Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Schematics for Peace: Motor/Generators

If you have ever followed a truck down a steep grade, you may have smelled hot brakes. You could fry an egg on their brakes after such a work out. I don’t advise eating that egg though because along with heat, friction in the brakes produces fine dust from the brake pads. Conventional vehicles take potential energy stored in gas/diesel fuel and convert it into the kinetic energy of vehicle movement. Once the vehicle is moving the only possibility for stopping it without damage is through friction in the brakes. The heat generated on the brake pads as you push on the pedal is an unwelcome and wasteful, but unavoidable byproduct of removing the the vehicle motion. The heat and friction cause wear on the brake pads and they periodically need to be changed.

One of the reasons that hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight get such good gas mileage is the principle of regenerative breaking. The same electric motor used to turn the wheels during acceleration is switched to a generator by engaging battery charging electronics which resists wheel spin thus slowing down the car. When stopping the car in this way, some of the kinetic energy is recaptured back into potential energy which is stored in the batteries.*

It takes lots of potential energy to get a community moving toward unity and purpose. Conflict is like the friction of brakes, creating lots of heat and wearing down its momentum. The ability of a community to function cohesively when so much kinetic energy is lost to in-fighting taxes every facet of community life. Brute force methods of quelling conflict produce unintended side effects that can stifle creative problem-solving. Muscling conflict out of sight into the subsurface rarely ‘resolves’ the core issues but only proliferates and in some cases energizes the conflicts to reappear later on.

Conflict transformation is like a regenerative system that takes a conflict and works at converting the potential heat, sparks and violence into strengthened community potential. New capacities are created that can more quickly react to trouble spots. Since conflict transformation sees the process of addressing issues as consistent with the ends, it values relationships and uses reconciliation, humility and collaboration as a means to reconnect that which is fragmented by violence. Conflict transformation uses analysis tools to help map out actors, events and energies involved in the conflict. In the end, communities at risk of careening down the steep grades of conflict who have worked at transformation have greater potential and capacity for peace.

*Hybrid vehicles still use friction braking to supplement regenerative braking.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Schematics for Peace: Diodes

A diode is a passive device that allows current to flow only one way. Based on semiconductor material, variations of these devices make it possible to convert AC to DC, make digital logic matrices, generate light (as in LED-light emitting diode), maintain a constant voltage and even were the basis for the invention of radio. In fact, one can make a simple radio today out of one diode, a very long antenna and a high impedance set of headphones. No power needed.

I once put a diode in my experimental circuit and no current flowed because I had it in backwards. This reminds me of the nature of communications on contentious community issues that have a direct bearing on peace.

Communications is like the current in a wire that flows between people (components in our circuit analogy). The more people are connected through dialogue the stronger the capacity for peace. If you put the diode of one-way thinking and by extension a one way-flow of communication, in the community circuit these capacities are diminished. It is critical for community peace capacities that civic and religious leaders open themselves to listening not just making statements about where they stand on issues, shouting proclamations or issuing edicts. One-way communications flow polarizes people and will eventually dissolve cohesiveness.

For an outside peace advocate who demands to be heard before there has been reciprocity in the two-way flow of conversation, trust is usually not forthcoming. In this case the "diode" should be set to allow the advocate to listen and not speak. Once trust is established and the right to speak has been won, the "diode" can be removed.

Diodes are useful devices but put in the wrong way at the wrong time or place can cause trouble.