On Veteran’s Day and Nonviolence

Today is veteran’s day. I am a veteran. My wife and I had a day off from work, so she treated me to a movie. I like war movies, so we went to see Fury.  It was basically two-hours worth of industrial scale inhumanity and slaughter; however, it did do its job of taking you away from reality for a while.

This got me to thinking about some things today. I did some two years and change in the army. As I have written previously, the army was where I first started to learn about conflict and its resolution in a systematic way. I am a man trained in violence. I have seen actual inhumanity and slaughter. I understand the havoc that violence wreaks on both its victims and its survivors. Yet, I still believe in the efficacy of violence.

This summer I did half of a training on nonviolence with Pax Christi. I only did half because I realized in the middle of the first day of training this it was not for me. I don’t have the complete faith in nonviolence that the leaders of this training did.

Some recent reading has helped to crystallize my thinking. I read an article, Nonviolent Resistance in Power Asymmetries by Véronique Dudouet, from The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation (available at http://www.berghof-handbook.net/), that states in some circumstances, “nonviolent strategies might not have sufficient leverage to bring about necessary changes (p. 253).” The author writes about a very precise set of circumstances wherein one is trying to wrest power from another who will do anything to hold on to power. Wherein you are up against a mad dog with no morality or scruples; when you are fighting people with nothing left to lose.

I am convinced of the usefulness of nonviolent tactics. However, I am not convinced of their utility in all situations. Nonviolence is, in my opinion, a tool for the long-term. In the short-term, it is far too easy for precisely aimed violence to wipe out a fledgling nonviolent movement. There are mad dogs in the world; people who do not listen and cannot be reasoned with.

I believe that violence and nonviolence are both tools which can be deployed simultaneously, but must also be used appropriately. In the short term, violence can get you a few wins. In the long term you better have a plan to feed, clothe, and house people or you will not be able to win.

I know that violence absolutely works in the short-term, but without a long-term plan the winners in the game of short-term violence will always lose to somebody who is better at violence.

Making a living in conflict (resolution)

I am just about half way through earning a master’s degree in conflict resolution. I am beginning to think about what comes next, career wise. Can you make a living resolving conflict for other people?

The most obvious path seems to be mediation. There are several instructors in my program who are professional mediators. I have gone to a mediation conference (and am going to another one next month). I have gone to a mediation study group that discusses the trials and travails of professional mediators. I am just about to finish my mediation class. All indications are that I would make a fine mediator.

There is one problem, however; I don’t really seem to have the temperament for mediation. I am not really interested in other people’s problems. Personally, I think this is an advantage. If you don’t really care about the problems of the people before you then it would seem to me you are less likely to try and pick sides. I can remain neutral because i don’t really care.

My mediation instructor does not appear to be amused by this theory. She suggests careful and empathetic listening.

Anyway, I don’t care to put myself in the middle of other people’s problem. I am more interested in structural conflict and the policy implications of conflict.  This is what fascinates me; how the system creates and solidifies conflicts between the system and individuals.

This would allow me to use what I learned in studying public administration for my bachelor’s degree. It would also let me put my master’s coursework to use. I just wonder how much of a market there is for an expert on the mitigation of structural conflict.

Where would I find my customers? What would I actually do for money? I have a lot of questions right now, and not many answers. Stay tuned, because this seems to be one of those things you have to figure out as you go along.

New Directions

I have been thinking a lot about my goals and how they tie into the writing that I do. The first thing is that I do not write nearly as often as I should. This is true from a marketing standpoint, as any book about blogging or marketing will tell you. It is also true from an intellectual standpoint. I should be practicing expressing my ideas much oftener than I have up to now.

I guess if you are setting out to be a writer, the proof of the pudding is in actually having written material available to people on a regular basis. My habit of writing something once a month, or every other month, is not doing me any favors. I have to do something about that.

I am giving up on the blog How to Get There. I started it because I am interested in strategy, wisdom, and the meaning of success. I am finding, however, that as I progress in my studies and collect more information about my particular sets of interests, generally speaking photography and overcoming power asymmetries, that I can cover those topics adequately in this blog. I am going to rewrite whatever material I have from HTGT and adapt it to this blog. I am not shutting it down, but I will no longer be working on it.

Photography is just something I do. I don’t intend it to be a money making enterprise in my life. I do it because it makes me happy. I will always have new material for my photography blog.

Power asymmetries are a passion as well. There is more than enough info to keep me going on that topic for years.

The topics of HTGT fit in with what I am going to be writing about on this blog. Beside, as you do things and get into doing them, you often learn that some of the things you did when you first started are no longer useful to you. Live and learn.

My First Lessons in Conflict Resolution

I first learned about conflict resolution in the United States Army. They didn’t call it conflict resolution in the army, they called it combat. The idea was that you win or you die. A tad confrontational, yes, but it has proven effective enough to be the go to tactic for many nations.

The army was the first place where I learned that conflict was there to be resolved. I learned that there are strategies and tactics available to deal with, and emerge victorious from, conflict. It was where I discovered the work of Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. It was where I first learned to that to be successful in conflict you have to prepare yourself before you go looking for your foes.

Now I can safely say that I understand conflict a little better than I did as a private in the army. It seems to me that in many of the conflicts I have observed over the years, the people involved did not have any clearly defined reasons for getting involved in a conflict in the first place. Most of the time they were just angry at something, that may or may not have had anything to do with the conflict they involved themselves in.

One of the keys to being successful in conflict is knowing and understanding what your objectives are. If you don’t understand what you are attempting to accomplish, all the wisdom from every strategic genius in the world will do you little, probably no, good. It will be difficult even to judge whether you won that particular, and probably pointless, battle.

The army did teach me how to prepare for battle; how to fight and win. The only problem is that in the army somebody else picks your battles for you. If you are fighting someone else’s battles, only they can tell you if you have won, or not. As an individual, there is no way to win these battles; you are only along for the ride.

There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, learn how to pick your battles.

Topsy Turvy Results

I started using Topsy Turvy planters about four or five years ago. They look interesting enough. The plants in them hang upside down out of a non-porous cylindrical bag, which has a cover on the top with a hole to pour water through, and an opening in the bottom that the plant emerges from. I thought I would give them a chance. Now, after two years of close observation, I think I am ready to voice an opinion about them.

I have attempted to grow several different types of plants, using both the individual planters and the larger Topsy Turvy garden planter. I have planted numerous types of tomatoes, various chilies, bell peppers, and lemon cucumbers. I have had mixed results.

The cucumbers were a complete failure. I got one cucumber from the individual planter, and it was small and underdeveloped.

I have only been moderately successful with tomatoes. Tomato plants never grew very well and did not ever provide more that one or two small growths of fruit. Meanwhile, I have tomato plants in the ground that were massive and produced fruit for months. There was no comparison, tomatoes in the ground performed spectacularly better than those in the Topsy Turvy planters.

The quiet success has been a jalapeno pepper that I planted in the summer of 2013. The plant itself is not large, but it produces a moderate number of peppers consistently. I also have a bell pepper and habanero plants that are doing pretty well, though they haven’t produced a lot of fruit. Peppers seem better suited to life as an upside down plant than anything else I tried.

I may not be completely without blame in this limited success. I am sure I could have done something better, like water more, or use better nutrients. However, I like how when I stick a plant in the ground my biggest problem is keeping it from overtaking too much of the yard.

It might also be a problem of expectation, perhaps I expected too much from these planters. I like when my plants establish themselves and depend on me for an occasional watering. I am a lazy gardener. Perhaps these planters don’t fit my gardening style.