Category Archives: Conflict Studies

Perpetuating Conflict

Often, interpersonal conflict is over differences of small and varying degrees.

What positions do you hold on to and refuse to let go of that perpetuate conflict?

Duck god

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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Conflict Studies, People


Re: Ferguson

I won’t say much regarding the troubles in Ferguson, MO. I will say, however, that I’m sad that things have gone this far. There are many, many factors that led to the rioting, the least of which was a justified police shooting. This tweet from @ItsRobbAllen sums up my toughts

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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Conflict Studies, Crazy Left


Language and the Brain

How does language provide opportunities for growth and change through conflict?

Years ago, I took an Intro to Linguistics elective at Salt Lake Community College. One of the things that stuck in my mind was the concept of Nativism, that babies are born with the knowledge that languages are patterned, and with the ability to seek out those patterns. This capacity for language acquisition, known as a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), is genetic and not the result of a conscious decision on the part of the speaker. The LAD helps children understand the universal grammar of a language as well as the parameters of that language. This concept changed my interest from the mechanical aspects of language to the social use of language and the ways in which people communicate.

Recently, I tweeted a link to an article about how human brains have the capacity to remember the linguistic pattern of languages heard in a child’s infancy, even if the child no longer speaks/knows that language. Fascinating. The brain retains that information! This shows us how deeply entrenched language is in the human experience.

During my studies as an undergraduate, one of the first communication theories that I found truth in was George Herbert Mead’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism. In it, Mead discusses the connection between Meaning, Language, and Thinking. Meaning is the construction of social reality, Language is the source of meaning, and Thinking is the process of taking the role of the other. Here is a summary provided by (the website for my old Comm Theory textbook).

  • Meaning: The construction of social reality.
    1. First principle: Humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things.
    2. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences.
    3. Where a behavioral scientist would see causality as stimulus–>response, for an interactionist it would look like stimulus–>interpretation–>response.
  • Language: The source of meaning.
    1. Meaning arises out of the social interaction people have with each other.
    2. Meaning is not inherent in objects.
    3. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language, hence the term symbolic interactionism.
      1. Second principle: As human beings, we have the ability to name things.
      2. Symbols, including names, are arbitrary signs.
      3. By talking with others, we ascribe meaning to words and develop a universe of discourse.
    4. Symbolic naming is the basis for society—the extent of knowing is dependent on the extent of naming.
    5. Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret the world.
      1. A symbol is a stimulus that has a learned meaning and a value for people.
      2. Our words have default assumptions.
      3. Significant symbols can be nonverbal as well as linguistic.
  • Thinking: The process of taking the role of the other.
    1. Third principle: An individual’s interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process.
    2. Symbolic interactionists describe thinking as an inner conversation, or minding.
      1. Minding is a reflective pause.
      2. We naturally talk to ourselves in order to sort out meaning.
    3. Whereas animals act instinctively and without deliberation, humans are hardwired for thought.
      1. Humans require social stimulation and exposure to abstract symbol systems to have conceptual thought.
      2. Language is the software that activates the mind.
    4. Humans have the unique capacity to take the role of the other.

Essentially, language creates and sustains our social reality, gives humans the ability to create complex social structures, and has the power to shape the world in which we live. This makes communication one of the most powerful forces on Earth and each person on the planet is born with the ability to use this power.

Okay. What’s the point?

The point is that an individual’s understanding of the world is controlled by the meaning that the individual has assigned, through language, to the world. This is where conflict comes from, because people have assigned different meanings to the same things.

Today I came across this article, How Your Brain Decides Without You.

In it, the author states, “We form our beliefs based on what comes to us from the world through the window of perception, but then those beliefs act like a lens, focusing on what they want to see.” Put another way, we form our beliefs based on what comes to us from the world through the window of our assigned meaningsand then those beliefs act like a lens, causing us to focus on what we want to see.

Basically, Symbolic Intetactionism or seeing life through theory, as Deetz put it.

This may be why individuals seemingly struggle with the same problems over and over again, the same conflicts over and over again. S/he has assigned a specific meaning to a situation/person/group/object, based on experience. Until s/he has an experience that provides him/her with an opportunity to change his/her assigned meaning to a given situation/person/group/object, it will not change. That experience is vital, as pointed out in the Brain article, because, “we are stubborn in our decisions…. Studying subjects’ brain activity via EEG, [researchers] found that people’s “memory signals” were much the same toward… incorrect information as they were toward… things they correctly remembered. Their interpretation of the event had hardened into truth.

“This hardening can happen without our awareness.”

Capital T Truth cannot be changed by information alone. It is changed through experience. Experience changes Truth because experience creates an opportunity for new meaning to be created and assigned by the individual.

When you experience conflict, I encourage you to engage it open mindedly. Use it as an opportunity to change your world.

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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Conflict Studies, Language, People


Ben Affleck’s Melt Down on Bill Maher

Over the weekend, Ben Affleck had a total melt down on Bill Maher’s show. This post is not to bash Affleck or Maher; it is not to take sides in the debate; it is not to discuss the pros or cons of Islam. I want to break down the discussion, the interaction between the parties, so that when you have a discussion where you are in Affleck’s position, you can better understand what is happening, which could help you better navigate the discussion.

I want to start by breaking down the main points of the argument.

The Discussion

Sam Harris sets the base for his argument thus: “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where criticism of the religion gets conflated with bigotry towards muslims as people.” Before he can finish his thought, Affleck interjects, “Hold on — are you the person who officially understands the codified doctrine of Islam?”

Affleck is not even listening to the argument. He is so ready to defend his belief that he questions Harris’ authority on the subject. This diversionary tactic is common in conflict. Affleck then continues to drag the discussion off topic by claiming that questioning Islamic teachings is racist. As he continues to melt down he states that “we are endowed by our Fore Fathers with inalienable rights….” After agreeing that we (referring to Western Liberals) have to be able to question bad ideas, Sam Harris doubles down on his argument: “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.”  At this point, Affleck is so lost in his anger that he grasping at straws and while declaring his own evidence, that what Harris and Maher are saying is not true, and offering no evidence, he demands to know the evidence of the other side. When offered further evidence, Affleck simply gets dismissive. “Alright, let someone else talk. You’re doing a lot of talking.”

Michael Steele jumps in and re-frames Harris’ argument beautifully, “You’re saying that the strongest voices are coming from those who are jihadists and extremists and that represents a bigger piece of the pie than we often think is true.” He then goes on to state that what is lacking is the amount of national and even global news coverage of Muslims who stand up to radical ideals.

This begins to move the discussion forward but Ban Affleck cannot help himself and launches back into the fray. He demands to know, “What is your solution, to just condemn Islam?” Then, rather than waiting for an answer, he launches into his own set of points on why the West is to blame for radical Islam. Affleck’s final point is typical of this kind of disagreement, “I’m telling you that I disagree with you… and I don’t understand you.” He then cycles back into false claims and blame shifting. In so doing, Affleck reinforces Harris’ primary argument, that “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where criticism of the religion gets conflated with bigotry towards muslims as people” by accusing Harris and Maher of condemning muslims as people because of radical ideas.

Conflict and Identity

Ben Affleck presents several common diversionary tactics in this discussion that many people use when they fight or argue with someone else.

  1. Discredit the other party – “Are you the person who officially understands the codified doctrine of Islam?” Because if you’re not, I don’t have to listen to you and your argument is invalid. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. Have the patience to hear the other person out. It does you on harm to listen to and consider the other party’s point of view.
  2. Making grand claims – You’re racist! Insert prejudice, bigot or any other “othering” word here. There are around 1.5 Billion Muslims around the world. Exactly which “race” is being targeted? Making grand, false claims is a diversionary tactic designed to confuse the other party. The only reason I would need to confuse the other party is if I have NOTHING to argue with. Don’t fall into this trap. Listen, think, consider, then respond.
  3. Being dismissive – Dismissing the other party simply because you do not agree with them is childish. Denial prevents both sides from moving toward understanding.
  4. Blame shifting – Blame shifting is designed to move the discussion to another topic and move away from the topic at hand. It’s also a move designed to grab power in an argument because, when I blame shift, I control the topic, which means I’m controlling the discussion.

By avoiding these four diversionary tactics, we can move toward discussion and understanding. Building understanding is a corner stone of conflict resolution. If you find yourself doing one or all of these in an argument, as yourself, why am I doing this?

The answer might surprise you: the argument threatens part of your identity. This post is already getting lengthy so I’ll leave some links at the bottom for you to further explore the relationship of identity and conflict. I will leave the discussion on this thought. Ben Affleck appears to whole-heartedly believe that if you question the teachings of Islam, you are a racist. This explains his inability to even listen to someone challenge that. It threatens part of his identity (he is not a racist). If he listens and considers what Harris and Maher have to say, then he may have to admit that he is racist. This is a misunderstanding on Affleck’s part, but he won’t allow himself to get far enough to realize that his assumption is wrong.

When we fail to allow ourselves to listen to other points of view, we remain mired in our own world and deny ourselves opportunity for growth. When we allow ourselves to listen to other points of view and consider them, we allow ourselves the opportunity to better strengthen our own belief, or question that belief if we find it lacking.

Extra Reading

Unpacking things: This blog post was written at the end of my undergraudate studies and contains material from a capstone paper that I wrote.

Construction of Online Identity: This blog post is a portion of a paper written for one of my graduate classes, Social Dynamics of Communication Technology.

Books to Read:

  • Identity and Vilence: The Illusion of Destiny
  • Sitting in the Fire: Large Group Transformation Using Conflict and Diversity

Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Conflict Studies


The Decline of the Empire

“But unless America behaves as a leader and the guarantor of the world order, it will be inviting regional powers to test their strength by bullying neighbouring countries.” Found here.

There is a belief held by the Left. A belief which I believe to be dangerous. That is the belief that, in order for there to be equality, be it social, economic, or what have you, those who have more power should have it stripped from them so that all are the same. The danger is that, while the Left believes that this makes everyone the same, it makes everyone equally weak.

Let me use an analogy to explain this. In my work as a job coach, I find that my class as a whole does better, has more success at finding employment, when I maintain high standards for participation and when I am firm in enforcing rules. The same principle exists with my children. When my wife and I enforce structure, our children thrive. When I lower the bar of expectation in either of these situations, positive results decline.

So it is in larger social systems. Power is a social property, not a personal property. The Left would have the world believe that the only way to make the world “fair” is to weaken America’s position in international relations. To lead from behind, as it were. That the only way to “make things fair” for the rest of the world is not to help build them up, is not to help them grow and develop, but to weaken ourselves and become more like them. To lower the bar so that it is easier  for everyone to reach.

This, unfortunately, will lead to failure for all.

The Left, in its politically correct induced stupor, takes this definition of equality, this reduced capacity for all, and applies it unilaterally, sort of. Nothing is held up as superior than anything else, with the exception of secularism, which is, of course, superior to everything else because it supports, supposedly, the Left’s definition of equality. Thus, democracy is only superior to other forms of government when it supports equality. Otherwise, constitutional republican protection of minority rights is superior, but only of a secular minority, in order to support equality.

I’m moving off point, so let me return. The Left denounces coercive power because it is through this form of power that the evil white man has ruined the world. And while it can be said that coercive power is widely used in modern society and is responsible for many of the social ills that we face, coercive power fails primarily due to its reliance on force.

Persuasive power is the ultimate goal: where a vision or dream is laid out and the follower uses his or her full capacity of choice to accept or reject it. The difference between coercive and persuasive power is in the attitudes and values of those holding and using power and in the actions the leader takes to accomplish his or her goals. Martin Luther King Jr., Paulo Freire, The Buddah, Jesus Christ, all taught this principle. Persuasive power mandates that there is a better way. It states boldly that not all things are equal or the same.

Persuasion is then carried out, not by manipulative means, “but persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile — reproving betimes with sharpness…, and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121: 41-44).

Power in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It is the way in which that power is used. The Left fails to understand the principle that the powerful should seek to raise up those who are weak. Rather, the Left seeks to make everyone equally weak.


Too Hell With Your Rights

Pay attention to the words of the petty tyrant currently ruling NYC:

“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry, but we live in a complex word where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

Because you cannot protect yourself, only the government can do that for you! Bloomberg is pushing for this and pushing hard. If you can’t see it, wake up. Pay attention, get involved. The methods of tyrants and dictators do not change. Do you know enough history to see the signs, to know what is coming?


Thesis Help – Servant-Leadership

I am in the preparation stages of my graduate thesis at Gonzaga University where I am looking into how servant-leadership can assist in stabilizing organization culture after crisis. Spears (2002) identified 10 characteristics of a servant-leader:

Commitment to the growth of people
Building community

I think that knowledge of conflict resolution principles and mediation are vital to the success of servant-leadership in this endeavor. From what I have learned about conflict resolution,* the core competencies for CR and mediation are very similar to those listed here. However, I’m having difficulty finding literature to back up that claim.

I can feel it and I cannot yet academically link the two.

Can anyone point me in the direction of literature that discuss this connection?

*I am completing an MA in Communication and Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. I hold a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution and a BA in Speech Communication (Interpersonal Communication, Conflict Resolution) from the University of Utah.

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