College of Law, Goa, mediation professionals – Allison Malkin (Canada/Berlin, Germany), Thalia Veintimilla (Ecuador/ LA, USA), Lynn Cohn (Chicago, USA) and Maria Jesus Soutullo (Spain) spoke at length on the different issues plaguing their workplaces and hometowns, stressing on the ‘communication’ and ‘emotion’ aspect in resolving disputes. The four experts anchored an emotionally tense session of Mediation Musings, titled ‘Peacekeeping Amidst Conflict’, held in Goa, in March 2016.
With the focus being on communal and cultural conflicts, Thalia dropped anchor by highlighting the importance of knowing different languages, saying, “Languages take us to the root of the conflict” and bring out the deepest emotion related to the issue in dispute. Language amplifies true feelings and conveys the original sense of opposition or rebellion to a stimuli creating conflict. True being multi-lingual is a huge bonus for a mediator or a negotiator, but, what happens when language fails? “Children give us the perfect answer to this. Children are the peacekeepers for the future,” said Thalia.
She said it’s essential for students to absorb the information around them and to realize how different people are bound together by a common thread of emotion. “It is very important to understand a person and for this one needs to ask questions, and no one does information gathering and questioning better than children. They seek to know even the most basic, and what we consider silly things, instead of putting up blocks at every stage,” said Thalia, who recently brought to this world her second child.
She continued, “Children are an important part of peacekeeping as their basic needs have to be focused on, and currently, there is a need for a ‘multi-generational citizenship’, where children being the first models, understand cultures. We need a change in the way of thinking and we need to start with the children – make them aware of the extremities, for instance poverty and richness, and this would facilitate solving of complex problems.”
Allison Malkin, born and raised in Canada, focused on peace building, violence that emerges out of social conflict and the importance of community building. Aptly introducing the concept of ‘Ubuntu’, which is primarily understanding that ‘my humanity is linked to your humanity’, Allie stressed that it is important to work together to build peace. “A community generated response is needed for building peace. The attitudes towards marginalized groups in the community like the youth and women need a radical change. Equality is key, specially the equality of sexes,” she said.
Citing the case of Sierra Leone where she worked, the Berlin-based mediator spoke about the village development communities that emerged there in the face of civil war and violent conflict for 10 years, as workshops were held for the people. “This helped enhance conflict resolution, challenge the hierarchal power structures that promote inequality. Women started serving in mediation and this local peace initiative could serve as a lesson to other communities,” Allie said. She also spoke about the genre of conflict news and how it is a bombardment of all that’s wrong but the positives are ignored.
Lynn Cohn began strongly by describing how the violent trend of shootings has traumatized her hometown of Chicago, USA. “In Chicago people are divided on the basis of race and socio economic factors. There is a major problem between the police and the community. With the emergence of citizen journalists who record the action between the police and community and then upload them to the internet, rifts between the community and the police are common. More often than not, these police officers are not from the community they are working in and they have to deal with the issue of ‘otherness’.”
She spoke about the concept of ‘implicit bias’ which plagues people perceptions and thoughts, and in turn prompts them to make assumptions about people just by looking at them. “We end up making decisions about people based on their colour and clothes, which worsens the situation and a possible understanding between them,” said Lynn.
Lynn’s thoughts are so crucial with countries having to deal with waves of immigrants, while world capitals turn into huge melting points of cultures and communities. This is way community mediation comes into play and governments must invest into creating or funding existing institutions and organizations that can make societies more cohesive. It won’t be easy, as there will always be the ‘we’ and ‘they’, but it isn’t impossible when we have mediation as a tool.
“What can mediation do to help such cases?” asked the audience…
“Community mediation promoting dialogue and discussion between local police officers and citizens is a must. Police officers need to be trained to better understand the communities they patrol. Currently, they are just trying to hide and ignore the tension that exists between the police and the citizens, but this suppressed strain can only lead to bad outcomes,” said Lynn, adding that the process of restorative justice would suit best as it doesn’t advocate punishment or judges the right from wrong.
“We need to share stories, be able to listen, to makes amends and to focus on solutions coming out of the collective. You have to live that, with the spirit within us that tells us that we might be able to have that sereneness that children have, so we can share with others what is different about us,” said Lynn, pointing out what it takes to be peacekeepers in the world today.
Contributors Authors: Jonathan Rodrigues & Sasha Pereira
Venue: International Centre Goa, Dona Paula, Goa. (March 1, 2016)
Picture Description: (From L-R) Maria Jesus Soutullo, Lynn Cohn, Allison Malkin and Thalia Veintimilla during Mediation Musings @Lex Infinitum 2016
Picture credit: Sidney Cardoso
Above Graphical Image is courtesy to Google images.