Inspire Dialogue Summaries: Conflict Resolution
Brendan Simms, Professor of European International Relations, Director of the Forum on Geopolitics
“We were criticised and ridiculed by other professional groups for coming into a maximum security prison with the word ‘trust’ in mind.”
In our group we started with looking at the root of suspicion and conflict, which of course is fear. Our group was very diverse from the point of view of background and age, but also experience. But everyone had had some kind of direct experience of violence and/or alienation, whether it was working in the prison system, experience of armed conflict, the war on drugs, migration, or schools where fear is endemic. And so we asked: how do we get out of this situation? And we agreed that for this we need trust. But how do we establish trust if it has been broken by a bad experience, or how do you establish it in the first place if we are dealing with strangers? Here again, we had many examples of how tensions were overcome based on experience: for example, of knife violence in a school situation, where the situation was defused simply by advancing physically upon a threatening figure and embracing him. Or, at the other extreme, governmental programmes to integrate groups and reduce barriers in that way.
One of the points that was made is that in order to do this you have to show vulnerability on your own side, in that you have to be able to let your guard down. In the example that was given of the knife attack, this is obvious, but we wondered whether there was some possibility of scaling this up from individuals to states and organisations with a view to better conflict resolution.
The other thing I want to highlight is the matter of timing with both conflict resolution and trust building. If you take the example that I mentioned in my introduction this morning – that of the Thirty Years War in Europe which culminated in the Westphalia Agreement – it is not very encouraging because they had to wait thirty years until everyone was exhausted. The Northern Ireland troubles also lasted decades. And so we wondered whether there was some way of kick-starting the peace process earlier, so that we wouldn’t have to wait until everyone is exhausted – as in, say, the Israel–Palestine conflict. We did not have a particular model about how that could be done, but the question was asked.
Alison Liebling, Professor of Criminology, University of Cambridge
I have been delighted by the conversation about trust today, because of my involvement with a project at a maximum-security prison. I originally studied this prison in the 1990s, but I was asked to go back to it twelve years later because of concerns about radicalisation and risk. We found that the whole place had become paralysed by distrust; in a very short amount of time the prison had changed from being a place where guarded but very real forms of trust were flowing between staff and prisoners, and among prisoners, to it being a place where everyone was afraid of everybody else. Staff no longer recognised prisoners, and the information flow was no longer going on in the wings where the prisoners were living, but off the wings in security information reports.
So we decided to go and study trust. Everyone wanted us to study risk, but we resisted that and went to other maximum security prisons to study trust. We were criticised and ridiculed by other professional groups for coming into a maximum security prison with the word ‘trust’ in mind. But in fact, almost before we arrived at the prison some of the prisoners were waiting for us, excited that we were this important group from Cambridge who were willing to come and talk to them about trust, because nobody else would use the word. And the project has been really valuable: we have learnt all sorts of things about how destructive a lack of trust can be, and how a little bit of trust can build relationships and reduce violence. The prisoners themselves have found it so important to have conversations about trust that they have decided to carry on doing it without us, and they now have a ‘trust committee’. They write us letters; they invite us to their meetings; they invite people from different faith backgrounds to talk to them. The whole point of the dialogue is for them to get to know each other and build trust between themselves. We have seen it make a massive difference not only to the life in the institution, but also to all the individuals living within it.
Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
“When we go out and encounter others, we are asking for something that is not already there to come alive in us”read more
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
“Most of these people do not need money, but they need somebody that they can have a conversation with.”read more
Senior Director of Law and Policy for Amnesty International
“The stranger or ‘the other’ is a notion that we construct in our quest for a resource. In reality, there is no ‘other’…”read more
“What makes humanity so beautiful is our multiculturalism… the variety in our colours, cultures and beliefs is what makes us all unique.”read more
“How do we have a dialogue with someone who is fifty years away from inhabiting this earth? This leads to considerations of inter-generational responsibility”read more
Lord Rowan Williams
“To be able to imagine that things don’t have to be as they are is perhaps one of the most important things that human beings ever do.”read more
Michael Sells and Simone Fattal talk about a new translation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s famous cycle of love poems, ‘Translation of Desires’
“For Ibn ‘Arabi longing or desire is a cosmic force. It goes beyond all boundaries, and it is the closest taste of the infinite that people can have in their own experience.”read more
Emma Clark visits the Luohan at the Temple Gallery in London
“This majestic and profound sculpture is both timeless and deeply meaningful in its capacity to give us an insight into what it means to be human.”read more
An interview with Heidi Herrmann about the work of The Natural Beekeeping Trust in preserving our precious populations of bees.
“We need to address the many ways in which we have fallen so far from the ideal place of humanity. The bees demonstrate this as a whole phenomenon – as ‘the Bee’.”read more
Khojeste Mistree talks about one of the world’s oldest surviving religions and what we can learn from it in the present day.
“One of the principles of the Zoroastrian way of life is to promote harmony in this world, and we believe that harmony begins by being happy within ourselves.”read more
Mark Boston reflects on painting the film Loving Vincent
“The entire movement of the world sometimes seems an endless, elaborately painted masterpiece, with every moment in a slightly different configuration from the last.”read more
Artist and psychotherapist Benet Haughton talks about the spiritual vision that underpins his life and work
“Something has to come through that I haven’t seen before, that is transformative, so that I’m surprised, genuinely surprised, by it.”read more
Political strategist David Bollier explains how a new economic/cultural paradigm is challenging the increasing ‘enclosure’ of wealth and human creativity.
“Identity and human flourishing come about through having a connection, a relationship with others, including non-human life and the earth itself.”read more
The inclusive vision of Glenn Murcutt’s Australian Islamic Centre
“The building sets out to be physically and psychologically inclusive. It speaks eloquently of both its current Australian context and ancient Islamic culture.”read more
The spiritual foundations of our contemporary desire for private space
“…the notion of solitude was essential to the development of concepts we now see as foundational for western society: individualism, freedom, social and political equality, democracy.”read more
An interview with Judith Hanson Lasater
“This is the freedom that yoga offers: it allows us to find that moment when we can choose the empathetic response, the compassionate response.”read more