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13 / 06 / 2004
The dialogue “Conflicts in everyday life” was inaugurated in an atmosphere of hope and celebration

Today was started the dialogue “Conflicts in Everyday Life” which debates until Tuesday, June 15 the processes needed in conflict resolution, such as mediation and participatory democracy

The Forum Building auditorium was once again the place to inaugurate another of the Forum dialogues, this time dealing with conflicts in everyday life. Accompanied by 172 volunteers, a large number of participants enjoyed the party “Estar i fer plegats” (to be and to do together) where concepts like culture, the crossover of cultures and dialogue were mentioned as key tools for the building of a better world. The design for this ceremony was created by Josep Mª Font and served as a set on which various musical and dance performances and short plays were presented, followed by a show of traditional Catalan dances and gegants (large parade figures). The participants were welcome by Iago de Balanzó, president of Ponts de Mediació and of Jordi Grané, dialogue director. Following the opening celebration ceremony, the experts on mediation issues Sara Cobb, Humberto Maturana and Kenneth Gergen gave their insights about questions put by Jordi Grané.

One of the keynote speakers of the session was professor Humberto Maturana of the Universidad de Chile, who stated, “human beings have theories and answers for everything, and hence we can say we all are intellectuals.” Maturana pointed that this is not related to theoretical thought; “we rather try to figure out answers to problems related to our desires and emotions.” We therefore need to “to open spaces for reflection where we can make coincide our wishes with those of others in order to do things together.”

September 11 and March 11

Regarding coexistence, Maturana said, “the basis for this is our enthusiasm for life in coexistence and to open spaces for reflection.” In this respect Maturana referred to September 11 and March 11 as opportunities since, he believes, “it is important to ask ourselves where ‘we’ went wrong rather than putting the blame on ‘others’ and thus avoid calling them our enemies. Wars have never been resolved through conflict; human thought and a real appreciation of coexistence are the keys”, added the Chilean professor.

With regard to conflicts and terrorism, Maturana believes that fear of dialogue shows in reality a fear of changing “one’s opinion when accepting the opinions of others, and considering a change of mind as a defeat while believing that maintaining one’s opinion would be a victory.” “This feeling of victory entails an arrogant attitude, while a defeat would nurture a feeling of resentment; all of this is behind many of our present-day conflicts, and we will only be able to find a way out by creating spaces for dialogue that make coexistence possible.”

The Chilean professor said, “Democracy cannot be imposed; it must be the fruit of coexistence and mutual respect, which is made possible in spontaneously initiated spaces for reflection.” He added that adults must educate children in the principle of spaces for dialogue. For Maturana, respect and tolerance are not the same. “Tolerance is a transitional form of denial, just like hiding the knife behind our backs in preparation for the moment to attack, while respect is a gaze that accepts difference”, added Maturana. “We are all intelligent; we can understand, be respectful and capable of appreciating and enjoying other people’s company”, he concluded.

Listening and Thinking

Sara Cobb, director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution of the George Mason University in the U.S. referred to French semiologist René Gerard, who states, “we always support each other and get together whenever there is a victim whom we can step over.” Cobb gave the example of the reaction of citizens after September 11. She explained, “The ‘terrorist’ does not exist; it is simply the result of not being able to relate to the thoughts of others.” In this respect, Cobb said, “Violent acts are a demonstration that we did not listen to their demands and have denied them what they have been asking for.” According to Cobb, the solution is “to listen and think more about a collective ‘us’ rather than a divisive ‘them’.” Cobb expressed hope in human coexistence, “as we can go a step beyond, given the fact that we are capable of friendship and of falling in love.”

For his part, Kenneth Gergen, professor of psychology of the Swarthmore University in the U.S., spoke of the power of new communication technologies to bring people together at various levels, including the massive, the local and the institutional levels.

With regard to conflict resolution, Gergen believes, “ governments who must represent their countries and try to get the greatest advantage for them, have little space for flexibility, therefore it is necessary to go to basics”, as he believes, “we must also share other possibilities for dialogue like story-telling or narratives that attract peoples’ attention and that will help them bring them together and feel identified.”

Despite this, Gergen has pointed, “conflict resolution is impossible because we have internal conflicts that we are unable to resolve; therefore the solution is to live with conflict rather than trying to solve it. Gergen believes democracy is a culture rather than a method, which explains why it is meaningless if we only limit it to the act of voting. Democracy is the fruit of the relationship between ‘us’ and ‘the others’. Gergen also said in this respect, “it is necessary to create links and not to isolate from each other; we must get rid of a tradition of guilty and find an agreement that will allow us to break the rigid constraints and ultimately find a space for interrelation.”