I’ve been concerned with peace and justice issues for as long as I can remember. Time and life have taught me that peace without justice is an illusion, and injustice impacts us all. As well, I have learned that conflict is always with us, and the idea (from Bernie Mayer) of conflict engagement is a much more useful concept that the myth of conflict resolution. I learned from Vern Neufeld Redekop about deep-rooted conflict, and from aboriginal communities about the necessity for and complexities of reconciliation processes in turning around systems of oppression. The learning never ends.
Working in my field has provided me countless examples of peoples’ capacity for growth and change, no matter how dire or entrenched the conflict. Learning something new, or perceiving in a different light, brings the possibility of loosening the relentless grip of an ongoing conflict. What holds us back is often our sense of powerlessness to effect positive change. This negativity applies to conflicts among our larger community of nations as well.
Where power is relatively equal, and responsibility for divisive conflict rests with both sides, mediative approaches are often useful. When one side holds disproportionate power and control over the other, and the weaker side is suffering continuing wrongs at the hands of the more powerful side, possibilities for a negotiated resolution are limited. The situation calls for more of a restorative justice approach, with the wrongdoer being held accountable, taking steps to address the harms, and working to restore justice and equality. Then negotiation processes have a chance. But people (and nations) don’t easily hold themselves accountable for wrongs they commit. It often takes pressure from outside to stand up for human rights, name the wrongs and demand accountability.