How To Make Peace—Understand Freedom

The arts of peace are great, And no less glorious than those of war.

William Blake, King Edward III

[First published March 6, 2006] To begin, understand that peace is not an absence of something; not a void, a negative. It is a specific achievement — a social contract. And we create peace, it does not just happen. The Peacemaking Principle is this.

We make peace by balancing powers

Conflict between people, groups, or nations is a confrontation of what each wants, can, and will do (The Conflict Principle). It is a balancing of our different powers (The Power Principle). To make peace, then, is to achieve a balance of powers — an interlocking of mutual interests, capabilities, and wills (the Second , Third, and Fourth Master Principles). One’s means to accelerate, ease, or facilitate this process must therefore be focused directly on the balancing of these elements or the conditions influencing them.

Now, of course, one’s conflict is a unique event. It involves unique individuals in a specific situation resulting from the breakdown in their particular expectations (The Gap Principle). Peacemaking then will be a balancing particular to the life histories of those involved and probably little appreciated or understood by outsiders. Nonetheless, there are certain common aspects to peacemaking, as there are commonalities to one’s conflict and expectations. And these allow us to define a variety of common means to reduce the intensity of conflict, accelerate the achievement of peace, and make the resulting interpersonal, intergroup, or international peace more enduring.

These means are diverse and involve a number of considerations, which I have organized into the nine-peacemaking subprinciples listed in Table 27.


I will discuss them in the order shown.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 1: Clarify The Conflict Situation
Conflict is a dispute over something, whether it is a teenager’s curfew, who washes the dishes, a new work contract, the role of religion in governing a state, or the location of an international border. All such conflict is within a situation defined by four aspects: each party’s underlying goals and beliefs; the actual facts involved; the mutual perception of these goals, beliefs, and facts; and the mutual communication about them.

Now, conflict itself is a process of communication — an engagement of fields of expression. Passions and beliefs become evident; the nature and intensity of hidden interests surface. Mutual perceptions rub against each other and assumed facts are engaged (The Conflict Principle). In the process of achieving a new structure of expectations, conflict integrates these hidden goals and mutual perceptions into a balance among the central interests at stake, the relevant capabilities, and the will of each (The Cooperation Principle). This balancing process can be shortened, the intensity and possible antagonism lessened, and the resulting expectations made more realistic by following in the beginning four rules for clarifying the conflict situation.

1. Uncover the underlying or hidden goals and beliefs. Look beneath the conflict. A dispute really may be not over a teenage daughter coming home late, but about parental authority. A contentious dispute in a legislature over people’s democratic right to create a new law through the initiative and referendum may really be over the status quo dominated by a union-business coalition. And democratic rule may not be the real aim of guerrillas trying to take over a dictatorship in Africa, but a cover for trying to impose an Islamic regime.

A conflict may simply reflect latent beliefs about who should dominate a marriage, the relative role of husband and wife in raising their children, the feeling of sexual inadequacy, the fear of union or business power, or the hatred of capitalism. Or the conflict may manifest the hidden, perhaps even unconscious, belief that the other threatens one’s self image, job, status, or country. Whatever, one should be always sensitive to the two possible levels of conflict: the surface issue, and the hidden issue.

2. Determine the facts. Fact-finding is an essential part of resolving conflicts, for often conflicts are generated by a misperception or misunderstanding of the facts involved (The Subjectivity Principle). Moreover, an objective assessment of the facts often can provide a basis for resolving a conflict. It is especially helpful if fact-finding is a mutual effort, for involving all parties makes the conflict more a rational and mutually collaborative, and less an hostile and emotional process.

3. Put oneself in the other’s shoes. Try to see the conflict through the other’s eyes. How does the other see the facts? What are the other’s interests? Especially, how does the other see one’s demands or offers? Resolving conflict is partially developing an ability to empathize with the other, to be sensitive to the other’s frame of reference, and to see oneself as a field of expression (The Communication Principle).

4. State the other’s argument and demands. Miscommunication and misperception can play a large role in conflict. One way to reduce them is to seek mutual agreement on the issues and arguments. And this requires one to phrase to the other’s satisfaction their position and justification. Simply mutually stating and accepting the issues and arguments will often cut through layers of misunderstanding and help establish firmer expectations.

These four rules — look underneath, look at the facts, look at oneself, and look at the other — alone will not make peace. But these help focus on the real issues and reduce the emotional content.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 2: Define A Yesable Interest
Peacemaking partially involves separating what we want the other to do from the self-assertive and emotional aspects of a conflict. True, strength, and intensity of expression, our assertiveness, communicate our true feeling and interests (The Conflict Principle). But this should not confuse those involved in conflict about each other’s specific demands, requests, or desires. Moreover, unless the conflict is simply a contest of force rather than wills, each side should know what the other wants. And the best way to communicate this is to phrase our wants (interests — see The Intentionality Principle) in such a way to elicit a simple “yes.”

“Do you really love me?” “Will you help me with the dishes?” “Will you give me a raise of $50 a month?” “Do you officially recognize our revolutionary government?” “Do you agree to mediation of our border differences?”

In making a yesable demand (request, offer, appeal, claim, and the like), there are five helpful rules.

1. Focus on the decision to be made by the other. In conflict, and with the exception of using force, one is working through the other’s mental field (The Power Principle). One is trying to get the other to do or not to do something. That is, one wants the other to make some kind of decision. One should therefore clarify and focus on this decision in a way to allow for a simple “yes” response.

Of course, in some conflicts trying to elicit a verbal yes may create more heat or difficulty than necessary, especially where saying yes may concede a moral victory to the other, or involve pride or esteem. Therefore, a yesable response need not be verbal: it may only involve the other clearly doing or desisting from something. Thus, a request that our son start coming home in time for supper may require no verbal yes. Only that he henceforth be home in time. A demand that a state refrain from aiding rebels in a neighboring country may get no official “yes,” but the rebels may clearly stop getting supplies.

2. Clarify the outcome of a decision. We should not only focus on the other’s decision that is required, but also on its outcome (The Expectation Principle). What will happen if yes? Or no?

In coercive situations, an unambiguous threat should make clear the outcome of a no as well as the consequences of a yes. “You will be fired if you botch another contract, but if you hook a big one you can expect a ten percent bonus.” “Continue to picket against the housing development, and you will be arrested; but if you desist a park will be included in the development.” Indeed, a demand is more effective if coupled with an offer — an inducement to respond yes.

In a bargaining situation, an explicit promise, an offer, should make clear the result of a yes response. If the offer is accepted, then an exchange will occur. However, what is often neglected is to make clear the consequences of a no response. Such may be done, and without making this outcome seem a threat. “If you don’t buy the television set before the sale ends next week it will cost $100 more.” “If you don’t sell us this military equipment, for our own security we must seek them elsewhere.”

3. Divide a big interest into smaller ones. In some conflict situations it is easier to agree on a number of small issues than on a big one. Concessions on some issues can then be traded off for a yes on some others. And smaller, separable interests are less likely to raise resistance than a big one.

For example, a family dispute may be over whether to move into another house closer to work (or to shopping, or to the city) — clearly a big issue. If the new house is only a means, however, and not an end in itself, the issue might be resolved by considering a number of smaller questions. Perhaps a new, more comfortable car, a change in work hours to avoid the worst traffic, or remodeling the present house may satisfy the original interest and still provide sufficient compromises for agreement among family members.

4. Avoid making principle an issue. It is less conflictful to make concrete demands or requests that involve specific behavior or things, than to push for an agreement on a principle. A husband likely will be more amenable to helping with the housecleaning, cooking, and dishes, if the wife simply asks for help at a particular time, than he will be to accepting the principle that men also should do the housework. It is easier to pass a law providing the aged, disabled, and poor with free medical care, than one which asserts the right of all to national health care. The most intense, social, and international conflicts — the bloodiest massacres, revolutions, and wars — have occurred over religious and ideological principles.

5. Leave self-esteem intact. Whatever our demand or request, it should be phrased such that the other’s self-esteem is not affected. Demands that lower the other’s self‑esteem, such as any which would implicitly concede our superiority or demean the other, invite intense and antagonistic opposition (The Self-Esteem Principle). Offer enough money and people will happily sell many things, including the shirt off their back — but usually not their self-respect. Nations may fight a bloody war to the very end rather than suffer ignoble defeat. If esteem related, yesable demands must be made, these should be coupled with face-saving yesable offers.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 3: Invoke Overriding Interests
The presence of an overriding interest between parties in conflict tends to reduce it, and make what conflict that does occur easier to resolve. Two rules are helpful.

1. Invoke a paramount common loyalty.

2. Invoke a superior common goal.

A paramount loyalty may be to family, to church, to country. This loyalty is especially powerful when our common family, group, or nation is under threat or attack. A common goal serves the same functions as loyalty. The more important this goal, the more likely conflict that might hamper it will be suppressed or avoided. Thus, the communist Soviet Union and capitalist Great Britain and United States allied to defeat Hitler’s Germany in World War II.

The identification of individuals with their group and with common purposes is a major psychological force. Self-esteem becomes imbedded in the group or invested in a common goal; we become sensitive to what other members think of us or our efforts; keeping up group appearances and not letting others down becomes compelling. Thus subordinating an issue to a common goal and purpose dampens a conflict’s tendency to escalate and helps resolve it. A family dispute over the husband accepting a new position in faraway New York may be resolved by linking such a move to the future stability and survival of the family. A faculty fight in the history department over a tenure decision may be rapidly resolved by pointing out that the continued independence of the department from intervention by the dean is at stake. As dictators know so well, they may end anti-regime unrest and agitation by raising (or creating) the threat of foreign intervention. Arguing that the team’s ability to win can be compromised may end a fight with a teammate. And a union may finally agree to a lesser contract if the company shows that the union’s demands will put it out of business.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 4: Focus On An Exchange
Ultimately, we will achieve more by the carrot than the stick. Two rules help in this:

1. Seek to make attractive offers.

2. Reward agreement.

These rules define an exchange (The Exchange Principle) — both parties to a conflict are satisfying their interests. This allows for a contractual or friendly resolution to a conflict. And it will provide a more durable balance of power for subsequent cooperation. The best assurance of peace is mutual satisfaction.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 5: Emphasize Legitimacy
Legitimacy is the base of authoritarian power (The Power Principle). The more we can establish some legitimate reason, explanation, or justification for the decision we want another to make in a conflict situation, the more likely to induce a yes. Not because the other fears the consequences of a no; nor because the other desires what we promise for a yes, but because the other believes a yes is right. It is proper.

Of course, not all issues can be resolved by invoking legitimacy. Nonetheless, emphasizing legitimacy can influence a conflict and help avoid harmful confrontation and escalation. Three rules should be useful.

1. Seek precedent for a solution. If we can show that what we want or will settle for has been agreed to before by the other, or by those the other respects in a similar conflict situation, then this tends to make our demand or request legitimate. Precedent can exist in previously made formal decisions (as in judicial settlement), previous agreements (as in contracts), or in previous behavior (as in previous practices or procedures). My two daughters were skilled at this way of settling an argument with me. “But Dad,” Dawn would respond to my “no.” “You went to see Lei’s soccer game last week. Why can’t you go to see my volleyball game?”

2. Recognize a conflict’s legitimacy. Consider the First Master Principle: each of us is an individual; each of us sees things in our own way and has our own interests. It does no good to scorn, ignore, or ridicule another in a conflict. To say or imply that the other’s demands or requests are meaningless or silly is unnecessary and intolerant. It raises the heat of conflict and may prolong it. Recognize that what the other will argue or fight about is important to them. Accept the legitimacy of the issue. And accept the legitimacy of the other.

3. Consider a legitimate third-party. A third party can help in objective fact finding, surfacing hidden interests or beliefs, clearing up misperception and miscommunication, and proposing compromises. In marriage counseling, labor-management disputes, and international conflict the value of third-party help is well recognized. They can provide conciliation, mediation, arbitration, or judgment. Even a pool of trained conciliators and mediators has been developed within the United States, and marriage counseling has become a profession. Whether one seeks help from professionals, however, or from a mutual friend, parent, aunt, boss, priest, or a neutral outsider, the mutual acceptance of a third-party playing some legitimate role and the process of clarifying the issue is often a first and second step towards conflict resolution.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 6: Keep Issue And Power Proportional
We do not threaten to break our child’s arm the next time we catch him in the cookie jar. Nor do we threaten to resign from a tenured faculty or civil service position if we do not get the parking space we want. Nor do we threaten to wipe out another state’s cities with nuclear weapons if it commits aggression anywhere. That is, not if we wish to be believed and to avoid having our threat called. Extreme promises, threats, or appeals to authority can weaken one’s credibility and defeat their use when, indeed, a vital issue does come along that merits extreme power. And even if successful, excessive power may only by an expensive, temporary victory, creating resentment and sullen acceptance.

Whatever sanctions, threats, offers, or promises are made, they should be in line with the demand or request. That is, they should be consistent with the interests involved. Two rules formalize this important means for establishing legitimacy and justice, and easing conflict resolution.

1. Make power proportional to the interests at stake.

2. Make power relevant to the interests at stake.

So, when we catch our child with his hand in the cookie jar, we should explain why he ought not eat cookies without permission, and that the next time he will get no cookies for a week. So to deter another state from aggression in a protracted conflict, we should make sure that it knows we are willing and able to respond with forces sufficient to defeat its aggression where it occurs and that by initiating aggression it has legitimatized (opened the door to) a similar move on our part in the same or similar area. (Thus, another North Korean invasion of South Korea should not only be repelled, but should legitimatize a counter invasion of North Korea.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 7: Display Commitment
Attention to how another sees our will is essential in a conflict (The Conflict Principle). Whether the other believes our promise or threat, questions our legitimacy, or accepts our intellectual credentials, will help determine their yes or no. Three important rules in this regard help to avoid unnecessary escalation and misunderstandings.

1. Be credible. Make the basis of a demand, request, or offer believable. Our threat or promise should be clearly within our will and means to carry out. If we are depending on our authority or credentials, these should be unambiguous.

2. Protect our reputation for power. The image of power we project in a conflict is essential to the manner and speed of its resolution. We should not make demands, requests, or offers that call our power into question; remember that the strength and duration of the resulting peace and the nature of future conflicts depend in part on the image of power that we foster in conflict now.

3. Show a readiness to react or respond to the other’s decision.

If, for example, a state has threatened to coerce another into removing its troops from a disputed border area, it can cancel leaves, partially mobilize troops, and reinforce opposing units in order to display commitment. If the state also has made an offer to provide financial or technical help after the conflict is resolved, then it can display preparations to provide such help.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 8: Consider Creating Distance
Creating distance in space between disputants or antagonists and distance in time from a conflict can help to resolve it. Two rules are appropriate.

I. Consider withdrawal. In some situations temporary withdrawal may be the best way to cool a conflict to get a better perspective on the issue and the decisions we want. In a family fight, for example, it is sometimes wise to simply leave the house for a long walk or go to a movie. Of course, in collective social or political conflict and violence withdrawal can concede moral and physical ground to the other side, and can seriously endanger our interests. When an army garrison has mutinied or one’s border is attacked, withdrawal except to regroup and counterattack can mean defeat. But where the sides are relatively equal, a mutual withdrawal may be workable. In this case, a ceasefire in place may be negotiable or a third party may be invited (such as United Nations peace-keeping forces) to interpose itself between the belligerents.

2. Weigh separation. When conflict or violence explodes, separating the parties may help. Thus, when the rough and tumble of a football game turns into a first fight between two opposing linemen, team members will immediately separate the two. Separation and divorce are often the only solution to irreconcilable differences between family members, as well as the means of resolving fundamental conflicts between minority racial, religious, ethnic, and nationality groups and a majority. Groups should be free to form their own communities, and independently pursue their own interests. Self-determination for minorities is not only a principle of freedom, but also a way of resolving protracted and possibly violent conflict. For this reason voluntarily formed racial or cultural neighborhoods, ethnic reservations, or autonomous regions can serve a peacemaking function.

Separation as a technique of conflict resolution has worked well in my family. When teenagers, each of my daughters had her own bedroom over which she was sovereign — a sanctuary. By their late teens they seldom had big fights (The Helix Principle), but when they did have heated arguments that were getting too intense or disturbed the peace and harmony of the household, my wife and I would send them off to their rooms. A couple of quiet hours away from each other usually ended the dispute. Note, however, that we did not impose a solution. They were free to continue the fight later and less noisily.

In sum, conflict may be resolved simply by allowing it to fade out or by eliminating the conflict situation (as in divorce). This is achieved by withdrawal or separation of the parties, which allows the “heat of battle” to cool, perspectives on the issues to develop, the underlying interests to change; or which now gives each an opportunity to satisfy independently those interests that were in conflict.

Peacemaking Subprinciple 9: Resist Aggression
The actual solution of a conflict may involve a negotiated settlement, mediation, a third party award to one side, or another. Or the conflict may fade away or be eliminated, as from withdrawal or separation. Or, and this has yet to be mentioned, one side may overpower — conquer — the other.

Conquest can involve beating up another, terrorizing the other into submission, physically overcoming the other, or as in the case of revolution or war, utterly defeating the opposing forces. Now, aggressive conquest as a means to conflict resolution is often wrong: using force to impose one’s interests (values and goals) on another, aside from its immorality, can only create a resentment, grievance, and hostility that will fuel greater conflict and violence later. Where a deep dispute over a status quo exists, some kind of negotiated compromise should be worked out.

But there are situations in which the only resolution possible, desirable, or moral may be through conquest: a test of strength and the unambiguous defeat of the other side — as of Hitler, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. If our family is attacked by a teenage gang at a remote camping site, flight or fight may be the only alternatives and flight may be blocked. If a communist coup in a democratic country is attempted, violent defeat of the rebels may be the only choice other than surrender. And aggression against one’s country should usually be resisted. To believe that conflict should always be resolved through negotiation, mediation, and compromise invites an aggressor to assume that what is his is his, but what is ours is negotiable.

On this, I do not want to be misunderstood. Resisting aggression does not necessarily mean meeting aggression bomb for bomb, tank for tank, or even slap for slap. What defense measures are taken and how aggression is discouraged depends on the situation and the victim’s resources. Even a nonviolent response to violent aggression may be appropriate and effective.

In any case, standing up to aggression brings conflict to a head by forcing a test of interests, capabilities, and will — if the aggressor so wants it. And this may be a faster, ultimately less conflictful, less violent way of resolving conflict than conciliation or appeasement. Taking on the bully in the school yard may yield a black eye, but if we put up a good fight, he and others who saw the fight are likely to leave us alone thereafter; we may even become friends. And by not rewarding aggression, we make it easier to apply the other subprinciples of peacemaking.

Implicit in this discussion are two rules.

1. Gauge different power responses. Do not automatically respond to aggression in kind. The most effective response is one that shifts the power to bases that we can employ more effectively (The Power Principle) and lessens the risk of violent escalation. Thus, in the American South during the early 1960s, civil rights demonstrators met police and White violence with nonviolent, peaceful protests, sit ins, marches, and economic boycotts. The sheer number of the protestors involved and their leaders’ manipulation of the media to create favorable, national publicity for the demonstrations, eventually defeated the violence, ended segregation, and won major improvements in the conditions of Blacks.

2. Respond in measure. Respond proportionally, although not necessarily in kind. To meet aggression in equal measure is legitimate. Overreaction risks escalation and a more extended and intense conflict; under reaction appears weak and risks continued aggression and defeat.

• • •
Such are major subprinciples of peacemaking.
In sum, conflict is an engagement of what we and others want, can, and will do in a situation in which current expectations are irrelevant or no longer suitable. Perceived situations, expectations, interests, capabilities, and will are the elements of our conflict and peacemaking. Objective things — money, sex, weapons, words, land — are only the tools or objects of conflict. And material conditions, like the distance between two people or a mountainous border between two states, only frame and physically limit conflict. The essence of conflict is an opposition of minds (Chapter 2); the arena of conflict is the mental field. The principles and rules for its resolution are psychological.

The presentation of these principles and rules may have created some misunderstanding, three of which are especially important to clarify.

Misunderstanding 1: “Peacemaking is Good.”

Focusing on peacemaking may imply that our best and immediate response to conflict is trying to resolve it. This inference is wrong. No doubt, some conflicts are unnecessary. Moreover, some are needlessly intense and long lasting. But there are conflicts that are a real and necessary clash of vital interests, only through which we can protect or further our goals and also achieve a more satisfactory and harmonious peace.

The war against Hitler’s Germany from 1939 to 1945 illustrates this. It cost tens of millions of lives. But consider the greater misery, the terror, the executions, and the cold-blooded murders if Hitler had consolidated his control of Europe and had been victorious in his invasion of Russia. No numbers can adequately measure the agony he inflicted on his captive people (including many Germans), but the killing of 21,000,000 people, including almost 6,000,000 Jews, by his henchman before and during the war is an indication of what to expect had he ruled Europe unchallenged. Said John Locke:

If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all he has, for peace’s sake, to him who will lay violent hands on it, I desire it may be considered, what kind of peace there will be in the world, which consists only in violence and rapine, and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors. (Second Treatise of Government, 1690)

We can always end a conflict when we want. By total surrender. After all, one can have the peace of the slave or prisoner. Or peace may be bought by appeasing an aggressor or tyrant. That is temporarily, until our self-esteem can no longer suffer the increasing demands and indignities.

There are things more important than peace, then, like dignity, freedom, security. Peacemaking is not necessarily our highest goal in a conflict. Achieving our interests with the least cost in the least time and creating a better and more enduring peace is the general aim. The peacemaking principles, subprinciples, and rules then ease this process. They help avoid pointless escalation and aggravating conflict interaction. They speed up the trial and error adjustment of opposing interests. And they help establish a more acceptable, more stable peace.

Peacemaking is a means, not a goal

Misunderstanding 2: “Peace is constructed.”

I have used the term “peacemaking” here, since it is well established. Unfortunately, the verb “make” may imply that peace is laid out and constructed, as a house is planned and put up brick by brick, a bridge engineered, or a highway designed and built. This implication is especially seductive in this age when society is generally seen as man-made (rather than to have evolved) and many accept the illusion that communities can be centrally planned and managed.

But peace is not made as one constructs a bridge. Peace emerges from the balancing of individual mental fields. What we honestly believe, actually want, truly are willing to get, or are capable of achieving is unknown to others. And perhaps only partially to ourselves. Nonetheless, only we can make best use of the information available to us to justly satisfy our interests. Therefore, for us or anyone else to try to construct in the abstract a peace involving us is foolhardy. We will make only an uncertain peace, forestall the necessary trial and error balancing, and perhaps even create greater conflict later. Peace is an outcome of balancing among the parties involved. At best, peacemaking eases the process.

Misunderstanding 3: “It takes two to make violence and war, but one to make peace.”

Pacifists believe that violence and war cannot occur if people will lay down their arms and refuse to fight. If, of course, all parties do, then by definition no violence can occur. But, the pacifist belief that freedom from violence is achieved by one side refusing to use violence, or submitting to the other, ignores unilateral violence. If in an argument the other person becomes belligerent, we can refuse to fight. We can try to calm the other. Humor them and pretend to agree with them. But they may still beat us up. Threatened by another state, our leaders may try to avoid war by accepting its demands. The result may be enslavement, systematic executions, and the elimination of leaders and “undesirables.” In other words, to avoid violent conflict we might submit to the far greater unilateral violence of a tyrannical conqueror.

Certainly, in some conflict situations, nonviolence may be an effective strategy for waging conflict, as in the successful Black civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s, or the successful nonviolent, civil disobedience movement for Indian independence from Britain begun by Mahatma Gandhi in 1922. Moreover, in some other situations refusal to fight may avoid unnecessary escalation and ease peacekeeping. However, there are also situations, especially involving tyrants, despots, and other such oppressors, in which freedom from violence or a satisfactory resolution of a dispute are not bought by trying to escape violence. But one can make a down payment on such a peace by accepting the possibility of violence and by a willingness to meet violent aggression in kind, if necessary.

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