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This Week’s Challenge: Step Towards a Conflict

Once a month some friends (and friends of friends) get together to watch a movie and have a conversation afterward. We’ve watched a range of movies over the last few months, from Rachel Getting Married to Goodbye Lenin! to Defending Your Life.

Last night we watched The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 black and white foreign film about the Algerian War (1954-1962). The movie depicts the struggle between the French colonial power (and the Algerians who were loyal to France) and the Algerians who desired independence.

It is an old film – nearly a half-century old – but I was surprised at how pertinent and profound it was. It does not shy away from depicting the shades of gray so often present in conflict. Who is in the right – the insurrectionists planting bombs in cafés in pursuit of peaceful independence and freedom or the colonial military which tortures and interrogates in order to end a violent rebellion and bring peace to their colony?

Given the current turmoil in a number of Middle Eastern nation-states, I was reminded how far removed I am from macro-level conflict, even the conflict in my own city – the battle, not for political freedom from a colonial power, but for justice, opportunity, and peace in a neighborhood which struggles with joblessness, poverty, homelessness, and gang activity.

In our conversation after the film, I had an idea that I threw out to the group:

What if, in the next week or two, every one of us took a step closer to conflict? What if we kept an eye out for conflict – whether interpersonal, social, political, etc., whether small, medium, or large – and moved toward it rather than fleeing or ignoring it?  Not necessarily to resolve the conflict but to ask: What does conflict feel like? What is the root cause? What mediating role can be played to bring conflict to healthy resolution?

What difference could be made if one person witnesses conflict and enters into the fray?

John Paul Lederach, in a book I wrote about in the last post, writes this:

Perhaps the greatest mystery of peace is that authenticity of change is not located in what can be quantified and controlled. It is rooted in the courage of people and communities to be and live vulnerably in the face of fear and threat, and ultimately to find therein that human security is not tied primarily to the quantity or size of weapons, the height or thickness of the wall that separates them, nor to the power of imposition or control. The mystery of peace is located in the nature and quality of relationships developed with those most feared.

The Moral Imagination, 62-63.

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