Presentation addresses cultural conflict resolution
April 9, 2010
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On April 1, a day generally saved for fooling around, Guilford students, alumni and guests got serious about an issue that affects the world. Hosted by Vernie Davis, professor and chair of peace & conflict studies and director of the Conflict Resolution Resource Center, world-renowned conflict resolution specialist Mohammed Abu-Nimer facilitated the Culture-Peacebuilding-Conflict workshop.Abu-Nimer also presented a talk at New Garden Meeting that night at 7:30 p.m.
Diverse races, cultures, sexual orientations, and genders all came together with one unified purpose: to discuss methods of resolving cultural conflicts peacefully.
Abu-Nimer was introduced to the audience by Davis, who revealed the speaker’s ties to Guilford. Having received the first conflict resolution Ph.D. offered at George Mason University, Abu-Nimer was hired by Davis in May 1993 to teach the first course on cultural conflict offered at Guilford College. Abu-Nimer was also the first faculty director of the Conflict Resolution Resource Center. He left Guilford College in 1997.
The event drew students from a variety of majors as well as professionals from other universities. Thomas G. Matyok, an assistant professor in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Program in Conflict Studies and Dispute Resolution was in attendance and expressed his admiration of Abu-Nimer’s work.
Abu-Nimer began the workshop by explaining what conflict is: “A relationship between two or more parties (individuals or groups) who have, or think they have, incompatible goals or may have compatible goals but different means, processes and approaches.” He went on to say, “peace-building is a means of creating the tangible and intangible conditions to enable a conflict-habituated system to become a peace system.”
The idea that humans create a notion of “them” became one of the major themes in the workshop. Abu-Nimer likened the passing down of hatred as “breastfeeding the child conflict.” If the idea of “them” becomes one of “we” then there would be much less conflict.
Issues that mitigate conflict were explored and tools for cultural understanding were presented. Abu-Nimer suggested that skills such as listening, becoming aware of assumptions and labeling as well as suspending judgment and bias would all be instrumental in helping resolve or prevent cultural conflicts. He also spoke about becoming aware of how one’s society deals with certain issues and how recognizing similarities create opportunities to thwart or stop conflicts.
Tim Leisman, a first-year peace and conflict studies major, said, “I realized through this workshop that many conflicts arise because society, especially the media, do not give equal space for diversity. There is conflict because the different cultures are unable to negotiate sharing the same space.”
Leisman added, “The solutions Dr. Abu-Nimer proposed were thought-provoking. The idea of bringing groups of different cultures together and helping them to realize that they are not so different is something I can see happening here at Guilford. The tools taught in this workshop could resolve issues such as how athletes are viewed by the rest of the student body. I can see myself utilizing these tools and facilitating such mediation.”
The workshop culminated in one resounding principle: cultural perception creates conflict but cultural awareness creates understanding.