Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Conflict Composting: Refuse

I have always has some discomfort with the term conflict transformation because it is so nondescript and sterile. The word transformation reminds me of transformers (see Schematics for Peace Blog posting in February and March) or worse evokes the image of those awful transformer toy movies in which mechanical things can reassemble themselves into robot war machines. Perhaps likening transformation to composting is a much more organic metaphor including that which is intrinsic to the processes of life, death and regeneration.

To summarize what’s necessary for a good composting enterprise we need:

1. plant refuse/bio trash

2. elements (air and water)

3. microbes (from soil or manure)

Put these three together in proper balance and the outputs are nutrient rich humus and heat.

To start a conflict composting venture we will look at the so called rubbish that destructive conflict can leave in its wake. Individual or community experience with violent conflict leaves trauma, disconnection, fear, and mistrust among other things. These impacts are often seen as bad and to be ‘gotten over’ as quickly as possible with the pat phrases like “moving on” and “turning a new page.” In a post war context the litter of brokenness is often covered up like so much garbage and the open wounds and scars are actively kept out of sight.

This attitude toward the ‘refuse’ is a lost opportunity when left uncomposted. In its organic parallel, uncomposted bio refuse will dry rot losing much of its potential value. Likewise, the unacknowledged pain and brokenness, left uncomposted, will lose its potential for growth unless it is mixed with the elements of air and water as well as microbes.These negative experiences can be cast in a positive light when they are seen as resources for conflict composting.

In coming postings I will make analogies for the elements and microbes. For now, the key to conflict composting is recasting the painful residue of conflict as a necessary part of regeneration, an opportunity for growth and a necessary component of creating life from death.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Conflict Composting: Composting Essentials

Twenty-five years ago I was studying International Development at Bethel College in Kansas. One required course was International Agriculture. This was a practical class with a real garden containing real soil and plants. While the instructors, Paul and Mary McKay, incorporated all the ‘state of the art’ sustainable agriculture practices known in that day, what I remember most was making a compost pile. It has stuck with me all these years that what I would rather do is grow soil than food.

Compost needs a few essential things to work really well. Those include green matter providing the nitrogen (fresh grass clippings work well here), brown matter providing the carbon (leaves, cornstalks, sawdust) and some source of the microbes (either rich soil or manure of some kind). The right amount of moisture is needed as is some air. If conditions are right the microbes start to eat the other matter and can create enormous amounts of heat.

I spent the morning helping my brother-in-law make a compost pile from his years of accumulated yard waste. Grass clippings, wood chips from a downed tree, leaves, vegetable stalks, husks and cobs were all heaped in separate piles. He had gotten a steaming pile of cow manure complete with swarming flies for the composting venture. We layered these materials together in a wire bound bin in the garden. In the center of the compost pile was a chimney to let the center breathe and let heat escape. The picture to the right is the composting 'layer cake' we made.

While laboring to bring these materials together, I began to think of conflict transformation as actually conflict composing. In the next few blog postings I will attempt to spin this metaphor out. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010