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Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts Hardcover – April 26, 2011
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"It is increasingly clear that traditional military and diplomatic methods for resolving global conflicts cannot work. In Elusive Peace, Douglas Noll not only shows us why, with explanations ranging from neuropsychology to philosophy and political analysis, he points us to morally meaningful solutions. This is a compelling, exciting, eye-opening read that will make you think, and think again." --Kenneth Cloke, president of Mediators Beyond Borders, author of Conflict Revolution: Mediating Evil, War, Injustice, and Terrorism.
"If you are a Mediator or Peace Builder, this is one book to keep by your side and on your desk at all times. Use it to give yourself a reality check when you're in danger of slipping into comfortable sentimentality or irrational exuberance over the essential goodness, intelligence, or rationality of human beings.
"Douglas Noll is no peacenik who stumbled his way into peace building after drinking the purple Kool-Aid. He is above all a realist. His book is a clear exposition of how sustainable peace can only be achieved through unsentimental critical thinking, a sophisticated understanding of human society and behavior, and expert facilitation of the conflict resolution process." --Ashok Panikkar, founder and executive director of Meta-Culture Consulting, South Asia's first professional conflict resolution and dialogue center
"Douglas Noll artfully provides a cogent and compelling case for recognizing the 'international diplomatic mediator' as a distinct specialization within the field of mediation. While acknowledging the fact that most heads of state and career diplomats may be highly skilled in their fields, Noll laments that they, as a class, lack the most rudimentary skills to successfully effect conflict resolution on the world stage. His thoughtful book suggests instead that the stakes involved in many world conflicts are so high that they should rather be placed in the capable hands of properly equipped, experienced, professional mediators." --Neil Carmichael, vice president of Education & Training, American Arbitration Association University
About the Author
Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA (Clovis, CA), lawyer turned peacemaker, is a professional mediator, specializing in difficult, complex, and intractable conflicts. He has been voted as one of the Best Lawyers in America since 2005 by bestlawyers.com for his work in conflict resolution and mediation and is AV-rated by Martindale Hubbell, given to the top 1 percent of the lawyers in the United States. Mr. Noll is host of The Doug Noll Show, an Internet radio show streamed live every Thursday evening from 7-8 pm Pacific on wsRadio.com and is a nationally recognized author, speaker, trainer, and lecturer on the topics of mediation, peacemaking, ethics, and leadership. Mr. Noll is also the author of Sex, Politics, and Religion at the Office (coauthored with John Boogaert); "The Neuropsychology of Conflict," chapter 3 in The Psychology of Resolving Global Conflicts, edited by M. Fitzduff and C.E. Stout; and Peacemaking: Practicing at the Intersection of Law and Human Conflict.
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Douglas Noll provides us with perspectives that can deepen and enrich peacemaking by Christians. He discusses this in his book "Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts" (Prometheus Books, 2011). His basic thesis is set out early in the volume with the idea that we are using outdated understandings of human nature that inform ineffective approaches to diplomacy. This is perhaps best summarized in a paragraph in the first chapter.
One of the major assumptions of this view of international negotiation is that the “head of state” knows how to resolve conflicts. This implies that the head of state is an effective problem solver; knows how to build trust; understands the cognitive, affective, and motivational triangle of cognitive neuroscience; can manage high emotions; knows how to create a deep empathic connection with disagreeable people; has appropriately informed assumptions about human behavior; can effectively de-escalate people; and can close out a negotiation into an agreement that will work. My thesis is that most heads of state and ministers may be highly skilled politicians, but, as a class, they do not have even the most rudimentary of these conflict-resolution skills. They simply are not trained for it. Unfortunately, on the job experience does not suffice.
In Noll’s view, many professional diplomats are not sufficiently trained in the skills necessary to make them efficient in their task. This includes “conflict theory, behavioral economics, cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and a host of other skills.” Over the course of eleven chapters Noll discusses these missing skills and connects them to theoretical and actual scenarios of conflict resolution to help the reader understand how the peace making process can be more effective.
A few of the items he discusses were of particular interest in my own ongoing research and practice of multi-faith engagement and peacemaking. This includes:
Cognitive biases: Rather than being objective, rational thinkers, the human reasoning process is always biased. In conflict negotiation Noll writes that “people are entrenched in cognitive and motivational biases that prevent them from listening to reason, from objectively evaluating evidence, from seeing other perspectives, from constructively problem solving, or from collaborating to find workable solutions.” Evangelicals working in diplomacy and peacemaking must account for cognitive bias in their own thinking as well as their conflict partner.
Social identity: Noll reminds us of the significance of social identity to our understanding of ourselves and its place in conflict resolution. He says,
“Social identities regulate our behaviors as members of groups. These behaviors may include conformity, stereotyping members of out-groups, favoritism toward members of in-groups, and discrimination against members of out-groups.” In the late modern or postmodern period people maintain multiple social identities that must be taken into account as they influence the diplomatic process.
Fear and decision making: Related to the idea of cognitive bias is the need to recognize the significant role emotions play in our thinking processes, particularly the emotion of fear. Noll states that “the emotions of fear and anger distort ‘rational’ decision making.” He provides examples for the U.S. where “fear led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, restriction of personal freedom, and the torture of captured ‘enemy combatants,’ to name a few misguided and expensive policies. Anger also led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to covert operations around the world.” Evangelicals might reflect on how their fear and anger distorts perceptions of and interactions with adherents from other religious traditions, particularly those considered enemies.
Power of stories: In Noll’s view many mediators fail to draw upon storytelling, but he says there is a power in this. “Every person has stories to tell, and every human is attracted to the stories of others. Skilled mediators help the parties draw out their stories for all to hear. Storytelling, although simple, is very subtle.” Evangelical peacemakers need to tell the stories of churches and individuals involved in positive multi-faith engagement, and listen to the stories of others so that a foundation for understanding, relationships and conversations is provided.
Readers of a variety of religious or irreligious perspectives will benefit greatly from Nolls’ book. As an evangelical involved in multi-faith engagement and peacemaking, I found his discussion of the significance of neuroscience and conflict resolution skills very important for incorporation into Christian theology and practice.
Noll gives a helpful historical analysis of "old school" diplomatic assumptions and practices referred to as "rational-choice theory." He points out that modern diplomats lack an understanding of the latest scientific research as it relates to peacemaking:
"New discoveries in behavioral economics, cognitive and social neuroscience, and social psychology have demonstrated that emotions weave through our every thought, decision, and action. To paraphrase neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, we are 98 percent emotional and 2 percent rational. We are not nearly as rational as we think we are" (p. 22).
Here is one good example of his critique of modern diplomatic approaches to mediation:
"The problem with having political personalities acting as `mediators' is that they do not know how to design a mediation process, how to engage the parties to the conflict, how to prepare parties for a mediated negotiation, how to facilitate meetings where strong emotions are present, how to deal with prospective impasse, or how to bring a variety of processes and techniques to bear on the normal issues that arise in any complex problem-solving negotiation" (p. 34).
Noll is a lawyer-turned-peacemaker (and a martial artist!) who acknowledges that feelings are a crucial dimension of peacemaking. He explains what most of us know from our own experience with conflict: emotions can hinder conflict resolution.
"The one thing I have learned in mediating thousands of conflicts and disputes is that when people fight, emotions dominate reason. If people in the fight cannot work through their emotions, negotiating an agreement or solution is generally impossible" (p. 98).
But there is a lot more about the centrality of emotions in conflict resolution than this conventional wisdom. Here are two fascinating scientific insights that Noll uses to argue his case. First, the innate human biological fear-response system is found in the two small, almond-shaped structures in the brain called the amygdala. They comprise an early warning system so that we are capable of responding to threats in the environment quickly and without conscious thought (p. 155). Our emotions, especially fear, have biological triggers.
Second, I was also interested to learn about Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical humans produce that reduces stress responses in conflict and significantly increases positive communication (p. 189) - another biological fact that impacts our emotions. "Thus," Noll concludes, "we are not rational beings with feelings; we are feeling beings with the ability to think rational thoughts" (p. 280).
So how do we effectively address emotions to resolve conflict? While peacemaking is a complex, demanding endeavor, a few things dominate Noll's approach. First, he puts a strong emphasis on careful, sensitive listening, not only to words, but also emotional data and body language. Skilled mediators listen at multiple levels.
Second, having the different parties share their stories is a powerful way to build bridges. Storytelling increases empathy for the other and de-escalates emotions. "Empirical evidence and deep experience suggest that storytelling is the only way through the maze" (p. 80). It is "the core of a twenty-first century approach to international negotiation" (p. 101).
I do have one critique of the book. A detailed table of contents would make this valuable resource a much more powerful tool. The sub-sections of the book need to be noted in the table of contents so students of peacemaking can have quick and easy access to the data.
But students of peace should not wait for a revised edition of the book! You can get it on amazon right now. I believe that if you read and apply Noll's suggestions, peace will not be so elusive.
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