The feminine side of conflict and management.

December 24, 2007

There are people who say that if the world was run by women, we’d all be at peace. I think they say that because we’ve never seen it yet…

But I do think that we can credit women with something incredible: Women have this ability to transform conflict, even when they are poised at the center of it.

At today’s mediation session, the two official disputants were men. Each man brought with him a woman – one, his wife, and the other, his mother-in-law.

At first, both women backed their man’s charges, adamantly and fiercely. But over the course of the five and a half hour session, both women showed hints of transformation first. I would categorize it like this:

  1. Loyalty – strength phase
  2. Panic – introspective phase
  3. Resolution – strength phase

I notice this pattern in my own relationship with my husband. Often, I’m the one who gets more riled up and passionate when he finds himself in a dispute. My loyalty to his cause usually gets him worked up more than he might normally. Together, we enter a space of conflict.

We get to the panic – introspective phase together, but I’m the one who speeds through it. The last phase, resolution – strength, washes over me like cleansing waters, and I find myself as calm – strong as I was passionate – strong in the first phase.

At this point, I think women serve as guides to cross the male disputants over that bridge to resolution. I think the women see it first and the women don’t mind bursting the bubble sooner.

That’s how I watched it happen today, and I felt like I was looking into a mirror as I watched my fellow girlkind go through these steps to management and resolution. Until today, I thought I was alone (and crazy), switching from phase to phase like that, passion to calm.

I guess that’s why people also say that women are fickle (for better or worse…)

The human tradition of mediation.

December 24, 2007

We’ve been surrounded by mediators since we were young:

When we fought with our siblings, are parents were the judges. 

When the other kids at school didn’t play fair, our teachers were the arbitrators.

When our relationships fall apart, our friends are the advisers. 

Where there is society, there is conflict, and where there is conflict, there have always been mediators, in one way or another.

It’s an age-old practice that’s existed as long as human beings have been communicating and as long as there has been communication, there has been misunderstanding. 

Today I was invited by my department to sit in on a real mediation session. I learned a lot from watching it all spread out in front of me, live:

  • It’s better for mediators to sit across from all disputants as opposed to at the head of the table.
  • Explain the process to participants and they will take the process on themselves.
  • Partner with a mediator of the opposite sex for family cases.
  • It’s important to know when to take a break and when to let the momentum roll.
  • Take culture into account, but don’t assume; just be open to culture being present.
  • Never underestimate the power of women around a negotiation table.

What I learned, more than anything today, is that it would be an honor to serve society as a mediator and continue this human tradition.  

Jonathan Sacks: Conflict Resolution in Judaism.

December 17, 2007

I attended a lecture about conflict resolution in Judaism, given by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the recognized chief Orthodox Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Thought I’d share my notes; he is a very well-spoken person with interesting views on the meshing of Israel – a liberal democracy – with halachic Judaism.

More importantly, Rabbi Sacks is very outspoken about and for conflict resolution practices in Jewish tradition. It was very refreshing hearing a religious authoritative figure discussing conflict resolution in a realistic, proactive way.

The British rabbi recognized two challenges of modern Zionism. The first, the creation of a Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel, has been completed and is considered a task of politics. The second is the creation of a Jewish society in Israel, which is a task of ethics, and so far has not come close to completion.

Rabbi Sacks defines liberal democracy as a society where people lead different ways of life. He believes it is possible to create a liberal democracy that is Jewish – which Jews have never done before. It would be based on something like halacha, but not actually halacha, for the rest of the world – where not everyone is Jewish and aware of halacha as Jews know it.

Judaism is the most individualistic of religions. That is good for surving exile – it’s the ability to stand against the majority and preserve the nation. It’s bad for the Jews when they come together as a country, where collective action and identity is necessary. As a nation of strong individuals, it makes conflict management very difficult within the people of Israel.

On the bright side: the most fundamental form of conflict resolution in Judaism amount to words, language, speech.

His basis for this is that conflict resolution or mediation is essential in the Torah and essential in Jewish history.

In Jewish history, there are three cases of collective exile and all have the same underlying reason:

When Yosef ended up in Egypt: The family of Jacob couldn’t live in peace.

After the destruction of the First Temple: The kingdom split in two after three generations, lacking in unity.

After the destruction of the Second Temple: The schisms between different factions of Jews (for instance, moderates and zealots).

Traditions of conflict and resolution patterned in Judaism:

1. Silence is the sure way to continue and prolong conflict.

2. In order to converse you have to: speak and listen. Jews are “the world’s best speakers and the world’s worst listeners.” Listening is the essence of conflict resolution.

3. Listen to the Other: Teach your opponent’s view before you explain your own.

The grand example of conflict via words in the Torah occurs towards the beginning: the conflict between Adam’s two sons, Cain and Abel. There is a statement that is impossible to translate; it begins with, “Vayomer Kayin el Hevel achiv…” (And Cain said to Abel, his brother…). After that, the statement is fractured and ungrammatical. This teaches something important: When words break down, there is only conflict.

God created the universe by words, and humans continue the universe with words: and when words fail, the universe breaks down.

PeaceMaker: The latest from the Peres Center for Peace.

November 28, 2007

Yesterday, Haaretz newspaper did a promo of the new PeaceMaker Game released by the Peres Center for Peace. It was included in the (left-wing) paper and is being sold from the game’s website for $19.95.

Funny anecdote: My husband decided to buy the paper to get the game, and it took him 5 Jerusalem makolets until he finally reached one that sold Haaretz; says something about this neighborhood, doesn’t it?



The motto of the game is: “Play the news. Solve the puzzle.” That’s pretty much what it’s about: solving a strategic puzzle, essentially getting your ratings – as a world leader (of your choice) – to be 100% good with both the Palestinians and Israelis. That sounds politics to me, not really conflict resolution. More of a short term thing and a game centered around displaying the hardships of a world leader embroiled in conflict.

That’s ok, it’s just not really about making what I perceive as Shimon Peres’ perception of ‘peace’, which is a long-term situation. But I think creating a video game, that is not really superficial and actually very realistic and educational – is a great way to create a little contact between people without getting them in the same room. Of course, it can only do as much you let it and it is not an apology to any side.

The game includes real news shots from suicide bombings and Army operations. The graphics are impressive. It’s quite a detailed game and my husband played three times within an hour and a half. You have to complete four milestones to end the game. Hubby managed to do it playing both the Palestinian President and the Israeli Prime Minister – not bad, eh?

In summary, it’s mainly a game about negotiation and a peek into what it’s like to be a world leader. In the age of Second Life and The Sims, this was a creative move on the part of the Peres Center.

For some more screenshots of the game, take a look below. For fun, I played as the Israeli Prime Minister in the Arabic version and the Palestinian President in Hebrew:

Arabic/Israeli Prime Minister version

Hebrew/Palestinian President version

Game menu (You can pick which language to play in, Arabic, Hebrew or English. It would be cool if they could stats).

Player menu (Are you playing as a Israeli leader, Palestinian leader or world leader?)