Peace is not just the opposite of war; it’s the calm and comfort that exists when we don’t have to fear that disruptive conflict can happen at any moment. A sense of peace allows us to let down our guard and experience a release of stress and tension. That doesn’t describe the world we are living in right now, whether we’re talking about relationships around the world, within our own country or, for many of us, in our places of work. However, is peace really what everyone wants?
This Pakistani General, speaking at an International Conference on Global Peace, talks about ‘quest for peace’ as the desired objective that ‘must be based on equality for mankind.’ It made me wonder, how universal a value is ‘equality for mankind’? So if it’s not a universally shared value, can we ever hope to achieve it, or peace for that matter?
As I’ve worked with organizations to create cultures in which constructive conflict resolution and collaboration become the norm, I’ve realized that an overarching shared sense of purpose based on core values is an essential ingredient. Disagreements may occur around all sorts of variables in how we prefer to do things, what roles we play, major and minor decisions, but if we don’t share some larger vision and set of values related to doing what we do for some purpose greater than ourselves, there is very little reason to compromise instead of compete.
This is not to say that there is not an appropriate time to compete. The important question is how do we determine when collaboration and compromise are preferred and when competition is appropriate. Or put another way, when do achieving the ends we care about call for engagement in the hope of finding a universally beneficial solution and when is there no hope of that, in which case we must go for the ‘I win, you lose’ outcome, i.e., competition or quest for dominance.
Two well-known allegories can help, one ‘the tragedy of the commons,’ the other ‘prisoners dilemma.’ In the first, tragic outcomes occur for everyone when individuals simply take what they need from a shared resource (the ‘commons’ refers to a shared village pasture in which farm animals graze) with no regulation, resulting ultimately in the depletion of a nonrenewable food source. The second refers to a situation in which two prisoners accused of the same crime must decide whether to throw the other one under the bus to save himself or trust that the other prisoner will not do that to him, so both might plead innocent and both go free. In both cases, there must be more regard for the ‘greater good’ than the ‘I win, you lose’ approach in order for there to be a good outcome for everyone in the long run. Focusing only on what is best for me, in the short term, ultimately produces tragic results for everyone.
If, rather than ‘equality of mankind’ and a peaceful world (or community or workplace) being the shared value, it is all about every man or woman for him/herself, every state or political party or country, or ethnic group for itself, why would anyone ever compromise or collaborate? Without the shared overarching ‘quest for peace’ and desire for ‘equality,’ is there any point in trying to work together?
Certainly, there are times when competition is justified when the principle or ideology being fought for is so compelling that it’s worth risking ‘war,’ or at least a nasty battle in which some sort of casualties result. What would you fight for even knowing the costs will be high? Moreover, when is it worth sacrificing something in the short term for some greater good in the long run?
Who and what would you fight for……….humankind and the planet, the nation, your religious group, your union, your ‘tribe,’ your family, or yourself? For what principle would you risk it all? At what cost? When is there more to gain by working together for the common good than for your own ends?
Questions worth pondering. For more compelling discussion, see The Power of Difference: From Collaboration to Conflict by Dana Morris-Jones.