Although understanding individual biases is a straightforward concept, it seems like in many interactions, including during transition processes, this is overlooked. It’s important to be aware of our biased positions. Not every transition program is universal or compatible for all post-conflict regions, and even if a program is tailor-made to a specific place, it is still coming from a mentality that may not be compatible with the local norms. This reminded me of the issue with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).
This is a diagnostic manual that was developed in the United States to help therapists and doctors diagnose mental conditions, such as alcohol abuse, anxiety, etc. and is being used in many other countries throughout the world. However, there are some serious criticisms with this due to the manual’s US-centered approach and lack of acknowledgement that this Americentrism even exists. The manual was designed in the US, developed by and for the American public, and only includes a few separate notes throughout that mention the case of people from other cultures. In other words, the manual is for Americans with a small sections for the “Others.” Regardless, there is an attempt to make this the standard for psychologists worldwide but it is failing to recognize that many of the disorders in the book will not present in the same way in some societies as they do in the US. What is pathologized is dependent on culture and history, which is something the manual does not take into account. It may have good intentions, but as a consequence, many people are being pathologized, which ultimately can have major repercussions in the personal and social lives of many.
These criticisms can also be applied to American, or Western-designed, peace interventions. Our guest speaker, Dr. Jasmine-Kim Westendorf, touched on this point as we created a list of goals which satisfy our definition of a peaceful society, as well as a timeline for how these goals should be implemented. Brainstorming in such a way is a useful tool but it shouldn’t be the only thing we rely on in designing a program. We must keep in mind that, as designers, we are limited by our backgrounds as well.