Revisiting earlier conflict resolution proposals (1) – J.P.Lederach’s “Reconciliation”

Inspired by the work of a very special childhood friend of mine, – Aura Esther Vilalta, currently Associate Professor in legal studies at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, who has relentlessly been working towards developing and applying an affordable and equitable system of online dispute resolution in Spain), I thought I’d revisit some earlier proposals on conflict resolution.

The first post will explore the framework put forward by John Paul Lederach  – Professor of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame -by the name of Reconciliation (1998), to continue later with W.B.Pearce and S.W.Littlejohn’s Transcendent discourse Richard Rorty’s Redescription and Ghandi’s Satyagraha. And before I start, I must point that I have great respect for these authors and anyone working to improve conflict resolution strategies.  If I critique some of their views, though,  is merely to provide another angle which might, in the end, help us make this world a better place.

Window of Reconciliation: Old Coventry Cathedral Coventry West Midlands UK

Reconciliation – Premises

Lederach’s vision of global peace is based on a holistic method that includes, produces and sustains a series of processes, proposals and stages. Systems and processes must be looked at in their totality, he argues, while never neglecting the relationship between parts. His notion of peace is not a phase or a condition in time but a dynamic social process. The basis to this dynamism lies, according to this author, in the subjective and empirical realities that determine the needs and expectations of the people. Conflict managers and political institutions need to respond to such realities (Lederach 1998:54).

The above considerations contribute to developing a framework for conflict resolution that Lederach calls Reconciliation, the characteristics of which are:

a) Reconciliation is a locus where  truth and forgiveness are validated and united. Parties involved in the process of reconciliation do not disqualify each other because they are conceived as separate and fragemented pieces. Reconciliation invites opposing factions to search for a meeting place and rethink their relationships, share perceptions, feelings and experiences.

b) Reconciliation is based on paradoxes because these are a natural part of communal life. Paradoxes help communities articulate ideas that are apparently contradictory but in reality interdependent. Contradictions are resolved by identifying opposing energies at the poles of the paradox, giving each one of them some space and accepting them as interdependent and necessary for the health of the group.

A space outside the parties involved

Reconciliation represents the space, the links between the needs of the community and the energy that unites them (Lederach 1998:59).

The initiative that resulted in the signature of the peace agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993 was based on Lederach’s proposal. The first contacts and first conversations were initiated by delegates with access to high levels of diplomacy. No actual diplomats were involved in the earlier dialogues. Conversations were secretly held in Norway for more than a year in an atmosphere of intimacy. The main intention was to enfold these representatives with a feeling of being in a home-like environment. Participants spent their meetings in a summer home, sleeping and eating all under one same roof. The harmonious living allowed them to relate to each other in positive terms, not as enemies or political adversaries. Under these favourable conditions relationships were developed that provided a space where parties  could meet and relate like people, not like enemies. It was hoped that a space with these characteristics will facilitate an open expression of feelings and the active and willing search for a common future.

A space within the parties

Grounded on well-established theoretical and practical foundations, Reconciliation advocates the search for or the construction of ‘meeting spaces’. Relationships built on amicable feelings and goodwill take a central role in the space(s). And that certainly is a good start.

However, it seems to me that creating a neutral space may not be an easy, if not nearly impossible, task.   Why? I feel spaces are never neutral as they always carry an implicit notion of truth. So, all participants will want to define that space based on their particular understanding of truth. Merely defining a balanced space that pleases all participants could  prove to be quite a challenge. Power struggles and/or hidden agendas may be reinforced rather than minimised, resulting in the stagnation of negotiations and the perpetuation of conflict.

The complexity involved in the construction of unnecessary spaces outside us may be obliterated by highlighting that which is common to both parties by tapping into the ‘other’within us, as discussed in our earlier post on Empathy in dialogue.


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