Research Concludes that Compassion is a Critical Component to Peacebuilding Practices

Summary of:

Rothbart, D., & Allen, S. (2018). Building peace through systemic compassion. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Volume 36, 373-386. DOI: 10.1002/crq.21249

Background & Theory

This article focuses on the systems of positive emotions, with a specific focus on compassion, and its uses in peacebuilding practices. The authors evaluate the basis for human rights, peacebuilding practices, and strategies for resolving conflict and show the benefits to including and building compassion as an important piece to achieving long-term resolution.

Research Questions

Rothbart and Allen work to answer the following questions in their article:

  1. What role does compassion play in creating lasting peace and addressing conflict?
  2. How can compassion be integrated amongst conflicting groups and included in conflict resolution practices?

Methods

The authors evaluated several different areas to reach their conclusion. These included the foundation of the UN’s human rights declaration, a case study of the steps taken to assist in resolving the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, what compassion is and how psychologists evaluate its role in our lives, how to create compassion amongst conflict-affected groups, and compassion practices. All of these individual areas come together to prove the authors’ points that compassion is critical to achieving true conflict resolution.

Results

The results of the research conducted show that compassion is an integral part of resolving conflict. This is because groups need to be able to reach a common understanding of each other, especially in areas of extreme conflict. As the authors wisely worded it, “A compassionate approach shifts the discussion from ‘my group’ to ‘what we each need to avoid suffering’” (2018). Compassion helps groups achieve a common ground of wanting to better the situation for all involved, and is an emotion and way of thought that can indeed be taught and fostered amongst groups, even groups in extreme conflict.

What This Means

  • Compassion is a key emotion or ability needed by those involved in conflict in order to reach a genuine peace amongst groups
    • This is not always easily or quickly done — it can take years of work, and often involves long-term interaction amongst willing participants of all sides of the conflict so that they can continue to understand one another and how they can reach possible solutions
  • Compassion requires each group to humanize the other. Ways that the authors evaluate and recommend all fall under interactive conflict resolution; these can be problem-solving workshops, psychopolitical dialogue, sustained dialogue, or a combination of training and dialogue. 

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Building compassion among the disputants or groups involved can be a long and difficult process, but can be incredibly crucial and sustainable when creating solutions. Where there is understanding and recognition of the others’ suffering and situations, there can be true peace and genuine interventions to address the concerns and issues at hand. Try following one of the interactive conflict resolution practices mentioned in the article to build compassion amongst those you are working with.

For everyone: When involved in your own personal conflict, try to have compassion and understand the painful perspective that might lie on the other end. Be willing to discuss with a third party if you both need help to see each others’ perspectives, as this can be really helpful in finding the common ground needed to move forward. In life in general, think of ways that compassion can not only better your own life, but that of others.

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