Toward a World Without Conflict

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Whether it’s a new myth, new metaphor, or new science, we need it: something that can help bind and direct the peacemakers among us. Harvard University’s new International Negotiation Program represents one move toward a unifying body of thought that could serve this role.

Although the end of the Second World War ushered in a fairly lengthy time of relative peace and prosperity, most of our history has been dominated by conflict. And the reasons for conflict are many. But there are some brave and visionary folks who are seeking to use what we know about the psychology of conflict as well as the emerging strategies of conflict resolution to help usher in an age of freedom from the kinds of strife humankind has known for all too long.

Harvard University and its affiliated institutions have developed the International Negotiation Program. Based on the assumption that all conflict has its roots in both values-driven emotion and the innate striving for identity and recognition, the program has assembled a multi-disciplinary team of educators, researchers, psychologists, diplomats, and others to “enhance international security and individual well-being through theory-building and education on the emotional and identity-based dimensions of conflict and negotiation.” Recognizing that a new, sophisticated, and theoretically-sound psychology of conflict is essential to success in this endeavor, the program’s primary stated goal is to “work to expand the fields of both [conflict] psychology and conflict management.” The program is dedicated to doing much more than just coming up with poetic paradigms of understanding. It seeks to field-test the strategies it devises and to share information about the outcomes in the hope that through experience, sharing, and education, reliable conflict prevention, management, and resolution methods can be secured.

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I’m one of those optimists and idealists who believes that despite all the economic, political, and social turmoil of late, humankind is on the precipice of grand new age. But birthing new life always involves considerable pain and suffering. We seem to be in the midst of that suffering now, and it’s likely to get even worse before it gets better. We have to keep in mind, as I mention in my book Character Disturbance, that this thing we call ‘civilization’ is a recent and relatively brief page in the book of human history. We still have a lot of learning and growing to do. And the most challenging frontier before us is not the understanding of sub-atomic particles or travel to distant stars but rather a full understanding and conquest of ourselves. Really coming to terms with our nature — the things that drive us, the passions that motivate us, and most especially, the blindness that could destroy us — that’s the real challenge. As the comic character “Pogo” was wont to say: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

Hearts have to change one person at a time. And changing hearts is a most daunting task. But those who undertake the challenge are a most noble lot. Perhaps that’s why the prophet from Nazareth cast those who would seek and make peace as “blessed.”

What humankind needs more than anything else at this time is a fresh new metaphor or “myth” that can help bind and direct those who would be the peacemakers among us. Many of our present belief systems are out-of-date or are lacking in genuineness and substance. And even some of our most noble and enduring ones have become corrupted to the point that they are no longer as life-enriching as they once were. Sadly, a few have even proven to be more destructive than helpful. It’s sobering to know that most conflicts and wars have been fought over the ideologies and philosophies that have dominated various cultures for centuries. So, it’s clear that we need a fresh and more unifying myth for the coming age. But such a myth is not likely to come about as the result of some charismatic sage laying down new precepts to a group of impassioned followers. Rather, it’s more likely to emerge slowly and steadily over time as those committed to understanding the origins of human strife and fostering harmony between races, cultures, and tribes learn the lessons their endeavors will inevitably teach us. I have dedicated myself to using my remaining time on this earth in the service of the realization of such a myth.

So, to the inspired folks at Harvard and their ambitious project, to the peace-seekers across the globe, and to all those humble souls who recognize the supreme value of reckoning with their own hearts, may many blessings be upon you. And here’s hoping that the new year — despite the conflicts likely to accompany it — brings us yet another step closer to the age we have all sought since the dawn of our awareness.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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