A few months ago I watched an extremely right wing politician on Question Time (I don’t want to write his name because a friend of mine posted a pro-diversity song onto Youtube and got abusive comments from followers of this man – but I am sure you can guess who I mean). I sat in my living room and just felt my blood boil. This articulate, intelligent but twisted man clearly saw some human beings as having fewer rights (and should be given fewer opportunities) than others based on their place of birth (and colour of skin – but he side stepped saying that directly). I am not going to launch into pro-diversity or political prose myself as that was not the learning I got from watching this man.
I was actually surprised at how much deep-felt anger and hatred I felt towards this man. And then it occurred to me that this was all part of the problem ……....polarisation! Extreme views can create extreme responses. If I was in the same room as him, I might have hit him (perhaps metaphorically). This would have angered him and he might have hit me back. My ‘side’ would back me and his ‘side’ would back him and we’d have a full blown battle. Each side would be completely convinced that their view was the right one. The more polarised we became the more anger and hatred would be created, this anger would fuel greater determination to hold onto each polarised view and the less chance we would have of ever truly ‘receiving’ communication from each other.
So is that conflict in a nutshell? If so, it goes nowhere and achieves nothing but anger, hatred and sometimes violence and war. Oh yes, I see, despite the obviousness of what I have written, as a species we have not worked out yet how to prevent this universally.
Now I know racism (or culturalism or whatever this politician might call his particular ism to pretend it was something it wasn’t) is completely out of order (against the law in fact) and should be an anachronism by now. But he clearly doesn’t. What should I do? Should I get angry and shout at him or should I feel sorry for him? The latter might be better as that could create less anger. Could he be educated to understand the impact on real people of his extreme views – possibly more likely if I am not shouting at him! I have to communicate in a way that could be received if I am to have any impact.
What about conflict that does not have a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ as spelt out by the law - for example different religious views? Or what if the conflict is about one nation bullying another but the bullying nation believing their bullying is warranted? The same hatred fuelled polarisation happens and the solution must be the same: communication to create empathy, understanding and tolerance. I'm in cloud cuckoo land again.
I included an activity on conflict in one of my books: PSHE for 9-11 year olds. I wrote it some time ago, but I realise it basically prompts discussion that illustrates the same as I have just written: Here it is:
On the island of Jallee and there are two types of people – those that believe the sky is more important than the sea (the Jyes) and those that believe the sea is more important than the sky (the Jees).
Every time the Jyes and the Jees get together, they argue about the sea and the sky and they have done this for many years. Because of this conflict, all the Jees now live at one end of the island and the Jyes live at the other. The adult Jyes and Jees spend no time with each other because they are fed up with arguing. The only time when any Jyes and Jees get to together is when the children go to the one school on the island.
The Jyes and the Jees hate what has happened and would love someone to come and sort it all out.
Which of the following do you think might have some chance of sorting out the problem on the island of Jallee?
Build a wall between the two sides of the island, build two schools and keep the Jyes and the Jees completely separate.
Get everyone from the island together and discuss the sky and the sea and see if it can be decided for once and for all whether the sky or the sea is best.
Get the Jyes and the Jees together and discuss all their similarities. Talk about what both the Jyes and the Jees would actually want the island to be like.
Encourage the Jyes and the Jees to argue more to try and get them to be so fed up with arguing that they stop.
Make a law and punish the Jyes if they say the sky is better than the sea.
Make a law and punish the Jees if they say the sea is better than the sky.
Encourage the Jyes and the Jees to respect the fact that not everyone believes the same thing. The Jyes and the Jees can start learning this at school.
Try to find out who started the argument and punish that person.
And even better. A friend of mine (Mike Fleetham) retold a Native American story that is such a powerful metaphor for illustrating the pointlessness of conflict.
He said I could use this story however I chose but please be aware it is from Surprising Stories to Stimulate Creativity by Mike Fleetham....
A tail of War
A young boy from the Iroquois tribe was walking in the forest. He had no-where to go and nothing to do so he simply took his time enjoying the beauty of nature: the smell of pine trees; the fresh clean air; the music of birds and the soft pad-pad-pad of his moccasins on the rich earth.
All was right with the world; everything balanced; he was at peace. So, naturally, when he came to a low grassy hill in a sunlit clearing he lay down to take a nap. He fell into a deep and dream-free sleep.
All of a sudden he woke up. A sinister grey cloud had heaved itself in front of the sun. The day turned dark and chilly and the boy began to feel uneasy. His serenity had disappeared. He stood up and set out quickly in the direction of his village, but as he reached the top of the hill a terrible sight met his eyes: down there on the other side was the longest, shiniest, thickest, blackest snake that he had ever seen. But worse than the sight of it was what the snake was doing; it had a huge bull frog in its mouth and was busy swallowing it. That was disgusting.
The snake had unhinged its jaws to create room for the frog to be pulled inside but the frog was not making an easy meal. Its back legs had disappeared but its body was being sucked only a little at a time. The frog was putting up a worthy fight and as the boy watched it struggle he saw it eyeing the snake’s tail which was flicking from side to side not a bow’s length away. With a desperate lunge, the frog grabbed the snake’s tail in its mouth and there and then began to swallow the snake.
The frog went a little further into the snake, but at the same time the snake was being swallowed by the frog. Inch by inch each pulled the other into its own throat. Eventually all that was left for the boy to see was the frog’s mouth full of snake and the snake’s which was full of frog. And then, with a last frantic gulp from each animal, along with a pop and a squelch, they both disappeared.
The boy stood there shocked by what he had seen. After a while the sun came out from behind that heavy grey cloud and the air turned warm again. He set off back to his village, deep in thought and aware that he had been given a very important message about life in the world of adults.
© Mike Fleetham 2009
Fantastic stuff. So let's all just try and get on yes? Bloody hippy!