By Brandy Frew
Most, if not all, societies have formal and informal methods for their citizenry to deal with conflict. Some societies, however, have a significant enough of these constructs in place to encourage a peaceful and cooperative culture. These societies have many similar qualities that allow them to reduce, or eliminate, the amount of conflict within their societies. These include teaching children how to deal with conflict, the importance of conflict resolution, and the conflict resolution tools used by a society. An examination of these qualities will show that the peaceful tendencies of a culture are a result of cultural constructs that maintain peacefulness among these societies. Additionally, examining the qualities of peaceful societies can help larger, permanent societies to obtain conflict resolution skills that could reduce conflict within, and outside, their society.
The Enculturation of Children
Child-rearing practices are an important part of maintaining peacefulness within a society, practices must include passing on the skills needed to avoid, resolve, and/or deal with conflict. Teaching the children of a society early in life the principles and values surrounding peace and conflict helps to ensure that peaceful societies can continue peaceful practices. As Bruce Bonta, a member of Peace and Justice Studies Association, explains, the Hutterite colonies in the United States and Canada and the La Paz community in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico provides two examples of how children are taught early to adapt to norms that discourage conflict. An examination of both shows how each culture begins early in life with expectations on their members to reduce and/or eliminate conflict as much as possible (301-306).
The Hutterite are groups of people that live throughout North America, small communities that work together to raise livestock, farm, and manufacture goods. Bonta, writes that in many nonviolent societies, teaching children to live in a society where competition is not engaged helps to ensure that the values of peace and cooperation are passed on with each generation; one such society is the Hutterite colonies. Within the Hutterite colonies, cooperation, not competition, is the quality taught to children early in life. This avoidance of competition is so strong within the Hutterite children that visiting teachers have found it difficult to use competitiveness to motivate students and have found that an entire class will be embarrassed if a student is singled out for praise (“Hutterite Brethren”; 299-302).
As Bonta explains, ultimately, at a very early age, Hutterite children are taught that their community is more important than they are as individuals, as well as an understanding that their elders are more important than they are. In this particular peaceful society, the children grow up understanding that they are not to set themselves apart from others, compete with each other, and they are to view their elders with respect. Hostetler writes, “a successfully socialized adult Hutterite gets along well with others and, submissive and obedient to rules and regulations of colony, is a hard-working, responsible individual.” All of these qualities help the Hutterite society continue to pass on peaceful and cooperative constructs within their society (301; 245).
In addition to cooperation, another societal construct that can be helpful in maintaining a peaceful society is respect for other members of the society. This is shown in the La Paz community studied by Douglas P. Fry where he contrasted the methods of socialization used with children in La Paz with the neighboring community, San Andres. During Fry’s examination of the attitudes surrounding aggression within both communities, he found that the children of each were taught societal rules surrounding violence and aggression. The citizens of San Andres regularly engage in more violent and aggressive behavior then the citizens of La Paz (623-626).
In both communities, the children are exposed to the behaviors of the adults regularly and witness how conflict is dealt with. In particular, the citizens of La Paz have a more egalitarian view regarding gender relations; their women are prescribed more freedoms and are less likely to be subject to domestic violence. When closely studying the behavior of children in both communities, Fry concludes that “prevalent attitudes and values regarding what constitutes acceptable behavior, shared expectations about the nature of the citizenry, and overall images of the community’s aggressiveness and peacefulness are all elements of a child’s learning environment.” The children of La Paz are taught early in life to respect each other, they are more apt to have discussion with elders in times of conflicts (rather than receive corporeal punishment) therefore they are more likely to grow up with conflict resolution skills that the San Andres children may lack (621-633).
In both the Hutterite and La Paz societies, early socialization of children helps to ensure the peacefulness of a society. Enculturation at an early age allows the cultural norms surrounding peace, violence, cooperation, and competition to pass on to future generations. The types of methods discussed, cooperation and respect for others, are some tools that, given during childhood, allow the children a successful integration into society as they age. Other tools that are important in peaceful societies are conflict resolution skills; these have to be effectively practiced by children and adults within a culture in order for the cultural constructs to survive.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is a necessity for any society to become a peaceful society. Without values strongly objecting to violence, aggression, and/or conflict, a society is less likely to be able to maintain its peaceful aspects over time. Two societies in particular, the Inuit and the Paliyan Foragers, show how this can be done in a modern social climate and rising conflict within their culture. In both, some aspects of their culture has changed significantly, such as a more permanent settlement and increased exposure to other cultures. Examining these two cultures can help show how traditional cultural constructs surrounding conflict can survive and adapt with increased modernization and globalization they face.
Jean Briggs discusses how the Inuit have adapted their conflict management from traditional nomadic camps to more modern settlements. In early nomadic years, the Inuit had several conflict resolution skills that were used to control conflicts in their small communities. Some of these included avoiding criticizing others, not taking sides during a quarrel, or an agreed upon member of the group publically lecturing individuals in cases where conflict is not resolved quickly or easily. Each of these conflict controls used in the nomadic Inuit camps helped these small, closely related groups of people live together and work in a cooperative manner (111-113).
However, as Briggs explains, these same controls may not work as well in a modern settlement, where the Inuit are exposed to a larger number of people in their group, as well as more diversity. In the community described by Briggs, the modern settlement is diverse in both language and ethnicity. This modern environment for Inuit members creates a number of unique conflicts not previously seen in their culture. For instance, Inuit’s may begin to feel that they are tied down, dependent on government services, unused to having government enforce community law, or struggle with traditional views in light of newer generations views. Ultimately, Briggs feels that all of the previous Inuit camp members that have moved into the modern settlement she studied fear aggressive confrontation, and go to length to avoid it, like avoiding public meetings where quarrels are known to happen (111-122).
To adjust to these new conflicts that Inuit face, Briggs shows that the Inuit either created new conflict control mechanisms, or adapted previously held ones. A new mechanism used in their society is the radio, through personal (talking to a friend/relative) or government (announcements) use the Inuit can feel that their large society is much smaller. They are not isolated from family members or from their community as much as they would be without this method of communication. While the radio can be a source of conflict as well, it provides a way for conflict to be resolved without confrontation. This has allowed the Inuit to adapt the traditional method of conflict avoidance, through use of technology. The Inuit are not the only traditional society that is facing change and modernization, the Paliyans of India provide a unique insight into changing conflict resolution methods as a part of their society settles (110-122).
The Paliyan are a foraging society who Peter Gardner, an anthropologist with the University of Missouri, examined to see how, and if, conflict resolution methods changed when a portion of a nomadic group settled into a permanent community. He compares and contrasts the conflict resolution methods, parenting, and conflicts witnessed between the Paliyan that have become sedentary and those that are still forest dwelling. While there was a slight increase in violence among the sedentary Paliyan, it still falls well below what most societies consider violent. However, conflicts or acts of aggression in the permanent Paliyan community were higher than in the forest dwelling Paliyan community (224-228).
In the Paliyan society, respect for others is paramount to their conflict control constructs, this includes respecting children as much as a person would an adult. Within the sedentary Paliyan, Gardner observed that there was a higher rate of incidences between child and parent that would have been seen as disrespectful in the foraging Paliyan, such as a mother raising her voice or swatting her child. He also reported an increased amount of arguing within playgroups that he did not witness with the foraging group. Gardner felt that this increased violence among the settled Paliyan children was due, in part, to the example set by another ethnic group that the children came into contact with during their day. While the Paliyan adults within the settled group still actively avoided conflict of all types, the children were exposed to the behaviors of more aggressive adults (224-228).
In addition, Gardner observed a new method of conflict resolution created by the sedentary Paliyan, the KuTTams, which are a communal method meant to deal with conflicts. However, strongly held beliefs of respecting others and that no one has power to tell another what to do (or how to behave) is believed to cause an uneasiness with the sedentary Paliyan and this new method. They appear to be suspect of a method that may result in someone being told by a group, or an individual, how they should behave or allowing a method that gives authority to a group or individual. Instead, even among the sedentary Paliyan there is a strong cultural construct that respect for each other is what will keep conflicts from arising. In contrast to the Inuit, the sedentary Paliyan have maintained many of the conflict resolution methods and are suspicious of new methods. Within their newest conflict resolution method, KuTTams, the sedentary Paliyan do not widely accept this, unlike the Inuit with their adaptation of the radio as a means to resolve and/or avoid conflict (215-236).
As globalization influences the economic and social structure of a nonviolent society, there are likely to be changes in how the dynamics of conflict resolution and maintenance of peaceful values function. Not only are the children of such societies likely to be exposed to differing views regarding conflict, competition, and aggression, the adults are likely to be exposed to new sources of conflict. These two societies, more so with the Paliyan, help give us insight as to how traditional conflict resolution strategies can be adapted to deal with modern growth, globalization, and conflicts.
What Techniques Work
The conflict resolution techniques within peaceful societies vary, however a common belief within these societies is deep conflict avoidance of any type as well as others. Bruce Bonta, an anthropologist with the University of Alabama, specifically defines
conflict resolution among peaceful peoples is the settlement or avoidance of disputes between individuals or groups of people through solutions that refrain from violence and that attempt to reunify and re-harmonize the people involved in internal conflicts, or that attempt to preserve amicable relations with external societies (406).
In order for peaceful societies to be able to accomplish this, they must create specific conflict resolution techniques that fit the specific structure of their culture. Therefore, while they may have some common techniques, they are also likely to have differing techniques from another peaceful society. Bonta states that his examination of the literature available on peaceful societies, there are six common techniques used; they are self-restraint, negotiation, separation, intervention, meetings, and humor. These common techniques used can be examined to help gain an understanding of how some cultures can maintain peacefulness (406-408).
In cases of self-restraint, it is common for a societal construct to be created teaching members of the society that they are expected to act, as well as react to situations, in a certain way. For example, Gardner states that the Paliyan “firmly and persistently reject the idea that they might consume alcohol. They say it unleashes anger” (231). Showing self-restraint in consumption of alcohol is seen here, if not complete avoidance. An expectation exists that all Paliyans avoid alcohol, as they believe it will create conflict in their groups and settlements. Bonta also explains that self-restraint in emotional reaction is important in many peaceful societies. Many believe that highly emotional responses or states can only lead to more trouble or conflict. Whether self-restraint in consumption or emotional response, self-restraint is a tool integrated into cultural constructs by many peaceful societies (406).
Negotiation is another quality found within peaceful societies, but not in the same context that the Western cultures might view negotiation. Bonta states that rather than prefer an outsider to hear both sides of an argument, or problem, and help the parties reach an agreement, the peaceful societies will generally rely on the individuals involved in the conflict to work it out themselves. As Briggs explains, the radio method used by the Inuit previously discussed is an example of how negotiation is avoided by an outside party. Through the radio method, two arguing parties can air their grievances, and perhaps settle them, without having to ask or receive help from another party. Conflict avoidance is imperative in peaceful societies, and this technique is a way for others to avoid conflict when one arises. If two parties are arguing in a small community and it is culturally acceptable for others to get involved with the conflict, then it could create a fission in the group. By disallowing negotiation through a third party, these cultures help others to avoid getting involved in conflicts they witness (406; 119-121).
The third conflict resolution technique described by Bonta is separation, where he states, “walking away from a dispute is one of the most favored ways of resolving conflicts among these people” (407). Allowing individuals or groups to remove themselves from a situation/conflict for any length of time until emotions calm greatly reduces the risk of conflict escalating to violence. Removing themselves from a conflict is not only an internal mechanism, but also as a mechanism to deal with external conflicts. Bonta further explains that it is not uncommon for historical records to show that peaceful societies in Western cultures would move entire communities to avoid conflict from an external society. While this is not something that a very large, permanent society could do to avoid conflict, there are other ways to move away from a conflict. Understanding the importance of separation in conflict resolution techniques can help more permanent, modern societies learn to avoid conflict with geographically bordering societies, perhaps with the use of increased diplomacy (407).
In contrast to the negotiation approach covered earlier, the fourth conflict resolution mechanism described by Bonta is intervention. Within some peaceful societies, he discovered that an individual that was informally selected to try to maintain the peace in the case of a conflict. They are typically people that show skill in calming others during a conflict, perhaps using humor or soothing tone of voice. In other peaceful societies, any bystander will intervene when a conflict is witnessed. Gardner writes that within the Paliyan foresting band, it is uncommon for a relative or bystander to not intervene and separate a frustrated parent from their child in an effort to avoid conflict. In either case, the cultures have created a conflict mechanism tailored to their societal values (407; 226).
The final two conflict resolution mechanisms described by Bonta are meetings and humor. Meetings are usually informal public gatherings where people are allowed to air their grievances. He also states that one purpose of these meetings could be to contain a conflict to a designated area, therefore removing the threat that it will “disrupt society, either by minimizing issues as private rather than public concerns, or by restricting involvement in order to allow informal mechanisms of social control to operate” (407). Meetings, negotiation, and intervention can all be closely related to the final resolution mechanisms, humor. Gardner describes several instances within the Paliyan society where individuals within the groups used humor to diffuse a tense situation or a conflict. Whether through meeting or humor, the premise behind these techniques is to minimize the importance of the conflict, before it escalates (222-23).
Understanding the importance and methods of conflict resolution with a peaceful society may help other societies to learn methods that could reduce conflict within their own society. While not all methods are easily obtained in a modern community, such as separation, there are aspects to each that can have an impact on the rates of aggression, violence, and conflict seen in permanent communities. For example, learning to avoid extreme emotional responses may help motor vehicle driver’s deal with the phenomenon of road rage. The peaceful societies covered each show a strong belief that conflict is not only destructive, but also effectively avoided when all members of the society make an effort.
Importantly, peaceful beliefs are not an ideal that these societies are constantly working toward. Instead, Majken Sorensen states “even more important, they do not see peacefulness as an ideal that they are strive for – they are peaceful” (607). Peaceful societies show a great respect for conflict avoidance, some to a greater extreme than others do. All, however, have formal and informal methods to resolve conflict, avoid conflict, and create cultural constructs that create social controls. These formal and informal methods become the building blocks of enculturation that members of the society are taught through interaction with each other.
All societies socialize their children early in life on what is considered culturally acceptable behavior; within peaceful societies, this typically includes values such as cooperation, respect for individuals, and self-sufficiency. Additionally, socializing children on conflict resolution skills, peaceful societies create informal mechanisms that strongly encourage their populous to act according to approved behavior models. As seen in the mechanisms covered by Bonta, some use humor, a strong belief in conflict avoidance and/or strong emotions, and other means to control the frequency and severity of conflict. All of these attributes of a peaceful society continually help to ensure that the society will have the mechanisms necessary to maintain peacefulness (407-408).
All of these peaceful societies have created conflict resolutions and views regarding violence through cultural constructs that are specific to their culture. In some cases, they have had to adapt traditional views to deal with modernization of their culture, such as with the Inuit. In other cases, traditional views are still held strongly despite a change in their nomadic behavior, such as is the case between the forest-dwelling Paliyan and the sedentary Paliyan. Through various strategies employed by the societies examined a great understanding in societies may learn to peaceful deal with conflicts may be obtained. Through conflict resolution methods that have been proven to work within a society, another society may better learn to deal with conflict.
Brandy Frew is a Cultural Anthropology major in her fourth year at Ashford University. She is a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda and Golden Key. Her passion is examining modern culture and watching how changes affect the peoples of the world. Upon graduating from Ashford, she hopes to move on to get a Master’s degree in Criminology. A proud mother of four, she hopes that her college education will inspire her children to obtain higher learning.