Editorial Reflection on Conflict Transformation

Jul 22, 2011

I work for Kindle Project as the Media and Project Coordinator from Toronto, Ontario. I was raised and have lived most of my life in Canada, and I am proud of this country. There is something about the passive Canadian culture however, that is getting more and more difficult for me to accept. While I revel in the landscape of this country, its universal health care, the relatively low level of violent crime, and the true diversity and security that I am privileged to live in, I am at odds with something else very tangible:

I have been struggling with how we Canadians deal with conflict. There is a strong history of grassroots activism in our country (see Leemor Valin’s article here), but most of the time, we stay relatively quiet.  I can’t help but feel as though our collective culture is not set up to challenge some of the more complex and ubiquitous societal, environmental and political issues.

Peace and Conflict scholars, Peace Education scholars in particular, love to use Canada as a model for their popular concept of  ‘Culture of Peace’. In a sense, yes, we’re a part of that.  In some Canadian schools boards we’re even starting to adopt the beginning phases of a curriculum that could one day embody the kind of comprehensive peace education that Tony Jenkins has described. Still, I am compelled to ask: Does the passive Canadian voice really prevent us from solving conflict on a large scale, or is it that we need to think of conflict differently? Maybe we need to take it all in smaller bites?

These questions, among many others, are perpetually bouncing around in my mind, and even more so since I have had the opportunity to work with our conflict transformation experts these past few months as we curate the blog. The only answers I can come up with seem like miniscule responses to what feel like epically large questions; questions that I am certainly not alone in asking.

If we are to transform conflict, I am convinced we must begin on the tiniest of micro levels. Susan Strasburger and Be Present taught us about this from the intra and interpersonal perspectives on conflict that they both explored in their articles published last month on the Kindle blog. And as I reflect back on the fifteen posts from the past few months, I realize that the articles we chose to publish all have to do with transformation of conflict on a day-to-day, microcosmic level.

While some of our contributors have big impact campaigns, like the Yes Labs and Coal Cares, they approach these campaigns by tackling seemingly small issues and watching their actions reverberate on various levels. The same is true of United Roots – they are helping to create a Culture of Peace with the youth of Oakland, and these individual changes are impacting the community on a profound level by working to eradicate cycles of violence.

Then there were the two astute and heartfelt reflections from Maria Alejandra Escalante and Anastasia Vladimirova from United World College. From their writing I had the opportunity to reflect on the deep possibilities for change when groups of people come together with gentle and focused leadership.

Even our response to Alex, the imposter journalist who tried to challenge our commitment to Amazon Watch, was a micro conflict that we tried to transform in the best way we knew how – an honest and carefully crafted letter, that we chose to publish on our blog to confirm our commitment to partner with groups such as Amazon Watch. We could have stayed quiet, but for us, being tactfully vocal in the public sphere about who we support and why is part of our mission.

My Canadian frustrations remain.  I don’t know how I’ll come to terms with this passive culture, but I am convinced that there are small changes happening that will hopefully have powerful ripple effects as time passes.

Here in Toronto the ripples of these movements are already starting to take hold. Innovative people and organizations are working on local levels that I am certain will have effect on the larger picture of our culture. The brilliant work of Jane Jacobs (see video below to hear her articulate her views on the nature of economies) has been used to form the base of the internationally popular Jane’s Walk, through which people are discovering their city and their neighborhoods in innovative ways.

The Toronto Public Library’s Workers Union have just mobilized a campaign to save our library system which is being threatened to be privatized or shut down under the hands of our Conservative Mayor, Rob Ford. Our Public Library’s rescue effort has already garnered much support with over 12,000 signatures to their petition in one week!

Then, there are the My City Lives folks who are creating an online platform that allows users to share experiences with public spaces in their city using videos. These web stories live on an interactive map showcasing the locations where they were filmed so you can learn about your city based on the stories of others.

What I’ve learned from our blog contributors these past months is to remember this: despite the fire that burns so strongly in so many of us, to see large scale systemic change take root in our countries, we must be acutely aware of the small ways in which it already is.

It has been an enlightening experience to work with all of our contributors this cycle. I sincerely look forward to introducing our next blog theme of Collaboration, which will launch after our summer holiday.

Wishing you simultaneously restful and productive summers.  We’ll be back on August 18th.

– Arianne Shaffer, Kindle Project Media and Project Coordinator