Adversarial vs Dialectical Views of Conflict

A distinction between two views of conflict, termed adversarial and dialectical, is helpful for understanding the difference between a “nonviolence” approach to problem-solving and other approaches. This short essay takes a dialectical perspective, because it is the more inclusive of the two. The dialectical view does see the sense occasionally of viewing conflict in an adversarial way, but the adversarial view alone neglects dialectical complexities.

Conflict usually presents itself, in the moment, as adversarial. That is, there are usually two adversaries, engaged in a fight or contest, with each side’s goal being to win, and thereby force the other side to lose. An adversarial view may be likened to a snapshot, taken in the present, showing a two-sided competition aimed at victory.

In contrast, a dialectical view likens conflict to a movie, with the current apparently adversarial contest being only a part of a larger story. The contest before our eyes in the present has a past, and perhaps several possible futures. In order to understand the full span and meaning of any conflict, it is necessary to gather information that goes beyond immediate perception. Continue Reading

Let’s At Least Read Dr. King

Martin Luther King, Jr.I taught a freshman seminar called The Psychology of Violence and Nonviolence for many years. It touched on such topics as aggression, conflict, mediation, and movements of nonviolent social change such as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. By the second week of each semester, I was invariably approached by students who were dismayed to discover how unfamiliar they were with this important material.

After learning about the Nashville sit-ins of 1960, which broke the icy rigidity of the Jim Crow era and began the process of desegregation in that city, a student named Rachel wrote in her reaction paper: “I cannot believe that I did not learn about this in high school. I feel like this is an injustice to me.”

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Seeking Friendship, not Destruction

king-nobel-peace-prize-We are accustomed to thinking about conflicts as two-sided contests in which one side wins and the other loses. Game theorists use the term “zero-sum” to refer to these win-lose situations, and have studied real and artificial examples of such conflicts extensively.

But most conflicts evolve over time. In addition to the zero-sum scenario with its two possible win-lose endings, catastrophic double-loss and joyous double-win outcomes can happen in real world conflicts.

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King’s Six Principles

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.People like lists, or at least the idea of lists. Most of us don’t like to be disorganized, and lists seem to help us get our act together. Grocery lists, to-do lists, Christmas card lists, all move us toward doing what we gotta do, even if we don’t get it all done.

The Ten Commandments constitute a list, mostly of what not to do. The Sermon on the Mount contains another list, identifying more positively what to do instead. These biblical lists carry messages about how to live. They are revered as kernels of Old and New Testament wisdom, even by people who disagree with each other about what the items on each list really mean. Continue Reading

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