On the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2017, the Center for Conflict Resolution held its annual Peacemaker Award Presentation. This year’s recipient was James Ferrell, a founding member and managing partner of the Arbinger Institute, an organization dedicated to changing the way people think about resolving conflicts. A graduate of Yale Law School and a celebrated author, Mr. Ferrell was recognized by the Center for his efforts to establish peace in the world.
After receiving the award, Mr. Ferrell presented a fascinating way to view and manage conflict. In contrast to the old adage, “It takes two to tango,” Mr. Ferrell proposed that it only takes one. When we are self-focused, we already have a conflict: we are in conflict with the rest of humanity. As he stated, “When it’s about me, others don’t matter like I matter.” Thus, explained Mr. Ferrell, we start objectifying others, and they become vehicles, obstacles, and irrelevancies. When we treat people this way, we have a “heart at war,” or an inward mindset, that inherently creates conflict. A “heart at war” invites others to behave in the same, self-absorbed manner. It is the “heart at war” that “lies at the center of every heinous thing.” In contrast to the “heart at war,” the “heart at peace” views others as people with goals, needs, and concerns. Personal objectives and behaviors are calculated with others in mind. Developing a “heart at peace” is the move that, in Mr. Ferrell’s words, “changes everything.
To further explain his views on conflict, Mr. Ferrell presented four levels of conflict work: (1) conflict management, (2) conflict resolution, (3) conflict transformation, and (4) reconciliation. At the first level, two parties are in conflict. An arbitrator comes in and partitions the parties—be it literally or by introducing coping mechanisms—to “stop” the conflict. However, both parties remain self-centered and frustrated with the behaviors of the other party. At the conflict resolution level, an arbitrator adjudicates the dispute to reach what is considered a fair resolution. Each party is forced to compromise in light of their disparate objectives. Conflict transformation is the level at which we see real change. One party decides to change its behavior, moving from inward focused to outward focused. The other party will still have a “heart at war,” but the changed party will want to help its once-adversary. The final level of conflict work is reconciliation. At this level, both parties turn outward and discover that their once-adversary is a person not so different from themselves. As Mr. Ferrell aptly pointed out, even at this final level of conflict work, someone must be the first mover. In that spirit, he invited the audience to be the first mover, to turn outwards and start to view others as people and not objects. When we make the first move, others will follow, leading to levels of global peace never before seen.