Publication Date

1999

Abstract

Many formal diplomatic efforts have failed in the past because they have concentrated on resolving rational and substantive issues in conflicts, while ignoring or minimizing the role of emotional and psychological processes. Contemporary conflicts, however, are often between groups living as neighbors who have experienced violent trauma with a history of enmity passed down from generation to generation. As John Paul Lederach points out, there needs to be a paradigm shift: "To be at all germane to contemporary conflict, peacebuilding must be rooted in and responsive to the experiential and subjective realities shaping people's perspectives and needs" (1997, 24). The key to transforming these conflicts is unlocking the internal nature of the deeply-rooted fear, hatred and stereotyping of the "other." Dialogue processes offer groups in conflict a chance to shift from adversarial approaches of polarized debate, war or genocide to collaborative efforts of mutual understanding and possible reconciliation. By participating in dialogue groups, a window is opened to the perceptions, emotions and thinking of "enemies," which enables the building of trust and empathy. Enemies become re-humanized, they become human beings who have also suffered during the conflict. Groups in dialogue are rebuilding relationships, a necessary step on the path of reconciliation and a shared future. Facilitators of dialogue groups, as part of their approach, need to focus on the emotional and psychological aspects of the conflict. The research reported in this paper examines the Tree Model by Dr. Vamik Volkan (1998), which identifies some psychological processes occurring within participants, and within and between groups during dialogue group sessions. Seven facilitators were interviewed to discover whether Volkan's model accurately describes their experiences, and to suggest what additional psychological processes they would add to his model. The facilitators have worked with a range of groups in conflict, including interethnic conflicts overseas, American Palestinian and Jews, internal conflicts amongst the Mohawks in Canada, Francophone and Anglophone issues related to Quebec in Canada, and youth in gangs at odds with police. To increase the applicability of the model, facilitators described interventions used to mitigate these psychological processes. Three additional processes were suggested to be added to the model: 1) Acknowledgment and Recognition, 2) Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and 3) Psychological Processes in Re-entry. Over 30 interventions were identified for dialogue practitioners to use to deal with these psychological processes.

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