Silence Can Kill

by Dominique Lepard ~ January 29th, 2015. Filed under: News.

Cimageslear and honest communication can help to manage, ease, resolve and even transform conflict. It always has, it always will.

It is an essential component of healing ethnic and social divides but often there are a number of linguistic, cultural and historical factors that can get in the way of reconciliation processes in a post-conflict society. We will briefly look at The UK’s overseas approach for developing effective communication strategies between feuding parties in states at risk of civil war.

The British Government’s ‘Building Stability Overseas Strategy’ states “When violent conflict breaks out, the costs to the country and the international community is enormous. Lives are lost, people displaced, trade links are cut, and organized crime groups or terrorists are given the opportunity to take root exacerbating instability”.  Governmental peacebuilding policies are designed to forestall the beginning or continuance of conflict. They help address and stabilize the root causes of conflict, be they political, social or economic, containing the capacity for escalation.

Developing and implementing the necessary programme work needed by NGOs to facilitate non-violent resolution of dispute is expensive and time consuming but it is still cheaper than the military alternative. In 2013-14 the British government spdownload (2)ent 100 times more on military activity than it did on conflict prevention.

Peacebuilding is a more economic, ethical and effective approach toward building long term peace and security. Ensuring emerging democracies have a strong and active civil society will depend on their ability to communicate effectively. All institutions, whether they are involved in governance, justice or diplomacy, are based around using communication to avert conflict.

Once peaceful agreements are made, very often the negotiation and support needs to be continued as not all sections of the society may have had their needs or agendas met.

Communication, is understandably a complex area. Its premise is simple: exchange information and meaning. In practice this can be difficult. Misunderstandings can be common, especially when two people or a group do not have the same frame of reference, this can be exacerbated by differences in language.  The United Nations website states that at its conferences interpreters are expected to “understand and – in a split second have a word in another language for any one of a myriad of issues”.  It is therefore essential when peacebuilders are working amongst diverse nationalities that they have interpreters on their staff.

It is important to be able to express thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions in an open manner that doesn’t violate the rights of others.  There are many groups that teach the skills to communicate ideas with clarity and nonviolence.

Nonviolent communication or NVC is one such communication process. Developed in the 60s by Marshall Rosenberg, it is characterised by self-empathy, empathy and honest expression. It is based on the premise that all humans have needs and only resort to violence when these needs are not understood or met. By actively listening and clearly communicating using NVC, conflict has the potential to be resolved before it escalates.

Developing an international understanding of NVC, how it can be taught in multiple languages and in different cultural contexts would be a great strategy for dealing with international conflict at the local level.

Culture also has a significant part to play in communication. It can be claimed that habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence are learned though culture. As Gandi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children”.  

Unfortunately the perpetrators of conflict know this all too well. The most well-known example being Joseph Kony Lord’s Resistance Army that abducted and trained Child Soldiers across East Africa. This has led to intergenerational violence and division that must be articulated and challenged if it is to be overcome.

Conscience’s own Shaughan Dolan traveled with the charity iDebate Rwanda, a country with a history of strong historical and ethnic divisions and lack of trust between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. The horrific genocide that occurred in 1994 has had a deep and lasting impact on the society.  As Rwanda continues to rebuild itself it has been important to find avenues to bring the community together and to keep its members in dialogue.

The idebate Rwanda team traveled there to teach debating to school children to give them another way to air their opinions/ grievances, as debating is not a traditionally taught there. Shaughan said, “The transforimages (2)mational nature of debate cannot be understated. Teaching children the value of pluralism, democracy and above all listening skills helps them develop positive and tolerant attitudes that create more peaceful communities.”

The British government’s emphasis on communication as an overseas strategy for peacebuilding can only be commended.  Furthermore, teaching and implementing nonviolent communication and debating internationally would be a further step in the right direction. The importance of talking with others and listening must never be underestimated.

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