If we took a snapshot of every conflict that has ever happened between people throughout history, ranging from the most brutal to the least violent, it is safe to say that we’ll see one universal theme: anger. I know that seems obvious, however, if we dive deeper and think about it not with the intent of characterization, but with the intent of finding a solution, we will reach the next obvious fact: if we can diffuse the anger in these conflicts, we can diffuse the conflicts. To do this, we need to understand anger.
I’m not trying to be overly simplistic. Every single conflict has its own complications and hurdles. Nonetheless, if we look at these conflicts abstractly, we will find that they are all basically the same! They all have the same start point, the same middle and they all end in the same fashion. They all start with a spark of anger, which leads to an action, which ignites anger on the other side of the conflict. What follows is a series of actions and reactions that never end until both sides are able to put behind the raging anger that started it all. Any conflict that tries to work around the last part of these steps has simply not ended yet. Even if the violence stopped, and even if people started to put smiles on their grumpy faces, reigniting the flames is only but a matter of time!
Anger is a reflex in our brains to anything that disrupts our preconceived notions about how a certain environment is supposed to be working. What this means is that the trigger for anger is based on a set of ideas you already have, no matter how rational or irrational these thoughts and ideas are. On the other hand, your response to this trigger is completely dependent on your emotional attachment to the issue at hand. The stronger the attachment, the stronger the reaction.
For a peacemaker, it’s important to be able to manage this process. It’s important to understand the ideologies involved in any certain conflict, to know the triggers that can worsen a situation and the strength of the emotional attachment of the people involved. These three components of anger are the true battlefield for any peacemaker, and the real victory only happens when he/she is able to close the gates of hell that were opened when the first trigger opened the first wound.
When I consider ideology as a battlefield, I don’t mean that the peacemaker is responsible for fighting or changing an ideology, at least not in any way that questions the integrity or the legitimacy of it. What I mean is that it’s up to the peacemaker to try to bridge these ideologies to allow the parties of a conflict to see each other’s points of view. If a peacemaker can create this bridge, his/her quest for peace would be far less difficult. Seeing the point of view of your enemies humanizes them because it builds a foundation for empathy. This empathy breaks down barriers created by the conflict, building a far better line of communication in the process!
This empathy also plays a role in softening the edge of activities important to one side of the conflict that are considered to be triggers to the other side. It also paves the way for one side to be more accepting towards stopping some activities that they consider important if these activities were considered to be red lines to the other side. This is a crucial step on the road to creating a fruitful peace process, and without it, the cycle of actions and reactions will never stop.
The one thing that needs the utmost care is dealing with people’s emotional attachments to their ideology. The real battle for a peacemaker in this regard is maintaining his/her respect to the ideals that the sides of the conflict hold most dear while pushing for a middle ground that can be acceptable for both sides. Showing any sign of disregard for these ideals can jeopardize the whole process.
Peace is never an easy mission to achieve. The issues it forces people to open usually involve their most sacred beliefs, and their deepest sense of identity. Nevermind the fact that its difficulty is proportional to the amount of time its issues were left undiscussed and its wounds unattended. It never was and never will be an impossible mission, even if a full generation is needed to rise to the task and bring it to fruition. This generation will come, it just needs to understand anger.