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How Personal, Organizational, and Cultural Values Affect Decision Making

Essay by   •  December 21, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  4,246 Words (17 Pages)  •  2,597 Views

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Paul Wehr

Self-limiting Conflict: The Gandhian Style

I have mentioned two basic categories of conflict regulation scholarship. In the preceding section we concerned ourselves with the first, specialists engaged in third-party intervention research and experimentation-intermediaries, negotiation, conciliation, communication control and modification. The second involves the study of ways of waging conflict that tend both to keep it within bounds and to limit its intensity or at least the possibility of violence-nonviolent social movements, nonviolent resistance on the part of individuals and groups, nonviolent alternative national defense strategies. Let us look at conflict processes that are self-regulating in nature, i.e., that have built-in devices to keep the conflict within acceptable bounds and to inhibit violent extremism and unbridled escalation.

Socialization is an important determinant of the style and effectiveness of conflict regulation in any society. If Tolley (1973) is correct in placing the formative period for attitudinal and behavioral patterns concerning peace/war issues and conflict regulation styles at ages 4-12, then learning creative approaches to conflict regulation through family, school, mass media, and other primary learning environments is essential. There are a few sources dealing with this problem (Nesbitt, 1973; Abrams and Schmidt, 1972).

There are societies and groups within societies that socialize their members in effective conflict regulation. Bourdieu (1962) describes Berber Kabyles of North Africa as a society held together by a process of balanced and strictly controlled conflict

Self-Limiting Conflict in which members are socialized to avoid violence: Elise Boulding (1974) observes that there are certain types of family environments and child-rearing practices that tend to produce persons with nonviolent proclivities and creative response patterns to conflict. Ultimately the socialization process, political socialization in particular, is probably the most important conflict regulation device. We should soon learn some interesting things about the impact of a decade of involvement in an unpopular war on the attitudinal and behavioral patterns of America's youth.

Etzioni's self-encapsulation concept is very useful here. It is a process in which certain conflicts are increasingly limited by their own nature and by the nature of the host system, so that the "range of expression of the conflict is curbed." Certain modes of conflict and weapons are excluded by mutual, sometimes tacit, consent, and the conflict becomes ritualized-the game is played by the rules, so to speak. Dahrendorf's analysis of the institutionalization of labor/management conflict over the past half century is an excellent illustration of self encapsulation. In the United States, encapsulation occurred as a consequence of third-party intervention, when the federal government decided to protect labor's right to strike. It was also self-propelled encapsulation to some degree, as both labor and management decided that it was rational to place strict limits on their conflict-in other words, to maximize gains and minimize losses all around.

The Gandhian Model of Self-Limiting Conflict

Self-encapsulation can also occur through both ideological restraints and tactical approach. If at least one of the parties to the conflict develops an ideology that by its very nature limits the weaponry and violence used in the conflict, it is in an important sense self-encapsulating. Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha (a word taken from Sanskrit, meaning "insistence on truth") movement in the first half of this century used such techniques, and other movements for social justice and self determination have developed variations on this theme of nonviolent direct action. The Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez movements are the best examples in recent North American history, though there are interesting Latin American nonviolent movements as well.

The Satyagraha movement was a series of direct action campaigns aimed at calling into question the validity and moral legitimacy of the dominance-dependence relationships existing in India and South Africa. The movement challenged white rule in South Africa, British rule in the Asian subcontinent, and the caste structure of Indian society itself. As do all major social movements, Gandhi's had a discrete ideology, well defined roles, a strong leadership, and clear goals. It challenged a set of social structures with highly inequitable distribution of privilege, access to authority, and life chances. The movement's primary objective was to refine a technique for making latent conflict manifest and waging it without violent means or consequences.

Specific political goals included the winning of political independence of the subcontinent from Britain, the liberation of oppressed minorities such as the outcastes, and the creation of a new and appropriate model for Indian economic, political, and social development. There were philosophical objectives as well. The search for social and spiritual truth gave form and direction to Gandhi's strategic and tactical approaches. The concepts of ethnic, religious, and social community were also central to the movement's ideology.

The Gandhian Conflict Style

We will focus on the Gandhian techniques of waging conflict that served to limit the hostility-to inhibit the "runaway processes" within conflict dynamics, as Coleman (1957) terms them. How was Gandhi able to successfully propel yet control a movement that had such great potential for massive violence and reactive repression? In large measure the answer lies in both the strategy and tactics of confrontation that Gandhi developed and in the movement's ideological bases.

Step-wise Strategy: Perhaps the most obvious self-limiting aspect of Gandhi's confrontation style was its step-wise rather than spiraling escalation. Each Satyagraha campaign involved a series of steps, each more challenging to the opponent than the preceding one. It would begin with negotiation and arbitration. This would be an extremely elaborate and lengthy stage including (1) on-site accumulation and analysis of facts, with opponent participation; (2) identification of interests in common with opponents; (3) formulation of a limited action goal acceptable to all parties and mutual discussion of same; and (4) a search for compromise without ceding on essentials (Naess, 1958). Gandhi did much to avoid further escalation;

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