Tag Archives: Peace Studies

Building A Narrative – How to tell a story?

With all the training and effort it takes to research and write a good cogent story, I felt conflicted when I was asked to pull together several tweets into a more complete story.  With so many bits of information how could I do that?

Enter Storify, a tool that can compile tweets and other materials into a cohesive story, like this.  My efforts have not been as polished, but then I learned that you can embed videos like in this example (which is also the topic of an earlier blog post).

My problem with compiling these tweets and other elements is that to be readable, you have to write some connecting bits.  It’s not bad, but otherwise there’s little direction to the story.

As with any story, no matter the type, there needs to be a goal in mind.  “What is the point?”, and “Who cares?” are important questions to keep in mind as you create the storify.  Otherwise you can lose direction.

Even larger organizations are using this tool, like the UN  and others. But one of the most important uses, from a Conflict Resolution perspective, is how crises can be addressed, like the Typhoon.  Overall though, any curating-type software can use social media information to build a narrative, like these tips suggest.

On a lighter note, educators can and have been using this for a host of reasons.

So as we all go off to enjoy this holiday season, realize that for fun or work, or whatever, you can take all your tweets, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube entries and build readable,  narrative.  Just be aware of some of the pitfalls.

What do you think?

Studying Peace – Hands on?

Next term is my last in the NECR Program here at Columbia, assuming it all goes well.  And as I gear up for my Capstones, that also seems to have me looking at alternatives and playing “what if.”

“What if I want to learn about Peace, or Conflict Resolution but don’t want (or can’t) to do all the work?”

I was thinking about this (yes really, and it might have to do with working on final papers…) riding the subway from school, and realized there are alternatives.  Sure there are certificate courses that can add value to existing degrees, like the one here on Human Rights this summer.  But what about other approaches?

There is this, an online peace building course based in Washington, DC.  Looks pretty good, right?  It’s a beta-test which is why it’s free for now, but it still seems interesting.

For the more determined peace-keeper there’s this institute that has several courses for the United Nations.  Some seem pretty intriguing, and many are online.

Online.  Peace. Peace Studies. Conflict Resolution.  Online.

For me that all seems a little odd, doesn’t it?  Don’t get me wrong, I like online, after all that’s how I’m writing this Blog.  But shouldn’t conflict resolution and peace studies deal with people?  I think so.

Ok, so I’m airing a bias here and perhaps I’m too old-school, but I believe that if you’re going to engage with conflicts and peace in any way, you have to engage with the people involved.

And that can be hard to do through a computer screen.

Computers are great, I love mine, and was amazed at the power of crisis mapping that was the focus of a class we had  as part of my Conflict & Social Networks course (see post on Typhoon Haiyan).  None of that powerful life-changing help can be done without a computer, and it saves lives.

But at some point, I feel one has to be on the ground, breathing the air, shaking hands and being face-to-face with those involved.

If we don’t know who parties to a conflict are, or what they deal with and experience, how can we have a dialogue or help in any meaningful, lasting way?

What do you think?

Swimming in a Sea of Conflict? Microaggressions.

For a recent class project for Advanced Mediation, I had a chance to role-play a Hispanic woman.  Writing the reflection paper afterwards (yes you will do a lot of those here) and compiling the readings and my thoughts I stepped outside my Self….

No I didn’t go anywhere, but had a chance to look at the racial issue from the outside.  There I was, a white male, trying to play the part of a Hispanic female; did I do that effectively?  Not a chance.

Did it open my eyes?  You bet.

With all the readings and exploration of cultural issues, I got it.  I finally got a peek into a world where WHAT you are creates a different landscape of existence.  And if you’re a minority that points to a very different reality and existence than mine.

Mind blowing.

So what might I be doing, that I might not be aware of, that contributes to the existence of these different realities?  these different life-landscapes?

Microaggressions.  Small interactions between people of differing races, genders or cultures that can be seen as aggressive.  And many may be unconsciously performed or reacted to.

Dr. Derald Wing Sue here at Teacher’s College says that “racial microaggression” can be  an “…everyday insult, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them” (See the full article here).  He also gives several examples in this interview.  For others check out this post.

Critics of Wing’s idea say his theory inhibits interactions between the races rather than a more candid approach (see here).  And there are those who expand on the idea, suggesting microaggressions happen within other groups as well (like here).  Or happen all the time.

Is it a big deal?

This group says it is, and is addressing that question.

As for me, I feel I’ve peeked through a window into something vast, sobering and potentially ugly.  Yet my faith in human nature refuses to believe that we all live in a world full of unconscious put-downs, insults, jabs and conflict.

Then again, perhaps we do.

Either way I’m going to meditate, practice my self-awareness and self-reflection; at least I can change myself.

What do you think?

Video Advocacy – Using Cameras for Peace

Some of you might know that before coming to Columbia University, I was a television news journalist.  No, not one of the guys on camera, but a producer, the person who makes ALL the decisions about what stories go into the newscast, and how they are treated.  For that hour (or 1/2 hour) long newscast (don’t say “show” it’s insulting) the producer is king.

So with all my experience and drive to stay neutral and get the story “right,” the notion that you can use cameras for peace was a stretch.

Thanks Prof. Perlmutter and our recent class, I learned that it’s a great idea.

Video advocacy is exactly that, using videos to make a point, and in Conflict Resolution  and Peace Studies that means helping the world.  Several groups support this idea, some even have toolkits to help get you started.

One of the most famous is this video about Joseph Kony.  It went viral with a huge number of hits.  But some people had issues with the film.  Kony is still active but is rumored to be in talks regarding his possible surrender.

Did a video do this?  Hard to say, but it certainly raised awareness of who this man is and what he has done.

On the heels of the Kony 2012 video, other groups have started pointing their cameras at things other than house-fires.  Some send cameras and staff to remote parts of the world to help locals, as you see here.

Others produced professional broadcast quality videos outlining human rights abuses close to home.   And after talking with the producers of “Walking Merchandise” it’s make me think twice about Chinese restaurants, and who may be serving or cooking for me.

Most of us have phones, and now that means cameras.  What if we used them for more than selfies?  Used them to make a difference?

It’s an intriguing thought.

What do you think?

Weekend of Capstones

This past weekend I took much-needed study/family time off to go to the Fall NECR Capstone presentations.  I was glad I did.

Though “capstone” has its own definition in architecture, it also means “…crowning achievement…” which is what these projects were.  Here at Columbia the NECR program ends with each Masters’ candidate presenting their study (thesis actually), and that’s the capstone.

Want to know what’s rough about that?  No, it’s not the presentation itself, because students in the program have to do give several.

No.

The problem is that each person has only ten minutes to summarize a whole term’s worth of work, some 70+ pages of material, and only another ten minutes for questions!

Are you kidding me?  How can anyone do that?

Well they did, and they did a great job (though to be honest several ran over the time limit.)  I learned a lot to be sure, from how emotions mattered in negotiation, to specific conflicts like the dispute on the Bakassi Peninsula between Nigeria & Cameroon.  To see highlights of the international topics that were covered, I built a storify recap from live tweets and pictures from the event.

With some 27-odd presentations lasting over two days, there is simply too much material to cover in a Blog post.  But to get an idea of the topics you can check out this schedule of speakers.  They all did a fine job, and after it was over, several could not believe they were done, save finishing their actual paper on their topics.

One thing is certain, I was impressed with what was shared and what I learned.  Impressed and concerned that the bar for next term’s capstones is set too high.

Why?

Because it will be my turn…

What do you think??

Losing a Shining Light

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

December 5th, Nelson Mandela, chief architect of the successful anti-apartheid movement, and first black South African President died.  Throughout his life, even when he was jailed on Robben Island for 27 years, he preached non-violence as the solution for South Africa’s racist polices of apartheid.

I recall taking an undergraduate class at Oberlin (don’t ask the year) that discussed whether companies should disinvest from South Africa to send a message, or should follow a policy of constructive engagement.  People were split on the issue, I was split on the issue.  Debates raged and protests where held at Oberlin’s campus, sometimes by both sides.  There were no easy clear answers.

There was, though, this popular song that was played everywhere and I danced to more than once.  (And if you just clicked the link to listen, perhaps I have dated myself).

Methods and songs aside, everyone agreed that apartheid was wrong and had to be addressed.  (For a good timeline of apartheid look here.)  Finally in December 1993  the first interim constitution was ratified granting South African blacks the right to vote.  And on May 10, 1994, Mandela was elected President of South Africa, without a war.

But Mandela was not always a saint in the eyes of the United States.  In the 1980’s President Reagan had the African National Congress (ANC) declared a terrorist organization.  Mandela was a member of the ANC for most of his life, and a past president.  As late as 2008 the ANC was still on the terrorist watch list, according to this article.

But through his determination for freedom and equality, there can be no arguing that Mandela helped free his country from institutional racism and oppression.  And on his passing several notable professors here at Columbia reflected on his life and legacy.  Including our own Morton Deutsch.

But perhaps it can best be put this way:

Mr. Mandela was more than one of the greatest pillars of our time,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his speech at the [memorial] service. “He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so much … for freedom and equality, for democracy and justice.”

What do you think??

Playing Games for Peace

Ivy League?  Me?  If you had suggested that I’d be attending an ivy-league school two years ago, I would have laughed.  And honestly?  I’d have thought you were crazy too.

But here I am, and the newness has yet to wear off.

Entering this program I expected to be stuck in classrooms frantically taking notes, or living in the library researching and writing papers.  Call me a traditionalist but that’s how I saw the oncoming classwork for the NECR program.  Though a lot of that has come true, I never would have thought that playing games would be a teaching tool.  But it can be as we learned in our Conflict and Social Networks class.

Peacemaker is a game that puts you in the middle of the Middle East, and has you try different techniques and strategies to try and solve the Palestinian/Israeli issue.  It let’s you play as either or both sides, attempting to solve what has been a protracted conflict.  Be warned, playing this game can eat up several hours before you know it.

Not wanting to bring peace to the Middle-East?  Then perhaps saving Darfur is more your speed.  Here you get to worry about 2.5-million refugees and keep the camp functioning.

What about civil disobedience?  Does it work?  Now you can find out  here, without having to make posters.  Though, ironically you may have to pay to play.

Struggling with your finances?  Columbia isn’t cheap as we know, but financing that may not be as challenging as trying to live on a minimum wage.  And now you can try to do just that.

Regardless of topic, using games is an effective method to expose people to some complex conflict issues.  They can help make the situations more “real” than just reading a news article or seeing a story on TV.  All of these games, and most other similar ones, highlight how there are no easy solutions or answers.

Discussion in our class brought out that organizations create these games to educate and elucidate an issue, but also to suggest a point of view.   And game design limits some of the elements and factors in a real life scenario, but users can expect to be exposed to main themes that may defy simplistic solutions.

And players may leave the game with more than a higher-level character, or a virtual house in the Hamptons.

Building a Cooperative Global Community

In an earlier post I mentioned the Public Forum on Building a Cooperative Global Community moderated by Morton Deutsch.  As most may know, he is considered one of the leading scholars of conflict resolution.

For me it was the first time I’d had a chance to hear him, and that was a treat, as he really is one of the founders of the entire field of Conflict Resolution and Mediation.

The forum was a discussion on how to address some of the important issues facing the world.  Dr. Deutsch listed poverty, injustices to women, racial issues, social inequality and others as problems facing the world, challenging the panel with the question: “How do we move to a world community?”

It’s a provoking question, and one that I struggle with in light of issues surrounding globalization.  There is a tension between understanding that we, as humans on a shared planet, have issues to address together, and the notion that each of us may have a separate cultural history and identity worth preserving.

Each of the presenters on the panel had their own take on Deutsch’s question.

Warner Burke talked about developing cross cultural competence, and that one should be “…clear about your role when invited into another culture and what is expected in that role….”  He also stressed that extended exposure helps, along with knowing your own cultural influences.

Joshua Fisher talked about expanding the scope of community to include all the actors.  And went on to discuss this idea in ecological terms.

William Gaudelli used an example of schools in Thailand eating together as how to live in sync with the planet.  More intriguing was his idea that technology might interfere with this style of living; but don’t we rely on the Internet and computers to even HAVE a global community?  This question stuck with me as the symposium continued.

David Hansen suggested that now is an urgent time for global community.  Cosmopolitanism, he argued, will be an important approach to the idea of global community, a “…fusion of openness and loyalty….”

Lastly, the duo of Victoria Marsick and Connie Watson (AEGIS, Ed.D. candidate at Teachers’ College) gave a presentation on how deep feelings can bring conflict and how transformative learning can help us to look at the tacit things we assume.  Best of all, they suggested several practical approaches on how these ideas might be applied in the classroom.

Did I think this was all thought provoking?  Yes.  But even when we broke up into smaller discussion groups for the next 30 minutes, there seemed to be little idea on how to practically apply some of these concepts or where to even begin.

More than that for me, I have issues with the premise that a cooperative global community is a good idea.  Sure there are large issues like climate change that may need a globally organized response.  Yet I cannot escape the notion that striving for a global community simply ignores important differences between groups.

Cultural differences, religious ideas, social structures and norms, are different throughout the world, and the differences between them are what drive change, what allow us, as a species, to have a chance to develop and grow.  They allow us to test ideas of interaction and community that may or may not work.

Don’t we need social conflict to grow?  And if we seek a globalized world with a single community, which elements will be discarded?  and who decides?

Perhaps it’s like Dr. Deutsch suggested at the end of the symposium:

“…let us maintain the hope that we can improve the world, let us fulfill our hope by actions…we won’t solve the issues all at once…giant things happen because the little things happen.”

What do you think?

The Language We Use…

In looking through some of the blogs I follow, I came across this post that talks about the misunderstandings that can happen in mediation.  Have you ever had that happen in a class, mediation or a dispute resolution?  Maybe in just a conversation?

My guess is you have.

Even if you haven’t, ever notice how many conflicts, big or small happen because one person says one thing and the other hears something else?  Recently that’s exactly what happened between me and my eldest daughter.

Years ago, I did a year of law school and though I didn’t stick with it, (as it really wasn’t for me) the best lesson I learned was in the Contracts  I class.   The professor said “…words to a lawyer are like scalpels to a surgeon, they are the tools that we use…”

Now, as I learn more about mediation in my program and begin to practice with my internship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission I understand the power of what that professor mentioned all those years ago.  And how it applies to the whole field of  Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Sure a quick search of the web can pull up articles like this one that cover the write-ups of mediation language.  But I’m talking more about what happens during a mediation, orally and aurally.

And of course there’s the field of non-verbal communications that can tell you a lot, like this article mentions.

So let me ask this – when you communicate, have a conversation, do you consider how you’re communicating?  Not just the content, but what journalists call the mode of communication?

I never did, not really, not until I took a class here at Columbia called “Intrapersonal Dynamics and Conflict” taught by Barry Sommer.  It opened my eyes to the issue of language in communications, and drove home the point my Contracts professor made.

Practicing all this is harder than you think, and can be a distraction from what you’re trying to say.    But when I help with a mediation it’s always in the back of my mind.

So what do I do if I suspect I’m reaching a sensitive point in negotiations?

I pause, I slow down the speed of my talking so I can think ahead as I talk.  And so far that has cut way down on the misinterpretations and miss-communications.

Like most skills, I find that practicing this verbal awareness helps make it more automatic.  Personally, I never want it to become automatic to the point of learned behavior, like driving.  But the more I think about the mode and method of my speech the easier it becomes.  And the less damage control I have to do after the fact.

But I know I have a long way to go to master this skill set.

What do you think?

Super Typhoon Hiayan — Death, Misery and Conflicts to Follow

The rising deaths and incredible suffering stemming from Typhoon Hiayan has me thinking of the aftermath.  Sure there is a lot of work to be done, and certainly the humanitarian issues will continue to mount with so much death, loss and much of the Philippine infrastructure is destroyed.

But what about after the instant emergency slows and the recovery efforts become a slog and shift into a long-term grind?  With constricted resources one study suggests that conflict will increase, that rapid onset disasters like this typhoon contribute to conflict more than anything else.  It goes on to say that there’s a chance for more sweeping peace-building as long-term recovery efforts continue.  But that these chances for peace-building don’t override what is happening.

So I wonder how to carry out these chances?  Does one wait?  how long?

Until people are in conflict over needs like water, food and shelter?  Or is there a way to structure recovery aid to take advantage of the chance and really build peace?

At the moment no one can argue that instant needs have to be addressed, with several groups like this taking the lead.  Perhaps there’s a chance for peace-building in later stages through economic development as they rebuild and recover?

What about UN departments like this who don’t even mention the Crisis on the homepage (as of this writing)?

With all my conflict resolution training and growing skills (thanks to the NECR Program) I worry about the practical application of these skills.  When people are dead, dying, sick, suffering, needing basics to survive, it can be overwhelming for the Conflict Resolution (CR) practitioner.

What do you think?