Turning risk into opportunity
"Conflict can be either danger or opportunity, but the point is who decides.”
-Michael Alar, Conflict Transformation Specialist
To create peace, we must first familiarise ourselves with conflict.
The Fellows completed a self-test before they embarked on in-depth conflict analysis, filling out a questionnaire to discover their personal tendency in dealing with conflict. But whether a Fellow tended to be compromising, accommodating, avoiding, competing or problem-solving in style, the value of the exercise lies in the realisation that there are choices when faced with conflict.
Conflict can be categorised into four dimensions — individual (including temperament, mood and spiritual orientation); relational (interpersonal communication); structural (how family, organisations, and even social structure influence a person’s way of developing relationships); and cultural (the divisions between generations and genders).
Conflict is simply an indicator. When needs go unmet, even a small spark can ignite conflict. Woven into conflict are human emotions, value orientations, historical context and social structure, even communication styles. Deconstructing the parties in a conflict is like peeling an onion: as we peel back the layers, superficial standpoints and interests are stripped away, allowing the actual needs of all parties to become visible. Standpoints are hemmed in by right or wrong, but needs can be resolved in numerous ways.
Michael Alar is a conflict transformation specialist who has long been active in peacebuilding work all over the world. He pointed out that “violence is not the same as conflict, but a way of dealing with conflict, one that many people choose to use.” Even if conflict is unavoidable, the method for dealing with it is up to us. Conflict brings danger, but we can also grasp the opportunity it provides to improve relationships (or aspects of the social structure creating tension). Violence is a choice, not the sole and inevitable means of dealing with conflict.
Conflict management or conflict resolution techniques are often used to address conflict. The former looks for the most effective method of separating the parties involved and stopping the violence; the latter typically uses a third party to negotiate a mutually agreed, non-violent “truce” which addresses the nature of the conflict. “Conflict transformation” goes a step further, however. It targets not just the conflict itself, but actively seeks out “connectors”. These are factors that can connect those on different sides of a conflict and transform their relationships; they include organisations and systems, attitudes and actions, values, interests, common experiences, and coincidental opportunities such as music. While conflicts often arise due to competition for resources, increasing or redistributing these is not necessarily the key to conflict transformation. Rather, the goal is to change the present situation, to rebuild and improve the relationship between the different sides.
As part of their Fellowship experience, the students experimented with “conflict mapping”, a tool often used in peace work to help identify the crux of a conflict. The process can clarify the relationships among the stakeholders and power distribution, through which it is possible to learn what has led to the rift and the causes of the dispute. More importantly, it helps to find connectors that will ease tensions and establish constructive cooperation.
For example, in a heated 2017 dispute that took place between the Government and Hong Kong citizens, the trigger was Government land reclamation in the village of Kwu Tung, New Territories. The conflict involved not only the villagers and multiple government departments, including the Lands Department and the Civil Engineering and Development Department, but also the security personnel enforcing the authorities’ orders and environmentalists. Many were injured in the ensuing clashes, and the villagers were removed from their homes for their safety. The Peace Fellows used the Kwu Tung incident as a case study to practise conflict mapping.
- Michael Alar, 衝突轉化專家
長年於世界各地參與和平建設工作的專家Michael Alar 指出，「暴力不等同衝突，而是應付衝突的其中一種方式，也是不少人會選用的方法。」在生活當中，衝突即使難以避免，我們卻可以選擇用什麼方式去應付。衝突會帶來危機，但我們也可以掌握機會，將衝突轉化成改善關係（或者導致緊張關係的各種社會結構）的契機。暴力是選擇，而不是應付衝突的唯一及必然方式。
面對衝突時，不少人都會運用「衝突管理」（conflict mangagment）或「調解衝突」（conflict resolution）的技巧；前者意旨用最有效率的方法將衝突雙方分隔，中止暴力行徑；後者通常是在第三方調停下，因應衝突本質，去達成雙方認可的、非暴力性的「停戰」協議。但「轉化衝突」（conflict transformation）更進一步，不止於針對衝突本身，而是積極在雙方之間尋找「連結」（connectors）。這些「連結」指各類可以連繫人的元素，包括組織或系統，態度或行動，價值觀、興趣、共同經驗，以及其他偶然性的契機如音樂等等，從而改變原來的對立關係。衝突的出現往往因為資源爭奪，但要轉化衝突，關鍵卻不一定在於資源的增加或重新分配，而是改變現有形勢，重建並鞏固各方關係。
以2017年時政府在新界古洞回收鄉村土地所引發的激烈官民衝突為例，事件不但牽涉當地村民和多個政府部門包括地政總署及土木工程拓展署，以及執行當局指令的保安人員，還有環保人士及土地正義聯盟等組織，衝突結果引起多人受傷，村民亦被撤離原居地。Peace Fellows以古洞事件作為個案研究，進行conflict mapping練習。