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Morton Deutsch, Constructive Conflict Resolution

Morton Deutsch offers an overview of the factors which influence conflicts toward productive or
destructive outcomes. Deutsch opens by identifying four propositions which are generally
accepted across the field of conflict studies. First, parties to conflicts usually have a mixture of
cooperative and competitive motives. Second, conflict may be positive and productive, or
negative and destructive. The goal is to make conflicts productive, not to eliminate all conflict.
Third, cooperative or competitive interests each yield different processes of conflict resolution.
And fourth, Deutsch explains, "the relative strengths of the cooperative and competitive process
within the conflicting parties, and how they vary during the course of a conflict, will be major
determinants of the nature of the conflict process and of whether the outcomes of the conflict
are likely to be constructive or destructive for the conflicting parties."(p. 199)

Conflicts' Courses

From his own researches, Deutsch has derives this principle of social relationships: "the
characteristic processes and effects elicited by a given type of social relationship (e.g.,
cooperative or competitive) also tend to elicit that type of social relationship"(p. 200) There are
a variety of attitudes regarding one's self and others that an individual may, theoretically, take.
In practice however only reciprocal relations are stable. In reciprocal relations both parties have
similar types of attitudes. Non-reciprocal relations tend to shift toward reciprocal competition.
Competitive relations are more likely to destructive forms of conflict, while cooperative relations
support productive forms of conflict.

There are a number of factors which influence a conflict toward constructive or destructive
resolution. One factor is the personalities of the parties involved. Earlier theorists tended to see
social behavior as the result of relatively stable personality traits. Currently theorists recognize
that social situations and psychological dispositions are reciprocally influencing. The current view
accepts five basic theses. Individuals vary widely in the consistency of their social behaviors.
Some situations allow for greater influence from individual traits, while other situations give very
little room for the play of individual dispositions. Some situations actually evoke certain

personality traits, while others may be more neutral in their effects. Some situations encourage
self-focusing dispositions more than others. People tend both to seek out situations which fit
their existing dispositions, and to adapt their dispositions to fit the existing situation. Deutsch
also notes that conflict situations sometimes meet the internal needs of parties, by, for instance,
providing a distraction from other problems, or providing an outlet for hostility or a means for
(unconsciously) projecting their own flaws onto another.

Another factor influencing the course of a conflict is the nature of the issues involved. Issues
which are perceived in win-lose or zero-sum terms shape conflicts towards more destructive
processes. Conflicts become more destructive when parties rigidly lock themselves into narrow
positions. Size is also a factor. Large conflicts are more likely to be destructive than small ones.
Deutsch explains that "conflict size may be defined as being equal to the expected difference in
the value of the outcomes that a party will receive if it wins compared with the value it will receive
if the other wins the conflict."(p. 204) Conflicts over large substantive issues or basic principles
tend to be large. Conflicts which set significant or far-reaching precedents, or which effect the
parties power or self-esteem, are large. One way to discourage destructive conflict is to define
the conflict in ways that minimize the issues involved.

The context in which a conflict occurs affects its progress. Cultural differences between the
parties may increase misunderstandings and miscommunication. In-group ethnocentrism,
common in all groups, can lead to negative views of others, and to prejudice and stereotypes.
Ethnocentric bias consistently shapes moral assessments of one's own group (as good), and the
other (as bad). Behavior which would be unacceptable toward a fellow group member may be
considered quite acceptable toward an outsider. Competition increases ethnocentrism. Cross-
cutting social ties discourage ethnocentrism. Group relations tend to be reciprocal, and so
ethnocentric prejudices may evoke prejudice in the other group. Differences between group tend
to be perceived in the way that best maintains the group's positive self-evaluation. Low status
groups may tend to minimize their differences from high status group, while high status groups
will emphasize their differences from low status groups. Ethnocentrism may be reduced by
successful cooperation toward superordinate goals, a normative context which supports positive

group relations, extended personal contacts between equals from different groups, and

The last factor that Deutsch considers is escalation. Escalating and expanding conflicts are
destructive. Deutsch's earlier research has identified nine factors that contribute to destructive
escalation. These include a competitive orientation, a gamesmanship orientation, inner conflicts
within the parties which are being expressed through external conflict, cognitive rigidity,
misjudgments and misperceptions, self-fulfilling prophecies, vicious spirals, an anarchic social
situation, and unwitting commitments. In an anarchic situation the rules and norms of social
order are gone. Under such conditions mutual trust is not possible, and even "rational" choices
are self-defeating. The Prisoner's Dilemma expresses such a situation. Participants to conflicts
may become unwittingly committed to the behaviors and dispositions which they have
developed in response to the conflict. "The conflict, then, is maintained and perpetuated by the
commitments and investments given rise to by the malignant conflict process itself."(p. 208)

Skills for Constructive Conflict Resolution

There are four basic conflict resolution skill sets, useful to both participants in conflict and third
parties. First are skills for establishing an effective, open, trusting working relationship between
the parties, and any involved third parties. Second are skills for establishing a cooperative
problem-solving approach to the conflict. Third are skills for developing effective group processes
and decision-making processes. Fourth is substantive knowledge of the relevant issues.

Deutsch cautions that conflict resolution training must emphasize the practice of skills, not just
the acquisition of knowledge, and that learning conflict resolution skills is different from learning
other types of skills (physical skills, for instance). Everyone begins conflict resolution training with
some prior experience of conflict. Students must begin by identifying their own preexisting
attitudes toward conflict and its resolution. They must learn to solicit effective feedback about
their practice. The exercise of conflict resolution skills requires sensitivity to the broader socio-
cultural context in which they are being used.

And finally Deutsch notes that "the transfer of social skills from the training setting to real-life
situations is more difficult" than, for example, the transfer of physical skills from practice to a
real game.(p. 212) In some cases the broader social context may work against the choice to use
one's conflict resolution skills. Exercising conflict resolution skills may brand one as weak or
disloyal. And so the effective use of conflict resolution skills may require further skill at distancing
one's self from the social context, and at changing the social context.

Further Research

Deutsch points out three areas that should receive further research. First, and most importantly
he argues, research is needed to determine whether it is possible to develop a general model for
conflict, applicable across different types and levels of conflict. Research should also be directed
toward producing comparative assessments of various third-party interventions in conflicts.
Researchers should also look into the effectiveness of conflict resolution training methods and

TWO_Principled Negotiation

Principled negotiation is the name given to the interest-based approach to negotiation set out in
the best-known conflict resolution book, Getting to Yes, first published in 1981 by Roger Fisher
and William Ury. The book advocates four fundamental principles of negotiation: 1) separate the
people from the problem; 2) focus on interests, not positions; 3) invent options for mutual gain;
and 4) insist on objective criteria.

Separating the people from the problem means separating relationship issues (or "people
problems") from substantive issues, and dealing with them independently. People problems,
Fisher, Ury and Patton observe, tend to involve problems of perception, emotion, and
communication. (1991, p. 22) Perceptions are important because they define the problem and
the solution. While there is an "objective reality," that reality is interpreted differently by
different people in different situations. When different parties have different understandings of
their dispute effective negotiation may be very difficult to achieve. (This is what we have been

calling framing problems.) Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest seven basic strategies for handling
problems of perception.

People problems also often involve difficult emotions — fear, anger, distrust and anxiety for
example. These emotions get intertwined with the substantive issues in the dispute and make
both harder to deal with. Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest five tactics for disentangling and
defusing emotional problems in the negotiation process.

Fisher, Ury and Patton consider communication problems to be "people problems" as well. They
list three types of communication problems. First, disputants may not be talking to each other.
While their comments are formally addressed to the opponent, they are actually addressing
some outside audience. They are grandstanding, or playing to the crowd. A second
communication problem arises when parties are not listening to each other. Rather than listening
attentively to the opponent, parties may instead be planning their own response, or listening to
their own constituency. Finally, even when parties are both listening and talking to each other,
misunderstandings and misinterpretations may occur. Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest techniques
for minimizing communication problems.

Negotiating about interests means negotiating about things that people really want and need,
not what they say that want or need. Often, these are not the same. People tend to take extreme
positions that are designed to counter their opponents’ positions. If asked why they are taking
that position, it often turns out that the underlying reasons--their true interests and needs--are
actually compatible, not mutually exclusive.

By focusing on interests, disputing parties can more easily fulfill the third principle--invent
options for mutual gain. This means negotiators should look for new solutions to the problem
that will allow both sides to win, not just fight over the original positions which assume that for
one side to win, the other side must lose.

The fourth rule is to insist on objective criteria for decisions. While not always available, if some
outside, objective criteria for fairness can be found, this can greatly simplify the negotiation

process. If union and management are struggling over a contract, they can look to see what other
similar companies have agreed to use as an outside objective criteria. If people are negotiating
over the price of a car or a house, they can look at what similar houses or cars have sold for. This
gives both sides more guidance as to what is "fair," and makes it hard to oppose offers in this

Lastly, Fisher, Ury, and Patton counsel negotiators to know what their alternatives are. If you
don’t know what your alternatives to a negotiated agreement are, you might accept an
agreement that is far worse than the one you might have gotten, or reject one that is far better
than you might otherwise achieve. For this reason, Fisher, Ury, and Patton stress the importance
of knowing and improving your BATNA before you conclude negotiations.

In Getting to Yes, Fisher, Ury, and Patton argue that almost all disputes can be resolved with
principled negotiation. They reject the notion that some conflicts are inherently win-lose or that
positional bargaining is ever a superior approach. Other theorists, however, disagree--as do we.
Principled negotiation is an excellent tool to use in many disputes, but we have found that it
needs to be supplemented with other approaches in the case of intractable conflicts. It also is
more attuned to U.S. and Western European cultures which emphasize rational cost-benefit
analysis, and de-emphasize the importance of relationships and emotions. Cultures which see
relationship issues as central aspects of the conflict may find principled negotiation less useful.

Links to Examples of Principled Negotiation

Roger Fisher and William Ury--Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
This is a summary of the book which first introduced the concept of principled
negotiation. It was a "best-seller" in the U.S. for sometime, and is still considered one of
the central works in the field, though it is very short and readable--not long, boring, and

Roger Fisher and William Ury -- Principled Negotiation at Camp David


This is a short abstract which explains how Carter’s negotiation of the Egypt-Israeli
accords at Camp David was a good illustration of the benefits of principled negotiation.

Sally Engle Merry -- Cultural Aspects of Disputing

This paper compares U.S. mediation (which generally follows the rules of principled
negotiation) to the traditional Hawaiian way of resolving a conflict, Ho’oponopono, which
focuses much more on the "people problems" than on the "substantive problems." This
article illustrates why principled negotiation is not useful or applicable in all cultures.

John Paul Lederach -- Central American Conflict Resolution

This essay describes the Central American view of conflict and the methods used there
for managing or resolving it. Like Merry’s article, this article also emphasizes the primacy
of relationships and emotions, as contrasting to the emphasis on substance used in
principled negotiation.

Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton -- Seven Strategies for Treating Perception - or
Framing Problems
This article summarizes one aspect of principled negotiation--how one deals with
perception and framing problems--which Fisher and Ury consider part of "separating the
people from the problem."

Paul Wehr -- Self Limiting Conflict: The Gandhian Style

This article illustrates that one of Gandhi's tactics involved separating the people from the

William Ury -- Overcoming Barriers to Principled Negotiation

This article describes ideas presented in Ury's follow-up to Getting to Yes called Getting
Past No. In this book, Ury describes five techniques of what he calls "breakthrough

negotiation." These techniques are designed to get past the barriers that often prevent
the success of principled negotiation.


John W. Burton

In determining the source of conflicts there is a basic question we cannot afford to dodge.
Are conflicts--at all social levels--due to inherent human aggressiveness, especially male
aggressiveness, derived from the consequences of evolution and survival-of-the-fittest
struggles? Or are conflicts due to the emergence of inappropriate social institutions and
norms that reasonably would seem to be well within human capacities to alter, to which the
person has problems in adjustment?

If inherent aggressiveness is the problem, then conflicts just have to be lived with, while
controlled as much as possible by police and deterrent strategies. Conflict resolution, getting
to the source of the problem, becomes irrelevant: the source is known and cannot be altered.
At best there could be corrections of perceptions and adjustments of personal behavior in
particular cases. If social conditions are the problem, then conflict resolution and prevention
would be possible by removing the sources of conflict: institutions and social norms would be
adjusted to the needs of persons.

Implied in conflict resolution, therefore, is the proposition that aggressions and conflicts
are the direct result of some institutions and social norms being incompatible with inherent
human needs. The argument is that aggressions and anti-social behaviors are stimulated by
social circumstances. There are human limits to abilities to conform to such institutions and
norms: the person is not wholly malleable. On the contrary, the needs that are frustrated by
institutions and norms require satisfaction. They will be pursued in one way or another. These
needs would seem to be even more fundamental than food and shelter -- needs such as

personal recognition and identity that are the basis of individual development and security in
a society. Denial by society of recognition and identity would lead, at all social levels, to
alternative behaviors designed to satisfy such needs, be it ethnic wars, street gangs or
domestic violence. Such a possibility has not been part of the thinking. Law has it that there is
a right to expect obedience and others have an obligation to obey. Illegality can therefore be
defined. Sociologists have been greatly concerned with the socialization of the individual into
the norms of society. Psychologists are concerned with the adjustment of the person to the
social environment. Failure is an abnormality. Indeed, there is a widespread resistance to
including any such human factor in social analysis because it is vague, non-quantifiable and
therefore not 'scientific.' There is built into thinking the belief that the human person is wholly
malleable. Economic man and other constructs that ignore problems in relationships and
attribute them to a lack of individual adjustment and social consciousness are more

The alternative "Human Needs Theory" has evolved only in the last few decades, and
largely as a reaction against these limited separate discipline explanations of social problems.
It may be false. If it is, so is the notion of conflict resolution. If conflict resolution is to be taken
seriously, if it is to be more than just introducing altered perceptions and good will into some
specific situations, it has to be assumed that societies must adjust to the needs of people, and
not the other way around. Workers must be given recognition as persons if social and
domestic violence is to be contained, young people must be given a role in society if street
gangs are to vanish and teenage pregnancies are to decrease, ethnic minorities must be given
an autonomous status if violence is to be avoided, decision-making systems must be non-
adversarial if leadership roles are to collaborative.

It is this issue that we need to examine before getting into conflict resolution. If the human
needs thesis is false, if it is human aggression that is the problem, then there must be reliance
on coercive means of social control to avoid conflict. It is only if needs satisfaction is the
problem that conflict resolution can be justified as a process.

When societies were small extended family or tribal units there was a large degree of
social concern, collaboration within them, and frequently between them. To a large degree
conflicts were ritualized. With population increases and the end of face-to-face relationships
in decision making, competitive territorial and property acquisition and conflicts of interest
inevitably conditioned social relationships. In the systems that have evolved over the last few
thousand years, the struggle to survive and achieve has been very much a personal or class
one, not a community one. These evolving competitive systems led to slavery, feudalism and
forms of colonialism, and to present day adversarial industrial and political relations. Personal
and group conflicts of interests have thus been built into societies. As social and
environmental conditions deteriorate further, with population doubling every thirty five to
forty years, individuals and conglomerates will, in present social conditions, act increasingly
in their own interests. This will be at the expense of others in each society and also in other
societies, but ultimately, of course, at their own expense also. Societies, especially modern
industrial ones, have demonstrated little capability to cost the personal or social consequence
of behaviors and to react accordingly. Competitive short term gains have continued to
determine institutions and policies.

The traditional and widespread view is that such interest-based systems have evolved
because by nature 'man is aggressive,' to use the Lorenz-type phrase of the power politics
theorist, Hans Morgenthau. This view, however, contains within it a false assumption. While
not clearly stated, the assumption seems to be that `man is aggressive' primarily in the pursuit
of material acquisition, especially resources and territories which are in limited supply. But
now both experience and theory suggest that material acquisition is rarely if ever the primary
source of conflict. There is room for conflict over physical acquisition, especially when there
are likely to be costs of conflict. For this reason it has been possible to introduce into societies
appropriate legal and bargaining institutions and processes.

What has not been realized is that conflicts are defined in these physical terms even
though there are non-material human values and needs involved. International conflicts are
defined as territorial even when there are clear independence or ethnic issues at stake.

Workers strike and demand increased wages even when the problem is one of relationships
with management and treatment of the working person. Matrimonial disputes on custody and
properties are described in the same material terms. But in all cases there are non-material
needs to be satisfied that provoke such aggressions, needs of recognition and identity in
particular that are frustrated whenever there is any sense of injustice.

No bargaining or compromise, such as is possible on material acquisition, is possible in

relation to any such deep-rooted human needs. The dole is no compensation for the human
costs of unemployment to young people seeking their identity in society, and anti-social
behaviors are a consequence. The right of a vote does not offset loss of ethnic identity by a
minority within a nation-state. Secession demands persist.

So when Morgenthau attributed conflict to aggressiveness in physical acquisition, and

deduced that conflicts can be avoided by threat and deterrent strategies, he omitted a human
element that defeats his prescription. He did not recognize any difference between 'disputes'
(over physical resources) and 'conflicts' (over human needs and aspirations). No threat can
deter when there are human behavioral needs at stake. Great powers can be defeated by
small nations in their struggle for independence, ethnic violence cannot be contained,
domestic violence persists despite legal consequences.

Such a view also misses out on the basis of a positive approach. Unlike human needs of
recognition and identity are not in short supply. There are acceptable means of giving a sense
of identity to the person at the work place, to young people, to minorities and ethnic groups.
There is no reason why human needs should be a source of conflict once their existence is
recognized and institutions are adjusted accordingly.

There is a problem, of course, in delving deeply into behavioral sources. Negotiations in

an industrial dispute do not reveal more sensitive problems with management. Domestic
violence requires a deep analysis of a total situation. At a global level, Muslim-Christian
conflicts would require an extensive facilitated analysis to trace back colonial origins, class

aspects, leadership motivations and a host of circumstances that trigger behavioral

frustrations and make a religious conflict appear to be just that.

Given anthropological studies of tribal face-to-face relationships, and given contemporary

knowledge of human needs, it is more likely that adversarial systems have evolved because
of competing interests, and despite a strong human preference for collaborative social
connections from which personal security and personal identity are derived.

If there is competitive material acquisition, on the one hand, and an individual desire for
collaborative relationships, on the other, the explanation of the preponderance of adversarial
and aggressive behaviors would have to be the conditions imposed by systems as they have
evolved. If this is the case, conflicts at all social levels are due to past failures to include in
institutions and in decision making a human element and to employ available intellectual
resources continually to reassess institutions and social norms and thus resolve problems as
they emerge.

The widespread resistance to this view was made clear during the Crime Bill debates in
the U.S. in 1994. Congress was prepared to approve funding for more goals, but regarded
funds spent on dealing with the sources of criminalization as 'pork'. This reflects another
(unstated) assumption that justifies treating the problem of conflict as though it were
inevitable and subject only to coercive controls. There is a widespread belief that social
problems are due to personal failings: unemployment and poverty are due to lack of
intelligence and diligence. A related belief is that social problems stem from a lack of social
consciousness, that is, a moral obligation to observe social norms. This is claimed to be related
to lack of intelligence. The empirical evidence seems to contradict this. For example, problem
children placed in a different environment seem to respond positively (See Prothrow-Stith,
1991). But even if it were so, the fact is that such people exist and will be a source of social
problems unless they are given an identity and a role within the social system.

Survival-of-the-fittest is a misleading concept unless it includes specifically a human needs

dimension in addition to physical goals. It is the struggle to satisfy non-material human needs

that is the prime source of conflict. It is only in this sense that it can be said that 'man is

The exclusion of a human dimension distorts concepts and language. Take, for example,
'leadership.' Strong leadership is admired: U.S. Presidents go to war to prove their leadership
qualities. But in a different context leadership qualities would be assessed on abilities to
stimulate thinking and to bring together different points of view. A leader would be a

The widely held concept of democracy is defined as government by the people through
their elected representatives. It assumes many unstated conditions that have far-reaching
behavioral implications, for example, relative ethnic homogeneity, classlessness and equality.
Democracy of this order is a system that could possibly be unified society. It has no prospect
of achievement in a society that contains major income differences, and in which minorities
are unrepresented but must observe the norms of a majority. Governments in the U.S. are
elected by less than a quarter of the population, less than half voting. The implications are
extensive in the modern world in which there have been migrations and in which state
boundaries, drawn as the result of colonial aggressions, cut across ethnic and tribal territories.

This traditional concept of democracy leads to another assumption, that minorities should
be prepared, not only to conform with the discriminatory norms of the majority, but that
individuals have the inherent capability of such conformity. Secession movements are
sometimes sought as an alternative to conformity. They are usually opposed by the majority
on the grounds that they are disruptive of the nation-state. They are, nevertheless, pursued
even at great cost by a human need for identity. For these reasons democracy has built into it
the seeds of conflict. We are led, therefore, to question yet another assumption, that the
nation-state is any longer the appropriate unit within the world society.

Secession has become such a widespread problem that each fears that change in any one
sovereign state will invite changes in its own. In these circumstances human rights and

political legitimization are sacrificed in the maintenance of a sovereign state system that
includes the results of colonial aggressions.

In this context the United Nations now poses a serious problem. It is an organization of
sovereign states, all expecting mutual support from the organization in maintaining their

It will be seen that consideration of a human element has extensive implications and is
basic to thinking about the nature of conflict and its resolution. If there are human needs that
have to be accommodated, then conflict control will have to give way to quite different
processes which seeks the source of conflict and the environmental conditions that promote
conflict, leading to institutional change. Conflict will have to be defined as a problem to be
resolved rather than a situation in which behaviors have to be controlled.

With such a fundamental paradigm shift over the course of the last few decades, it is little
wonder that there remains today a major gap between Conflict Resolution theory and
practice, on the one hand, and conventional wisdom and practice, on the other. To the
strategist, the power politician, citizens of powerful nations, police and authoritarian heads of
households, conflict resolution still means the use of adequate force to bring about some
desired result. The concept of problem-solving was until a few decades ago largely a
mathematical concept. Similarly, conflict prevention has meant the use of adequate threat. In
the new discipline of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, conflict resolution means getting to the
roots of problems and resolving them in ways that further the longer-term goals of all
concerned. Prevention does not imply threat, but policies that anticipate responses and
thereby avoid conflict.

Daily events now bring to our attention the reality that domestic levels of violence are
outside the control of most authorities, in both developed and underdeveloped societies. But
it has taken years to address the question, 'why is this so?' Are there some human behaviors,
individual, group, national and international, that are not subject to deterrence and control?
If so, what are these and how are they to be accommodated? Might it be that military and

authoritative controls are ineffective, that only values attached to relationships with others
and with institutions can exercise an influence in the control of some human behaviors?


Prothrow-Stith, Deborah. 1991. Deadly Consequences: How Violence is Destroying our

Teenage Population and a Plan to Begin Solving the Problem. Harper Perennial.


What Human Needs Are


Humans need a number of essentials to survive. According to the

renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow and the conflict scholar "[H]uman needs are a
John Burton, these essentials go beyond just food, water, and powerful source of
shelter. They include both physical and non-physical elements explanation of human
needed for human growth and development, as well as all those behavior and social
things humans are innately driven to attain. interaction. All individuals
have needs that they strive to
For Maslow, needs are hierarchical in nature. That is, each need
satisfy, either by using the
has a specific ranking or order of obtainment. Maslow's needs
system[,] 'acting on the
pyramid starts with the basic items of food, water, and shelter.
fringes[,]' or acting as a
These are followed by the need for safety and security, then
reformist or revolutionary.
belonging or love, self-esteem, and finally, personal fulfillment.
Given this condition, social
Burton and other needs theorists who have adopted Maslow's
systems must be responsive
ideas to conflict theory, however, perceive human needs in a
to individual needs, or be
different way -- as an emergent collection of human development
subject to instability and
essentials. Furthermore, they contend needs do not have
forced change (possibly
a hierarchical order. Rather, needs are sought simultaneously in
through violence or
an intense and relentless manner. Needs theorists' list of human
conflict)." -- Coate and
essentials include:
Rosati, "Preface," in The
 Safety/Security -- the need for structure, predictability, Power of Human Needs in
stability, and freedom from fear and anxiety. World Society, ed. Roger
 Belongingness/Love -- the need to be accepted by others A.Coate and Jerel A. Rosati,
and to have strong personal ties with one's family, friends, ix. Boulder, CO: Lynne
and identity groups. Rienner Publishers, 1988.
 Self-esteem -- the need to be recognized by oneself and
others as strong, competent, and capable. It also includes the need to know that one has
some effect on her/his environment.
 Personal fulfillment -- the need to reach one's potential in all areas of life.

 Identity -- goes beyond a psychological "sense of self." Burton and other human needs
theorists define identity as a sense of self in relation to the outside world. Identity
becomes a problem when one's identity is not recognized aslegitimate, or when it is
considered inferior or is threatened by others with different identifications.
 Cultural security -- is related to identity, the need for recognition of one's language,
traditions, religion, cultural values, ideas, and concepts.
 Freedom -- is the condition of having no physical, political, or civil restraints; having the
capacity to exercise choice in all aspects of one's life.
 Distributive justice -- is the need for the fair allocation of resources among all members
of a community.
 Participation -- is the need to be able to actively partake in and influence civil society.

Why the Concept of Human Needs Matters

Human needs theorists argue that one of the primary causes of

protracted or intractable conflict is people's unyielding drive to
meet their unmet needs on the individual, group, and societal
level. For example, the Palestinian conflict involves the unmet
needs of identity and security. Countless Palestinians feel that Additional insights

their legitimate identity is being denied them, both personally into unmet human needs are
and nationally. Numerous Israelis feel they have no security offered by Beyond

individually because of suicide bombings, nationally because Intractability project

their state is not recognized by many of their close neighbors, and participants.
culturally because anti-Semitism is growing worldwide. Israeli and Palestinian unmet needs
directly and deeply affect all the other issues associated with this conflict. Consequently, if a
resolution is to be found, the needs of Palestinian identity and Israeli security must be addressed
and satisfied on all levels.

Arguments For the Human Needs Approach

Human needs theorists offer a new dimension to conflict theory. Their approach provides an
important conceptual tool that not only connects and addresses human needs on all levels.

Furthermore, it recognizes the existence of negotiable and nonnegotiable issues. That is, needs
theorists understand that needs, unlike interests, cannot be traded, suppressed, or bargained
for. Thus, the human needs approach makes a case for turning away from traditional negotiation
models that do not take into account nonnegotiable issues. These include interest-based
negotiation models that view conflict in terms of win-win or other consensus-based solutions,
and conventional power models (primarily used in the field of negotiation and international
relations) that construct conflict and conflict management in terms of factual and zero-sum game

The human needs approach, on the other hand, supports collaborative and multifaceted
problem-solving models and related techniques, such as problem-solving workshops or an
analytical problem-solving process. These models take into account the complexity of human life
and the insistent nature of human needs. Problem-solving approaches also analyze the
fundamental sources of conflict, while maintaining a focus on fulfilling peoples' unmet needs. In
addition, they involve the interested parties in finding and developing acceptable ways to meet
the needs of all concerned.

Human needs theorists further understand that although needs cannot be compromised, they
can be addressed in a generally win-win or positive-sum way. An example of this win-win or
positive sum process can be gleaned from the Kosovo conflict. When the Albanians obtained
protective security, the Serbs also gained this protection, so both sides gained.

Arguments against the Human Needs Approach

However, many questions and uncertainties surround the human needs approach to solving
conflicts. For instance, how can one define human needs? How can one know what needs are
involved in conflict situations? How can one know what human needs are being met and unmet?
Are human needs cultural or universal in nature? If they are cultural, is the analysis of human
needs beneficial beyond a specific conflict? Are some needs inherently more important than
others? If some needs are more important, should these be pursued first?

Other critics of the human needs approach assert that many conflicts involve both needs and
interests. So, conflict resolution cannot come about by just meeting human needs. For example,
when looking at the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it is understood that both needs (identity,
security, freedom) and interests (i.e., resource allocation, international boundaries) are involved.
Consequently, even if the needs of both parties get met, the conflict will probably not be
resolved. Resolution can only come about when both needs and interests are dealt with.

Nevertheless, most scholars and practitioners agree that issues of identity, security,
and recognition, are critical in many or even most intractable conflicts. They may not be
the only issue, but they are one of the important issues that must be dealt with if an intractable
conflict is to be transformed. Ignoring the underlying needs and just negotiating the interests
may at times lead to a short-term settlement, but it rarely will lead to long-term resolution.

Human Needs/Analytical Problem Solving A related, yet still different image of conflict
transformation comes from a group of theorists who stress the importance of fundamental
human needs to the development and maintenance of protracted or deep-rooted conflict. When
an individual or group is denied its fundamental need for identity, security, recognition, or equal
participation within the society, say theorists such as John Burton, Herbert Kelman, and Jay
Rothman, protracted conflict is inevitable. The only way to resolve such conflict is to identify the
needs that are threatened or denied, and restructure relationships and/or the social system in a
way that protects those needs for all individuals and groups. This is often attempted by holding
what are called "analytical problem solving workshops" in which a panel of scholars facilitates
private, unofficial analytical discussions about the nature of a particular difficult conflict. By
helping the parties work together to frame the conflict in terms of needs, potential solutions to
the impasse often become apparent when they were not so before. Most often, these solutions
require significant changes in the social, economic, and/or political structures--thus, like
Lederach, they see conflict transformation as requiring systemic as well as personal change.

Fifth_ Introduction Transformative Approaches to Conflict


The terms "transformation" and "transformative conflict resolution" are used in many different
ways. Almost all uses of the two terms, however, relate "transformation" to a fundamental
change in attitude and/or behavior of individuals and/or the relationship between two or more
disputing parties. While the change may be relatively minor or subtle, it goes beyond the
immediate situation to alter the way in which the parties see themselves, the world, and
especially, each other and how they treat each other over the long term. This contrasts with
problem-solving conflict resolution which is used to resolve a specific short-term problem, while
usually ignoring or avoiding long-term relationship issues. Transformative conflict resolution
takes many forms. One with increasing visibility and interest over the last several years is
transformative mediation. Other approaches include conflict transformation, constructive
confrontation, analytical problem solving, dialogue, and collaborative learning. This website
explains these and related terms and processes, summarizes key publications in each of these
areas, and provides access to additional resources on each of these topics. Transformative
Mediation, for example, can be contrasted with problem solving mediation. While problem
solving or settlement oriented mediation focuses on finding a mutually agreeable settlement of
an immediate dispute, transformative mediation, as described by Bush and Folger (1994), seeks
to transform the disputing parties by empowering them to understand their own situation and
needs, as well as encouraging them to recognize the situation and needs of their opponent(s).
While such empowerment and recognition often lay the groundwork for a mutually- acceptable
settlement, such an outcome is not the primary goal. Rather, the parties' empowerment and
recognition are the main objectives of the transformative approach to mediation. Conflict
Transformation Lederach uses the term "conflict transformation" in a similar, though broader
way. Like Bush and Folger, Lederach suggests that conflict professionals stop focusing on
"resolution," because resolution often involves the continuation of injustice. He also rejects the
notion of "conflict management" because it is too narrow. Management, he asserts, tends to
focus on the technical and practical side of peacemaking, while ignoring the cultural and
relational issues. Lederach uses the term "conflict transformation" to describe his approach to
peace building. This approach focuses on the dialectic nature of conflict. It sees conflict as caused
by--as well as causing--changes in relationships. In order to build peace, negative or destructive

interaction patterns need to be transformed into positive or constructive relationships and

interactions. This occurs through personal and systemic change that encourages and allows the
parties to pursue truth, justice, and mercy simultaneously with peace. Like Bush and Folger,
Lederach too focuses on the development of empowerment and mutual recognition, along with
interdependence, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Dialogue Transformative Approaches to Conflict

A growing number of conflict professionals have been utilizing dialogue to transform deep-
rooted, value-based conflicts. With dialogue, small groups of people who hold opposing views on
highly divisive and emotional public policy issues (such as abortion or gay rights) are brought
together to have a "new kind of conversation." Unlike debate, which seeks to score points and
to persuade, the goal of dialogue is mutual understanding and respect--essentially recognition in
Bush and Folger's terms. This does not lead to a resolution of the conflict, but it can lead to a
transformation in the way the conflict is pursued from one which is highly destructive and divisive
to one which is constructive and leads to personal growth. Dialogue has also been used
effectively to alter relationships in deep-rooted ethnic conflicts, such as that between the
Palestinians and the Israelis. Constructive Confrontation Another approach to transformation is
what Burgess and Burgess call constructive confrontation. This approach to intractable conflict is
primarily directed at public policy, intergroup, and international conflicts. It assumes that
conflicts over high-stakes distributional questions, deep-rooted value issues, and domination
issues are inevitable and ongoing. Although particular short-term disputes can be settled, the
underlying long-term conflict will remain. Although these kinds of conflicts can seldom be
completely resolved, they can be confronted in more or less constructive ways. Thus,
constructive confrontation is a way of dealing with a conflict that seeks to transform the conflict
process, which will then allow a transformation of relationships, and at times, the individuals and
social structures as well.

Collaborative learning is a process developed by Steven Daniels, Gregg Walker, Matthew Carroll,
and Keith Blatner to enhance the public policy decision making process, especially as it involves

public participation. This approach utilizes ideas from soft systems methodology (a theory of
learning) and alternative dispute resolution. The key ideas are that public participants and
"experts" must work together to learn more about the system that they are all operating in
together. As in other transformative processes, the goal of collaborative learning is not solving a
particular problem, but improving a situation, which is framed as a set of interrelated systems.
The goal of collaborative learning is to utilize improved communication and negotiation
processes as a means through which learning--and then improvement of the situation--can occur.

Transformative Approaches to Conflict

Transformative Mediation Summary by Heidi Burgess Menu Shortcut Page NOTE: This
component of the Consortium's web site describes transformative mediation as it is presented in
Bush and Folger's book, The Promise of Mediation. Others advocate alternative approaches to
mediation. We have not attempted to describe these alternative approaches or summarize the
debate concerning which approaches are most applicable to specific situations. Our site does,
however, include links to other sources of information about mediation and dispute resolution.
See: Conflict Resolution in the United States and General Conflict Resolution Theory. What It Is
Though transformative mediation has roots that go back to the 1970s, the term and approach
have been brought to the fore by the publication of Baruch Bush and Joe Folger's book The
Promise of Mediation in 1994. This book contrasts two different approaches to mediation:
problem-solving and transformative. The goal of problem solving mediation is generating a
mutually acceptable settlement of the immediate dispute. Problem solving mediators are often
highly directive in their attempts to reach this goal--they control not only the process, but also
the substance of the discussion, focusing on areas of consensus and "resolvable" issues, while
avoiding areas of disagreement where consensus is less likely. Although all decisions are, in
theory, left in the hands of the disputants, problem solving mediators often play a large role in
crafting settlement terms and obtaining the parties' agreement. The transformative approach to
mediation does not seek resolution of the immediate problem, but rather, seeks the

empowerment and mutual recognition of the parties involved. Empowerment, according to Bush
and Folger, means enabling the parties to define their own issues and to seek solutions on their
own. Recognition means enabling the parties to see and understand the other person's point of
view--to understand how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do.
(Seeing and understanding, it should be noted, do not constitute agreement with those views.)
Often, empowerment and recognition pave the way for a mutually agreeable settlement, but
that is only a secondary effect. The primary goal of transformative medition is to foster the
parties' empowerment and recognition, thereby enabling them to approach their current
problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, yet more open view. This approach, according
to Bush and Folger, avoids the problem of mediator directiveness which so often occurs in
problem-solving mediation, putting responsibility for all outcomes squarely on the disputants.
From here, you can scroll through all the information on transformative medation, or you can
click on particular items of interest in the list below. [click here] for more information on
empowerment and recognition [click here] for a comparison of transformative and problem
solving mediation [click here] for a list of Folger and Bush's ten "hallmarks" of transformative
mediation [click here] for a discussion of applications of transformative mediation [click here] for
information on how to find a transformative mediator [click here] for information on how to find
transformative mediation training [click here] for abstracts of books and articles on
transformative medation and associated ideas [click here] to go back to opening page of this
website Key Concepts:

Empowerment Transformative Mediation: "Empowerment" is used by Bush and Folger in a way

that differs from common usage. It does not mean power-balancing or redistribution, but rather,
increasing the skills of both sides to make better decisions for themselves. Specifically, Bush and
Folger use the term "empowerment" to mean "The restoration to individuals of a sense of their
own value and strength and their own capacity to handle life's problems." (Folger and Bush, 1994,
p. 2) In a latter publication, they further explain that through empowerment, disputants gain
"greater clarity about their goals, resources, options, and preferences" and that they use this
information to make their own "clear and deliberate decisions." (Folger and Bush, 1996, p. 264)
Clarity about goals means that parties will gain a better understanding of what they want and

why, and that their goals are legitimate and should be considered seriously. Clarity about
resources means that the parties will better understand what resources are available to them
and/or what resources they need to make and informed choice. In addition, parties need to learn
that they hold something that is of value to the other party, that they can communicate
effectively with the other party, and that they can utilize their resources to pursue their goal(s).
Clarity about options means that the parties become aware of the range of options available to
them, they understand the relative costs and benefits of each option, and that they understand
that the choice of options is theirs alone to make. Clarity about preferences means that the
parties will reflect and deliberate on their own, making a conscious decision about what they
want to do, based on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides' arguments and the advantages
and disadvantages of each options. In addition to these forms of empowerment, Bush and Folger
add skill-based empowerment to the list, meaning that parties are empowered when they
improve their own skills in conflict resolution, or learn how to listen, communicate, analyze
issues, evaluate alternatives and make decisions more effectively than they could before.
Empowerment occurs in transformative mediation when the mediator watches for opportunities
to increase the parties clarity about or skills in these areas, but does so in a way that the parties
maintain control of both the process and the substance of the discussions. Unlike problem-
solving mediators, transformative mediators are careful to take a secondary role, rather than a
leading role in the process--they "follow the parties" around, and let the parties take the process
where they want it to go. (See the discussion of "hallmarks" below.) Recognition By "recognition,"
Bush and Folger mean considering the perspective, views, and experiences of the other:
recognition, they say, "means the evocation in individuals of acknowledgment and empathy for
the situation and problems of others." (Bush and Folger, 1994, p. 2.) Thus recognition is
something one gives, not just something one gets. Given the importance of empowerment,
however, transformative mediators allow the parties to choose how much they want to recognize
the views of the opponent. They may do so to the point that complete reconciliation takes place,
or they may do so to a much lesser extent, just momentarily being willing to "let go" of their
interest in themselves and focus on the other person as a human being with their own legitimate
situation and concerns. [click here] to go back to the list of transformative mediation topics

Comparing Transformative to Problem Solving Mediation There are many differences between
transformative and problem solving mediation. The only similarity is that each uses a third party
to assist the disputing parties to begin dealing with the dispute in a new way. What that "new
way" is, however, differs considerably from one process to the other. Problem-solving or
"settlement-oriented" mediation, which is by far the dominant approach in the field today, is just
what the name implies--it is focused on solving a problem by obtaining a settlement. The
settlement-oriented mediator usually explains that this is the purpose at the outset and defines
a process that will assist the parties to work toward that goal. All of the mediators actions also
are designed to facilitate that outcome. Emotions which might escalate anger and thus prevent
a settlement are controlled. Issues that are non-negotiable are diverted, while parties are
encouraged to focus on negotiable interests. Mediators tend to discourage a discussion of the
past, as that often involves blame which can make progress more difficult. Rather, parties are
encouraged to focus on what they want in the future, and develop ways in which their interests
can be met Transformative Mediation simultaneously. Sometimes the settlement-oriented
mediator acts more like an arbitrator than a transformative mediator, proposing a solution and
working hard to "sell" it to the parties. (An arbitrator's decision is binding, he or she does not
have to "sell" it. However, the settlement oriented mediator sometimes acts like an arbitrator
when he or she takes the role of the "expert," and comes up with the settlement provisions for
the parties.) Settlement-oriented mediators often try to keep the parties moving forward,
encouraging them to move from one "stage" to the next as quickly as possible and using a
deadline as an inducement to come to an agreement. Transformative mediators work very
differently. They explain in the opening statement that mediation provides a forum for the
parties to talk about their problem with a neutral third party present. This can be helpful, it is
explained, to clarify the nature of the problem from both parties' points of view and for
developing a range of options available for dealing with the situation. This process should help
the clients make better choices about how to proceed and may help them better understand the
views of the other person. This understanding may enable the clients to reach a mutually
satisfactory solution, or it may suggest other approaches for handling the situation. Thus
settlement is presented as one, but clearly not the only possible successful outcome of

mediation. Usually, transformative mediators will then work with the parties to develop goals,
ground rules, and a process they want to use. Mediators will make suggestions about process
and ask questions (usually to encourage either empowerment or recognition of the other), but
they will not direct the conversation, nor will they suggest options for settlement. This is the
parties' job. Bush and Folger describe the mediator's job as "following the parties around,"
helping them clarify for themselves and for the other what their real concerns are and how they
want to see them addressed. Sometimes, recognition by the other is all that is really needed to
reach mutual satisfaction. Other times, parties must go beyond this to negotiate interests.
Interest-based negotiation is, of course, allowed in a transformative process--but it usually shares
center stage with the discussion of feelings and relationship issues. The definition of success also
differs in the two kinds of mediation. Typically, settlement- oriented mediation is not considered
successful unless a settlement is reached. Transformative mediation, however, is successful if
one or both parties becomes empowered to better handle their own situation and/or the parties
better recognize the concerns and issues of the other side. Very often, the empowerment and
recognition gained by the parties allows them to develop a mutually agreeable outcome.
However, according to Bush and Folger, the opposite is not as often the case--the settlement-
oriented mediation process does not lead to empowerment and recognition, as it tends to ignore
the relationship issues in favor of the narrower and more concrete interests. A further
comparison between the two processes is presented in the figure below. Comparison of
Transformative and Problem Solving Mediation Note:These are idealized descriptions. Actual
mediators will hold these ideas and follow these actions to lesser or a greater degree.
Transformative Mediation Problem Solving Mediation Assumptions about conflict is that it is an
opportunity for moral growth and transformation Conflict is a problem in need of a solution
Conflict tends to be a long term process Conflict is a short term situation Ideal response to conflict
Facilitate parties' empowerment and recognition of others Take collaborative steps to solve
identified problem; maximize joint gains Goal of mediation Parties' empowerment and
recognition of others Settlement of the dispute Mediator role Secondary: parties are seen as
experts, with motivation and capacity to solve own problems with minimum help Mediator is
expert, who directs problem solving process Mediator is responsive to parties Mediator directs

parties Mediator actions Mediator explains concept of mediation, but lets parties set goals, direct
process, design ground rules. Makes it clear settlement is only one of a variety of possible
outcomes. Mediator explains goal is settlement, designs process to achieve settlement, sets
ground rules. May consult parties about these issues, but mediator takes lead. Mediator "micro-
focuses" on parties' statements, lets them frame issues themselves Mediator "categorizes" case,
frames it for disputants Mediators allow parties to take discussions where they want them to go;
encouraging discussion of all issues that are of importance to the parties, regardless of Mediators
direct the discussions, dropping issues which are not amenable to negotiation (for example,
relational or identity issues) and focusing on areas "ripe" Transformative Mediation whether or
not they are easily negotiable; Mediators encourage mutual recognition of relational and identity
issues as well as needs and interests for resolution (usually negotiable interests). Mediators
encourage an examination of the past as a way of encouraging recognition of the other Mediators
discourage discussion of the past, as it tends to lead to blaming behaviors, focus instead is on the
present and future--how to solve the current problem. Emotions are seen as an integral part of
the conflict process; mediators encourage their expression Emotions are seen as extraneous to
"real issues." Mediators try to avoid parties' emotional statements, or emotions are tightly
controlled. Mediators encourage parties' deliberation of situation and analysis of options;
parties' design settlement (if any) themselves and are free to pursue other options at any time
Mediators use their knowledge to develop options for settlement; can be quite directive about
settlement terms Mediator focus Mediators focus on parties' interactions, looking for
opportunities for empowerment and/or recognition of the other Mediators focus on parties'
situation and interests, looking for opportunities for joint gains and mutually satisfactory
agreements Use of Time Time is open-ended; parties spend as much time on each activity as they
want to. No pre-set "stages" as in problem solving mediation Mediator sets time limits,
encourages parties to move on or meet deadlines. Mediator moves parties from "stage" to
"stage." Mediation: definition of success Any increase in parties' empowerment and/or
recognition of the other--"small steps count" Mutually agreeable settlement [click here] to go
back to the list of transformative mediation topics Hallmarks of Transformative Mediation The
Summer 1996 issue of Mediation Quarterly was a special issue on transformative approaches to

mediation. The lead article in that issue was written by Folger and Bush, as a follow-up to their
1994 book, The Promise of Mediation which brought the concept of transformative mediation to
national attention. While the book began to describe what transformative mediation might look
like in practice, the Mediation Quarterly article ("Transformative Mediation and Third-Party
Intervention: Ten Hallmarks of a Transformative Approach to Practice" Volume 13, Number 4)
goes further to list ten "hallmarks" that distinguish transformative mediation from other forms
of intervention. This article is abstracted elsewhere in this website, but a quick list of Folger and
Bush's hallmarks are found below.

In the opening statement, the transformative mediator will

1. explain the mediator's role and the objectives of mediation as being focused on empowerment
and recognition.

2. The transformative mediator will leave responsibility for the outcomes with the parties.

3. A transformative mediator will not be judgmental about the parties' views and decisions.

4. Transformative mediators take an optimistic view of the parties' competence and motives.

5. Transformative mediators allow and are responsive to parties' expression of emotions.

6. Transformative mediators allow for and explor parties' uncertainty.

7. Transformative mediators remain focused on what is currently happening in the mediation


8. Transformative mediators are responsive to parties' statements about past events.

Transformative mediators realize that conflict can be a long-term process and that mediation is
one intervention in a longer sequence of conflict interactions.

9. Transformative mediators feel (and express) a sense of success when empowerment and
recognition occur, even in small degrees. They do not see a lack of settlement as a "failure."

Transformative mediation is a new concept that has not been widely applied, although many
mediators have been acting in this way, without having a name for it, for a long time. Since

empowerment and recognition are things that happen to people, the transformative approach is
most often thought of in terms of interpersonal conflicts--family conflicts, conflicts between
neighbors, between co-workers, etc. However, Bush and Folger argue in the Promise of
Mediation, that the approach is just as applicable in other kinds of settings as well. Legal
mediation can be criticized for being more directive than most other forms of mediation, and
would benefit greatly, they argue, from the adoption of a transformative approach, leaving
directive intervention to the courts and judges. The same is true, they argue, for business
mediation. Mediation with organizations, rather than individuals becomes more complicated,
although it is always individuals who represent the organizations at the table. However, problems
can develop when the representatives are transformed by the mediation process, but their
constituencies, who are not at the table are not. This creates what Burgess and Burgess
(Mediation Quarterly 13:4) call the "scale up problem." Methods must be found to transfer this
transformation to the constituencies if the effect is to have widespread significance at the
organizational, public policy, or societal level. Although few people have explored how this might
be done, several experiments have been suggested and/or tried. Ones written up in the
Mediation Quarterly special issue on transformative mediation (13:4) include the Burgesses'
technique of "constructive confrontation," the Public Conversation Project's use of dialogue on
public policy disputes, and Jay Rothman's approach of "reflexive dialogue" which he uses with
people involved in societal level identity conflicts, such as the conflict between Israeli Jews and
Palestinians. Also of interest is Frank Dukes' investigation of transformative public policy conflict
resolution and John Paul Lederach's concept of conflict transformation in protracted and deep-
rooted religious, ethnic and nationalistic conflicts.

How to Find a Transformative Mediator:

Questions which will help identify mediators who use this approach include the following: Can
you describe your approach to mediation? What do you see as your [i.e., the mediator's] role?
What do you see as the parties' role? (A transformative mediator will explain that the mediator's
role is to help the parties understand their current situation and choose options that make the
most sense for them. A transformative mediator will listen, ask questions, summarize (without
changing meaning), help the parties identify and understand the issues in conflict, identify and

assess options (including non-settlement options), but the transformative mediator will not
propose settlement terms, draft agreements or make decisions for their clients.) 1. What is the
goal of mediation? In other words, what is the outcome you seek? (A transformative mediator
will stress the importance of empowerment and recognition. They may not use these words, but
they will stress the importance of helping the parties understand and solve the problem
themselves in a way that makes the most sense to them. They will also stress the importance of
helping the parties better understand the views and experiences of the other disputant(s). They
may mention that one possible outcome of mediation is settlement, but this will not be the only
goal or even the primary outcome sought.) 2. Do you have a standard process that you use? Can
you describe it? (Problem solving mediators usually follow a standard set of procedures that start
with the mediator's opening statement and agreement on ground rules, opening statements by
the parties, clarification of interests, identification of possible areas of agreement, developing
and fine- tuning settlement terms, and finalization of the agreement. Transformative mediator's
process tends to be much looser, as it is set by the parties and taken the direction the parties
want to go. Transformative mediators will start the same way, with opening statements and
discussions of ground rules (and often goals), but then the process becomes much more fluid as
the parties explore issues of their own interest in their own ways. ) 3. Do you have standard
ground rules that you ask the parties to follow? What are they? (Most mediators will have some
ground rules, such as not interrupting when someone is talking, but transformative mediators
will indicate that the disputants play a significant role in developing the ground rules to be used.)
4. How do you work with the parties to define the problem? To generate options? (Listen to get
an idea of the extent of the mediator's involvement in this process. Does the mediator define the
problem for the parties and suggest options for resolution? (The problem solving approach) Or
do they listen and clarify as the parties do this themselves? (the transformative approach) 5. Do
you suggest possible settlement terms? 6.Who would you say is responsible for the outcome of
mediation--you or the parties? (The transformative mediator will say the disputants are
responsible. The problem solving mediator will probably say that responsibility is shared between
the mediator and the disputants. No mediator will guarantee a settlement in every case, but
many problem solving mediators will mention that they get settlements in a large percentage of

their cases--suggesting that this is, indeed the goal they seek and they see it as their responsibility
to work toward that outcome.) 7. How do you handle strong emotions in the mediation session?
(A transformative mediator will explain that emotions are just as important as the "facts," and
thus emotions need to be expressed, understood, and dealt with directly. The problem solving
mediator may talk about a controlled "venting" process when emotions are "released" in a
controlled situation, and thereby diverted so that discussions can center on interests and
resolution of more negotiable issues.) 8. How do you handle power imbalances between the
parties? (Problem solving mediators may say that they work to equalize power because
mediation works better when the power between the parties is close to equal. Transformative
mediators will say that they work to empower both sides to understand the issues and options
fully and to make decisions which best meet each person's own needs. A transformative mediator
will not empower one side, but not the other.) 9. Would you say you try to focus discussions more
on the past or more on the future? Why? (Problem solving mediators like to avoid discussions of
the past, as they can lead to blaming which may not facilitate productive settlement negotiations.
Transformative mediators are more comfortable with discussions of the past, and often
encourage them, as they are necessary for each party to recognize the views, situation, and
experiences of the other.) 10

When looking for mediation training, questions to ask to determine whether or not the training
utilizes a transformative approach include the following. What model of mediation do you teach?
The answer here should be "transformative," "relationship-centered," or "therapeutic"
mediation. These approaches contrast with "problem-solving," "settlement-oriented,"
"bargaining," or "labor-management" mediation. What are the goals of mediation in this model?
Transformative training will emphasize relationship-building, empowerment, and recognition
much more than obtaining a settlement. What skills do you try to teach? Transformative training
will teach participants how to structure a mediation in a way that is most likely to empower the
parties and encourage mutual recognition; it will also teach participants how to recognize and
exploit opportunities for empowerment and recognition when they occur. to go back to the list
of transformative mediation topics to go back to opening page

A number of conflict theorists and practitioners, including John Paul Lederach, advocate the
pursuit of "conflict transformation," as opposed to "conflict resolution" or "conflict
management." Conflict transformation is different from the other two, Lederach asserts, because
it reflects a better understanding of the nature of conflict itself. "Conflict resolution" implies that
conflict is bad--hence something that should be ended. It also assumes that conflict is a short
term phenomenon that can be"resolved" permanently through mediation or other intervention
processes. "Conflict management" correctly assumes that conflicts are long term processes that
often cannot be quickly resolved, but the notion of "management" suggests that people can be
directed or controlled as though they were physical objects. In addition, the notion of
management suggests that the goal is the reduction or control of volatility more than dealing
with the real source of the problem. Conflict transformation, as described by Lederach, does not
suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflict, but rather recognize and work with its
"dialectic nature." By this he means that social conflict is naturally created by humans who are
involved in relationships, yet once it occurs, it changes (i.e., transforms) those events, people,
and relationships that created the initial conflict. Thus, the cause and effect relationship goes
both ways--from the people and the relationships to the conflict and back to the people and
relationships. In this sense, "conflict transformation" is a term that describes a natural
occurrence. Conflicts change relationships in predictable ways, altering communication patters
and patterns of social organization, altering images of the self and of the other. Conflict
transformation is also a prescriptive concept. It suggests that left alone, conflict can have
destructive consequences. However, the consequences can be modified or transformed so that
self-images, relationships, and social structures improve as a result of conflict instead of being
harmed by it. Usually this involves transforming perceptions of issues, actions, and other people
or groups. Since conflict usually transforms perceptions by accentuating the differences between
people and positions, effective conflict transformation can work to improve mutual
understanding. Even when people's interests, values, and needs are different, even non-
reconcilable, progress has been made if each group gains a relatively accurate understanding of
the other. Transformation also involves transforming the way conflict is expressed. It may be
expressed competitively, aggressively, or violently, or it may be expressed through nonviolent

advocacy, conciliation, or attempted cooperation. Unlike many conflict theorists and activists,
who perceive mediation and advocacy as being in opposition to each other, Lederach sees
advocacy and mediation as being different stages of the conflict transformation process. Activism
is important in early stages of a conflict to raise people's awareness of an issue. Thus activism
uses nonviolent advocacy to escalate and confront the conflict. Once awareness and concern is
generated, then mediation can be used to transform the expression of conflict from "mutually
destructive modes toward dialogue and inter-dependence." (Lederach, 1989l p. 14) Such
transformation, Lederach suggests, must take place at both the personal and the systemic level.
At the personal level, conflict transformation involves the pursuit of awareness, growth, and
commitment to change which may occur through the recognition of fear, anger, grief, and
bitterness. These emotions must be outwardly acknowledged and dealt with in order for effective
conflict transformation to occur. Peacemaking also involves systemic transformation--the
process of increasing justice and equality in the social system as a whole. This may involve the
elimination of oppression, improved sharing of resources, and the non-violent resolution of
conflict between groups of people. Each of these actions reinforces the other. In other words,
transformation of personal relationships facilitates the transformation of social systems and
systemic changes facilitate personal transformation. Key to both kinds of transformation are
truth, justice, and mercy, as well as empowerment and interdependence. These concepts are
frequently seen to be in opposition to each other; however, they must come together for
reconciliation or "peace" to occur, Lederach asserts. for a discussion of how these four variables
relate to Bush and Folger's empowerment and recognition.

For additional readings Peace and Justice Peace and justice are both very abstract terms that
mean different things to different people. Some people think justice is primary and Conflict is
secondary. This is the view embodied in the frequently-heard phrase "if you want peace, fight for
justice." Others think that peace (read "conflict resolution") will bring justice. This is the view held
by many mediators who believe that consensus-based conflict resolution processes not only end
conflicts (i.e., bring peace), but in so doing, render justice that is often more just than that
delivered through adversarial, political, or legal systems. This debate is reiterated in the oft-heard
debate between activists and advocates on the one hand, and mediators on the other. Both see

themselves as pursuing "justice," but advocates charge that mediators sacrifice justice for peace
by down-playing social structural or justice issues, while mediators charge that advocates
sacrifice peace for justice by intentionally escalating conflicts to win converts to their own cause.
This dichotomy is a false one, John Paul Lederach asserts. Drawing from diagram in Making Peace
by Adam Curle, Lederach suggests that advocacy and activism is the approach of choice in
situations where power is unbalanced and the awareness of the conflict is relatively low.
Advocacy helps to raise awareness (on both sides) and to balance power. Once this is done, then
mediators can take over to enable the parties to negotiate successfully to obtain both peace and
justice simultaneously. (See Lederach, 1989) Peace, Justice, Truth, and Mercy Just as justice and
peace are often seen as being in opposition to each other, so are justice and mercy. Justice,
according to Lederach, involves "the pursuit of restoration, of rectifying wrongs, of creating right
relationships based on equity and fairness. Pusuing justice involves advoacy for those harmed,
for open acknowledgement of the wrongs committed, and for makiing things right. Mercy, on
the other hand, involves compassion, forgiveness, and a new start. Mercy is oriented toward
supporting persons who have committed injustices, encouraging them to change and move on."
(Lederach 1995, p. 20). Often it is assumed one does on or the other, but not both. Justice, it is
often assumed, requires determining the truth and punishing the guilty party. Mercy, on the
other hand, implies forgiveness. Thus, if one prosecutes and punishes the guilty, mercy at best
can involve leniency in the sentence. Punishment, however, seldom results in either
reconciliation or restitution. Thus, the resulting justice is illusory. The challenge, according to
Lederach is "to pursue justice in ways that respect people, and [at the same time] to achieve
restoration of relationships based on recognizing and amending injustices." (Ledearch, 1995, p.
20.) Thus, Lederach argues that reconciliation involves the identification and acknowledgment of
what happened (i.e. truth), an effort to right the wrongs that occurred (i.e., justice) and
forgiveness for the perpetrators (mercy). The end result is not only reconciliation, but peace. To
read a full-text article by John Paul Lederach on this topic A Comparison of Lederach's "Conflict
Transformation" with Bush and Folgers' Transformative Mediation These two approaches to
conflict resolution were developed independently for use in different contexts. Bush and Folger's
transformative mediation was developed, at least initially, for interpersonal (often two-person)

conflicts such as family conflicts or community conflicts. Most of Lederach's work has been at the
intergroup and international level. He has spent his life trying to moderate and mediate highly
intractable conflicts between warring ethnic groups. The relationships between these two
approaches, however, is striking. Lederach calls for the acknowledgment of harm (parallel to
Bush and Folger's recognition) and for the empowerment of the disputants to make things right.
Ledearch defines empowerment as "overcoming the obstacles and making possible the
movement from 'I cannot' to 'I can.'" This is very similar to Bush and Folger's conception of
empowerment, as is Lederach's definition of transformation: "Transformative peacemaking,
then, empowers individuals and nurtures mutuality and community." (Mutuality and community
can be seen as parallel to mutual recognition.) Another similarity is the primacy of process over
outcome. Again quoting Lederach, "process matters more than outcome. . . .At times of heated
conflict too little attention is paid to how the issues are to be approached, discussed, and
decided. There is a push toward solution and outcome that skips the discipline of creating an
adequate and clear process for achieving an acceptble result. Process, it is argued, is the key to
the Kingdom." (Ledearch, 1995, p. 22) This view very much parallels the notion of transformative
mediation that problemsolving mediation is too focused on the outcome (i.e., settlement) and
that a better approach focuses more on the process of dialogue itself (which transformative
mediation does).

Analytical problem solving is a social-psychological approach to dealing with deep-rooted,

protracted intergroup and international conflicts. Initially developed by Herbert Kelman and John
Burton, this technique is based on the human needs theory of conflict, which says that most
deep-rooted conflicts are caused by one or more person's or group's inability to obtain its
fundamental human needs--for instance, identity, security, or recognition. ''] By identifying the
underlying needs that are lacking, parties are often able to redefine the conflict in a way that
facilitates joint problem solving and collaboration, when such was impossible before. (This is
especially true when conflicts are defined in terms of mutually exclusive interests.) Unlike
interests, needs are usually mutually-reinforcing. rather than mutually exclusive. Although the
term "problem solving" makes the approach sound similar to the settlement-oriented approach
to mediation, the approach is actually more closely aligned with the transformative approach to

conflict. For instance, a great deal of emphasis is put on identifying and examining each parties'
perspective on the problem, including the parties' values, interests, prejudices, hopes, fears, and
needs. As with transformative mediation, emotions are not avoided, but are dealt with directly.
Much emphasis is put on mutual recognition of the needs of the other party and empowerment
of the parties to approach their mutual problem in new ways. Although the ultimate goal is
resolving the conflict, in almost all of the cases in which this approach has been used, the
workshops have focused on a much shorter-term goal of increasing mutual understanding and
respect. Many workshops have been held, for instance, between Israelis and Palestinians. These
workshops helped lay the groundwork for the Oslo accords, and have continued since Oslo in
efforts to facilitate the agreement's implementation. However, in that situation, as most others
like it, obtaining true resolution and a complete peace is a very slow process. Increasing mutual
understanding and interpersonal (rather than intersocietal) trust is the short term goal which is
being achieved by this workshop process. Interests, Needs, and Values Interests, needs, and
values are three concepts that underlie most conflicts, yet are often confused. The term
"interests" is generally used to refer to the things people want in a conflict. They are often,
though not necessarily, material. They are generally negotiable--people are willing to trade more
or less of one interest for more or less of another. Yet conflicts are often defined in terms of
incompatible interests. It is assumed that there is only so much of something (money, land, jobs,
etc.) and the more one person or group gets, the less the other side gets. Thus, framing conflicts
in terms of interests often yields a "zero sum" or "win-lose" situation. Needs, on the other hand,
are also things people want in a conflict. However, they are usually not material things, but
intangible things such as security, identity, and recognition. According to John Burton, one of the
leading human needs theorists, the "reflect universal motivations. They are an integral part of
the human being." Needs differ from interests in several important ways. First, they are non-
negotiable. People will not trade away their identity or their security. Identity and security are so
fundamental, so necessary to all human satisfaction, that people will do almost anything, even
things that violate fundamental norms, or diminish their ability to attain their interests, in an
effort to obtain their fundamental needs. A second difference is that needs are usually not
mutually exclusive. While interests may be structured in such a way that only one side can get

what it wants, needs are usually mutually supporting. Insecurity tends to breed aggression
against others; security allows one to leave others alone. Similarly, if one's own identity is secure,
then there is no need to threaten another's sense of identity. If a group's identity is denied,
however, it is likely to respond by asserting its identity against that of the opposing group(s).
Values are also fundamental beliefs that are non-negotiable. Values are the "ideas, habits,
customs and beliefs that are a characteristic of particular social communities." (Burton, Conflict:
Resolution and Provention, p. 37.) Values determine how we understand the world and how we
respond to it. As with needs, if one's values are questioned or threatened, one is likely to respond
strongly to defend one's values. Since values and needs are non-negotiable, these concepts are
not dealt with as often in settlement-oriented forms of dispute resolution, which tend to focus
much more on interests. Transformative forms of dispute resolution, however, tend to deal with
values and needs much more extensively, believing that having an understanding of those issues
must preceded any work on interest negotiation. [1] Here recognition generally refers to
something one gets, but it links to Bush and Folger's definition of recognition because it cannot
be received if it is not given.

Dialogue is a form of conversation and a form of relating to people that differs from mediation,
negotiation, and debate in that it seeks to inform and learn, but not persuade or resolve anything.
This approach is often more successful in deep-rooted, value based conflicts where negotiation
is impossible. Progress in such situations requires the breakdown of stereotypes, a willingness to
listen and respect others' views, and a willingness to open oneself to new ideas. Dialogue allows
this to happen, often before people are willing to sit down to discuss "resolution," "consensus,"
or areas of "common ground." While dialogue has been in use in conflict situations (by the
Quakers, for instance) for decades, it has become increasingly common in non-religious settings
over the last ten years. The Public Conversations Project, one of the leaders in applying dialogue
to public debates, describes dialogue as a conversation in which people "speak openly and listen
respectfully and attentively. Dialogue excludes attack and defense and avoids derogatory
attributions based on assumptions about the motives, meanings, or character of others. In
dialogue, questions are sincere, stimulated by curiosity and interest. Answers often disclose what
previously has been unspoken." (Chasin et al, 1996, p. 325.) This can be contrasted with debate,

which often becomes repetitive, entrenched, and rhetorical. Rather than opening people up to
new ideas, debate tends to close them down--they get an "I already heard this a thousand times"
attitude, and they just talk louder and argue harder about their own views, rather than being
receptive to others'. The following table, taken from "From Diatribe to Dialogue on Divisive Public
Issues: Approaches Drawn from Family Therapy," (Mediation Quarterly, Summer 1996) compares
dialogue to debate, highlighting the key differences in each of several categories. Distinguishing
Destructive Debate from Dialogue Destructive Debate Dialogue Pre-meeting communication
between sponsors and participants is minimal and largely irrelevant to what follows. Pre-meeting
contacts and preparation of participants are essential elements of the full process. Participants
tend to be leaders known for propounding a carefully crafted position. The personas displayed in
the debate are usually already familiar to the public. The behavior of the participants tends to
conform to stereotypes. Those chosen to participate are not necessarily outspoken leaders.
Whoever they are, they speak as individuals whose own unique experiences differ in some
respect from others on their side. Their behavior is likely to vary in some degree and along some
dimensions from stereotypical images others may hold of them. The atmosphere is threatening;
attacks and interruptions are expected by participants and are usually permitted by moderators.
The atmosphere is one of safety; facilitators propose, get agreement on, and enforce clear
ground rules to enhance safety and promote respectful exchange. Participants speak as
representatives of groups. Participants speak as individuals, from their own unique experience.
Participants speak to their own constituents and, perhaps, to the undecided middle. Participants
speak to one another. Differences within "sides" are denied or minimized. Differences among
participants on the same side are revealed, as individual and personal foundations of beliefs and
values are explored. Participants express unswerving commitment to a point of view, approach,
or idea. Participants express uncertainties, as well as deeply held believes. Participants listen in
order to refute the other side's data and to expose faulty logic in their arguments. Questions are
asked from a position of certainty. These questions are often rhetorical challenges or disguised
statements. Participants listen to understand and gain insight into the beliefs and concerns of the
others. Questions are asked from a position of curiosity. Statements are predictable and offer
little new information. New information surfaces. Success requires simple impassioned

statements. Success requires exploration of the complexities of the issue being discussed.
Debates operate within the constraints of the dominant public discourse. (The discourse defines
problem and the options for resolution. It assumes that fundamental needs and values are
already clearly understood.) Participants are encouraged to question the dominant public
discourse, that is, to express fundamental needs that may or may not be reflected in the
discourse and to explore various options for problem definition and resolution. Participants may
discover inadequacies in the usual language and concepts used in the public debate.

Dialogue approaches Drawn from Family Therapy. Key elements of the PCP approach to dialogue
are collaborating with participants, preventing re-enactment of the "old" ways of communicating
and relating with the other side, and fostering a new way of communicating by imposing a strict
(though negotiated) set of ground rules and a pre-formulated structure. Unlike transformative
mediation, where the mediator "follows the parties around," the facilitators of dialogue definitely
do the leading--by asking very carefully formulated questions which are answered in a predefined
order. However, dialogue facilitators do not look for or highlight areas of common ground, nor
do they push parties towards settlement. Rather, they structure the session in a way that
encourages mutual recognition. In so doing, they are also likely to generate empowerment,
though that is not a pre-defined goal as it is in transformative mediation. Nevertheless, the results
of dialogue are usually extremely transformative, as people emerge from the process with a
much deeper understanding of both their own views and the views of people on the other side.
While this does not necessarily lead to settlement--in fact it seldom does in the protracted, deep-
rooted public policy conflicts that the PCP generally deals with--it does initiate a new way of
dealing with these conflicts that have the potential, over the long term, for transforming the
public debate, not just the private dialogues of the immediate participants. [Click here] for a
summary of "From Diatribe to Dialogue on Divisive Public Issues: Approaches Drawn from Family
Therapy," (Mediation Quarterly, Summer 1996)

Collaborative Learning approach draws on what is called soft systems methodology, a theory of
learning, and alternative dispute resolution. By combining these two methods, collaborative
learning encourages the public and experts to learn together about each other, the issues in
dispute, and alternative approaches for dealing with those issues. Like other transformative

approaches to conflict, collaborative learning stresses process more than outcome, and seeks to
make incremental improvements to mutual understanding, rather than seeking final resolution
of a conflict. Though it stresses different terms, collaborative learning essentially seeks
empowerment of the parties by improving the parties' ability to communicate with each other
effectively, to collect, analyze, and understand complex technical information, and to use that
information to make sensible decisions. The process also encourages recognition as it encourages
effective listening and dialogue among all parties to a public policy conflict.

Constructive confrontation is an approach to dealing with intractable conflicts that is being

developed by Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. This approach is based on the assumption that
while conflict is inevitable in all societies, the destructive nature of most conflicts is avoidable. By
using constructive confrontation, disputants and third parties can transform destructive conflicts
into constructive ones--ones which are not necessarily resolved, but ones which lead to a
growing and strengthening of the parties and the relationship between them. This approach to
conflict has several key elements. First is that many conflicts neither can be, nor should be,
resolved. This is similar to Bush and Folger's view that settlement should not be the goal of
transformative processes. Rather, constructive confrontation provides disputants and third
parties with a set of tools to confront (i.e, engage in) conflict in a way that generates more
benefits than it does costs. Benefits include a better understanding of one's own interests, values,
and needs, and how to pursue them (Bush and Folger's empowerment) as well as a clearer
understanding, of the interests, values, and needs of the other side (Bush and Folger's
recognition). A second key element of constructive confrontation is a distinction between the
core conflict and "conflict overlay" problems. The core conflict is made up of the fundamental
interests, values, and or needs which are in opposition to each other. Lying over this core conflict
are usually a set of" conflict overlays" or complicating factors, which often obscure the core and
make it difficult to deal with effectively. These overlays typically include framing problems,
misunderstandings, procedural problems, technical/factual problems, and escalation.
Constructive confrontation requires that all of these overlays be identified and limited as much
as possible, in order to enhance constructive confrontation of the core issues. While this is a more
structured approach to dealing with deep-rooted conflicts than is transformative mediation, it is

similar in that it takes a very broad view of what such conflicts are "about" and what aspects of
those conflicts need to be dealt with. Unlike settlement oriented processes that narrow in on
specific negotiable interests, constructive confrontation urges analysis and management of
relationship issues, emotional issues, value- and need-based issues as well as the traditional
interests dealt with by problem solving mediation. A third key element of constructive
confrontation is what the Burgesses call the "incremental approach." Taken from Lindblom's
concepts of remediality and "muddling through," constructive confrontation assumes that most
intractable problems do not have simple win-win solutions that will result in complete and final
resolution. These conflicts are complex, multi-party, multi-issue situations where the best that
can be achieved is an incremental improvement in the parties' abilities to meet their own needs
and/or their understanding of the interests, needs, and values of the other side(s). This is done
by working to correct misunderstandings, reframe conflicts in more productive ways, find and
effectively utilize mutually credible technical information, correct procedural errors, and/or limit
escalation. This, then allows the transformation of a conflict from one which is highly destructive,
to one which is much more constructive. A fourth key element of constructive confrontation is
integration of power strategies into what the Paul Wehr and the Burgesses call the power
strategy mix. Drawing from Kenneth Boulding's Three Faces of Power, constructive confrontation
suggests utilizing a combination threat or force, negotiation, and integrative approaches, or what
Boulding refers to as "love." While not commonly thought of as a source of power, both
negotiation and integrative strategies improve one's ability to get one's interests and needs met
(which is, in essence "power). These strategies, when used in combination with a small amount
of threat, are often far more successful in generating constructive change than are threat or force
used alone. Used alone, threat-based strategies tend to cause escalation and backlash, not
constructive change. Similarly, negotiation or integrative strategies often cannot be used alone
either because the core aspect of the conflict is non-negotiable and the relationship between the
parties is so weak that integrative strategies are considered or accepted. A combination of the
three strategies, used sequentially or simultaneously can often lead to progress that one strategy
alone could not.

SIXTH _Conflict Resolution, Genetics and Alchemy-


The Evolution of Conflict Transmutation

The Intersection of Conflict Resolution, Genetics and Alchemy

The study of genetics may appear to have little to do with conflict resolution and even less so
with alchemy. Conflict resolution studies conflicts between individuals and communities and has
led to the development of a range of intervention strategies and communication models for
resolving conflict in a peaceful manner. Alchemy, on the other hand, broadly refers to a
discredited forerunner to modern chemistry that was practiced in the Middle Ages and
attempted to transmute base physical matter into more valuable or evolved forms. Genetics or
molecular biology, in contrast, involves understanding how genetically stored information in the
basic unit of life, the cell, influences the reproduction, physical characteristics and behavior of
humans. This paper argues that there is an important intersection between these three distinct
fields. This intersection is based on the insight that the basic emotions and thoughts responsible
for human behavior are genetically recorded in each and every cell that make up the human body
and are passed down through succeeding generations. In the 16 th century, the French
philosopher Michel Montaigne had a similar insight when he wrote: "What a wonderful thing it
is that drop of seed from which we are produced bears in itself the impressions, not only of the
bodily shape, but of the thoughts and inclinations of our fathers." (2) If Montaigne is correct, as I
contend he is, then the ways in which individuals (and communities) behave in conflicts are not
merely a result of socialization and nurturing processes but are genetically passed down.

Recent research findings in genetics confirm many historic insights, such as Montaigne's, into the
sources of human behavior and open an important new frontier for the discipline of conflict
resolution. (3)This new frontier requires that conflict resolution take an extra step in its ongoing
evolution as a social science by doing two things. First, conflict resolution must understand how
genetically stored information influences the way individuals and even communities behave in
conflicts. This requires understanding how individual thoughts and emotions interact with
genetically stored information to form the bases for behavior in conflict situations. Second,

conflict resolution must explore methods of transforming this genetical pool of information in a
way that produces more harmonious and cooperative forms of conflict behavior. This requires
exploring practices and disciplines that seek to transform the fundamental bases of human
behavior - thoughts and emotions that are locked away in our genetic pool of information.

Alchemy adds a fascinating addition to the intersection of genetics and conflict resolution since
it provides a set of esoteric practices for transmuting base physical matter into more refined
substances. In the Middle Ages, alchemy was widely understood to involve the transmutation of
base metals such as lead into gold. As a science, alchemy was eventually discredited but proved
to be an important forerunner to modern chemistry. However, alchemy also had a more esoteric
dimension that was profoundly mystical. In this sense, alchemy was a set contemplative practices
by which practitioners would transmute the base matter of individual personality into a more
divine or saintly set of personal qualities. In essence, alchemy aimed to transmute individuals
from 'sinners' into 'saints'. Alchemy can therefore be understood as a set of contemplative
mystical practices found in all religious traditions that has led to remarkable transformations in
the behavior of countless individuals. Individuals previously disposed to unproductive or
destructive conflict behaviors have developed entirely new ways of responding to conflicts. Such
changes cannot be explained solely by individuals changing their intellectual world views since
emotions often have a way of overcoming the most sincere intellectual beliefs. This is easily seen
by the number of earnest New Year resolutions broken by individuals who are intellectually
committed to changing their habits. The phrase made popular by St Augustine that 'the spirit is
willing but the flesh is weak' demonstrates the extent to which powerful emotions holds sway
over even our most ardent intellectual convictions.

Practitioners of contemplative practices have been able to effect deep emotional and
psychological changes due to mystical experiences wherein elevated feelings of oneness and love
for all humanity change their intellectual world views and emotional responses. Modern day
alchemists have found the secret to transmuting the deep emotional and psychological drives

that human reason often spectacularly fail to control. Contemplative practices demonstrate how
we might transmute genetically stored thoughts and emotions to fundamentally alter behavior
at all levels of human interaction. Such a transmutation of genetic information has implications
not only for each individual, but for successive generations that will inherit our genetic material.

Genetics as a discipline implies that we are the slaves of history insofar as we are hardwired by
genetically stored information that influences all aspects of the human condition. In contrast,
conflict resolution and alchemy teach how we can become the master of our future by changing
fundamentally the way we perceive ourselves and behave in conflict situations. The intersection
of genetics, conflict resolution and alchemy leads to a form of 'gene therapy' based not on
advanced technology to change dysfunctional genetic codes, but on contemplative practices that
transform the deepest codes known to humanity for influencing individual behavior. The
intersection of these three fields posits a brave new world where individuals can become the
master of how they behave in conflict situations that trigger genetically coded conflict behaviors
that would otherwise enslave us to destructive past practices.

Alchemy in the sense I have used it as modern day form of mysticism, varies widely in the way it
is formulated and practiced. (4) However, alchemy can be understood essentially as a set of
contemplative practices that seek to transmute the base matter of destructive and competitive
human behavior: genetically stored thoughts and emotions that derive both from our ancestors
and from ourselves. Alchemy transmutes thoughts and emotions based on the separateness and
randomness of all life, to thoughts and emotions that emphasize the interconnectedness and
universal order of all life.

Conflict resolution is fundamentally concerned with understanding the sources and dynamics of
conflict in order to develop more effective strategies and mechanisms for resolving human
conflicts. As the field of conflict resolution evolves, a deepening appreciation of the role of the

human nature in understanding the sources and dynamics of conflict is occurring. This is where
conflict resolution, genetics and alchemy intersect. It is in that intersection that 'conflict
transmutation' is born. This paper explores that intersection in a way that seeks to gain an insight
into some of the future challenges confronting the field of conflict resolution. Indeed, my main
argument is that conflict resolution is evolving towards a more transformative discipline that
combines the insights and tools developed by conflict resolution theorists with knowledge of
inherited behavioral characteristics provided by molecular biologists and the insights of mystics
into the fundamental determinants of human behavior.

The Evolution of Conflict Resolution

It is fair to say that conflict resolution is simultaneously an ancient and a new field of academic
study. It is ancient insofar as humans have always attempted to regulate and settle conflicts by
recourse to a variety of strategies. These include rule of law, political agreements, religious
authority and of course brute military force. All of these strategies have, to varying degrees,
emphasized the role of abstract principles of justice, morality and divine guidance in ending
conflict. As a new field of study, conflict resolution attempts to move beyond these time honored
set of strategies by developing theoretical insights into the nature and sources of conflict, and
how conflicts can be resolved to bring about durable settlements without the use of military

The theoretical breakthrough that was to usher in conflict resolution as a social science in the
modern era was the insight that 'cooperative conflict behavior' would eventually elicit favorable
responses by other parties in a conflict. Competitive conflict behavior on the other hand would
perpetuate itself and could result in destructive behavior. Such an insight is by no means an
original one and can be found in virtually all societies. Indeed, in the New Testament account of
Jesus' arrest, one of his disciples takes out his sword in defense of Jesus and cuts off the ear of
one of the soldiers. Jesus admonished his disciple and said that "all who draw the sword will die

by the sword." (5) One of the first to develop the insight into the beneficial consequences of
cooperation as a subject of academic enquiry was Morton Deutsche who wrote an article in 1949
titled, "A theory of cooperation and competition." (6) In his later book, The Resolution of
Conflict (1973), Deutsche was able to develop a much more sophisticated understanding of the
processes and forces that lead to competitive or cooperative conflict behaviors. He developed
Deutsche's 'crude law of social relations': "the characteristic processes and effects elicited by a
given type of social relationship (for example, cooperative or competitive) also tend to elicit that
type of social relationship." (7) Deutsche's work set the agenda for conflict resolution right up until
the 1980s and still exerts a powerful influence.

The conceptual breakthrough in discovering the practical benefits of cooperative conflict

behavior was a key departure from the ancient set of tools which were based on the assumption
that cooperation, while morally desirable, was in many cases politically naive. One need only look
to the criticism Winston Churchill had of his leader, Neville Chamberlain, for cooperating with
Adolph Hitler at Munich in 1938 to ward off World War II. The subsequent World War served for
decades as a powerful reminder of the folly of believing that cooperation with tyrannical leaders
would elicit cooperative responses. This has served to strengthen the belief by political elites that
competitive and adversarial conflict behaviors would best serve the interests of their countries,
and of course their own political careers!

The conceptual insight that cooperation would elicit cooperative behavior by both sides in a
conflict was mathematically supported in game theory where conflict resolution practitioners
examined a variety of models to understand the how parties negotiated in conflicts. It was argued
that cooperation showed itself to be the most desirable means of behaving in conflict situations
insofar as all sides in a conflict would eventually learn they could optimize their interests by
cooperating. During the Cold War era, advocates of conflict resolution argued that the nuclear
arms race could be diminished by applying this theoretical insight provided by game theory.
Unilateral concessions by one side would eventually elicit, it was argued, similar responses by the

other side. Charles Osgood's 1962 model of 'GRaduated Initiatives in Tension reduction' (GRIT)
exemplified the theoretical insight that cooperative conflict behavior would eventually elicit
cooperative responses.

The conceptual breakthrough that cooperation was not only morally desirable but also
mathematically the means by which one could optimize outcomes, led to more research on why
parties behaved competitively despite the advantages provided by cooperation. Human
psychology was an important part of the work of the early conflict resolution theorists who
invoked such elements as the role of negative stereotypes and enemy images in perceiving and
dealing with the enemy. It was argued, for example, that prior to dropping the atomic bombs on
Japan, American policy makers had concluded that negotiating Japan's surrender would be
ineffective due to variety of stereotypes through which Japanese leaders were perceived.

A result of understanding the benefits of cooperative versus competitive conflict behaviors was
that these two categories could be further broken down into a variety of negotiating strategies
adopted by conflicting parties. In their immensely popular 1981 book, Getting to Yes, Roger
Fisher and William Ury argued that there were essentially three forms of conflict behavior. The
first two, 'soft' and 'hard positional bargaining' resulted in parties either surrendering or
defending their respective positions. Hard positional bargaining was competitive and adversarial,
and often led to undesirable outcomes for the weaker party. 'Soft positional bargaining', on the
other hand, yielded too much in a negotiation to the stronger party and similarly led to an
undesirable outcome. In the third conflict behavior, 'principled negotiation', parties would
instead cooperate in seeking to identify their underlying interests and make these the basis of a
solution that would prove durable and satisfactory to both parties.

Fisher and Ury broke new ground insofar as they suggested there were no value system that
could be invoked as a means of resolving conflict. Cooperation itself became the ultimate value
system and was stressed as the critical factor for conflict resolution. Fisher's and Ury's model led

to a kind of amoral theoretical approach that has made some feel very uncomfortable with the
idea that cooperation itself becomes the ultimate value system in resolving conflict. If there
wasn't an ultimate value system, couldn't that lead in some cases to parties cooperating to bring
about immoral ends on the basis of their underlying interests? If so, what distinguished conflict
resolution at the international level from 'power politics' that sought to justify national interests
as the ultimate basis of organizing and settling major international conflicts? Wouldn't the model
advocated by Fisher and Ury justify resolutions to a conflict that preserved the interests of self-
serving political leaders? For example, at a celebrated meeting between the leaders of Croatia
and Serbia shortly after the beginning of war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia,
Presidents Tudjman and Milosevic supposedly carved up Bosnia to suit each other's national
interests. What distinguished this act of realpolitik from the principled negotiation of Fisher and

The moral and social justice limitations inherent in Fisher's and Ury's interest based model led to
efforts to develop a deeper and more satisfying theoretical basis for conflict resolution. The
person who pioneered the next important evolutionary stage in conflict resolution was John
Burton. Burton argued that one had to distinguish between the basic needs and interests of
parties in a conflict. (9) Basic needs represented the underlying motivations of humans such as the
need for food, shelter, safety, identity and love which could all be satisfied due to the subjective
nature of these needs. In contrast, interests were defined more narrowly as anything which could
be negotiated by a party without threatening their underlying needs. As Burton
writes: "'Disputes' involve negotiable interests, while 'conflicts' are concerned with issues that
are not negotiable, issues that relate to ontological human needs that cannot be
compromised." (10)

This distinction led to the insight that conflict resolution based on human needs would lead to
variable sum or win-win outcomes since no one's basic needs had to be compromised in a
conflict. In contrast, an interest based approach to conflict resolution led to fixed-sum outcomes
(win-lose) where parties typically had to compromise some of their interests as a result of

cooperating to resolve the conflict.

Burton applied the theoretical insight by John Dollard that frustration-aggression formed an
important causal chain in the emergence of violent conflict. Like Dollard, Burton believed that
frustrated needs led to aggressive behavior and were the underlying source of all conflict and
violence. In contrast, interests were negotiable, and unsatisfied interests would not necessarily
result in aggression and violence. For example, two bordering countries may find themselves in
a dispute over fishing quotas in an adjoining sea. One country has a traditional fishing community
that relies on fishing while the other has a number of fishing companies that are active in the
area. The interests of each country are to maximize the fishing quotas for their respective
constituencies. However, the basic need of one country's is too maintain the long term livelihood
of its fishing communities while the other wants to protect the commercial viability of its fishing
companies. If interests are left unsatisfied, violent conflict will not necessarily occur. If needs are
left unsatisfied, then violent conflict is much more likely. Burton's theory was an important
advance on the Fisher and Ury model since it was connected to an explicit value system based on
non-negotiable basic needs that could satisfy social justice and ethical concerns over the nature
of a conflict settlement.

Despite clear differences in terms of the underlying value system that underscored Burton's
'needs based' and Fisher's and Ury's 'interest based' models of conflict resolution, both models
were oriented towards generating cooperative outcomes to a conflict. Both aimed to equip
practitioners parties with the conceptual skills to become problems solvers in the sense of
cooperative conflict behavior. It was focus on training individuals to be problem solvers who
generate win-win outcomes which led to growing dissatisfaction in the field of conflict resolution.
This dissatisfaction resulted in the next stage in the evolution of conflict resolution - conflict
transformation. Robert Bush and Joseph Folger explain this evolution in terms of conflict
resolution having reached the cross roads of two approaches to conflict:

The first approach, a problem solving approach, emphasizes mediation's [conflict resolution's]
capacity for finding solutions and generating mutually acceptable settlements.... The second
approach, a transformative approach to mediation [conflict resolution] emphasizes mediation's
[conflict resolution's] capacity for ... empowering parties to define issues and decide settlement
terms for themselves and on helping parties to better understand one another's perspectives. (11)

Conflict transformation is concerned primarily with changing the attitudes and perceptions of the
parties to one another. The insight here is that merely cooperating to generate 'win-win
solutions' to conflict does not change underlying attitudes which may easily resurface and fuel
other conflicts. For example, if we return to the above dispute between two countries over fishing
quotas, a solution could be reached that satisfied each country's interests and needs. However,
if negative attitudes developed in each country during the conflict are not addressed, then these
could serve to generate further conflicts some time later. Janice Gross Stein elaborates on this

Embedded enemy images are a serious obstacle to conflict management, routinization,

reduction, or resolution. Once formed, enemy images tend to become deeply rooted and
resistant to change, even when one adversary attempts to signal a change in intent to another.
The images themselves then perpetuate and intensify the conflict. (12)

Merely providing parties with more effective tools to communicate and develop win-win
solutions to conflicts is seen as no long term solution by advocates of conflict transformation.
The conflict therefore has to be taken as an opportunity to transform the party's perceptions and
feelings to prevent future conflicts. What is needed is a more radical attempt to change the
underlying emotions and perceptions that influence the behavior of parties in a conflict. This
means effort is needed in systematically getting parties to acknowledge and identify the
respective feelings, needs and perceptions of one another, and to seek to improve these. Once

these elements in a conflict have been satisfactorily dealt with, the stage is set for dealing with
substantive issues.

The focus on transforming feelings and perceptions, and recognizing the validity of needs has led
to the idea of empathy being introduced as a fundamental component of conflict resolution.
According to Marshall Rosenberg, empathy corresponds to some attempt to acknowledge the
feelings and needs of respective parties in a conflict without evaluating or judging these. He
believes that if parties in a conflict were able to communicate their needs in ways that did not
alienate or antagonize one another, conflict would be quickly resolved. Rosenberg gives an
example of how 'empathic' or 'nonviolent communication' can be used:

I was presenting Nonviolent Communication in a mosque at Deheisha Refugee Camp in

Bethlehem to about 170 Palestinian Moslem men. Attitudes towards American at that time were
not favorable. As I was speaking, I suddenly noticed a wave of muffled commotion fluttering
through the audience. "They're whispering that you are American!" my translator alerted me,
just as a gentleman in the audience leapt to his feet. Facing me squarely, he hollered at the top
of his lungs, "Murderer!" Immediately a dozen other voices joined him in chorus: "Assassin!"
"Child-killer!" Murderer!"

Fortunately, I was able to focus my attention on what the man was feeling and needing. In this
case, I had some cues. On the way into the refugee camp, I had seen several empty tear gas
canisters that had been shot into the camp the night before. Clearly marked on each canister
were the words "Made in USA." I knew that the refugees harbored a lot of anger toward the US
for supplying tear gas and other weapons to Israel.

I addressed the man who had called me a murderer:

I: Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently? ...

He: Damn right I'm angry! You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas! We
need housing! We need to have our own country!

 So you're furious and would appreciate some support in improving your living conditions
and gaining political independence?...

Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for nearly twenty more minutes, and I
listening for the feeling and need behind each statement... An hour later, the same man who had
called me a murderer was inviting me to his home for a Ramadan dinner.

Rosenberg's model is relatively new, but it promises to play a revolutionary role in changing the
way in which children are educated to resolve conflicts and can play a major role in more
conventional arenas of conflict resolution.

Conflict transformation seeks to work at a much deeper level of the human psyche than the
previous models of conflict resolution. For the cooperative model of conflict resolution, stress
was on improving the basic communication and negotiation tactics of the parties in order to
encourage cooperative conflict behavior that integrates the party's positions and to achieve a
suitable outcome. For the interest based model, one had to penetrate the surface level of
positions and dive into the deeper waters of underlying interests behind the positions to
generate win-win outcomes. For the needs based model, one had to go even deeper into the
basic needs that underlie all interests and which form the ultimate motivating forces of a conflict
in order to achieve just and durable outcomes.

The transformative based model of conflict goes even deeper into the sources of conflict by
focusing on the antagonistic perceptions and feelings fueled by frustrated needs of the conflicting
parties. This is to accept the idea initially proposed by John Dollard that the deepest source of
conflict comes from a reservoir of frustrated needs. These frustrated needs manifest in terms of
antagonistic perceptions and feelings that damage relationships between parties and ultimately
fuel conflict and violence. By working with these antagonistic perceptions and feelings arising
from frustrated needs, the transformation based model goes much further in addressing the

sources of conflict and therefore offers a more comprehensive model for resolving conflict than
offered by the other models. The tools developed for this transformative task use a range of
strategies from a communication theory such as Rosenberg's, to conventional religious principles
such as reconciliation and forgiveness (14); and psychoanalytical techniques developed by conflict
intervention practitioners.

Empathy is viewed rightly as a powerful tool for dealing with the perceptions and feelings that
fuel conflict. Empathy creates an interactive process between parties that encourages individual
catharsis thereby releasing powerful negative emotions and perceptions that give rise to
destructive conflict behavior. Furthermore, empathy allows individuals to make a connection at
the levels of feelings and needs thereby embracing each other's humanity. Empathy as a cognitive
therapeutic mechanism that encourages catharsis and a humanistic connection, however, does
have some important limitations. First, it is an interactive process that relies on individuals
attempting to identify the respective feelings and needs that underscore a conflict. While this
may do wonders in transforming the feelings and perceptions associated with a particular
conflict, it only scratches the surface of deep rooted feelings and perceptions that influence
individual conflict behavior both consciously and unconsciously. While one conflict is resolved,
and feelings and needs acknowledged, similar conflict behaviors by the parties may result in
further conflict. Essentially, without addressing the ingrained conflict behavior produced as a
result of parenting and socialization, one can not go much deeper than the surface level of
feelings and perceptions associated with a current conflict which may mask deeper feelings and
thoughts rooted in the core identity of an individual. Conflict transformation may transform
relationships, but it does not go far enough in addressing the underlying sources of conflict
behavior. If, as suggested at the beginning of the paper, conflict behavior is genetically recorded,
all the models of conflict resolution discussed thus far do not adequately address this
fundamental source of conflict behavior.

There is a model of conflict resolution that can be used to address the deep emotions and
thoughts that arise during a conflict and which perpetuate undesirable conflict behavior. This is
a model I will term 'conflict transmutation' since it uses principles and techniques found in

alchemy as a set of contemplative practices that transforms deeply encrusted feelings and
thoughts that fuel destructive conflict behaviors. Alchemy therefore works at the ultimate
substratum of conflict and needs to be more seriously considered in terms of its transformative
effect on negative feelings and associated thoughts that are stored at the cellular level. What I
will now do is offer a glimpse into what an alchemy based model of conflict resolution would do
in transforming basic emotions and thought patterns that influence conflict behavior by
introducing insights drawn from the study of genetics.

Conflict Transmutation & Genetics

Alchemy begins with examining the conception of self-identity possessed by an individual or

group. The theme of self-discovery is one that appears in virtually all mystical traditions. The
single most important factor in this search is memory. Our individual memories shape our basic
conceptions of self and form the ultimate source of how we think and behave. If memory is the
heart of our conceptions of self, then it is also at the heart of conflict. Memories of frustrated
needs are the substratum of conflict behavior and a major source of how we identify ourselves,
and consequently how we think and feel.

Memories of frustrated needs carry with them emotional charges of fear, anger, resentment,
sadness and other emotions felt at the time a need was frustrated. Indeed, all memories carry
with them an emotional charge, but it is the negative emotions associated with frustrated human
needs that are the source of destructive conflict behavior. These memories form a reservoir of
negatively charged emotions that accumulate over time. Deepak Chopra estimates that we have
on average 60,000 thoughts in a day. All of these thoughts, no matter how dispassionate or
disinterested we believe, carry an emotional charge. Each memory gets stored in different
regions of the body depending on the emotional charge it carries. For example, stress may be
stored in the shoulders, anger in the upper back, anxiety in the lower abdomen, etc. Over a
lifetime, one can only guess as to the power and intensity of negative emotions that make up the
reservoir of memories of frustrated needs. This reservoir of memories is 'toxic' insofar as it
manifests firstly in dis-ease in one's mental and emotional life. One has a jaundiced view of reality

and of people around oneself. One's feelings are dominated by fear and anger that lead to an
overly emphasized need to control others and one's environment. The over-emphasized need to
control leads to one behaving in conflicts in unproductive ways that merely perpetuate conflict
and reinforce one's jaundiced view of reality and people.

James Redfield describes four strategies in which individuals attempt to control people and their
natural environment. The first control strategy is the 'intimidator' by which one controls others
by making them fearful of the consequences for refusing to comply with him/her. The world is
seen by the intimidator in terms of a 'dog eat dog' dynamic where the strong survive and the
weak are trampled upon. The 'poor me' or 'victim' control strategy is the antithesis of the
intimidator in so far as the self-perceived victim seeks to control by making others feel guilty and
by manipulating the sympathy of others. The victim is skilled in using guilt trips to manipulate
others. The 'interrogator' is the third control strategy where one aggressively questions the ideas
and motivations of others in an attempt to wear them down and get them to finally capitulate to
one's perspective. Around an interrogator, people may feel that it is useless to speak up and
expose oneself to an endless series of opinionated statements and aggressive questions. The
interrogator believes s/he is on a crusade to find the 'truth' and will ruthlessly pursue it by
exposing the faulty reasoning of others. The fourth control strategy is the antithesis of the
interrogator insofar as one remains aloof. Remaining 'aloof' is a strategy designed to manipulate
others by encouraging them to be intrigued over what one may be feeling or thinking. One
creates the impression of having important knowledge that one will divulge at a time and place
of one's choosing. This gives the aloof person a sense of power since others want to know what
s/he is thinking.

Each of the above four control strategies are undesirable forms of conflict behavior that merely
perpetuate conflict since they are all manipulative and do little to change the reservoir of toxic
memories felt by the conflicting parties. In fact, these control strategies increase levels of
frustration since parties in a conflict are likely to become dissatisfied with the way they interact
and the outcomes to the conflict. The goal is to move beyond these four control strategies by

developing a conflict style that is more cooperative and empathic in how one interacts with
others. This would enable one to become the problem solver and conflict transformer advocated
by the conflict resolution theorists discussed earlier.

Over time, memories of frustrated needs carrying with them their emotional charges become
embedded in the human psyche and ultimately in the human body. In the psyche, these
emotionally charged memories may be directly felt in an individual's conscious life or, as is more
often the case, reside in the human unconscious surfacing at a time and place that follows no
logical process. Sigmund Freud was an important pioneer in revealing how unconscious
complexes that are made up of emotionally charged memories of frustrated needs, erupt and
influence the conscious mind. Freud posited the existence of a rational censor that would
metaphorically stand as a guard at the doorway between the conscious and unconscious mind
admitting only those memories that the mind was capable of dealing with at different stages of
moral and intellectual development.

The unconscious system may therefore be compared to a large ante-room, in which the various
mental excitations are crowding upon one another, like individual beings. Adjoining this is a
second, smaller apartment, a sort of reception room, in which consciousness resides. But on the
threshold between the two there stands a personage with the office of door-keeper, who
examines the various mental excitations, censors them, and denies them admittance to the
reception-room when he disapproves of them.

Freud's basic idea was that unless these 'complexes' or 'toxic memories' were eventually dealt
with, they would accumulate in the unconscious and spontaneously erupt in devastating ways.

Emotionally charged memories, however, do not reside merely in the unconscious parts of the
human psyche waiting for an opportunity to erupt spontaneously into the conscious mind. Rather
than harmlessly floating in some unconscious mental space located in the brain, memories
become embedded in the muscles, fat, organs, and bones of the human body. Indeed, memories

become embedded in the fundamental unit of all biological life - the cell. Carolyn Myss explains
how memories get recorded at the cellular level:

Experiences that carry emotional energy in our energy systems include: past and present
relationships, both personal and professional; profound or traumatic experiences and memories;
and belief patterns and attitudes ... The emotions from these experiences become encoded in
our biological systems and contribute to the formation of our cell tissue...

Elaborating further on the relationship between thoughts, emotions and biology, she writes:

All our thoughts, regardless of their content, first enter our systems as energy. Those that carry
emotional, mental, psychological or spiritual energy produce biological responses that are then
stored in our cellular memory. In this way our biographies are woven into our biological systems,
gradually, slowly, every day.

Deepak Chopra similarly argues that we "are no longer in doubt about the fact that invisible
wisps of thought and emotion alter the fundamental chemistry of every cell." (19) The molecular
biologist Candace Pert has recently discovered the scientific basis for the theory that emotions
are stored in the body's cells through her theory on cellular communication via neuropeptides
emitted both by the brain and the endocrine system:

If we accept the idea that peptides and other informational substances are the biochemicals of
emotion, their distribution in the body's nerves has all kinds of significance, which Sigmund
Freud, were he alive today, would gleefully point out as the molecular confirmation of this
theories. The body is the unconscious mind! Repressed traumas caused by overwhelming
emotion can be stored in a body part, thereafter affecting our ability to feel that part or even
move it.

The effect of emotionally charged memories on the body's health is increasingly being
understood by health care professionals. Carolyn Myss gives a striking example of how toxic

memories can lead to cellular damage and thus form the crucial link in the onset of disease:

Let's say you had some trouble with math when you were in elementary school. Knowing the fact
that twelve makes a dozen would not ordinarily carry an emotional charge that would alter the
health of cell tissues. On the other hand, if you were humiliated by the teacher because you didn't
know that fact, the experience would carry an emotional charge that would create cellular
damage, especially if you were to dwell on that memory throughout adulthood or use it as a
touchstone for determining how to deal with criticism, or authority figures, or education or

In this sense, the 'dis-ease' in one's emotional and mental life becomes disease in one's physical
body. As Chopra states: "distressed mental states get converted into the biochemicals that create
disease." (22) A striking conclusion is that all disease is psychosomatic insofar as it can be traced
to memories of frustrated needs carrying with them their negative emotional charges that have
not been adequately dealt with by the conscious mind. To understand fully how toxic memories
carrying with them emotional charges such as fear and anger influence human behavior in
conflict, it is worth investigating how the cells store emotionally charged memories and how
communication occurs at the cellular level.

Deepak Chopra gives a striking example of how memories are recorded in all the body's cells,
even when these have been removed from the body:

In one experiment, Backster asked a World War II Navy veteran to watch films of the battles in
the Pacific. As soon as the man saw footage of a fighter going down in flames, his polygraph
displayed heightened galvanic response. At the same moment, viewed through simultaneous
video pickup, there was sudden activity on a polygraph connected to his mouth cells seven miles
away. Significantly, this man had been in battle himself and had witnessed planes being downed

by enemy-aircraft gunnery. His memory of the threat was triggered, and every cell of his body
knew it.

Chopra's striking conclusion is that "every cell in your body is totally aware of how you think and
feel about yourself." (24) In an interview with Bill Moyer, Candace Pert similarly argues that "[y]our
mind is in every cell of your body.

To understand how emotionally charged memories get carried into all one's cells, we must first
examine cellular communication. Most cells have nuclei in which chromosomes are found. For
humans, these cells have 46 chromosomes. Each chromosome contains genes made up of DNA
which are strands of information that make up the body's genetic storehouse that guides all
aspects of the growth and healing of the human body. DNA is relatively fixed but communicates
through the production of RNA which carries genetic information to other parts of the cell. RNA
is the basis for all intra- and inter-cellular communication. More importantly, RNA carries with it
the daily production of thoughts and emotions to all the body's cells. Chopra explains how cellular
communication in the following passage:

Your cells are constantly processing experience and metabolizing it according to your personal
views.... Someone who is depressed over losing his job projects sadness everywhere in his body
- the brain's output of neurotransmitters becomes depleted, hormone levels drop, the sleep cycle
is interrupted, ... This whole biochemical profile will alter dramatically when the person finds a
new job, and if its is a more satisfying one, his body's output of neurotransmitters, hormones,
receptors, and all other vital biochemics, down to DNA itself, will start to reflect this sudden turn
for the better. Although we assume that DNA is a locked storehouse of genetic information, its
active twin, RNA responds to day-to-day existence.

Rather than solely being a source of disease or psychological disturbance, memories stored in
cells are an important source of human behavior. This has been supported by molecular biologists
who have been able to map some of the genes responsible for various forms of behavior in some
plants and insects. (27) The implication that some human genes can be mapped to determine

which are responsible for different categories of human behavior is a breathtaking possibility
with enormous ethical implications.

Genetically stored memories carrying with them their emotional charges from frustrated needs
result in conflict behavior ultimately become handed down from one generation to the next
through sexual reproduction. Half of the 46 chromosomes provided by both parents become the
basis of a new combination of 46 chromosomes that make up the cellular nucleus of the offspring.
The Confucian notion that seven generations will pay for the sins of one's generation therefore
carries with it the seeds of an important truth. Genetically stored memories of frustrated needs
and their emotional charges become behavioral characteristics that influence successive
generations in conflict situations. For example, descendants of the survivors of the Armenian
genocide by the Ottoman Empire early this century all carry with them the genetically recorded
memories of this collective trauma. This exerts a powerful influence on how the Armenian people
will respond to threatening situations. This partly helps explain the intense feelings aroused in
Armenians by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaidzhan over the disputed territory of
Nagorno-Karabakh. For Armenians, the conflict was merely the latest attempt by 'Turks' to wipe
out the Armenian people. Similarly, genetically stored memories have influenced the behavior of
groups that find themselves in predominant positions of power vis-a-vis former 'oppressors', e.g.,
Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Jews in Palestine.

Genetically recorded information carries with it memories of behavioral characteristics essential

for the survival of organisms. (28) Spiders, for example, can weave webs without being trained to
do so or having observed other spiders. (29) Aside from purely survival traits, animal species know
how to behave in dangerous situations without any form of training. Instinct in the sense of
genetically recorded memories of behavioral characteristics is essential for explaining animal
behavior and how they respond to threatening situations. In the case of goslings, Jonathan
Weiner writes:

One of [Niko] Tinbergen's books is illustrated by the silhouette of a bird in flight. When newborn
goslings see that silhouette in the sky, they read the shape as a goose if is moving to the left, a

hawk if it is moving to the right. The silhouette of the goose does not scare goslings, but the
silhouette of the hawk sends them scurrying.... Goslings don't learn to make that distinction
between friend and enemy from their mothers. They know it from the first moment they see the
sky.... Now with the tools of genetic dissection biologists can actually begin to study the instincts
of goslings and newborn babies at the level of the atoms.

A similar phenomenon happens with humans in so far as dangerous situations trigger genetically
recorded memories of how we should behave. These behavioral characteristics are therefore
triggered in conflict situations. In his book Fear Itself, Rush Dozier argues that fear is a basic
physiological response that has become part of human evolution:

Through understanding fear we understand ourselves. Fear is something humans have in

abundance - more, I believe, than any other species. Science calls human beings Homo sapiens:
wise man. A better name might be fearful man. Within the animal kingdom, we humans are the
connoisseurs of fear. Our big brains harbor vastly more fears than any other animal.

Dozier argues that the basic behavioral response to dangerous situations, fight or flight, is part
of what he calls the primitive fear system that is found in the oldest part of the brain - hindbrain.
Dozier's book supports the idea that in conflict situations, these behavioral characteristics
recorded in the brain and other parts of the anatomy are triggered. In terms of the four control
strategies discussed earlier, the 'intimidator' and 'interrogator' are both 'fight' responses to
threatening situations. In the case of the 'victim' and 'aloof' control strategies these are 'flight'
responses. Consequently, the control strategies that individuals consciously adopt in a conflict
may to a significant degree be a result of genetically recorded memories of these behavioral
responses to conflict situations.

Quite aside from the inherited conflict behaviors resulting from memories passed down from
generation to generation at the cellular level, behavior is to a large extent determined by a
lifetime of responses to conflict situations. Cells continuously absorb new information and pass
this on through cellular division and RNA communication within and between cells. If we have
60,000 thoughts per day carrying with them an emotional charge, these would have a powerful

effect on our behavior. If many of these thoughts have a toxic emotional charge, then our choice
of conflict behavior is likely to be in the direction of one or more of the four control strategies
discussed earlier. In sum, conflict behavior is largely determined by genetic sources - both
inherited and that which is the product of our own thinking and feeling. Consequently, in terms
of the perennial debate over the respective importance of nature and nurture in influencing our
behavior, both perspectives are correct. We are indeed fundamentally influenced by our nature
- the genetic bases of behavior - but we also are influenced by nurture which is the daily product
of thoughts and feelings we have each day. Our genetic makeup changes with each and every
thought we have.

The idea that emotionally charged memories are genetically stored and perpetuate undesirable
conflict behaviors or control strategies presents a number of challenges for conflict resolution.
The challenge first is addressing the conscious memories of frustrated human needs that
influence one's behavior in conflict situation. The control strategy one adopts in a conflict is
largely influenced by one's conscious belief in what strategy will best satisfy one's needs. A
deeper challenge is then to address one's unconscious memories. Control strategies adopted in
a conflict are greatly influenced by one's unconscious memories of the success or lack of success
in using a particular control strategy in satisfying a need. The next challenge is even more
daunting. Not only must one address those memories of personal experiences that have been
stored at the cellular level, but one must also deal with the genetically recorded memories of
earlier generations. One is dealing with patterns of conflict behavior (control strategies) that have
been genetically handed down from generation to generation and are evidenced by the culture
of a particular group.

Johan Galtung discusses the importance of culturally handed down sets of beliefs in terms of
what he calls a society's "'chosenness-myth-trauma' - complex" (32) This complex is made up of
key historical events that have been critical in defining a society's identity and how it behaves in
conflict situations. While Galtung is ultimately concerned with culture, his conclusions are equally
valid for a genetically based explanation for varying conflict behaviors by individuals and groups.
Ultimately, the final challenge for conflict resolution is to address the basic behavioral

characteristics that are part of human development. This is to directly address the fight or flight
responses that Dozier believes to be part of human evolution and genetically stored in the brain
(and elsewhere in the human body). Satisfactorily addressing the above sources of genetic
information will lead to the disappearance of the four control strategies discussed above as basic
responses to conflict situations. This will culminate in the cooperative problem solving and/or
empathic communication advocated by conflict resolution theorists.

Alchemy and Transforming the Genetic Bases of Conflict Behavior

The contemplative practices of alchemy offer an important method for systematically, and layer
by layer, dealing with the emotionally charged memories of frustrated needs that form an
important basis of one's identity and which form a critical source of how we behave in conflict
situations. Alchemy works on individuals achieving a state of consciousness where feelings of
love, peace, and unity become present in the human consciousness. This is critical since it is the
conscious mind which becomes the ultimate source for cleansing or purifying toxic memories
that are located in the human unconscious and at the cellular level in the physical body. In this
sense, Freud was correct to describe psychotherapy as designed to help each individually to deal
consciously with the unconscious complexes that have a disturbing effect on their lives. Once the
human consciousness has achieved this positive state of mind encouraged by most
contemplative practices, then the process of deep individual and human transformation can
begin. In this sense, the alchemist or mystic is the mythical hero about to embark on a
tremendous journey into the deepest layers of the human psyche and physiology. (33) The
ultimate foe encountered in this inner journey is the reservoir of genetically recorded memories
of frustrated needs carrying with them their emotional charges of fear, anger and similar negative
emotions. The ultimate victory of the hero's journey is to purify each cell in the body from the
influence of this reservoir of negative emotional energy and fill it instead with positive emotional
states, love, joy and peace. Once the reservoir of toxic memories has been cleansed, one can
move from the four control strategies discussed earlier to cooperative and empathic conflict

Alchemy offers a range of practices that enables the practitioner to purify the conscious mind,
and to transform one's unconscious mind and genetically recorded memories. To describe this
process, it is useful to describe the electrical frequencies generated by the brain when performing
different functions. (34) The first brain state is where beta waves predominate. Here the brain
performs its normal waking functions and vibrates between 14-35 hertz (cycles per second). The
second brain state is where alpha waves are present. Here the brain is in a relaxed and meditative
state, and vibrates between 8-14 hertz. The third brain state is characterized by theta waves
where one is in a trance-like state between waking and sleeping. The brain vibrates here between
4-8 hertz. The fourth brain state contains delta waves of deep sleep where the brain vibrates
between 0.5 to 3 hertz. Beta brain activity is the most energy draining for the body and therefore
requires long periods of delta activity in order for the body to recover. The more individuals
operate from the alpha brain state, the longer one can remain active without draining the body.
If one is able to achieve theta or even delta states and remain conscious, then the least energy is
expended. This is the reason why mystics who reach theta and delta brain states are often able
to perform a wide range of activities with very little sleep.

The cleansing of the unconscious occurs spontaneously once the conscious mind is cleared and
normal reflective thought patterns have ceased. Memories stored in the unconscious begin to
bubble to the surface. This can be experienced as vivid flashbacks when one is in the alpha brain
state or dreams when in the theta state. Beta brain activity prevents the memories in the
unconscious from spontaneously erupting into the conscious mind. Once the conscious mind is
quiet and alpha waves are dominant, the unconscious begins to release its memories. At first the
individual will become preoccupied with the content of these memories and the emotional
charges they carry. One may intensely feel the emotions experienced when these memories
come to the surface. This may at first overwhelm one and dispel any feelings of love, peace or
joy one was previously consciously experiencing. Put simply, one moves from a meditative alpha
state to a disturbed beta state. The contemplative practice adopted by the individual will allow
him/her to eventually discharge the emotional charge associated with the memory with a more
dispassionate state of mind associated with love, peace, wisdom. This means that disciplined
meditators will be able to remain in the alpha brain state no matter how disturbing the content

of memories that flash into one's consciousness. As one cleanses the unconscious, one can then
proceed to purify the body's storehouse of genetically recorded memories. With experience and
the ability to maintain theta and delta brain states, the whole cleansing process is speeded up.
Indeed, if one can consciously reach and maintain delta brain states, one's whole life may literally
flash before one.

While one cannot appreciably change the historical content of an event, one has the power to
change how one remembers it and more importantly how one felt during the event. Child abuse,
for example, may have been a historical event in one's life. Attempting to wipe the whole episode
out of one's conscious life will not be successful. Indeed, health practitioners warn that simply
burying these traumatic experiences away typically leads to disease. (35) However, the individual
has the power to change how s/he felt when the abuse occurred and also to change the content
of the memory. For example, in the instance of memory when one as a child witnessed one
parent physically abuse the other parent, the child may have felt great fear and physically cringed
over the whole affair. When confronted with this memory, one may discharge the emotional
content of the memory by feeling a state of calm and peace despite the physical abuse. In this
sense, one has cleansed the memory and the emotional charge is released from wherever it was
stored in the physical body. It is also possible for one to reconstruct the memory by imagining
that one simply walked up to the abusive parent and demanded that s/he stop. This can be a
tremendously empowering experience since one not only has discharged fear, but has created a
sense of power and courage. One can visualize the parent stopping. This sets in place a train of
unconscious processes whereby one's physical consciousness can be altered. A timid and shy
person may therefore find that s/he becomes an assertive and bold person by simply
reconstructing past memories.

Once the contemplative practice has cleansed the unconscious portions of the mind, a similar
process will occur with those memories stored at the cellular level. Candace Pert explains what
happens during this cleansing process in terms of her theory of neuropeptides as the basis of

Blood flow is closely regulated by emotional peptides, which signal receptors on blood vessel
walls to constrict or dilate, and so influence the amount and velocity of blood flowing through
them from moment to moment.... However, if our emotions are blocked due to denial,
repression, or trauma, then blood flow can become chronically constricted, depriving the frontal
cortex, as well as other organs, of vital nourishment. This can leave you groggy and less alert,
limited in your awareness ... As a result, you may become stuck - unable to respond freshly to the
world around you, repeating old patterns of behavior and feeling that are responses to an
outdated knowledge base. By learning to bring your awareness to past experiences and
conditioning - memories stored in the very receptors of your cells - you can release yourself from
these blocks, this "stuckness".

Cleansing cells in different regions of the body will release toxic memories that were created in
ways specific to the capacities or 'energies' of that region. Richard Richman explains this in terms
of the seven energy centers or 'chakras' of the body common to Eastern philosophy:

If we can clear out our negative emotions from our electromagnetic and physical body - i.e., clear
out survival issues from our root (first or base chakra), emotional turmoil from our gut (second
or spleen chakra), power trips from our solar plexus (third or solar plexus chakra), ambiguous
communication from our throat (fifth or throat chakra), distorted vision of the mind's eye (sixth
or brow chakra), and a sense of being separate from the universe (seventh or crown chakra) -
then we can have a centeredness in our heart (our fourth chakra), focusing on love and healing.

The cleansing of the body's cells of toxic memories is clearly a difficult and long process but one
that has potential to radically transform one's sense of identity and the way one interacts with
others. Ultimately, an individual who has successfully transformed the emotionally charged
memories stored at the cellular level which influence how we behave and think, will be able to
break free of the conflict behaviors or 'control dramas' that lead to individuals behaving
aggressively and self-destructively in conflict. One's conflict style becomes more cooperative
(conflict resolution) and empathic (conflict transformation). This is witnessed in the case of great

mystics who were ultimately conflict resolvers and conflict transformers. The Buddha, Jesus, St
Francis of Assisi and countless other mystics had achieved states of mind (alpha, theta and delta
brain activity) which led to them purifying a large part of their cellular storehouse of accumulated
toxic memories. Individuals coming into their presence would often spontaneously feel joy and
happiness since these were the emotional charges these great mystics radiated all the way from
their intellectual beliefs to their cellular consciousness. They therefore each contributed to
human evolution in a significant way insofar as they changed how individuals and communities
groups thought and felt, and how they behaved in conflict situations.


An alchemy based approach to conflict resolution, what I call conflict transmutation, is at the
frontiers of the evolution of conflict resolution as a social science. Conflict transmutation
presents a series of challenges for how we conceptualize conflict resolution and how one wants
to develop skills in conflict resolution. The evolution of conflict resolution through successive
models based on cooperation, interests, needs, perceptions and ultimately identity/memory (see
diagram 2) requires more attention to be paid to how we set out to train ourselves and others
for intervening in conflict and ultimately for resolving the inherent conflicts in our own personal
and collective lives.

Diagram 2 Evolution of Conflict Transmutation

Generic Approach Conceptual Dominant Conflict Behavior

to Conflict Focus

Conflict Power Maintain peace by constraining international aggression

Management through variety of deterrence mechanisms. E.g., Alliances,
Balance of Power, Collective Security. Coercive conflict

Conflict Values Encourage observation of legal & ethical norms. E.g.,

Management international law, human rights, economic justice.
Principled/moral conflict behavior.

Dispute Interests Encourage cooperation by parties in finding win-win

Settlement solutions. Seek to disassociate interests from positions.
Cooperative conflict behavior/problem solver.

Conflict Needs Encourage respect for other party's needs. Seek to identify
Resolution and acknowledge the legitimacy of needs. Cooperative
conflict behavior/problem solver.

Conflict Relationships Develop empathy for other party's needs by transforming

Transformation stereotypes and perceptions about self/other.
Empathic/transformative conflict behavior.

Conflict Toxic Transforming genetically stored memories of responses to

Transmutation Memories conflict based on negative emotions of fear, anger,
resentment, etc. Transformative conflict behavior

It is only by deeply delving into the mind's and body's accumulated storehouse of memories that
aggressive and self-destructive patterns of conflict behavior can be changed. Alchemy nicely
captures the essence of the task ahead since one is attempting to transmute the 'lead' of
negatively charged emotional memories in one's cells into the gold of love and joy which would
radiate from each cell. The transmutation of genetically stored memories of frustrated needs and
conflict behaviors in each and every cell of the human body is a long and arduous task, but the
rewards will be immense for those micronauts willing to transform their inner space and in the
process radically change themselves and their societies.