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Steve Olweean

A humanistic psychologist, Steve Olweean is the founder and executive director of Common Bond Institute, president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, and co-founder of the Annual International Conference on Conflict Resolution in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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        Journey Through Conflict

Conflict, its transformation, and everything that occurs in between are the subject of this Pathfinders segment. Much more than a predetermined process, our day-by-day, almost routine encounter with conflict is as undeniably expressive of who we are as human beings as any other aspect of life. It places all that we use to define ourselves on the line, relying on our inner strengths, wisdom, and confidence, but also bringing forth our quite personal insecurities, anxieties, and blind spots that serve to both fuel our reactions and challenge our reason.

The journey through conflict is a continual, highly individual one, and the most difficult rule to remember may very well be that no singular or finite set of rules can ever complete the process. Change is reality, and when our reality changes, particularly in ways we do not anticipate or like, it is all too human to resist and experience what we call conflict. Attempting to "systematize" or "program" this process too much, then, is most likely to simply fall short. Once the essential dilemma is at hand what remains is to purposely engage in our own unique journey, seeking among many useful paths that may naturally move us along toward more self-understanding, harmony, and peace.

There are clearly, however, some universal commonalities, particularly when it comes to truly deep, destructive conflict—the kind that can shake our fundamental sense of well-being in feeling connected to the real world around us. Such a profound disruption in our known reality, and the individual despair that can often come with it, challenges our human limitations to the extreme, while at the same time reveals even more of what we are capable of transcending.

Transformation at this level of experience is not wrapped up in simply containing or eliminating the flow and source of conflict. Transformation emerges as reclaiming that which we need to be "true" about our reality—that which validates the existence of a positive, humane "goodness" in the world, and that which we innately know we are worthy of as human beings. It is by instilling essential elements like esteem, trust, integrity, and respect into relationships where there has previously been a deficiency or loss that we can achieve the restoration of such qualities in our world.

It takes more than courage, fortitude, and patience to accomplish this. Even courage, fortitude, and patience can fail at some point. What it does take is compassion; a strong, resilient compassion that comes from a deep faith in the intrinsic goodness of ourselves and others.

Healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation create a freeing dynamic for both perpetrator and victim—free from the chronically toxic energy of "wrong" and "wronged." Rather, it invests, or reinvests, a healthy, life-endorsing "wholeness" into our world at large. When the acts of others, whether careless or with malice of intent, cause suffering and grief there is a much greater possibility of achieving healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation if the person responsible is acknowledged as possessing at least the basic, elemental level of humanity and potential for goodness.

Framing and defining others, and this world we share with them, then, is the key to what occurs in the space between conflict and transformation. When we frame with broad-brush negative stereotypes that demonize and dehumanize those we are in conflict with we risk creating the very untrustworthy universe we fear and rail against. Not surprisingly, we only further concretize this version of reality by our resulting hostile reactions, ironically too often providing others with proof of their own counterpart negative stereotypes.

The ability to recognize the fallibility of another's mortal dilemma, and even lost way, particularly for those we have serious grievances against, presumes a certain truth about the nature of "our" human character, and in doing so allows us to face and transcend our own individual despair.

For it is not toward a state of "lack of discord or threat" that we strive so constantly and diligently in the largeness and smallness of our daily lives. It is no less than simply a state of profound grace, within us, with others, and with the world. A grace that is easily recognized and familiar down to our bones when it is even slightly approached. A grace that forms the final confirmation of our belonging to each other and to the vastly interwoven universe. The best we can do is to strive toward it, and honor the basic drive in each other as we do—sometimes faltering, sometimes misdirected, sometimes perhaps even distorted beyond recognition; but nonetheless struggling toward the same purpose.

When defensive, fear-based emotions are triggered that test our lonely courage, fortitude, and patience in standing firm against harmful actions, it is compassion that is needed to yet remain open to acknowledging and receiving another's innate human potential for goodness if and when it truly emerges—to offer forgiveness to, to reconcile with and welcome back into a state of grace. In the end, it is compassion that will get us through.

The challenge here is to not submit to unwittingly dismissing this view as naïveté. It is, in fact, the most sensible, practical, and responsible stance, not to mention the most hopeful for humankind. It is no exaggeration to say that how well we choose to maintain this stance, even in the face of often overwhelming emotions and knee-jerk reactions, will invariably determine the ultimate fate of our species, and perhaps even that of all other species.

Clearly, compassion does not presume indiscriminate acceptance of behaviors, or even tolerance. Behaviors—particularly those that blatantly inflict harm on others—can be more accurately, consistently, and fairly judged than people, particularly groups of people clustered by some arbitrary or chance association. Compassion presumes that actions of hatred, cruelty, violence, and hostility are expressions of a distortion or loss of contact with one's own innate goodness; a disconnect that leads to distorted interactions with others, and even one's self. It offers understanding and an unwavering endorsement of the ability for positive growth and change, for redemption, for remaking our self in the image of our own inner potential as positive, good, and loving human beings, all the while being completely consistent in condemning and holding firmly accountable "actions," drawing a clear distinction between person and action.

The growing collection of articles that make up A Global Perspective on Conflict Resolution, and the experiences they share, introduce visions along the way in this journey through conflict; perspectives from various angles and vantages that hopefully can offer up much to ponder and perhaps use in your own inevitable journey.

The goal here is to create an open forum inviting a multiplicity of outlooks, paths, and personal "truths"; passages that reveal the countless facets of encounter with life change—change we resist and rebel against, as well as change we seek or even demand—suffering and enduring with some, while discovering and empowering ourselves through others. In this process we may find we begin to further define ourselves.

If not necessarily providing answers, my hope is to arouse vital and perhaps very personal questions to contemplate, absorb, and digest along the inner journey of discovering the essence, and the grace, of who we are.

Steve Olweean

Steve Olweean is a psychotherapist and founding director of Common Bond Institute. He is president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) and since 1990 has served as their International Liaison and Coordinator of International Programs. His international focus is conflict transformation, forgiveness and reconciliation, and humanitarian recovery efforts. In 1992 he co-founded and each year coordinates the Annual International Conference on Conflict Resolution held in St. Petersburg, Russia. He has developed an integrated Catastrophic Trauma Recovery (CTR) model for treating large populations experiencing trauma due to war, violence, and catastrophe.


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Editors note:

Steve Olweean invites visitors to this segment to share their comments with us. Your insights about conflict resolution, compassion, cross cultural harmony and creative problem solving are important in creating a world of harmony and conciliation.

Thank you for your participation.

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