Skip to content

Aggression and Violence: Vital to Conflict Resolution?

2009 September 17

By Juontel White

conflictFor many, the word ‘conflict’ most immediately triggers images of chronic violence and war. Conflict is a dispute in a situation as defined by a party’s underlying goals and beliefs.

It arises at varying degrees—from civil disputes to acts of genocide. At any level, conflict involves aggression and/or violence, whether exhibited passively or actively.

Aggression and violence can certainly fuel a conflict, but what role do the two play in the process of conflict resolution? Do they strictly impede peace-building efforts or are they an integral component to solving a dispute in a situation?

In light of the recent outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) during President Barack Obama’s healthcare speech to Congress, a few colleagues and I engaged in a discussion comparing the U.S. legislative branch to that of Great Britain. Whereas Wilson’s actions were indecorous in any setting according to U.S. customs, had he been a member of the British Parliament the move would have been more apropos.

It was then argued that heated debates are necessary because it gives the party an opportunity to vent frustrations, serving as a detoxifier of sorts, cleansing the body from its pent up aggression. My colleague suggested that after tempers flare and abrasive words (and sometimes objects) fly a cool down period would begin, wherein the conflicting parties, having expressed their sentiments, could begin to resolve their differences and find a common ground.

I wondered if this theory could be applied to the resolution process of conflicts of all degrees.

In Understanding Conflict and War: The Just Peace, author R.J. Rummel writes, “Resolving conflict is partially empathizing with the other, understanding his frame of reference, and sensing this reading of one’s field of expression.”

You certainly cannot begin to understand the other side’s “frame of reference” until you know what that frame is. This comes from hearing, in full, the other side’s story.

The space in which the other explains that story may become aggressively heated and I agree that this is healthy toward resolving conflict for the same reasons noted by my colleague. But there is a thin line between healthy and unhealthy aggression and it is when a party begins to involve disparagement and violence in their expression that the peace-building process is impeded.

Muckraking and violent behavior cause parties to focus on their differences rather than their similarities. In this way, serving as a road block to compromise and conflict resolution.

 As such, for parties to be ready to arrive at the space of healthy debate, they must be open and also introspective—prepared to quench any inclination of violence or reviling they may feel and commit to wholly listening to the other side.

 In his recent speech to Congress, President Obama expressed that he is willing to hear all sides of the healthcare debate. This is the kind of openness which parties in conflict should adopt in hopes of settling their differences and resolving their conflict by finding common ground.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS