I think the most important take-away from the first day of the program was discussing the importance of knowing ourselves –– in order to better achieve our goals of peace-building and conflict resolution. Being aware of where our values come from (whether culture, faith, family or experience) is an important way of evaluating any potential biases or predispositions we may have towards a certain side or idea. Similarly, I found the discussion of the distinction between responsibility and behaviour to be informative as a launching pad for the program.
I felt that the discussion that we then went on to have during Pushpa’ session where we examined the difference between needs and interests was an important way of highlighting the challenges that conflicting sides and mediators have to prioritise. This was a critical starting point to examining other conflicts and looking at how best to approach tricky situations of conflict, because when mediating between two sides (or when self-reflecting on our own part in a conflict) it is important to be able to acknowledge these differences. I really appreciated the acknowledgment that “conflict is not negative — it is about how it is managed,” because this highlights the potential positive effectives that conflict can have if managed effectively. This is not to say that it is always easy to manage conflicts peacefully to produce positive outcomes. I think discussing some of the theoretical groundings of peace-building was an effective starting point, because I know that for me personally it allowed me to ground any previous knowledge, understanding or experience with the topic into a more formal theoretical framework.
I was also struck by the notion that there is no such thing as “post-conflict.” I think this is an important idea because it highlights the fact that peace (and the absence/prevention of conflict) is a continual process that all aspects of society must remain actively engaged in. For me personally, this idea resurfaced at the end of the week with Professor Rubenstein when he referred to the “current political solution in South Africa.” This was an interesting perspective for me to hear, being a South African who was born a year after the election of Nelson Mandela, it struck me as jarring to hear the country I grew up in and know as a “current political solution.” This implied that the state was temporary and prone to change, which the notion of post-conflict not existing suggests too. However, when analysing the matter objectively it is obvious that his phrasing was correct. The state that exists right now is the current political solution to the systematic racism and segregation of the past.