In many cultures, especially Western cultures, conflict is viewed as fundamentally a good thing. That is, working through conflicts constructively results in stronger, healthier, and more satisfying relationships. Similarly, groups that work through conflict can gain new information about members or about other groups.According to this viewpoint, individuals should be encouraged to think of creative, even far-reaching solutions to conflict. There is also value in direct confrontation, recognizing conflict and working through it in an open, productive way. In fact, many people consider conflict-free relationships to be less than healthy and potentially problematic. In this view, conflict presents opportunities to clarify issues in relationships, release tensions, and renew relationships.However, many cultural groups view conflict as ultimately destructive for relationships. For example, many Asian cultures, reflecting the influence of Confucianism, and some religious groups in the United States see conflict as disturbing the peace. Most Amish, for example, think of conflict not as an opportunity for personal growth, but as a threat to interpersonal and community harmony. When conflict does arise, the strong spiritual value of pacifism dictates a nonresistant response – often avoidance.Also, these groups think that when members disagree they should adhere to the consensus of the group rather than engage in conflict. In fact, members who threaten group harmony may be sanctioned. In such cultures like Asian, silence and avoidance may be used to manage conflict. Amish would prefer to lose face or money rather than escalate a conflict, and Amish children are instructed to turn the other cheek in any conflict situation, even if it means getting beat up by their neighborhood bully. Individuals from these groups also use intermediaries – friends or colleagues who act on their behalf in dealing with conflict. People who think that interpersonal conflict provides opportunities to strengthen relationships also use mediation, but mainly in formal settings. For instance, people retain lawyers to mediate disputes, hire real estate agents to negotiate commercial transactions, and engage counselors to resolve or manage interpersonal conflicts.
What are the basic principles of nonviolence applied to interpersonal relations? Actually, nonviolence is not the absence of conflict, and it is not a simple refusal to fight. Rather it involves peacemaking – a difficult, and sometimes very risky, approach to interpersonal relationships.
1. Peacemaking approach helps to value strongly the other person and encourage his or her growth.
2. Attempt to de-escalate conflicts – keeping them from escalating once they start.
3. Attempt to find creative negotiation to resolve conflicts when they arise.
These approaches to conflict resolution reflect different underlying cultural values involving identity and face saving. In the more individualistic approach that sees conflict as good, the concern is with individuals preserving their own dignity. The more communal approach espoused by both Amish and Asian cultures and by other collectivist groups is more concerned with maintaining harmony in interpersonal relationships and preserving the dignity of others. For example, in classic Chinese thought, social harmony is the goal of human society at all levels – individual, family, village, and nation.