After the attacks in Paris, President Obama and Representative Brooks spoke out to America promising citizens and the world that the country would "redouble" its efforts.
I sat back and thought, "What the heck does that mean?"
That means we double what we are doing and then double it again?
If what we did didn't work, would doubling and redoubling really improve the situation?
Would I double a recipe that failed to please the crowd?
This blog is just taking a peak into the language that's circulating around this conflict.
What does it mean to "Redouble"?
Appropriately, "redouble" comes from the Middle French Redoubler. It means to double again.
In cards, redouble also refers to doubling a bid someone else has placed down.
"Redouble" Is Cold War Language
If we are upping the opponents bid, then we are in Cold War discourse. You do this, I do that...it's an arms race, not a solution. We know that a tit-for-tat kind of strategy does not work as well in the Post Cold War era. Rational Choice Theory and Game Theory do not hold up as well when networks are the opponent rather than states.
I'm not sure we want to "redouble." Perhaps "rethink" or "retrack" or "redo" or "revise" but more of the same doubled again seems like insanity.
Note: Dr. Sara Cobb, PhD Candidate Alison Castel and I have an upcoming Conflict Resolution Anthology that demonstrates the power of Cold War discourse and its failure as an approach in this era of violence. Stay tuned....
This month, I am working on an academic article called "Connecting Peace to Profit." Because scholarship takes time to formulate and sift its way through the reviewers and revisions, I wanted to get some of the ideas out now. I do not think, especially in conflict work, we always have the luxury of waiting a year for good ideas to get to the world.
When lives are on the line and when families are threatened to be separated, it seems just another expression of privilege to hold back and wait. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Annie Dillard's words resonate in this field--she encourages writers to write as if all their readers have a life-threatening illness. Don't hold back, she says! Say it all and say it fully.
In conflict and development work, this approach resonates. Whatever is being done to support those who choose peace is being done or not done on a moment by moment basis.
Why Talk About Business?
Most of the peace, conflict and development field tend to talk about how to work with governments, non-governmental organizations, victims, perpetrators, religious organizations and military groups.
Market actors, businesses large and small, are often not invited to the discussions. Their existence is sidelined or only talked about sideways, meaning we talk about economic prosperity as necessary for peace.
Corporations are often seen as obstructions to human rights. Large corporations seem constantly positioned as the man-eating plant in The Little Shop of Horrors--- entities that have an insatiable appetite for human flesh both in the form of employees and consumers.
Having worked for a decade in business, I agree that corporations have powerful engines that must be fed to survive. Their growth and survival demands so much intelligence, problem solving and relatedness. They are absorbed in their own existence. This does not mean that they cannot be agents of peace.
Corporations have a big stake in violent conflict. Most corporations do NOT profit during violence.
The Case of South Sudan
Let's briefly take the case of South Sudan. The Chinese National Petroleum Company had a 1/3 drop in oil production within just two weeks of violent conflict in Darfur. In 2014, Chinese Foreign Minister’s Wang Yi spoke out against the violence and sent 100 soldiers to the UN Peacekeeping mission.
Mining and other extraction companies experience looting, the withdrawal of international investment, and have a traumatized workforce after violence. This is terrible for business.
To assume that business interests do not align with peace might simply be part of the field's leftist distrust of capitalism and industry.
My fear is that peace, conflict, and development work will become too attached to being the solution, rather than committed to working with who or whatever can help support thriving communities.
Not Talking to Corporations Because We Do Not Know How
I also suspect that corporations and market actors are not invited to discussions on conflict in part because conflict-experts simply do not know how to talk to corporate actors. They do speak a different language. Just because corporations speak in terms of profit and losses does not mean that balance sheets cannot calculate the impact of violence.
My upcoming article will go into much greater depth on this subject. This blog is simply a nudge to those working in development to pick up the phone or send an email to companies in the conflict zones in which they work. You might be surprised how willing they are to support your efforts, not just through financial contributions, but as integrated members of the community.
Desmund Tutu: We Cannot Afford to Ignore Market Actors
Not engaging businesses can even upend all the hard work of peacebuilders.
Tutu said that undressed economic factors are "powder kegs" that will blow up any peace acquired.
For any peace to be more than an absence of violence businesses must be included in the conversation.
Businesses for Prosperity in Chicago!
If Michigan Avenue wants its holiday shoppers, those businesses will need to be part of the solution -- hiring, educating, and supporting black youth. It will not be enough to end protests. They must help the city recognize that black lives really matter.
Those working in Chicago would be wise to invite Chicago businesses into the discussions.
Last night via the Center for Narrative and Conflict Resolution, I led a Town Hall Meeting on the recent activities of ISIS in Paris, Beirut, Russia and beyond.
We had a room of concerned, warm, kind, educated and passionate participants. I wanted to share with those who could not attend the framing of the conversation. A fuller review may appear on the narrative website.
Barbarism v Civilization?
I framed the conversation with the question of "Barbarism v Civilization" based on an email exchange I had with one of my intellectual and personal mentors. Here I will discuss the contribution of this juxtaposition and its limitations.
Barbarism v Civilization adjusts Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." We are not talking here about Islam versus Christianity. This is not a clash between civilizations. ISIS is not a civilization.
If this was Islam v Christianity we might have been dead long ago. Given the number of Muslims in Indonesia alone, if there were really an intractable conflict between these religions/cultures, Christian cultures would have been annihilated years ago.
No, this is not Islam v. Christianity because both groups have millions of individuals who participate in the social contract.
By social contract, I am referring to the 18th Century notion that we agree to join together and lose some personal rights in exchange for social participation. Without this agreement, we slip back to the Hobbesian state of nature, where I can bop you over the head if I want your house, car, or partner.
Most of the world has agreed that we will not bop each other over the head. The occasional bop if one is starving and needs some bread is now more largely excused (the subject of Les Miserables).
ISIS and their friends (those 40 countries selling to them), are not in agreement with this social contract. They want to live "outside" what justice expert John Rawls calls "The Society of Peoples." These are civilizations that are different but can work well together.
ISIS does not really count as a civilization, but is rather a counter narrative TO civilization. Perhaps the laws of physics demand that every thing must have its opposite.
The 19th Century French writer Edmond de Goncourt, made this statement above. I'm not sure how he would respond to last week's attack. Was France really going to die of "civilization" if ISIS didn't barbarically attack its citizens?
That said, there was some interesting dialogue last night about trying to understand what exactly ISIS wants. One of our faculty did some fascinating research on their propaganda, saying that at their core, ISIS is against secularism, free choice and anyone who does not follow the Koran, who they call "shirkers." Shirking their responsibility. The most surprising was that their messaging isn't aimed primarily at Westerners. It is aimed at the Muslim world. They want a return of the Caliphate.
Therefore, it is important not to position this conflict as Muslim v. Western, because it's really not just about us. Of course, we like to be the center of everything. We get G.I. Joe inspired when we feel life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are at stake. But this isn't all about having the freedom to be gay, wear sexy clothes, or believe in Jesus Christ.
What is Barbarism?
While the word Barbarianism didn't really enter the English language until the 16th century, the Greeks and Romans used it to talk about those people with funny languages. In other words, Barbarians were those "not like us." They where the others. They are those we do not understand.
Barbaric in modern terms has a colloquial meaning of violent lawlessness. What is happening is barbaric. And there is no place for barbaric acts. That said, it's dangerous to label a whole people "barbaric." When we do this, we forget to check ourselves and make sure that we too are not barbaric.
Naming an action barbaric, works.
Is there anything to understand about ISIS?
I don't know. Right now they have a limited voice. They are not coming to a negotiating table. We go to jail if we talk to them.
I do wonder, based on the film Kandahar Journals, whether everyone in ISIS is really that on board with the agenda. People join for many reasons. By assuming they are all equally committed might make them stronger than they actually are.
What to do with Barbarianism?
Martin Luther King Jr. knew that violence would not lead to the changes he ultimately wanted. The Black Panthers did not agree. They believed justice could only be found with guns. They did not believe their modern enslavement could be be upended with words in sit ins. ISIS agrees.
Of course, ISIS and the Black Panthers are quite different. My point is that thugs bludgeoning us is not likely to lead to anything more than more their demise. King made this distinction in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail which refers to the extensive training non-violence required.
I'm not saying we shouldn't raid the homes of terrorists and capture the leaders. What I'm want to invite into the conversation is refection on what is barbaric and what is not.
The Barbarianism framing helps us constantly check ourselves for barbarian behavior. We need to keep asking: How can we stop the at
tacks without becoming like them?
A colleague told me a best friend from high school is sitting in a hospital in Belgium. For wearing a hijab, she was beaten to a pulp by some Belgians. Is that civilization?
What about the young Muslim kids in Loudon County, VA who are getting bullied in schools with no one stepping in. Is that civilization?
Being civilized in a time of war isn't easy, but there are ways to be compassionate and non-hysterical.
Let's challenge barbarism without becoming it...
Yesterday, November 7th, my friends and I saw the U.S. release of Louie Palu and co-director Devin Gallagher's documentary at the National Gallery of Art.
At least 200 people, spent over an hour of their rainy Saturday afternoon traveling through Kandahar with Louie as he framed his experience of five years covering the war in Afghanistan.
The audience went on "road sweeps" with Louie looking for landmines, survived contact (attacks), hung out with villagers and had an uncomfortably good view of the medical teams who struggled to encase stumps where legs had once been.
Of course, we could not feel the heat of the Afghan sun or smell the burning flesh that Louie says was seared in his mind. We could not feel the boredom of war or fear for our own lives. We could only look with awe at what he and others experience.
He danced the difficult line of documenting his experience without portraying the U.S., Canadian and Afghan forces as solely saviors or victims. He showed the complexities of their role and stronghold of the Taliban.
Looking at soldiers collapsed on the ground with heat and fear exhaustion, I thought, "We ask so much of our young men."
We not only ask for their time when they serve in the military.
We ask for their whole bodies.
Beyond their bodies we also ask for their souls.
We ask them to suffer enormous emotional traumas, witness horrific acts, and then be the best versions of ourselves.
One soldier put so poignantly that he never knew how to prepare for the day because either he could be engaged in combat or sitting with 12 hours talking to villagers. I cannot imaging preparing for those extremes.
We ask so much.
War asks so much.
Identity of the Taliban
The interviewed soldier also highlighted another aspect of the Taliban that I had never considered. He said that all kinds of people claim they are part of the "Taliban" in order to incite the fear and benefit from compliance that that word often demands.
He said many of these folks may be individual gun runners or be carrying out other tasks not necessarily related to the overall mission of the Taliban. With no jobs, said the soldier, he could almost understand why people go to extreme measures to feed their families.
From an identity standpoint, his commentary on the Taliban is powerful and salient. The U.S. media, politicians, and public contribute to the construction of "The Taliban." We help make them the terrifying enemy they want to be. Then other groups can appropriate the name and simply borrow the attributes.
Group affiliation is not always very solid and group identity isn't always clear or acquired for the same reasons.
We know this from religion. People have varying degrees of commitment to their religious group.
Words have power.
Louie's work is to show us the war. In Conflict Resolution, our job is to say what the images mean. By making meaning, we frame, orient and respond.
Saying one is part of the "Taliban" does social work -- work that an individual does not have to do oneself. The same with gang membership.
A takeaway here is that just because someone says they are a part of something does not mean their commitment to the group or its ethos has the same gravitas as the most extreme member.
Some who affiliate with these extremist groups may affiliate themselves for financial reasons rather than ideological ones. It's not necessary to assume that the identity is fixed. They might shift their story in a day or week were conditions to change.
When I hear that folks ascribe the Taliban identity for various purposes, I am reminded that we can work with the many folks on the edges. There are many, I suspect, not deeply committed to destruction. We can provide people with alternatives but only if we stop storying all of them all as enemies with a fixed identity.
Identity is mutable.
Microsoft & Apple Customer Service Personality Types
Before talking about their use of language, a brief note about personality type. Without a doubt, Apple folks come across as the cool, affable young men whom I imagined all wearing a solid color t-shirt and jeans. All five people with whom I spoke, I could visualize sitting in Seattle or Portland popping from work to go see a funk band at a local café.
They are young, friendly and seem like the kind of guy you’d want your friend to date. But don’t always get New York humor.
For example, the Mac senior manager with whom I spoke last night explained,
“What you seem to have is an emerging problem. This means a problem that we have only just started to notice and work on.”
I replied, “Well, that’s no surprise to me as I have always been on the cutting edge.”
He didn’t laugh.
I didn’t try being funny with Microsoft folks. I worked with a man and woman, both from India. Perfect English and perfect manners. They just seemed as far away as they actually were. I could not imagine their lives. I figured my humor would be lost.
More fascinating than the personality differences between the two companies was the use of language to manage customer upset.
When Apple service folks begin talking to you they always say something like, “First, before I begin, I want to say that I can understand why this is frustrating. I mean, you buy this product, and it isn’t working…”
This sentence will be said slightly differently each time. Yesterday I heard these iterations:
If you have ever read any books on conflict in love or work relationships you’ll see most recommend this kind of “mirroring” of your problem.
The premise is that people will chill out if they feel understood and heard.
Over time, however, I found the mirroring kind of silly and preferred their more spontaneous speech.
I decided to trying the “I understand” technique right back to the Apple guy.
Without a note of sarcasm I said something like, “Gosh, I imagine it’s really frustrating to spend hours on this problem only to realize there is no answer to this issue. You have to leave a client with a broken machine.”
He didn’t respond. So, I guess it doesn’t work both ways.
Microsoft Reassures, "I am here!"
Because my computer had been erased, I apparently needed a very easy to remember 25 digit product key from Microsoft sent to me in 2012.
After thirty minutes of explaining to Microsoft, no I didn’t keep a box for three years…I assumed technology was beyond this, etc. etc.
He kept saying, “Sarah, do not worry I am here. I will do everything I can to solve your problem.”
He didn’t solve the problem, but I have got to admit the, “I am here” kind of worked.
The woman he passed me to also kept reminding me, “I am here. It is ok. We will solve this problem.”
While she almost sold me another $150 of the same software, she did eventually solve my problem and I felt most reassured by her constant reminder that I would not be abandoned.
Apple or Microsoft: Whose Customer Service Language is Better?
I would have thought being understood and mirrored by Apple would have been soothing. But it felt too programmed, like they were trying to appease me.
Ironically, though Microsoft also used a script to calm me down, it WORKED!
Something about hearing, “I’m here. Don’t worry.” Calmed me down.
These phrases might impact people differently. Folks who spent their lives feeling misunderstood might love Apple's approach. I'm more sensitive to abandonment so Microsoft's style reached me.
Which works on you?
My stepfather read this and added an additional category" "Comcast friendliness" which he described this way...
"At several points doing my conversations with Comcast we had to wait 5 minutes or more for Digital HD Cable Box to reboot--during these time-outs the agents attempted to engage me in conversation about the weather, the "game" last night, or something about the city they were working out of. It certainly took any tension out of the situation and made the time fly by! Thanks for sending you blog along."
Using "Customer Service Speak" In Your Life
If you are in customer service or manage a customer service team, think about how these companies use language differently. Then try both approaches and see what works better with your clients.
When folks are in distress, I think you ultimately need to do both. First, reassure the person that you are not going to abandon them and then clearly state that you understand the problem.
The next step (which both companies miss) is stating the goal for the end of the session. Something like, “By the end of this call, we both want you to be able to use all the features of iMovie.”
When you move about this week, notice what phrases calm you and try using the Microsoft Reassurance Vs. the Apple Understand approaches with children, colleagues and spouses to see how each style impacts the discussion and you.