“Is it not he, a true philosopher who, though he be unrecognized of men, cherishes no resentment?” ~ Confucius, Chinese statesman and philosopher, in Analects.
A unique experiment
There is an interesting concept restaurant at South Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania State, USA. In fact, with a plain façade, there is only a single takeout window – there are no seats inside. There are rows of tables and chairs around though, along the avenue that borders a very pretty and large grassy patch at this location. Conflict Kitchen (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_Kitchen) is a unique take-out restaurant. The name seemed strange, but I soon found out the idea behind the name. This kitchen serves only ethnic foods from countries with which the United States is in conflict. The menu focuses on one nation at a time, rotating every three to five months. That’s not all – Conflict Kitchen also features related educational programming, from lunch hour with scholars, film screenings, and trivia nights.
Since its opening in 2010, the restaurant has introduced the delectable cuisines of Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Palestine, and Iroquois. The Palestinian meal was delicious, and yet one realizes that this restaurant is not about food at all. This dawned on me when I rummaged through the informative foldable booklet which declared “The Text on this wrapper is taken directly from the interviews we conducted with Palestinians living in both Palestine and the diaspora. Each section highlights the perspectives of multiple people”. This was the core idea – highlighting perspectives of people of nations with whom US is in conflict with. I felt this was truly phenomenal….
Referring to the brochures distributed with meals, National Public Radio described the restaurant as “an experimental public art project—and the medium is the sandwich wrap.” The concept originated with Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski. The kitchen is supported by profits from the sale of food, the Benter Foundation, and the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh-based Sprout Fund. Each redesign is assisted by members of the local ethnic community in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The restaurant is also a front for extensive research about other countries – especially their troubled relationships with other nations. According to Rubin, “Conflict Kitchen reformats the pre-existing social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of U.S. politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.” What a constructively creative method of dealing with conflict!
The history of the world (not to mention its present) is a history of conflicts
From the destructive Wars of Rome and relentless wars across Asia in ancient times, the bloodshed of The Crusades and 100 year wars, to the abhorrent American Revolution and French Wars (among countless others) in medieval times, to the cataclysmic World Wars and horrendous Vietnam and Iraq wars and the apocalyptic wars of and against terrorism, there has been relentless strife among humankind. Wars are but a terrible manifestation of years of silent conflict, simmering and festering inside, for years. Has nature created humans only for strife?
The amazing biodiversity of Mother Nature
Our planet has over 1 750 000 species identified and named until date, with most scientists and experts claiming there must be at least twice the number yet to be discovered and provided with taxonomy. Out of these 1.75 million species, Homo sapiens is the only species, which subjects itself to the maximum conflict. One may argue that there is daily killing that happens lower down the food chain among animals, but to the contrary, that is a rather well organized design of creation itself – almost always predictable and well controlled.
Conflict Management as we know it
In the field of Management and especially in the domain of interpersonal dynamics, the most familiar inventory is Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) (http://www.kilmanndiagnostics.com/overview-thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode-instrument-tki) – majority of management professionals have administered or been administered this questionnaire. The originators, Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann, in a paper “The Joy of Having Created the TKI Assessment!” released in August 2015, wrote “Because no two individuals have exactly the same expectations and desires, conflict is a natural part of our interactions with others”
The TKI is a self-scoring assessment. Interpretation helps one learn much more about appropriate “conflict-handling” modes. The paper goes on to describe – “Conflict situations” are those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. The individual’s behaviour, in these situations, are is described, along two dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.
These two basic dimensions of behaviour define five different modes for responding to conflict situations:
- Competing is assertive and uncooperative—an individual pursues his own concerns at the other person’s expense.
- Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of competing.
- Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative—the person neither pursues his own concerns nor those of the other individual.
- Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties.
- Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating involves an attempt to work with others to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns.
This body of knowledge suggests “Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes. None of us can be characterized as having a single style of dealing with conflict. Certain people use some modes better than others and, therefore, tend to rely on those modes more heavily than others—whether because of temperament or practice. Your conflict behaviour in the workplace is therefore a result of both your personal predispositions and the requirements of the situation in which you find yourself”.
While in the earlier three modes, there is distinct winning or losing of positions, the next two attempt to minimise losses or maximise gains for the parties involved. Collaboration between parties might especially take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem. But does this happen?
History and Philosophy
The philosophies of ancient masters are not historic relics, but serve as timeless guides. The renowned general Sun Tzu of China (best known for his admirable treatise “The Art of War”) and the all time great strategist and kingmaker Chanakya of India (best known for his peerless classic “Kautilya’s Arthashastra) are unanimous in their view that the best victory/ success, is the one achieved without any armed conflict.
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” ~ (III – 2, Art of War, Sun Tzu)
“If there is equal advancement in peace or war, he should resort to peace” ~ (7.2.1, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Kautilya).
This, despite the fact that they were masters of the art and science of warfare.
Let’s look at another historical perspective from a few decades earlier:
At the advanced age of 75, Nelson Mandela had won an achingly long struggle and suffering against apartheid and become his country’s first black president. Nearly a hundred thousand people turned up to witness the ceremony of May 10, 1994, and millions of people globally were watching the occasion on their TV screens. The Financial Times reported – “What made his achievement all the more remarkable was that for nearly three decades, years that should have been the most productive of his life, he languished in prison. Jailed for life in 1964 for plotting the overthrow of the white minority regime, Mandela was locked up for 27 years before the authorities decided he would be less dangerous as a free man.”
What made the man a hero, a World Leader, a role model was this – after his long incarceration, he emerged from the prison, not to fight, but to negotiate and that he did, with courage and compassion, even love. A political solution to his country’s seemingly intractable problems had to be found. Most of all, there was a great vision, his was a vision marred neither by personal bitterness nor hostility to his jailers. Instead, it was rooted in magnanimity and a generosity of spirit – qualities that were as much part of his contribution to the eventual political agreement for the “Rainbow Nation” Republic of South Africa, which he chose to help build.
For 27 long years, Nelson Mandela was consigned to his tiny cell at Robben Island. “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black,” he says in his famous autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. “I know as well as I know anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.” From the moment he was freed, Mandela had used all his will and astuteness to steer the ANC party towards racial reconciliation and compromises on a myriad issues, especially power. Tactfully, but with firmness, Mandela outflanked radicals to unite the movement behind this. These achievements were recognized and rewarded by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mandela, and his predecessor FW de Klerk.
Part II of this Article can be found here
Rajesh Kamath is the founder of Chanakya Consulting Insights and Co-Founder of MTHR Global, in the Pune area. Rajesh is a very popular contributor to Talent Talks and was a keynote speaker at our Talenttalks Africa 2017 Conference.