Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Schematics for Peace: Theories

Electronics is about the manipulation of electricity for some function. While electrons, the basic building blocks of electricity are far too small to see directly, they can be observed through indirect methods like their effects on things. These observations have generated some very durable hypotheses about the way electrons and electricity work. Extremely complex systems (like an iPod) have been built on the theories that hitherto fore have not been proven incorrect.

Some electronic systems have become so complex that they are beyond any one individual to comprehend the whole device at its smallest level. Thus, theories, formulas and subroutines break the whole into manageable parts. Since all of these conjectures seem to work consistently it is easy to forget that all of this is based on faith in working theories.

Social scientists have developed theses about how people and groups respond in the intense pressure of conflict. By observation, we understand, for example, about how trauma affects a person or the dynamics of the mob mentality. So we put those theories to work on larger more complex peacebuilding issues. As with electricity, we are still working by faith from hypotheses. The simple peacebuilding models we use break down quickly as the complexity of human interactions overtake our ability to see the whole. Electrons, it seems, are far more predictable than humans.

With that bit of philosophy we move ahead next week, in faith, to the building blocks of electronics.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Schematic for Peace: Connections

The most basic and easily overlooked part of any schematic is the lines between components. Taken for granted by anyone reading a schematic, they are vitally important. Why? Because if there are no connections between devices, no current will flow and you have a bucket of parts but not a working system.

From computers to toasters copper wires or traces on a circuit board are used to make the connections between individual components. In my years of tinkering with electronic gadgets I have found two major reasons why things quit working. First, too much current has passed through the copper wire or trace and it has melted open. Second, with time and stress, the solder joints, used to bond two components together, get loose and no longer make connection.

Peacebuilding has parallels to these maladies in circuits. Peace is about relationships; with self, others, nature and with a higher power. These connections can fail because they are not strong enough or have been stressed too much. In dysfunctional relational systems, peacebuilding concerns itself with rebuilding the dis-connections and rebonding those connections that have come loose with too much stress. The repair comes through diagnostics and implementing a fix that will restore connections. These are topics of coming postings. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Schematic for Peace: The Source

On my previous posting I suggested that complex systems can be pictorially represented by the use of schematics. This is similar to one of the tools we use in conflict analysis called mapping of actors. This mapping tool tries to see all the persons/organizational entities involved in the conflict and depict their relationships or lack thereof. In a schematic for peace we will start with the basic components and see how they interact in any given conflict.

The first schematic component we need to explore is the source. An electrical circuit is useless without some source of electrons to make it work. The source is an apt description because all electrons flow from this device through the copper wires or traces on a circuit board and let the other components fulfill their purpose.

I once had a friend who described peace and justice as a river from God. The river flows well until some impediment blocks the flow of the river. It is our duty to wade into the water and remove the obstacles so that the channel is clear again. The point here is that we do not create peace and justice. It flows naturally from the Higher Power.

In our schematic then, the source of peace and justice is depicted in two forms. The first one, drawn on the previous posting, is an infinite supply of electricity in the form of an AC generator. The second depiction is that of a battery as the source of electrons. A battery is finite and is either disposable or rechargeable. I like the idea of peacebuilders as rechargeable batteries. We can create a finite peace within our circuit of influence but ultimately need recharging from the unlimited, ultimate SOURCE.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Metaphors for Peace

I am intrigued by all the metaphors for peace used by friends and colleagues in the peacebuilding field. John Paul Lederach in his book Moral Imagination uses spider webs to help give shape to how things come together for conflict transformation. In the Philippines, a network of organizations call themselves the Mindanao Peace Weavers to denote their efforts at weaving a tapestry of healthy, violence free society. Jay Rothman developed the ARIA framework which uses the harmony of voice and orchestra to describe an identity based conflict engagement. In our conflict analysis models we use icebergs, pyramids and egg shaped paradigms to describe the dynamics involved in war. People take what they know and apply solutions, frameworks and descriptors for addressing the conflict around them. It would make a fascinating study to collate the various metaphors that have informed our peacebuilding thinking.

I know electronics and it recently it dawned on me that my ability to read schematics would be a helpful metaphor in mapping conflict actors and interactions. While I never thought that the world of electricity could help shape my thinking about solutions to violence there is no reason why it should not. In writing the Mindanao Reflecting on Peace Practice document I used the phrase “theories of change schematics.”

A schematic, according to Wiktionary, is “a drawing or sketch showing how a system works.” In electronics a schematic is a pictorial representation of how some simple or sophisticated set of parts interacts to perform some function. Each part has a unique symbol denoting its role and value. The engineer designing a system knows the characteristics of each small part.

A schematic for peace would take into account how adding components with specific characteristics/values, will interact within the whole. I hope to develop this concept in the coming months. Maybe we will soon see electronics technicians adding their unique metaphorical understanding to the development of peace programs!