by Vic Crockford
Our time with Michael and Rejendra from Search For Common Ground inspired me write again. In particular, I want to discuss social structures after having what we were talking about as an ‘aha! moment’. The two days of conflict facilitation and mediation training strengthened my conclusion that identities based on social structures, such as religion, can be important sources of positive change.
The documentary ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ reflected this idea. The two men emphasized their religious difference in order to facilitate dialogue between warring Muslim and Christians in northern Nigeria and, most importantly, it was this emphasis on their commitment to their separate doctrines that made their project a success. Of course, they shared a language and the common ground of faith, but they were not acquiescing to each others stances, they were collaborating them. This is what Search For Common Ground described as positive cooperation.
While this may seem somewhat obvious in practice, this perspective is largely absent in the mainstream conflict literature. In fact, ethnic and class identities are most often cited as being ‘problems’ which need the solution of an institutionalized national identity with a democratically-elected state. I think that there needs to be more scholarship on how alleged ‘divisive identities’ can also be catalysts for dialogue, discovery of common ground and facilitating long-term peace building processes. In other words, we need to further explore the notion that conflict can be deconstructed discursively without identities necessarily having to be reconfigured or made less important.
On a final note, the last week has also re-emphasized to me that we all carry our identities around like a backpack – before entering a situation it is important to unpack it in order to understand our biases and preconceptions and suspend them, or be open to changing them Some things are so intrinsic as to be inseparable from us, however, and must always be recognized as such. I believe it is impossible to ever separate the ‘self’ from the practitioner and it is important to find the distinction between impartiality an neutrality in whatever situation you are engaging.