Why can’t we all just get along?

So often when I talk to people about war or peace I hear the same lines that seem to be ingrained into people’s minds. One outlook usually goes something like this:

“Ya, well, it’s human nature to war. We will never have peace.”

There are variations on this, but it is usually themed around the thought that there is something inherently violent within humans that makes us incapable of living a peaceful existence with each other.

Now I don’t think that some ultimate Utopian paradise is going to just magically appear if humans strive for a more peaceful existence, but I do think that there is a more peaceful slope we could be lying on. A slope where massive violent conflict no longer exists and where societies are more equitable, at least enough so that we are all given our basic human needs. I do not think that most humans are inherently violent; and I definitely like to think that most are good at heart but are sometimes lured into doing wrong because it was the easiest or most beneficial choice to them. I think we have been conditioned into violence and violent behaviour through thousands of years of fear, warring and violence in our cultures. Cultures can and do change over time, so this gives me some hope that perhaps we are not inherently violent.

Will there always be conflict?

Of course! As long as each human being is different, there will always be conflict. The thing is, it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Conflict certainly doesn’t have to be violent either. Conflict is about a difference of opinion. A difference of value. Sometimes it manifests violently. Sometimes, conflict brings about magnificent things. It is certainly necessary for us to learn and grow as a human being. It is the way we handle and look at conflict that is of most importance.

If we disagree with someone on an issue, we can handle it in several ways.

We can discuss it with respect, and listen to why the other feels differently about the subject. We can try to come to an understanding that we can both agree on.
We can state our own opinion and walk away without listening to the other side at all, knowing (or at least thinking) we are right.
We can shout it out full of cursing and insults and maybe come to an agreement or maybe not.
We can punch that person in the face and start a fight immediately.
We can go home and plan some hideous revenge on the other person and their family and friends and any else associated with them or that opinion for disagreeing with us.
And a whole host of other options within that spectrum. Some seem absurdly excessive and unnecessary, yet we sometimes choose to act this way. Why?

It may be easy enough to handle conflict for more minor disagreements, but what if someone violated your rights in grossly vicious ways?

There are always options to violence, even though they may not be the most attractive of option. How we handle conflict is usually based on how we’ve experienced conflict around us throughout our lives. If we have been taught through our culture and our teachings that violence solves problems; then violence becomes an attractive option for conflict resolution. If we’ve been taught mediation techniques in schools and at home on how to handle conflict in our lives, if we’ve learned to handle our emotions; if we’ve learned through our culture that life rewards non-violence– non-violence becomes an attractive option.

One of the biggest lessons society teaches us is taught in the way it treats us. If we are living in a society that respects us, respects our beliefs and our values; we are more likely to respect society. If we are living in a society where violence predominates, we are more likely to be violent.

The direct violence must stop and be contained. The structural violence must be diminished and full accountability and transparency must exist within the governments. And the cultural violence must be shunned and slowed until it no longer exists.

There is a way to a more peaceful slope and it starts with you. You have the power to make peaceful choices in your life. Choose to handle your emotions in productive and peaceful ways. Choose to live your life handling conflict positively. Choose to spread peace and love instead of hate. Choose to speak out against war and abuse. Choose to be at peace.

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  1. Rebecca,

    Thank you for your article. I fully agree with your contention that there might be ways to move human society towards better methods to resolve conflicts than physical violence. I gave your article a rating of 4 stars rather than 5 stars only because you ask the question “Why can’t we all just get along?” and suggest some answers and ideas but don’t fully answer the question. I think you ask the right question that needs to be answered first. We need to understand the “WHY” before we can fully expect to answer the implied “HOW” part of the question. I applaud your efforts though to start a discussion about this question and to suggest that there are probably practical ways to move human society in the direction where we don’t eventually choose violence and war as the default solution.

    We need to work on ways to change human nature and our tendency to act personally defensively in a direction where we can have the majority of the members of society recognize the long-term benefits of resolving conflicts in ways that benefit society as a whole even at the expense of individuals personal, short-term benefits. I think this is a very long-term project that will involve a major effort to educate the next several generations in better ways to communicate and resolve disputes. This will be a hard thing to do because we are talking about the people who will be doing the educating as coming from the current predominant mindset that does not necessarily support the ideas of resolving disputes in ways that don’t eventually lead to physical conflict. Nonetheless, I see this as the eventual way to move society away from war and the immense physical, emotional and financial costs it exacts as the way to resolve societal conflicts.

    I would welcome comments and discussions about ideas and methods to change the way society ultimately resolves conflicts. Rebecca, if you would like to communicate more of your ideas on this subject with me, I would be happy to exhange emails with you. I can be reached at MGump-Peace@Hotmail.com

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply Mark!

    The “why” is something I have never understood myself, so find it hard to thoroughly explore. I am currently reading Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization that suggests that violent behaviour is actually the exception, and that human nature tends to be more cooperative than destructive, although it is usually the violence that attracts the most attention. I would really like like to believe that most people are inherently good, or have good intentions but get caught up in bad habits or emotions that they do not know how to handle. I think teaching conflict transformations strategies in early childhood can really make progress towards a more peaceful world.

    Considering that human rights is still a relatively new concept in the world, I have hopes that people are getting better in this respect and that once human rights laws are more thoroughly ratified and accepted, change for the better will come. The number of organizations designed to better the well-being of fellow humans is increasing and we are at a moment in history that is seeing unprecedented concern and donation to those less fortunate. This shows me that people do care and do want peace. I feel like most people feel helpless. If they felt there was something they could personally do to make peace in the world, they would do it.

    Like I said in post, there will always be conflict, but how these conflicts are handled will determine the level of peace in society.

    I’d be happy to discuss further Mark, if you’d like, just comment further!

  3. Rebecca,

    Thanks for your comments on my reply. I apologize for the time gap between my first post and this one. I had lost track of this website and just found it again today.

    I agree that civilization is probably moving in the right direction towards peaceful ways of resolving conflicts. Considering that several centuries ago I would say society operated in a more “primitive” way where one faction tended to take by force what they wanted from another faction. Since that point, societies have evolved to the point where we live largely according to the rules and laws the majority have agreed to as defined by governing and regulating bodies. I think this suggests civilization is on a slope, as you put it, towards a more peaceful existence and ways of resolving conflicts.

    You state that you “like to believe that most people are inherently good” and that is probably true and would be a hopeful thing to believe. But, I think we need to examine the concept of “inherently good.” It is my strong belief that people are basically selfish. This might seem like a bad thing on the surface but if we look at it from a practical and realistic standpoint we can see that this is a good thing and the basis for continuing existence. Being selfish really means making sure our self is satisfied and able to thrive and continue our existence. If each person did not work towards maintaining their own self, the human race would quickly cease to exist. The problem comes when people cross the line between being selfish, that is “self-ish” and become greedy. This produces the conflicts that we are talking about eliminating. People are “inherently good” when they have a proper balance of self-benefiting-“ish” behavior and societal-benefiting-“ish” behavior. The idea of being “good” really means behaving in ways that maximize the benefits to the individual as well as the society at large. This, I believe, is the crux of the matter. We need to develop members of societies that have this balance as their guiding principle.

    You said that there will always be conflicts. I couldn’t agree more with you. There will always be a shortage of one or another desired resource. This produces the need to figure out the most equitable way to allocate the resource that maximizes the benefits to the most people. What we need to do is work towards developing better ways to figure out the best course of actions to determine those maximizing methods. To do this we need to build societies that have as a basic principle the recognizing that what is best to do is what produces the maximum benefits for all people. This is a tall order!

    Is it possible to create a society of people that recognizes and acts for the common good of all when its individual members have a natural, innate desire and need to maximize their own personal benefits? I don’t know the answer to that question but that is a question we need to discuss. We, of course, want the answer to be yes but is it realistic to think that the answer really could be yes?

    To create such a society requires a shift in people’s thinking from a short-term, limited viewpoint to a much larger, long-term way of seeing human society. How could we make that happen? Goals would need to be defined that relate the benefits to the larger scope of all members of civilization. These larger goals would need to be explicitly linked to more individual, personal goals so that each individual would be motivated to work to achieve the larger scope benefits because they could see that by doing so they would also be benefiting themselves. In other words, self-survival must be directly linked to the thriving and survival of individual members of civilization. This also is a tall order but, as you and I have suggested, one that we actually see our civilization moving towards if even ever so slowly over the preceding centuries. That gives me hope!

    Rebecca, you mention that it is the violence that attracts the most attention. Why do you suppose that is? I think that our attention is drawn to violence because it represents a danger to our well being. We are hard wired to be on the lookout for situations that might cause us harm. When we see a violent situation, we recognize it as such and pay attention to it so as to protect ourselves. We see that the violence is causing some kind of harm to another person or persons so we pay attention to it so we can insulate ourselves against the harm spreading to ourselves. That attention may take the form of developing laws and methods to curb the type of violent situations our attention is drawn to. I would hope that our attention is NOT drawn to violent situations because we somehow enjoy them, enjoy seeing others hurt, enjoy seeing someone else lose something so that we are elevated in comparison to the other. There may be a segment of society or even a small part of our mental makeup that enjoys seeing our own position improve because someone else’s position has been worsened. I don’t know if that is true or not. I would hope the human mind does NOT work in that way but rather looks to have all members of society improve their collective positions.

    There is a problem of relativity. By that I mean that one’s definition of being satisfied is relative to what one has become accustomed to. If a person or segment of society has grown up knowing not much more than having enough food and shelter to barely keep themselves alive then their desires will be relatively modest. If another person of segment of society has lived a life of luxury where their every need and desire have been supplied without hardly any effort on their part, then their expectations will be very high and much different relative to that poorer person. Clearly, we have a social order where there are people who live at all points along such a continuum from the minimal to the luxurious. Is there a way to at least shrink the limits of this continuum to where there is not such a huge range? I don’t know the answer to this question but I think it is an important one to tackle. The real problem lies at the upper end of this range. How can society keep the ultra rich from commanding and controlling so many resources? Is there a way to breed into people a limit to satisfying desires? Is that way to make the people headed in that direction value the needs of the many over their own personal needs?

    We all know that goals need to be defined to be reached. I think we as a society need to work toward defining better goals that strengthen society and that link these larger scope benefits back to individual benefits in a way that makes them the most desirable goals for the vast majority of people.

    Rebecca, I would be interested to hear your comments on what I have said here. I would encourage others to chime in too with their thoughts on this very important subject.

  4. Greetings! Very useful advice within this article!
    It is the little changes that will make the most important changes.

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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