Don’t Fight Fire with Fire

By Andrew Grant

The Implications Of The Bali Bomb: A Personal Reflection

During Oct 2002 Bali was in mourning. Our dearly loved adopted island home suffered from a senseless and brutal attack. The peace-loving local people who have generously welcomed in so many visitors from around the world – and who have taught so many people so much through their open community spirit – were the victims of dark criminal and political forces.

We felt the ground shudder when the bomb went off. We saw the chaos as police cars and ambulances raced to the site of the destruction. We experienced the shock as we saw body after body being dragged from the debris, being rushed to the hospital ward and the morgue. And we have despaired at the inhumanity of it all. Both of us are, along with many people around the world, again asking: Why???

By the time the smoke has shifted and the rubble has been cleared away, there will still be a lot of questions to be answered. But in the meantime, it can be helpful to consider the general elements in humanity that can lead to such tragic episodes.

People become murderers, robbers and terrorists because of circumstances and experiences in life. Killing or confining murderers, robbers, terrorists, or the like is not going to rid this world of them. For every one we kill or confine we create another hundred to take their place. What we need to do is dispassionately analyse both the circumstances that create such monsters and how we can help eliminate those circumstances. Focusing our efforts on the monsters, rather than what creates the monsters, will not solve the problems of violence.” Gandhi

AT THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM

Times like these provide an opportunity to reflect on the qualities that we as individuals and groups can develop in ourselves to save ourselves from the same prejudices. It is not good enough to simply and insensitively lay blame on other people – on other races, religions, beliefs or opinions – we must heed the reminder that our convictions can take us all on destructive tangents and further fan the flames of aggression in others. That every individual’s beliefs can skew his or her judgement.

Whatever the specific causes, there are clear cross-cultural issues that contribute to the escalation of the problem. Cultural misunderstandings and inappropriate language have always been and will always be a source of conflict, and unless we can begin to understand the ways these can divide people, we will never be able to make any sense of what’s going on. Unless we can start to see the seeds of the same problems in our own lives – individually and corporately – we will never be able to learn from some of life’s toughest lessons and move ahead.

Closely connected to these cultural issues are the problems with communication that can ignite and exacerbate cross-cultural tensions. As Hugh McKay says, the communication process involves a complex web of subtle interconnections, and in order for the communication process to be positive and constructive, there must be much more than a simple giving and receiving of messages. Each of us must strive to find a language that works towards finding solutions rather than creating further problems.

CHECK THE RHETORIC

Unfortunately, the political rhetoric we are hearing at the top levels reeks of individualistic posturing and self-protection – possibly at the expense of any real attempts at finding resolution. These sorts of approaches rapidly lead to secondary conflicts, aggression and deepen already fragile relationships, driving a wedge in that can be very hard to remove and creating a strong “us and them” mentality.

If communication needs the fertile ground of a functioning relationship in order to be effective, politics at the national and international levels have a mighty long way to go. But many of us also suffer from these same shortcomings in our own relationships. Once we examine the ways these communication patterns affect our relationships, and learn how to develop positive, mutually beneficial patterns of communication, we can start to avoid the misunderstandings that lead to unnecessary secondary conflicts.

DAMPENING THE SPARKS OF AGGRESSION

In our early working lives, we spent time teaching in schools – often dealing with “students at risk”. It wasn’t difficult to notice that the socially maladjusted kids who were backed into a corner and felt they were not listened to quickly reverted to aggression. The more challenged they were, the more they slipped into the aggressive role.

Before long we discovered that the only way to truly get through to these individuals was to initiate a process of empathetic understanding and to change our language, which could take them down the conflict ladder of aggression far enough to a state where counselling could begin. (This is not to say these individuals weren’t required to face the consequences of their inappropriate behaviours, but with appropriate counselling they could understand themselves and their behaviours and need for discipline better – thus helping to break the conflict cycle.)

Criminal individuals and organisations should be brought to justice, but the way this is done needs to be handled very carefully. The methods that are used may lead to further aggression from supporters or sympathy for their cause. Leaders are responsible for the way they communicate, and simple phrases such as “we’ll get the bastards” (actual quote from John Howard) only create further tension.

HURDLING SIMPLISTIC THINKING

Unfortunately simplistic thinking blocks progress. It leads us to believe that ‘to try to understand is to agree with the other’s view’, which is simply not true. It is possible to disagree with a view, but in order to move towards a solution there must be an understanding and a relationship. This is can be a massive hurdle for people in conflict to get over. One of many steps in the right direction is to be able to dispassionately analyse both the circumstances that create such people, and ways we can help to eliminate those circumstances.

With the kids (as now with adults) we found that the only way to begin the rehabilitation process was to start to understand why they thought and behaved the ways they did and avoid aggressive language. In many successful cases we have dealt with over the years, a real attempt at understanding rather than just a front-on assault has been the only way to find solutions. Outright aggression only leads to more aggression and a short term masking of the behaviour.

DON’T FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE

Bali… Indonesia… the world… we are all at a crossroads. A fire has been lit. In the same way that any wind on the night of Oct 12 would have spread the fire throughout Kuta, any hint of aggression will only further cultivate conflict.

To do nothing (as many western governments have accused the Indonesian government of doing) will simply allow more fires to burn, and to react aggressively will fan the flames.

As terrorism spreads and affects more and more of our lives in many more places around the world, it will take a great deal of discipline to be able to veer away from the immediate emotional reactions that can lead to further scarring, and rather to make wise rational decisions that start the healing process.

There is no justification for terrorist actions such as those we have witnessed here in Bali. But there is also no justification for indiscriminate “revenge” attacks on innocent people – such as when mosques have been attacked in Australia. Random retaliation only escalates the violence.

We must start looking at the causes of our fires, and start the delicate process of clearing the undergrowth. Australians have learnt that bushfires thrived on low humidity. We must go beyond immediate retaliation to look at ways we can change the world’s social and emotional climate so fires find it harder and harder to spread. We may not have lit the fire, but we all can have some control over the contributing factors. We all stand at the crossroads every time we communicate.

When issues of race, religion, sex and politics points infiltrate our everyday lives… when our tempers are stoked by dualistic black and white thinking… each of us must take the time to educate ourselves about different people and different ways of thinking and behaving so that we can create a environment that promotes peaceful resolution.

IMPLICATIONS FOR ALL

We (like many people in the world) have a limited understanding of the complexities of terrorism and international politics, but terrorist activities have now directly impacted our own village community. What can we do?

We are determined, first of all, to try to understand all sides of the story and to contribute to understanding and acceptance where we can. And we will find ways, at our own level, to foster communication that contributes this sort of understanding rather than fanning the flames of aggression.

Each of us is responsible for the messages we deliver. If tough decisions need to be made they should be made with a sensitive heavy heart and delivered with well chosen solution-centred words that aid progress. Each of us has the power to do this every day.

© Andrew Grant

Andrew Grant is the Managing Director of TIRIAN, an international training & consulting company that works with multinational executives throughout the region. Andrew and Gaia are the authors of Living in Three Dimensions, and Gaia has also written The Rhythm of Life and A Patch of Paradise.
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