Conflict Transformation (By Peaceful Means)

A Summary of Approach
This summary follows the logic of the  table of contents.
Conflict workers:

  1. The conflict workers (peace workers) apply for membership in the conflict formation as outside parties. Credentials: as fellow human being, bringing in general conflict knowledge and skills, with compassion (sympathetic sad concern someone in misfortune) and perseverance, and no hidden agendas.


  1. Dialogue exploring the conflict, with one party at the time, is the tool; with no effort to ‘’win’’/ persuade, but an ongoing brainstorming process, sharing time, questioning and answering equally, being honest, outspoken, tactful, careful and ‘’normal’’. Respect for the conflict dialogue partners is essential; for them the conflict is deadly serious, they have suffered, are often highly educated, knowledgeable, experienced, but trapped in and by the conflict, seeing no way out. In return, demand respect/equality from them, as condition for joint, good work. For conflict/peace workers to be genuinely new to conflict avoid specialization on conflict parties and issues. Aim at quality of dialogue, and involvement, not only ‘’high level’’ treat everybody well regardless of level; each one of many dialogues is the dialogue. The setting can be anywhere, also ‘’high level’’ offices, open-ended time is best. Avoid recording/notes, unless agreed.
  1. Conflict Theory

Conflict theory: conflict both as Destroyer and Creator, as potentially dangerous both now and in the future because of violence and as a golden opportunity to create something new.

  1. Conflict Practice

Introduce empathy, nonviolence, creativity into conflict practice: understanding conflict partners from the inside, feeling their logic, identifying valid goals and nonviolence approaches to obtain them, eliciting from all parties joint creativity to find ways of transcending the incompatibilities.

Violence Theory

Violence theory: Direct, structural and cultural violence, hurting directly, indirectly, and the culture that justifies.

  1. Violence Practice

Violence practice: Identify roots of violence in cultures , structures, actors and untransformed conflicts; early warnings.

  1. Transformation

There is no alternative to transformation: changing violent attitudes/behavior, applying creativity to contradictions.

  1. Peace Dialogue

peace dialogues: explore diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy together,. Avoid linearity, keep dialogue flowing back  and forth. Sequence: past therapy (what went wrong when,  what could have been done) – prognosis—diagnosis—future therapy. Sow seeds, ideas. Expose old codes of state-system/nation-system; positive images for conflict the creator and negative images for conflict the destroyer; emphasizing joint roles in developing new codes, preparing parties for some day meeting ‘’at the table’’.

  1. Conflict Transformation

Conflict transformation can the, in principle, happen at all levels of conflict, global, social, and inter/intra-personal (micro, meso, micro).

  1. Peace Transformation

peace transformation also presupposes a peaceful  context as provided by  peace education/journalism, the continuation of the work after violence, and readiness to reopen peace agreements.

13. Conflict Theory and Practice: A Perspective
A Conflict: has its own life cycle; almost like something organic.
It appears, reaches an emotional, even violent climax (the point of great intensity, force) then tapers (to make or become gradually narrower) off, disappears –and often reappears. There is a logic:-
Individuals and groups (such as nations and states) have goals:

  1. goals may incompatible, exclude each other, like two stares wanting the same land, or two nations wanting the same state;
  2. when goals are incompatible a contradiction, as issue, is born;
  3. any actor/party with unrealized goals feels frustrated and more so the more basic the goal, like basic needs and basic interest;
  4. frustration may lead to aggression, turning inward as attitudes  of hatred, or outward as behavior of verbal or physical violence;
  5. hatred and violence may be directed toward the holders of the goals standing in the way, but it is not always that ‘’rational’’;
  6. violence is intended to harm and hurt (including oneself), and may breed (to produce) a spiral of counter-violence as defense and/or revenge;
  7. that spiral of hatred and violence becomes a media-conflict (like meta-stasis (stable state) relative to cancer), over the goals of preserving and destroying.

Note: Conflicts may combine, in series or parallel, into complex conflict formations with many parties and many goals, because the same parties and/or the same goals are involved. The elementary conflict formation with two parties pursuing one goal is rare, except for pedagogical purpose, or as the polarized products of hatred and violence leading to simplified conflict formations. The normal conflict has many  actors, many goals and many issues, is complex, not easily mapped, yet that mapping is essential.

Life-Cycle of a Conflict
The life-cycle of a conflict may be divided into three phrases, Before Violence, During Violence and After Violence, separated by outbreak and cease-fire. This does not imply that violence is unavoidable, or that conflict= violence/destruction.


Attitude      +

 Behavior     +



  1. Before Violence

To describe this as the ‘’prevention’’ phrase to avoid violence is very cynical A person who believes all people are motivated selfishness). A basic conflict is enough reason in itself for serious attention. People are already suffering. Moreover, a conflict is also an invitation for the parties, the society, the whole  world to move ahead, tacking the challenge presented by the  issues head-on, with an attitude of empathy  (with all parties), nonviolence ( also to stop the meta-conflicts from developing) and creativity ( to find ways out).

The tasks is to transform the conflict, upwards, positively, finding positive goals for all parties, imaginative ways of combining them, and all of this without violence. It is the failure to transform conflicts that leads to violence. Each act of violence can be seen as a monument to that human failure.

  1. During Violence

During violence, the primary task, is of course, to stop the violence, because it is bad in itself, and because it makes the original conflict more intractable. First some reflections on why human beings make the phrase I to phrase II transition.

The first answer comes out of the original, root, conflict: violence is used to incapacitate the other parties so as to impose one’s own goals. This is sometimes  called a ‘’military solution’’, an oxymoron if the word ‘’solution’’ means ‘’acceptable’’.

The second answer also comes out of the original conflict but is less rational: aggression because of frustration, of being blocked by somebody; violence of hatred.

The third answer comes out of meta-conflict logic: conflict as an opportunity to gain honor and glory by winning; and to show courage and gain honor and dignity through violence even when not winning.

The fourth answer also comes out of the meta-conflict: violence as revenge for violence suffered, now or in the past.

These are for important reasons to be taken very seriously. At no point, however, is there any assumption to the effect that violence is in human nature, like the drives for food and sex. The latter are found all over where there are humans, in space and time.

The drives may be suppressed, but that only proves the point about their university. Violence is there all the time as a potential, but that potential is only activated when:

  1. A basic conflict left unattended (a negative cause!) without empathy, nonviolence and/or creativity, to impose an outcome, or out of frustration;
  2. The culture justifies the transition from conflict to meta-conflict as a opportunity to win, gaining honor through violence; or justifies violence as a compensation for violence.

The conclusion is clear: basic conflicts, like basic wounds, should not left unattended, nor should violence be justified.
However, violence does not last and spread forever, if it did there would be no humans around. Violence abates ( to reduce in amount, degree), for instance because belligerents ( engaged in warfare) run out of:

  1. means of destruction (hardware/weapons, software/people);
  2. target to destroy (material, people);
  3. willingness to destroy (less ‘’fighting spirit’’, more disgust);
  4. the hope of winning; the parties predict the same outcome.

  1. After Violence

After violence, the relief that violence is over may make people blind to the invisible, long-lasting consequences of violence (such as traumas and desire for more glory and revenge), and blind to how cultures, structures and actors may have become even more violent. The task is more difficult and more complex than before the violence. The mere task of reconstruction after the violence, rehabilitating the wounded and rebuilding after material  damage, may be so difficult that reconciliation to solve the meta-conflict and resolution to solve the original, underlying conflicts are forgotten or post- poned, even forever.

The task to be engaged  in are formidable:

  1. Rehabilitation: the trauma and collective sorrow approach;
  2. Rebuilding: the development approach;
  3. Restructuration: the peace structure approach;
  4. Reculturation: the peace culture approach.

Codes for

Conflict/Peace Workers: Twelve Do’s

  1. Try to identify positive elements in any party, something of which that party is proud; encourage further development.
  2. Try to identify positive elements in the conflict, conflict the potential creator should be kept in mind and be celebrated.
  3. Be creative in the way you work, don’t be too afraid of not doing things correctly, do not take manuals (like this one) too seriously, follow your intuitions and above all your experience.
  4. Find together a short, easily remembered outcome formula, like ‘’common security’’, ‘’ sustainable development’’, which will not do justice to all complexities, but may facilitate communication.
  5. Be honest to yourself and to others, if you think something is wrong say so; if you think a party’s proposal is outrageous (grossly offensive) say so without generalizing to the party as such. Often a good way to be ‘’diplomatic’’ is to be ‘’undiplomatic’’.
  6. Permit our feelings to show, if you are happy about the turn of the conversation say so; if you are unhappy also say so, but do not break the relation. That cheap luxury is not for you.
  7. Permit the inside conflict parties to challenge you. Others may tire of your questions and hit back for symmetry, challenging you, your nation, your country, ect. Use challenges to jointly explore also your conflicts the same way,: roots, pe5rspectives ect.
  8. Always suggest alternative courses of action, ‘’ in this case you can do this, but also that’’; never present only one remedy.
  9. Your task is to make yourself superfluous, not to make others dependent on you (but be on call for consultations).
  10. Remember: Idealism of the heart, and realism of the brain.
  11. Remember: pessimism/cynicism (A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness) is cheap, optimism is for you..
  12. Remember: conflict work is the art of the impossible

Conflict Theory

Participants’  Manual  Trainer’ Manual

Attitude—Behavior—Contradiction Triangle
The centerpiece of conflict work is conflict, a word often used, but poorly understood. Somewhere there is an incompatibility or Contradiction:
1. One goal stands in the way of an other.
2. Somebody wants a piece of territory.
3. Somebody wants to control the State.
4. Somebody wants to be right.
5. then somebody else wants exactly the same.
But Attitude and Behavior are equally basic: conflict= A + B+ C.
There will be hatred/ distrust of Other standing in the way, or of self as apathetic/indecisive. Violence, physical or verbal, against that  hated Other or despised self may develop. Violence introduces a meta-conflict—like cancer leading to metastasis ( the spreading of a disease)—over the contradiction between being unmoslested and using violence to inflict harm, and  over winning. Meta-conflicts take on their own lives, overshadowing the root conflict in the incompatibility, contradiction.
But in any contradiction there are also potentials for new relations to other (like sharing the territory; using democratic to decide who has the power; agreeing that truth is a process, developed in a dialogue). There is the danger of Conflict the Destroyer, but also  the promise of conflict the creator. The ABC-triangle may become  a hatred—violence—block/stuck triangle: all parties  get stuck; polarization and escalation of violence set in. But it may also become a triangle of challenge, cooperation and openings. The task is to pry this triangle open, encouraging an attitude of openness, a behavior of restraint, and much, much creatively.

Anticipating a little, terminology is important to avoid crucial errors.
Wrong use of words: Conflict= violence

Never identify conflict with violence, both concepts are much richer.
The conflict may develop a meta-conflict over direct violence, but before and after structural/ cultural violence may be even more insidious as they are less visible. Conflicts also have positive aspects. Such formulas often come from people who fear seeds of change.
Wrong use of word: truce/cease-fire-peace.

Never identify the truce ending the direct violence, the meta-conflict, with peace; such talk may even conceal the root conflict. ‘’peace’’, or ‘’peace process’’, means reduction of all kinds of violence so that conflicts can be handled more nonviolently and creatively  in the future.

Peace Journalism Media as Partners
Peace journalism is not only about getting at the truth, but about getting at peace. Questions that could be asked for any peace plan:

  1. what was the method behind the plan? Dialogue with parties, and in that case with all the parties? Some trial negotiation? Analogy with other conflicts about it?
  2. To what extent is the plan acceptable to all parties? If not, what can be done about it?
  3. To what extent is the plan, if realized, self-sustainable? If not, what can be done about it?
  4. Is the plan based on autonomous action by the conflict parties, or does it depend on outsiders?
  5. To what extent is there a process in the plan, about who shall do what, how, when and where, or is it only about outcome?
  6. To what extent is the plan based on what only elites can do, what only people can do, or on what both can do?
  7. Does the plan foresee an ongoing conflict resolution or is the idea a single-shot agreement?
  8. Is peace/conflict transformation education for people, for elites or for both, built into the plan?
  9. If there has been violence, to what extent does the plan contain elements of reconciliation?
  10. If there has been violence, to what extent does the plan contain elements of rehabilitation/reconstruction?
  11. If the plan doesn’t, is the plan reversible?
  12. Even if the plan does work for conflict, does it create new conflicts or problems? In that case, is it a good deal?

The conflict has to be mapped, the roots have to be better understood and in a globalizing world the roots of conflict are also globalizing. And peace has to include human rights and democracy. One problem is incompatibility between news as dramatic, negative, elitist, and peace as something soothing (to calm or quiet) positive, for everybody; peace as the right to live life without violence and unnecessary interference. The way out for journalists would be to focus on the struggle for peace as dramatic, but positive, engaged in by many people, the heroes and heroines of daily life. Feel their agony in coming nowhere, portray their pain, make them visible, and lift them up. What else is democracy about than people struggling for a better life?