Conflict factors, peaceful communicators

On Wednesday, September 26, 2018, the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies organised a public lecture on “Opportunities and Challenges for Peace Scholars in a Conflict-ridden Environment” at the University Auditorium. The lecture was ably and engagingly delivered by one of the foremost and most cerebral legal minds in the country, who is also the Pro-Chancellor and Council Chairman of Osun State University, Osogbo, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali, SAN.  The lecture also featured a panel of four discussants comprising the former Directors of the Centre. The crux of my discussion is as follows:

That our distinguished lecturer, Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, has done justice to the topic is a truism that cannot be controverted. His lecture, “Opportunities, Potentials and Challenges for Peace Scholars in a Typical Conflict-ridden Environment,” is both elephantine and encyclopedic – elephantine in terms of its size or depth, a single-spaced 27-page affair, and encyclopedic in terms of its breadth, traversing diverse areas of academic concern like history, philosophy, political science, sociology, law, jurisprudence, peace and conflict studies, communication and more. To discuss the whole gamut of the thought-provoking lecture within the available time-frame is impossible and like an elephant that cannot be slaughtered and eaten by a single person, I, on my part, would rather grind my teeth in the tusk of conflict and the head of communication, which are aspects of what our lecturer examined.

Conflict, which has been well-defined, is of various types, inter-personal, intra-personal, inter-group and inter-group, according to the lecturer,  among other typologies in literature. It only has to be emphasised that conflict is natural and normal, especially if we know how to deal with it. For instance, when someone says another person is stupid, the addressee has the option of considering the insult a statement of opinion, which could be true or false, called a “constative” in pragmatics. He also has the option of firing back at his addresser that his father is stupid, escalating the situation until the two of them begin to fight physically, drawing the attention of their supporters who would further fight for or against each.

In guarding against the prevalent interpersonal conflict, which may lead to inter-group and international conflicts, it is important to be wary of what I consider the tripodal conflict factors, which happened at the very beginning of human existence and still continue to cause ripples in human societies.

The first-ever conflict happened when the Almighty God asked angels to prostrate for Adam and they all did except Iblis. Rather than obey the superior authority or resolve the conflict, arrogance made Iblis to be cocky, for which he was banished and disgraced (Q2:34). Arrogance is a primordial conflict factor and it should be checked. Iblis threatened he would mislead man and he was granted leave (Q7:13-17).

Well, Iblis made good his threat by (mis)leading Adam and his wife to eat the only forbidden fruit in the garden that was filled with an assortment of fruit. As a result of the factor of disobedience, man was demoted, though later forgiven, and we would henceforth labour and toil and die (Q7:22-25). It is necessary to obey rules and regulations because the outcome of disobedience may be disastrous.

The third conflict was soon to occur between the two sons of Adam. It was due to envy or ego: why should my sacrifice be rejected and yours accepted? Cabel committed the first murder because of ego or envy (Q5:27-30).

Therefore, arrogance, disobedience and envy/ego (ADE) are three original conflict factors or triggers and each of them somehow destroyed those who had them. We can imagine how dire the situation would be if a single person were to combine the three; what a combustible combo!

Meanwhile, the Guest Lecturer took us through the various conflicts that have ravaged the world since the time of the Greeks and the Huns to the conflicts that are still part of our daily experiences, from the “War on Terror” to the Boko Haram conundrum. Yet, it is important to appreciate that at the heart of every conflict is poor or ineffective communication. The underlining causative agent of all the conflicts highlighted could be traced to communication. This is because in communication theory, there are six assumptions about communication and the first two of them are: All the problems of this world are communication problems and all the problems of this world can be solved with more and better communication.

We can all relate to these two assumptions as we can easily recall that at the beginning of this year, we all thought the world was heading towards a nuclear Armageddon. The US President, Donald Trump, and the Supreme Leader of North Korean, Kim Jong-un, were firing Twitter-mediated intercontinental ballistic verbal missiles at each other and the world was tense. One referred to the other as a “little rocket man” and the other called his counterpart a “dotard.” While one said he wasn’t just threatening, that his nuclear button was on his table, meaning ready to be pressed and nuclear war declared on the US at the slightest provocation, the other one sternly warned that his own nuclear button is bigger, and it works! The whole situation was dire as the US territory of Guam was preparing for the worst as it was within the reach of the North Korean missiles and the US armada of warships was heading towards Korean Peninsula, seemingly preparing grounds for an invasion. It was MAD: mutually assured destruction re-enacted.

But what happened next? There were underground good communication and diplomatic efforts which bore fruit when the two leaders met at Capella, Singapore, and shook hands on June 12, 2018. Everything calmed down and the pattern of engagement improved with better communication and we realised, to our relief, that the counter-Twittering enemies could actually sign an agreement.

Communication is everything and the emphasis placed on it is well deserved because before, during and after all conflicts, it is a force to be reckoned with, whether in the court, on the battlefield or at the negotiation table. Ultimately, there is no conflict that cannot be prevented, managed, resolved or even transformed through the power of communication, that single activity we spend 85% of our lives doing, including when we sleep-talk or engage in somniloquy, a form of parasomnia revealing our lifestyle.

As conflict is real, we can actually make efforts to curb inter-personal conflict by embracing the principles of peaceful communication. The good news is that we can all be peaceful communicators by applying the four principles of peaceful communication in our everyday linguistic exchange. The four principles are: Love Your Communicative Neighbour, Dignify Your Daily Dialogues, Prioritise Positivisers in Your Language Use and Be a Communicative Humaniser.

Certainly, it takes two to tango and one cannot clap with a single hand. There are usually two parties, at least, in a conflict but we can achieve a world of difference if we uphold the concept of “ahimsa” or doing no harm and we all love anyone we have to communicate with, maintain decorum in what we say, use “positivisers,” like accept, agree, commend, etc., not “negativisers” and we ultimately humanize others with words, not dehumanize them.

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