If you work in business or read business press you have undoubtedly seen the term, disruptive technologies.
These new technologies so dramatically disrupt the status quo that they transform their entire sector. Examples include; UBER’s disruption of the limo business, smart phones of landline companies, and on-line banking the ways in which we exchange money.
From a language perspective, the term disruptive implies a kind of negative interruption. In general conversation, when we refer to something being disruptive, we are rarely pleased. We think, that person or thing disrupted my totally acceptable way of being. We rarely consider that the disruption may have saved us from mediocrity born of the consistent repetition of the status quo. Consumers more often celebrate this disruption and therefore rarely call it so. They celebrate while businesses squawk. We consumers so often benefit from the business owner’s struggle to survive.
This is not to say all change is positive. Automated customer service can drive the sanest person mad and increased trade and production has taken an indisputable toll on the environment. But much technology has only disrupted pain and discomfort. Knee replacements allow seniors to play tennis into their nineties and shoe advancements allow runners to float on cushy but supportive Nike creations.
How we think about change impacts our ability to respond.
But why talk about a business concept in a conflict blog? This new term highlights the ways in which we conceptualize change. How we think about change impacts the way we respond. Embedded in this new term is a sense of fear and concern and understandably so for those companies who will have to adapt to survive. Many do. Netflix successfully shifted from a DVD business to an on-line streaming success. They did this not because they saw streaming as disruptive, but more likely because they see it as an opportunity.
Successful business owners and true adapters have a better chance of making the leap if they ask themselves, “Where is the new opportunity?” rather than “How is this disruption ruining my business?”
Old school versus new school
If you ask a bad question, you get a poor answer. The term “disruptive technology” seems like it was born of the stereotypical “grumpy old person,” inside all of us. The part of us resistant to change and evolution…and of being pushed out by the younger and fresher. Clearly the thousands of youngsters creating and seeing to profit these changes do not consider it disruptive. They consider it progress!
But then hasn’t this always been the way of things? New generations “disrupt” the cultures, norms, and habitus of the world in which they find themselves? Today’s “grumpy old folks” once transformed civil rights, women’s rights and much more. Today, those massive disruptors now find themselves disrupted.
The natural way of things
We actually hope each generation will leap far beyond the accomplishments of the preceding, finding solutions where we found none. When we grumble about disruption, do we show our age?
Perhaps in these moments we could adopt Monopoly’s new strategy. They have taken their famous older gentleman and taught him how to ski using his canes as poles. To stay relevant the ‘old chap must learn to ski. To not be overtaken by “disruptive technology” we could try to strapping on some skis and sliding down the digital mountain with the youngsters.
Of course, we shall not abandon our well-earned wisdom; we will ski with eyes wide open and watch out for derelicts.
Disruptive for whom?
If skiing seems to extreme, than perhaps as least thinking a bit before berating advances. True, a paraplegic may find a fully operational bodysuit disruptive to a life confined to a wheelchair, but I doubt she would mind the interruption. After a few months in the new suit, she may even ask for a pair of skis.
Silence That Heals
Leslie Dwyer, Indonesianist specialist in post-conflict and my doctoral chair, recently gave a compelling paper on "Silence."
Leslie challenged our western assumption that talking is better than not talking. Furthermore that only through speaking that we participate in the world around us.
People participate through all other kinds of mediums. The participate through their work, contribution, music, art or simply acting as witness. She encouraged us to look at people use silence and to become curious rather than assume something is wrong.
Spending some time with genocide survivors in Indonesia, I saw some examples of how people use silence. I asked a victim how he handled seeing one of his torturers on a daily basis.
He said, "I just smile and wave. In not saying anything I feel superior. Like in the end, I won."
For him, saying nothing is winning. He does not seek therapy talk groups. He seemed only to want to to walk around his neighborhood vindicated.
Silence can be celebrated as a way to navigate problematic histories. She challenges the assumption that we always need to talk it through. That sometimes being able to live together and flourish in the now, requires dropping the recurrent narrative about the past.
Silence That Hurts
But for everything there is a season; silence can hurt. France's forty-plus year repression of its WWII collaboration denied the experience of the deportees and other victims of the collaboration.
When I ask survivors what it was like to return to France after the war they tell me it was horrible. They were told to make their own way and take care of themselves.
The Netherlands so deeply repressed and silenced their participation in genocide that when survivors returned home, they had to pay the electric and water bills for the Nazis that occupied their homes while they suffered in Death Camps. Only now, in 2014, are the few remaining survivors being returned that money.
Little Stories Born of Silence
"Words wreak havoc when they find a name for what had up to then been lived namelessly." - Jean Paul Sartre
State-sponsored narratives that delete atrocious chapters, like Indonesia's on-going repression of the 1965 and the U.S.' minimal in-depth discussion of the atomic bomb, will rarely be challenged or toppled by large counter-narratives. Individuals do not have the power of the state to speak out. Instead they may choose silence or little stories.
Little stories like the invoices recently found in the Netherlands archives proving survivors had to pay for bills or Indonesian grandmothers talking about their torture or the round-up of their husbands can begin to break apart state-sanctionned silences.
These little stories came out of the long-held silences. In the case of the Holocaust, I find these stories often emerged once people had retired, completed their careers and raised their children. Everyone was taken care of and they had nothing left to lose by speaking. So they spoke.
They tell their "little" stories, they write their memoirs, and they speak to school groups. Like wildflowers, once they amass to hundreds or thousands they transform the landscape. They do not erase the mountains of master narratives, they simply distract from them. No, they say, that is not the story this is the story.
These little stories draw us in because we can connect to them emotionally. The state narratives are often cold and flat.They might make us feel right or justified but they rarely crack us open to our fullest humanity.
This week, around mother's day, a woman told me how her mom took her and her sister across the Pyrenees during World War II. She then went on to free her husband from a death camp. Courage. Tenacity...in Silence.
More on silence coming next post. In the meantime, for Leslie's talk click here.
I thought the purpose of conflict resolution was world peace. That was one of the few things I thought I knew for sure upon entering this field.
After just five short years, I have changed my mind.
I think the purpose of conflict resolution is Eudaimonia.
Eudaimonia means "human flourishing." Animals and plants can flourish but eudaimonia requires a rational actor.
Now, the question of how to get there has been the subject of debate for quite sometime. Epicurus tells us "pleasure" is the route to flourishing. Not every pleasure but rather living life in such a way that pleasure is maximized over the long-term. To achieve this long-term pleasure, one must also minimize pain and despair.
Aristotle came at this eudaimonic principle a bit differently. He believed that a life of virtue would allow us to flourish, along with wealth, beauty and advantageous birth.
There's few aspects of eudaimonia that ruffle feathers, namely that there is a normativity to the ethics (there are some standard ethics to which all must adhere) and that this eudaimonic state is not subjective, like happiness. This means, you can think you're flourishing but actually are not. For example a gang leader who feels he has achieved ultimate glory and happiness because he is wealthy, powerful and envy of many. In Jungian terms, he's not a great warrior, he's a thug.
But what does all this have to do with conflict resolution and world peace?
Well, it may be hard to convince war lords, wealthy tyrants, and those benefiting from their hegemony that they are not flourishing.
They may reveal to you over a few drinks, if they haven't had you murdered or jailed, that they just don't feel truly happy. But the chances you'll turn them in the Dalai Lama are pretty slim.
A better starting place might be to make Eudiamonia the goal of those interested in the reduction of violence and suffering. We just need to tweak Aristotle's approach a bit. He believes good birth, beauty and luck are required, in addition to virtue, for human flourishing.
However for those committed to the betterment of all people, it would be useful to believe that eudaimonia is possible for ALL people, in spite of birth. We may also consider that flourishing will not, and ought not, look the same for everyone. I don't need everyone to like swim practice, shrimp dumplings, or academic research in order for the world to roll along nicely. I don't believe in the central planning of happiness for the reasons so well articulated in Hayek's The Road to Serfdom Chapter 10, "Why the Worst Get on Top." Hayek argues if you have central planning, aka tyranny, the only people drawn to the job of determining everyone's best interest will be the exact people you would not want ruling you. No kind hearted supporter of your liberty would want that job.
So the goal of placing eudiamonia centrally in the field of conflict resolution and the advantage of replacing "world peace" with this kind of concept is that it could allow for a kind of liberty. World peace seems to speak to a kind of consensus-building model that it not only unachievable (in any kind of healthy way) but perhaps undesirable.
Let's make the flourishing of all people the goal; this still leaves a remarkable amount of philosophical and material work. Philosophically we still need to make the case for a normative kind of virtue. In addition to meeting the basic needs (John Burton style) we may also need to help "false flourishers" see the limits of their so-called happiness.
again, just something to think about.
Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom. Routledge Press. 1944.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/#2
We exist amidst the on-going dialectic of writing and speaking.
Language abounds. We are learning in every moment.
But do words teach?
Everyone has experienced the futility of language when trying to convince someone of something they have no intention of ever believing.
I remember during my teen years trying to convince my father that recycling and soymilk made sense. He could not make sense of either. Now, 20 years later, he's an ardent recycler and whenever I visit, his fridge is filled with soy milk. Did my words teach? He does not think so. He has no recollection of our dinner debates over their merits. He simply came to it on his own. Or maybe the culture embraced both and he did too.
As this blog is boldly named "the language of conflict", I thought it would only be fair to really challenge the power of language to resolve conflict or even to teach.
I'm not sure. Yes, through language we learn to be careful of certain foods, medications or maybe even people. We learn how to do our taxes so the IRS only speaks to us once per year, but does it teach us how to live?
Life Experience is the True Teacher
Life experience seems best suited for teaching us how to live. There's nothing like a good dose of failure to help one consider a new approach.
At my friend's wedding last week someone recounted a dear story that illustrates this point. My friend, about 3 years old at the time, had a mother who insisted that she put boots on before going out in the snow. My friend apparently refused quite ardently. She marched outside in the snow. Within just a few moments she bounded back inside saying,
"What kind of mother let's her children go outside without any shoes?"
The child did not even remember the lecture her mother had given her. Yet she got the message pretty darn quickly when she started crunching around the snow barefoot. I wonder, if to some degree, we mostly operate like that three year old. We think we learn through language but maybe we really don't. This question has been on my mind for awhile.
Language Creates Focus
Today I had a breakthrough regarding this.
No, words may not teach directly, but they may help us choose where we focus and in doing so guide us to experiences that demonstrate the lesson. In other words, at a party last night people wanted to hear all about the juice fast my friend and I just completed. I didn't think it made a fascinating discussion, but they wanted to hear and I told them what we did without much confidence that they would ever use the information. I was kind of wasting my breath.
Though, this morning I realized that because I had their minds focused on juicing for around 5-7 minutes, it initiated a kind of file building. Their brain is thinking about juice. So, if they go to Whole Foods this morning and see a juice bar their brain will go, "Juice. We were thinking about juice last night. Is this something we want now?"
Once you get people to focus on something they will look for it, consciously or not. So it was not the words that taught necessarily, it was my ability to hold their attention on a given topic. Their brain will then be programmed to look for more of the same. Words can direct focus.
We have all experienced this. Musicians notice music everywhere, designers see fashion, angry people find things to be angry about.
Language and Conflict
Language guides. It tells us where to send energy. How does this impact conflict?
When working with individuals in conflict, rather than trying to teach them with words, consider guiding them to focus. Focus on "lines of flight" out of their conflict (John Winslade) or creating bridges/ bonds between people and groups (Robert Putnam). You can also help people focus on creating a better formed story (Sara Cobb), one that increases legitimacy for the other.
Through language direct focus towards solutions.
While doing this... stop lecturing. Wait, is this blog a lecture?
Instead, trying guiding people. Guide people to focus on solutions. Guide people to better understand and appreciate the others involved in the conflict. Show them what joy, prosperity and flourishing can really look like through the example of your own life. Make prosperity look more appealing that strife.
And, as always, please let me know how it goes.
As many of you know, my dissertation addresses some questions emerging from the long term impact of the Holocaust. Every few weeks, I raise my head from the archival documents, films, memoirs long enough to ask again, "why don't like they Jews?"
That question keeps coming up. No matter how much I research, the question still confounds me.
"Well because they were allegedly responsible for Jesus' death" people offer in response. But my friend, quite adept at ancient history, reminded me 'well, actually that was the Romans." And no one seems to really hate Italians or Romans. The world tends to like, or rather revere, Italians. We just skip over the fascism chapter.
There are a few books circulating that attempt to answer the question of why people hat the Jews...I haven't had the courage to read them all. Some say because the Jews keep to themselves; this made them suspect. But it's just so odd to me that an historically non-violent people that values family, education and quiet religious observance ought to be such a threat or be seen as the cause of bad luck anywhere they reside.
But it's really not that unusual I guess. In Ethiopia, there exists a traditional belief called mingi among the Karo and Hamar tribes. These peoples believe the disabled (adult or child) have impurities that bring evil, disease, and worse to the tribes. So they are murdered and their bodies dumped. And because you cannot easily prove they "don't" cause disease the ritual continues. This is why Karl Popper's work is so important. By discarding theories that are not falsifiable we can avoid generations of insanity.
But it wasn't mingi that helped me understand anti-semitism or the answers others have offered.
It was herpes.
A friend of mine recently explained her plight with oral herpes. She said it disappears for weeks or months, but when she's tired, stressed or run down it returns with a vengance. She has open sores all over her mouth; they can be quite painful.
Herpes is a virus, this means you cannot ever truly be rid of it. It just hangs out in your body like HPV and others, returning when you're off kilter or when things don't seem to be going your way. When you're stressed, scared or panicked.
Kind of like anti-semitism.
I think anti-semitism may just kind of exists on the planet like a virus. When people have a difficult time; famine, poverty, or lack of freedom it flares up like herpes. Anti-semitic graffiti and propaganda are the open sores oozing puss on the world. I don't know the cure for anti-semitism.
There is no known cure for herpes either. You are just a carrier forever, but apparently if you put the essential oil bergamot on the open sores as soon as they appear there is a good chance they will never return.
So, I guess that's what I'd like to find...the bergamot for anti-semitism. The gentle oil we can use on flare up, calming people and helping them redirect that precious energy to finding solutions to their very real and pressing problems.