Tag Archives: peace

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.