Personal Identity and Peacebuilding

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight 

Before we get started, I would like to talk with you briefly about the nature of this article. Due to the fact that peacebuilding in its most specific but also in its widest sense is definitely a practical art, the content, its impact, and the practical application of what I am going to introduce, is taken out of practice, was approved as valuable in real life, and is presented to you in a form that allows you to introduce it to your professional and private environment. By saying this, I refer to the point that my findings are based on practical experiences, accurate reflections, and many improving adjustments. This strong practical approach turns the article more likely into a practitioner’s diary, introducing the reader to a unique and heavily personal perspective of the topic. Accordingly, life itself approved these findings in the most reliable way. I hope this journey may take us far.

 A balanced and unbalanced environment 

Before we properly start our journey into the depth of an individual’s identity, we need to create a common ground of understanding or, more likely, meet upon the level and part upon the square. Hereby, I refer to the same level of awareness towards the topic in the long run, specifically: building sustainable peace or simply peacebuilding.

Prior to the examination of what ‚building peace may mean, we may have a closer look at what peace itself actually may mean to you and me. More often than not, mankind demands far too fast a societal status of peace without properly understanding its nature, its requested fundament, and its potential impact on fragmented parts of such societies, as well as its potential support regarding fragmentation and extremism per se.

Having a superficial look at the term ‚peace‘, it may mean the same or at least something similar to all of us. A peaceful environment may be imagined by the majority of us by witnessing mutual respect between the citizens, who are enjoying social justice in their community, and a set of coexistence without armed impact.

Leaving our urban communities for a moment and having a look at nature, we will see that nature itself does not offer peace, as we may understand it, but more likely a balancing environment that includes a wide variety of natural laws based on physical, chemical, and biological aspects. This indicates that such a balancing environment is set up by a multitude of variables. It is flexible, constantly changing, and stands for itself. The balancing process is not what we see and consider to be peaceful when we go hiking in a beautiful landscape. Environmental changes and balancing processes are moving slowly, and by being a visitor to such a landscape, we take a snap-shot with us but are unable to look behind the scene in order to obtain a true understanding of such processes. Save this indication and refer to it later on in this article.

Coming back to our social urban environments, we may wonder if all the personal’s diversity of locals and area-related citizens may identify with the term of ‚peace‘ in such a general and inclusive way. At first sight, we may think that what works for nature, does also work for humans. But soon, we will need to learn more about the ambivalence of the term ‚peace’ and we will see that there are significant differences between nature and man-made society. While natural laws exist due to their very own necessity of establishing an environmental balance and ensuring the creation of a biotope in order to enable the survival of the species, the laws that govern the human co-existence, apart from the biological needs, are man-made. Such man-made laws are an attempt to refrain from natural laws based on the previously listed physical, chemical, and biological aspects. Man-made laws are built on a rational understanding of how to establish social order, but first of all, by the perspective of the person in charge of drafting a corresponding law.

While nature’s laws give direct birth to the ongoing balancing process in the specific environment, man-made laws can be the first hindrances on our way to what we may consider to be peace. Potentially, a constitutional law shall provide a country with general, equal chances, justice, and order. By having a look at our daily news, we will see that more likely, all countries’ persons and groups appear who see their personal rights being violated by such a constitutional law. While in nature, such separatists are often important impulses for change, people who see themselves being shortened in their civil liberty may find themselves helpless to initiate changes at all or at least prompt changes regarding their constitutional law. Profound discontent and skepticism at a fundamental level towards their political system is born. The denial of one’s own constitutional law turns out to give a person basic instability in a field where confidence and acceptance potentially enable a person’s identity to develop in a sound way. Such instability, discontent, and skepticism support the creation of an enemy image and reinforce a group’s mutual belief system and identity (Sommer et al., 2004). 

A more flexible and adjustable system in communities and countries is the political party that serves a fixed period of office. While being discontent with one’s constitutional law, an individual or group can try to find a matching identification via a political camp that potentially serves one’s fundamental interests in the short- and long-term. But what if mainstream separatists remain with the feeling of being violated and restrained by the ruling constitutional law, not being properly represented by one of the political parties, or even start or continue denying democracy and/or communism per se?

Obviously, it would be beyond the ruling constitutional law, beyond the established political system, and beyond the impact of the serving political party, where we could find a non-armed environment of mutual respect, tolerance, and social support – generally known as Peace that properly includes all such perspectives. What peace may mean to one person may mean occupation to another. The fact that we find ‚peace‘ on a fourth level, namely beyond the previously listed three instances, gives us a slight hint of how delicate and complex peacebuilding turns out to be in real life and in a sustainable way.

Finding oneself a part of the constitutional law, the political system, and the serving political camp can have a multitude of reasons based on insufficient education, integration, tolerance, and sensitiveness on both sides. What we mainly see in the metropolises on our planet is that such persons and groups find themselves in the necessity of establishing their own doctrine and justice system, including honor killing, blood money, and arranged marriages – a parallel society is born, and the fragmentation in the way of tribalism is completed (Sommer et al., 2004).

A fragmented society or individual may live for decades for itself or as part of a parallel community or phenomenon in the shadow of the mainstream. While ignorance of such a fragmented society and individuals is no acceptable option, the question is how such will ever raise awareness towards their existence and necessities? From what can be learned by observing media, the step towards extremist activities and terrorism seems to be a very tiny one and turns out to be widely practiced. Assuming extremist activities and even terrorism to be a manner of communication and awareness raising, it is obvious to say that political camps ignored phenomena like insufficient education and integration and results like the establishment of parallel societies and complete fragmentation for far too long.

A person’s unpredictable identity

Now that we briefly discussed the complexity of the term ‚peace‘ and now that we have a glimpse idea of how overwhelming sustainable peacebuilding may be, we should start focussing on the kind of work that each of us can do on a private and / or professional level, namely to get into dialogue with another individual.

What we can imagine from the previously discussed content may be that learning about individuals and the impact of culture, religion, and politics in real life can not be learned by reading books and/or visiting an area being and remaining an alien person to more likely all kinds of processes, the visible and invisible ones, that take place.

We need to accept that studies and physical visits to certain areas may share with us only a slight idea of what regional individuals may face. A person’s identity remains bound to all kinds of environmental influences that accompanied the individual during the process of becoming an adult. This is a strong hint to the fact that foreigners’ perspectives may offer new triggers towards possible changes only, but more often than not, hardly fail as all sorts of inner socio-cultural aspects are ignored in a conscious or an unconscious way.

But still, claiming to be professionals in the field of international relations, intercultural exchange, etc., alien experts need to be aware of their limitations and should not be claiming to have an overall understanding. An overall understanding, if this can ever be achieved by such professionals, is not what is needed for change. We need local experts to work on local issues, meaning activating experts from a certain region to work on contexts out of this proper area by making use of all kinds of insights and understanding that are not available to foreign experts. In order to improve a foreigner’s impact, we need far deeper insights and one-on-one dialog that may guide us step by step to a more comprehensive level, which obviously would require time, turning out to be a long-term process and guiding us from confidence to relationship building (Hartley et al., 1989). 

In order to better prepare for real-life circumstances and tasks such as interpersonal dialog and crisis exchange, it is widely common and broadly advised to study character and personality traits. By achieving a broader understanding of the human mindset and potential identities, practitioners – by studying these concepts – shall be empowered to detect or identify such in order to take accurate measures during potential high-tension exchanges. At this point, we shall do a reality check and investigate if the creators of these theories and models ever served or offered their services in armed contexts or high-risk environments. More often than not, we can identify a gap between theoretical content being communicated as a mass solution to issues while such was never approved to be of value in reality. Further, we may reflect on the true value of specific and truly approved actions in the field may have, and if such would ever be communicated in a detailed way in a book. Hereby, I kindly ask you once again to consider the setting of this article; is it delivering answers to proper questions, or does it push you to find, identify, and create your own proper understanding.

What makes it so difficult to approve such theoretical content in practice? Mainly, it is the fact that the creators of theories and models rely on academic sources and long-term surveys but never had access to high-risk situations where intuitive and empathetic action is required, far beyond making use of theoretical content and being bound to decision-making within very limited time frames. Even long-term surveys may have a questionable impact in a tremendously fast-changing world. We need to consider, on top of this fast-changing world, the fact that long-term surveys may potentially not give sufficient credit, if any at all, to unconscious personality disorders based on personal traumatic experiences that potentially end up by finding and/or creating a new set of the safe harbor or social group per se (Schmitt et al., 2010). Belonging to such a safe harbor or social group is a mainly positive experience for the individual and forms part of one’s social identity (Sommer et al., 2004). Based on this positive experience, the individual will focus on strengthening the group’s impact, power, and prosperity. Leaving such a positive experienced environment turns out to be a highly difficult act.

Another point to consider is that real-life environments offer a high level of diverse and influential social impact that makes each situation and each individual totally unique. There is no way to make use of any kind of theoretical background, as real life will always be more complex than theories and models. The discrepancy is demonstrated by the fact that theoretical studies may offer us more likely an environment for meditative reflections, while practical reports always offer real-life insights and never give birth to theoretical concepts.

As previously outlined and confirmed by practice, several professional settings require prompt actions and do not allow any kind of analytical review of long-term studies in order to better prepare for a certain issue or task. Crisis dialoguing, crisis mediation, and crisis negotiation often take place in totally unpredictable settings, far afield of tranquility and non-distractive influences. But what is even more unpredictable is the personal identity of the individual that the exchange takes place with.

By reviewing external sources, we may find proper indications that explain the broad variety and quantity of personality traits and that it turns out to be almost impossible to even learn them all by heart (Matthews et al., 2003). In order to make things easier to handle, the term of the ‚Big 5′ was created (Goldberg, 1990). Such Big 5 are meant to be the five major personality traits where all of us may fit in, more or less. To fit in ‚more or less‘ looks to me as a very critical point, keeping in mind the kind of potential dialogue we are referring to and the highly demanding environment we may be facing. Trying to find a  matching major group for the dialogue partner’s personal identity may turn out not to be sufficiently matching and may be possibly cutting off crucial core points of his/her identity. Core points that may make the difference towards advancing in the conversation or pushing it to collapse. Having a broad variety of possible character traits and personalities on my mind while working in such environments proved to be totally unrealistic and to be more likely disturbing and distracting.

In order to slightly understand how unique all of us are, we need to sit back and reflect on the environmental impact that we face each day in our lives. Such impact includes every single aspect that we face, underlie, overcome, and take a lesson learned out of it.  It is up to the reader to sharpen his/her mind and to unveil the complexity of the context described. Growing up remains a fragile process where more likely everything is absorbed and remains to have an impact on the person’s maturing process. The process continues in an unreflected way until the person starts questioning, thinking for oneself, and challenging what was previously admitted to one’s mindset. The process of questioning outlines a momentum that remains an optional turning point in one’s further personal development. Heinz-Rolf Lückert shares the perspective that radical aspects of one’s personality basically remain unconscious until they are identified by one’s own proper reflections. Such radical aspects are not limited to one’s own behavior but may also be copied from another person’s actions and added to one’s own key of behavior (Lückert, 1965). 

Social aspects and social dynamics

Excluding the above-mentioned potential turning point in one’s further development process, we should briefly look at another important aspect, namely why social identity is so crucial to a human being and what kind of dynamics it includes. Acting in a non-reflective way makes a person project one’s inner world of understanding onto the outer environment. This process is based on a social need that deals with security and feeling snug by building up a group of like-minded peers around oneself. Interestingly enough, it turns out to be an educative and selective process at the same time. While the individual may more likely communicate the proper inner world towards the outer environment in an educative way, he/she also admits persons in an ad hoc method to enrich the like-minded fragmented parallel society or community in number. The series of events and steps taken by the group creates a group history that co-builds and / or strengthens the group’s identity. Such memories are as important to the group as personal memories are to the individual (Bilali, 2012).

By seeing the number of like-minded peers increase, the initiator and group per se may note a rising level of conformity, stability, and power of impact. This confidence in one’s own actions, more often than not, turns out to be a strong motivation towards action that may be understood being a fundamental necessity to the further achievement of the potential group’s goals. Feeling oneself strong, grounded, and powerful opens the door to a possible agenda that was not originally part of the group’s identity.  Such achieved levels of strength and confidence generate, more often than not, new targets and/or even change the group’s aims at all. Drifting off in such a way does not only create an uncertain destination for the individual’s further identity-developing process but includes the manipulation of the complete group in an unpredictable way.

Further, it should be noted that fragmentation per se includes very impactful dynamics, especially when a group achieves, as previously outlined, a certain level of self-confidence and/or power within society. History shows, that fragmented groups in positions of power and impact tend to potentially fragment the rest of the society in order to destabilize it and to identify one or more of the newly fragmented groups as potential enemies. Hereby, the recently created splinter groups or factions, more often than not, are subject to the aggressor in number and power. Such dynamics can find their climax in prosecution and ethnic cleansing (Zartman, 2010).

Identity-based conversation

As previously outlined, progress requires dialogue. Thereby, we need to sum up the findings of this article and should try to create and/or identify a meaningful pathway for our professional activities and impact. Working with or trying to remember an overwhelming quantity of theories and models turned out to be a non-supportive aspect of dialog-related professional activities (Erdmann, 2018). Therefore, we need to identify the practicable take-away that grants sufficient space to truly focus on the task, issue, and environment we work with or work in. Having a conversation on this topic with a friend who works for one of the global intelligence agencies, both of us agreed that real-life crisis dialoguing requires an epic and brave step of the practitioner, namely to reject potentially studied theories, concepts, and models – including the vast list of personality traits and even the minimized version of the Big 5 – and to truly follow one’s intuition, empathy, and inner voice.

This finding seems to be alien to all academia-based researchers and lecturers, but this fact describes the previously mentioned gap between theory and practice. In my case, the focused minimization of my professional tools towards the most essential core understandings turned out to be the door opened that granted space for my key tools of professional impact, namely: Deep Listening, Critical Thinking, Wise Speaking, or simply Living Empathy (Erdmann, 2021). Only such a liberating step enabled me to focus mindfully on what presented itself to me during my professional tasks. It is not about thinking outside the box or looking behind the curtain, but more likely to make a plumb role indicate the path to the proper center of a situation and to unveil the core necessities that such an environment requires, including the accurate handling of situations, high-tension dialoguing, and even the prevention of fragmentation. Such an applied dialogue may turn out to be one of the very few meaningful acts to prevent fragmented groups from initiating violent actions (Zartman, 2010).

Trying to solve our professional tasks within tremendously limited time frames, with lots of content on our minds to sort out and to make use of, turns us potentially into more likely stiff and inflexible individuals who ignore the character and the needs of conflict per se. Each conflict, as well as each person we talk to, has its own history, socio-cultural  / religious environment, and impact. This indicates that a conflict and a person do have something in common, namely an outstanding uniqueness. Therefore, we need to work professionally with the previously listed tools in order to get to know the conflict or the person in depth and to handle our task without assumptions but only with our intuition, flexibility, and empathy.

Conclusion

This article hereby gives a strong hint that the art of dialoguing can not be learned from a book but is a natural-born ability based on mindfulness and empathy. Human society, in general, is a gathering of diverse characters and personalities. This being a fact, it would be fatal for our professional performance to ignore this natural law. We need to take into account that we can not use one single code to connect and communicate with all kinds of personalities, but we need to be as flexible as the situation requires in order to handle the issue in the most empathetic and promising way. Further, we also need to be fair to ourselves, acknowledging that each person has strong competencies and weak environments to improve in. Some of us are natural-born teachers, and others are gifted dialogue facilitators. Only by identifying and following one’s call, a person can possibly reach the proper peak performance.

References

Note: Internet pages were added on October 15th, 2022

Bilali, Ross, 2012, https://www.academia.edu/14628218/Remembering_intergroup_conflict

Erdmann, 2021, Mindful Mediation – The formless art, Lulu Press Inc.

Erdmann, 2018, Comprehensive Mediation – Towards an educational concept for the training of globally effective mediators,  Lulu Press Inc.

Goldberg, 1990, https://psychology.okstate.edu/faculty/jgrice/psyc4333/Goldberg_BigFive_1990.pdf

Hartly Branthwaite, 1989, The applied psychologist, Open University Press, Buckingham, Philadelphia

Lückert, 1965, Konflikt-Psychologie, Ernst Reinhardt Verlag. München / Basel

Matthews, Deary, Whitemann, 2003, http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam041/2003046259.pdf

Schmitt, Altstötter-Gleich, 2010, Differentielle Psychologie und Persönlichkeitspsychologie, Beltz Verlag, Weinheim / Basel

Sommer, Fuchs, 2004, Krieg und Frieden – Handbuch der Konflikt- und Friedenspsychologie, Beltz Verlag, Weinheim / Basel / Berlin

Zartman, 2010, https://www.ipinst.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/ipi_identity_conflicts_epub.pdf

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