Thoughts in the Aftermath of Paris, Mali and Charleston, South Carolina

November 25, 2015 By Irma Tyler Wood

Why, in the 21st century, despite major advances in science, technology, medicine, communication, healthcare and the arts, are humans still resorting to primitive, outdated, ineffective processes like war and terrorism to address human conflict?  This is one of the questions that surfaced for me after the initial, “Oh no not again, sinking feeling,” I had in the pit of my stomach as I watched events unfold in Paris, and Mali last week.  The same kind of events keep happening in Israel, Lebanon, and Charleston, South Carolina, to name a few.  Why are the majority of ordinary citizens in America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Russia allowing a small minority of extremists to dictate the current reality for all of us?  Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”  What if anything can ordinary citizens do that will be constructive, rather than destructive in responding to extreme acts of terror and violence? 

I wish I could tell you that I had easy answers to these questions.  I don’t.  Nor do those with more expertise and experience.  What’s different for me this time is that I believe that ordinary citizens shouldn’t get a pass on issues like this.  We can’t just leave it to the government or the experts. We have an obligation to wrestle with these issues and to analyze and discuss the critical questions in the hopes of at worst, gaining insight and understanding and at best some real answers.  This blog is the beginning of an ongoing discussion.  Please join in and share your thoughts.  

I teach my clients that conflict is the normal by-product of putting any group of people together to achieve a goal or solve a problem.  Even people in the same family, the same company, the same community or church will experience conflict.  When the people in conflict are from different communities, religions, countries, ethnicities and genders the potential for conflict is even greater. The research is clear about why that’s true. Their differences in background, knowledge, training, perspective, experience and culture, make communication more difficult and misunderstanding more likely.  

I also teach my clients that conflict isn’t the problem.  Not only is conflict normal and healthy, it’s desirable.  Conflict signals commitment, engagement and passion.  It’s the precursor to creativity and innovation.  So if conflict isn’t the problem, what is?  Most conflicts don’t escalate to the levels of violence and terrorism we experienced in Paris, Mali, Israel, or Charleston, South Carolina.  When conflicts escalate to violence, terrorism and war, the problem stems not from the conflict itself, but from the processes we as individuals, groups, organizations and governments, have used to deal with those conflicts.    

In my next blog, I’ll describe the processes we use that almost guarantee escalation to violence and terrorism.