Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
During the past week of class, we learned Chris Mitchell’s definition of conflict (1981):
“A conflict situation is any situation in which two or more parties perceive they possess mutually incompatible goals.”
Although I would like to say I have never personally experienced conflict because I am such a peaceful being and have always avoided it, it would not be true at all. As I heard this definition I could not help but begin to think of several conflicts I have been subjected to over my lifetime. Some took place in my personal life, while others were part of my job as a police officer, being called in times of emergency and trying to find at least a temporary solution to contain the conflict and then starting the plan to work toward a more permanent resolution. Still I could think of other conflicts that somehow felt mutually personal and professional, crossing into both realms of my life. We are all human and conflict is necessary to some degree. Without conflict, there would be no resolution or change for the better.
I started to think about these various conflicts and if I really had incompatible goals with the other involved party. Then I remembered one must focus on the word “perceive” in this definition. I realized it is not necessarily that there were incompatible goals in these conflicts; rather it was the perception of what goals were presumed to be desired by the respective parties. This was an important reminder that whether I find myself in a personal conflict or working in the capacity as a police officer, attempting to help others resolve a conflict, one must always remember one’s perspective of what the other parties’ end goals are may be incorrect or incomplete. In fact, when emotions are high and vital aspects of our lives seem to be at stake, it is quite possible for involved parties to have skewed perceptions. Perhaps in many cases, the goals of involved parties may not be so incompatible after all. This is where open, honest, and respectful communication comes in as a tool to shed light.
As our dear instructor Irene Santiago shared with us this week, “Conflict is neither good, nor bad. It just is. It is necessary for change and will always exist because no two people are the same.” What a concept! No two people are the same. This sounds simple, but I never thought of it in this manner. We are all different. What would life be like if we were all the same? In my opinion, it would be boring and not nearly as meaningful. If we are all different, it is no surprise at all that parties have opposing perspectives of the compatibility of goals. Our differences need to be accepted and celebrated, but at the same time perceptions need to be discussed and broken down so that we may also recognize the commonalities of our goals. This is a great place to start on the journey of toward resolving conflict. I feel honored to be on this journey with seventeen fellow classmates and look forward to applying this knowledge to the descriptions of our conflicts from around the world.
Jessica Brainard, USA
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session