Ten Interventions for Nonviolent Conflict Transformation

By Upāsikā Miss tree turtle (Cleis Abeni)
Director (CEO), Baltimore Wisdom Project
Co-Director (Co-CEO), Wisdom Projects, Inc.

Introduction

These are ten radically empathetic healing processes for community-centered conflict transformation, restorative justice, transformative justice, and accountability.

Rather than chronological steps, these processes may be engaged simultaneously or in any order in a manner commensurate with the facts of a conflict and the circumstances of a community.

There are three ways in which these healing processes are radically beneficial for individuals and communities.

A. Conflicts as Problems of Power

These healing processes are radically trauma-informed and trauma-responsive because they arise from a recognition that conflicts — including violent offenses — are fundamentally about problematic understandings of power. In conflicts, people attempt to diminish, distort, horde, rob, abuse, or misuse power.

The healing processes presented here help transform problematic experiences of power into mutually beneficial forms of positive empowerment for individuals and communities involved in a conflict.

Problems of power severe or deny trust. Healing processes can help restore trust.

B. Conflict Transformation as a Matter of Health

These healing processes radically conceive of conflicts as matters of health. When we view conflicts as problems of health (instead of matters of only law enforcement), we accept that people who hurt others and people who experience hurt are in need of high-quality, non-monetized, nonviolent healthcare and not retributive policing, punishment, and violence.

(The words “instead of only law enforcement” are important because I fully support the need for covenants, laws, and policies. Covenants, laws, and policies should frame and guide human action and behavior; yet, practices of healthcare (not harsh policing, enforcement, militarization, or incarceration) should comprise our interventions when these frames and guides are curtailed.)

This shift to a health-centered understanding of violence helps us de-escalate from harmful thinking—like hoping for revenge—as we work for healing so that everyone receives help and support in the form of holistic healthcare to elevate wholeness, justice, and optimality (or eventual happiness).

Thus, healing processes benefit individuals and communities who are involved in conflicts because we shift problems of power to positive empowerment so that we view conflicts as entreaties for healthcare.

Additionally, I view implicit and explicit bias and discrimination based on who we are, our culture, our heritage, and how we wish to be, as a matter of health that necessitates wellness interventions.

C. Conflicts and Mistakes as Commonplace

It is beneficial to view conflicts and mistakes as commonplace. Rather than aberrations, conflicts and mistakes are basic and sometimes necessary in our lives so that we learn and grow through experience involving trial and error.

In a talk for youth at the Maryland Art Place in 1988, I said the following:

“We are accustomed to viewing conflicts as trouble, troubling, troubled, and troublemaking. We view hurt as indicative of broken people. But conflicts and mistakes are basic measures of our humanity. They are often essential pathways for us to learn and grow as we become healthy people. Instead troublemaking, let’s view conflicts as so we unfold perpetual journeys of shared healing.”

It is not the purpose of this resource to cite sources, but rather to offer the strategies and reflections that I have developed within my practice as a healer and a teacher over the last 30-plus years.

It is my hope that, even in the gravest of hurt, these ten interventions may help us understand conflict as opportunities for blessings and the cultivation of good health.

1. COMMIT TO DIFFERENCE

Everyone involved in a conflict or offense must commit to acknowledging everyone’s difference. We all have different perspectives, world-views, and identities. We do not have to agree on everything to begin healing, protection, rehabilitation, mediation, or negotiation, and some differences merely require “agreeing to disagree.”

2. REHABILITATE

Recognize the pain: Analyze and differentiate between the kind of presumed pain or suffering that has arisen within a conflict or offense. Upon reflection, some forms of pain may not be as serious as others and other forms of pain may indeed require very serious intervention, including protection and temporary separation from the community.

Take accountability: Then begin a process of serious rehabilitation by taking full accountability for one’s role within the conflict or offense.

Commit to change: Make a commitment to yourself and to all parties involved in a conflict or offense to change for the better.

3. PROTECT FOR SAFETY

Most conflicts and offenses should never require separation from communities. Rather, people should engage in empathetic processes to transform conflicts, ensure accountability, and work for justice while being vital members of communities. Staying within communities may mean becoming an ambassador for social change and a model for transforming conflicts so that the entire community learns how to manage offense while celebrating healthy reconciliation.

Yet, sometimes the offense, harm, or injury is so pronounced that one individual or group must be protected from another. Or the violence and abuse of power is so extreme that a community will not be safe unless the offending individual and/or group are separated from others.

The offending individual could be so violent and recidivist (habitual in their misbehavior) that removal from the community for a period of time is essential to ensure safety, security, and wellness for everyone.

A group of people could be so toxic and their offense so traumatic that a period of separation is the best route to ensure that community members are able to heal from trauma in safe contexts that do not re-traumatize them because unaccountable offenders are present.

We recommend that the offending individual or group be separated in a secure, humane, holistic, mental, and physical healthcare facility that is not in any way like the jails and prisons now present in the United States or other countries where English is the main national language.

We recommend the complete elimination of presently designed jails and prisons and their replacement with a lesser number of healthcare facilities that contain the attributes below.

Traumatic, inhumane imprisonment hardens people emotionally, cultivates alienation, breeds contempt, fosters a warped need for revenge, and increases persons’ likelihood to reoffend, making them and others further unsafe.

These government owned and operated (and not privately or corporate owned and operated), well-regulated, safe and secure inpatient healthcare facilities would be and have the attributes listed below.

Needless to say, for this shift to work, the adjudication of offenses must also change. A radical shift to egalitarian, community-based, holistic assessment of conflicts and offense must occur whereby our current criminal justice system is replaced by de-monetized, community-based healthcare systems where all people involved in a conflict receive the same kind of support for fact-finding, accountability, and health-oriented investigation.

These health-focused adjudicative systems would include holistic processes of community healthcare and community education (and not legalized law enforcement processes as we now know them); and these healthcare processes would involve intensive, structured, pluralistic individual and community counseling, mediation, restorative justice, and conflict transformation instead of only courts, jails, prisons, and punishment as currently conceived.

Attributes of Care-Facilities for Temporary Separation from Communities

  • These care-facilities would elevate the dignity and health of individuals through around-the-clock medical, mental, and physical care emphasizing personal accountability for offenses. Accountability would be managed through medical and mental health treatment that emphasizes ongoing behavioral responsibility. Maximal attention would be paid to never, ever weaponizing the work of accountability-management so that patients maintain equality amongst themselves, are never placed in roles of power over each other, and are required to always work supportively with each other while practicing conflict transformation skills at all times.
  • Accountability also means that patients understand that they are interned for a reason: their behavior is so unsafe to themselves and/or others that they have been forcibly removed from communities and demanded to change their mindset and behavior for everyone’s benefit.
  • These care-facilities would be free of violence, cruelty, and rape.
  • These care-facilities would have zero-tolerance for excessive force from staff and patients, and care would be paid to ensure that nonviolent measures are exercised for the possible transportation or restraint of violent patients.
  • These care-facilities would have well-appointed, clean rooms and living quarters.
  • Mainline medical and mental health staff would be trained in safety, de-escalation, conflict transformation, counseling, violence prevention, anger management, impulse control, and family counseling. There would be no guards, correctional officers, or other roles designed to merely invigilate patients.
  • These care-facilities would contain no lethal weapons of any kind.
  • Staff would be well-vetted so that they adhere to a strict, broad-based nondiscrimination policy for every imaginable personhood so that they are unbiased in their treatment of patients and other staff at all times.
  • Staff would be trained in the care and support of trauma-impacted and disabled persons.
  • These care-facilities would not contain procedures for shaming, blaming, or harsh punishment, and they would not contain brutally designed infrastructure or architecture.
  • These care-facilities would not contain no-wage/low-wage labor, but rather fairly paid activities emphasizing sustainable agriculture and the care of non-human species (animals and plants) to help patients practice caretaking, peacemaking, and healthy workforce development amongst themselves.

4. MAKE AMENDS

For a non-retributive, non-punishing, fully restorative approach to conflict transformation and offense-remediation to work, the individual or group who most commits harm or offense must be willing to begin a process of making full amends. The person or group must rehabilitate and offer restitution by actively atoning for the harm or offense and taking responsibility by offering to give up and share power to make the injured individual or group as whole as possible.

Making amends must also involve historical recoveries and remedies, especially re-inclusion and restitution for people and groups who have been left out, excluded, mistreated, and denied recognition and benefit. Without making good on past offenses, true healing for communities might never occur.

Moreover, there can be no truly lasting trauma-informed care or healing on a systemic level if people who were mistreated or excluded in the past are not cared for in the present and re-included as leaders in ongoing reconciliation.

5. MAKE RESTITUTION

Restitution can be direct and non-monetary in the form of offering a full apology without “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” — meaning, an apology without equivocation that is not self-serving.

Or restitution can be nonviolent reparations in the form of money, time, goods, products, and services that (according to the judgement of the injured individual or group) rises to meet the level of hurt and harm made by the injuring individual or group.

6. CULTIVATE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION

Make a full inventory of injury, harm, and offense, admitting to one’s role completely without self-serving or equivocation.

Such an inventory is received by individuals and parties in a community that agrees not to engage in punishment for the truth-telling, but to begin a process of atonement, rehabilitation, restitution, reparations, transformation, and making amends.

7. INFLECT

Take stock of what we have learned or are learning to improve ourselves and how we treat other people.

Treat the work of conflict transformation as an inflection point for radical life-lessons and holistic learning.

8. RELINQUISH POWER AND POSITION

Deeply grave offenses (like acts of heinous greed, exploitation, or violence) involve misuses and abuses of power.

Continuing to wield power is a gross denial of true restoration and justice.

If an individual or group commits a grave offense against another individual or group, then the offending individual or group must not hold power or be placed in a position of favor, high wealth, and authority anymore.

Accountability demands that the offending individual or group humble themselves, relinquish power, high wealth, or authority, and dedicate their lives to helping those they injured or becoming a model for restitution and rehabilitation.

9. REINTEGRATE

Consider the conditions and terms that would make a return to a community safe and mutually beneficial for individuals that commit grave harm.

Make agreements in writing for the kinds of behavior that are necessary for reintegration into a community and make sure that these conditions are carefully tracked and regulated by all individuals in a conflict or offense.

Instead of becoming silent, schedule regular opportunities to check in and talk about the status of life in the aftermath of conflicts and offenses.

Make regular times for the continual caretaking of the people involved in a conflict instead of “sweeping the matter under a rug” or forgetting the problem.

Make time and space to celebrate and reward well-managed conflicts and offenses that end in healthy reconciliation so that this work becomes a model for others.

10. FORGIVE

Forgiveness is not a panacea. It is the most precious recognition of a healthy reconciliation.

The offending individual or group should actively ask for forgiveness from the injured individual or group, and asking should be accompanied by all of the processes presented here so that we understand the ways that forgiveness flows from accountability.

The injured individual or group must never be pressured into forgiveness. They are entitled to their hurt in the wake of an offense.

It is the responsibility of the most offending individual or group to earn forgiveness through deep accountability and atonement.

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