The American way of dealing with conflict, according to the article, is arguing. This might not be the best way, and it’s definitely not the only way. The article serves the purpose of exploring the cultural differences in how others deal with conflict. It provides alternatives and different ideas in how to resolve conflicts, as oppose to arguing.
Arguing is a method of dealing with conflict. In the argument culture “nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern.” The pillars of argument rest on this win-lose idea. Argument is expressed through “polarized”, two sided, debates and battles. The result elicits a winner and a resolved conflict.
This method is commonly used in the “Western culture in general, and in the United States in particular”. It is also used by “individuals of Eastern European background”, “Jewish tradition”, and in some Indian cultures.
Joanna Repczynski, for example, had an experience in her visit to France. Her host kept initiating “a heated intellectual debate over dinner.” When Joanna agreed, another argument would be on its way. Another example is Andrea Talarico. When her “Italian-American family” argues, their “voices would raise and objects would be thrown in an intense discussion”. Another example is the Japanese woman who is married to a Frenchman. The Frenchman started arguments with his wife. Finally when she argued back, “he was overjoyed” rather than getting upset.
The advantages of arguments are various. In the case of Joanna and her host, the host felt as if arguing would “keep things interesting”. Agreement was just to boring. “Andrea sees advantages to her Italian-American family’s style: “We always know how each other feels at all times.”” This is a sign of her family’s closeness. The Frenchman was overjoyed that his wife argued back because it was a sign of “showing interest” and showing respect for each other’s intelligence. To him “disagreement was a sign of a good relationship.” There are disadvantages of arguments. It can be upsetting and it can turn violent. The Japanese women “found it so upsetting” and Andrea’s family threw objects. For people who aren’t used to the argument culture, arguing can come off to be a “surprise, confusion, or alarm” and be very offensive. The disadvantaged result of an argument or debate is that there is always a loser.
Another method of resolving conflict is ritual vituperation. This method works by the means of screaming insults and song lashing. It was created by traditional societies; the rules are culturally agreed upon, which gives this method a ritual context. It is used by “Women in Gapun, Papua New Guinea” and in traditional Nigerian villages.
“Women in Gapun Papua New Guinea, when angered by husbands, relatives, or fellow villagers, can erupt in a kros, shouting insults and obscenities loudly enough to be heard all around.” The shouter waits near or in her home and waits for her offender to go far enough away. The villagers, then, watch up close as the women shouts. In Nigeria, a very similar method is used, song lashing. It “consists of familiar proverbs or original verses” that implies insults. Like kros, onlookers also watch. It’s different in the way that the target is referred to indirectly.
An advantage of this way of managing conflict is that it provides “outlets so aggression can be expressed”. It’s their way of relieving anger. The advantages stem from it’s ritualized, structured rules. The onlooker’s role is to prevent any physical violence. The onlooker’s provide the speaker with the satisfaction of listening. The speaker provides the onlookers with entertainment. “Effective song-lashers are admired for their verbal skill”. The target is relived of any direct abuse.
There are two major disadvantages to this method. The conflict doesn’t get resolved and the children in the surrounding area are subjected to this inappropriate verbal aggression.
An alternative to the idea of winning or losing is “victors without vanquished”. This method of dealing with conflict is to honor the winners as well as the losers. There is more emphasis on harmony “rather than winner take all.” This method is used in the Asian culture and has a historical significance in Japan.
An example of this method is the 1868 Asian revolution. The two sides of the conflict were the supporters of the Western government model and the old, Chinese model. “The people who had fought for the old regimen were not punished but invited to join the new government (and most did).” The Western supporters won, but the supporters of the traditional, Chinese model maintained their respect and dignity; they were “allowed to remain in existence.” The main advantage of this method is that the loser gets recognition, “retaining a large measure of respect.” According to Ben-Ami Shillony, an anthropologist, this method “helped Japan avoid disastrous internecine ethnic and religious strife.” The advantage of this method is that it resolves conflicts without disastrous escalation.
The disadvantage of this method is that “social pressure to maintain harmony can actually cause conflict.” The actions of people on conflicting sides are altered by the interference of harmony. For example, a person in disagreement with another might want to take action, but the emphasis on harmony might yield that action, which can cause frustration or even anger. Another disadvantage is that in a society that emphasis harmonic competition, competition “tends to become more fiercer” than in a society where competition is normal.
Another way of dealing with conflict is by the use of intermediaries, third parties. This method rests on the idea that “community pressure takes the place” of direct conflict.” “This reflects an emphasis on harmony and interdependence”. The conflicting sides are dependent on a mediator, or peacemakers to resolve a conflict. This method can be “formally ritualized”, or informal. This method is used in Asian societies and in many Pacific cultures.
An informal example of this method is the use of “matchmakers or marriage brokers”. Another example is “when neighbors pressure a son or a daughter-in-law to stop neglecting a parent or parent-in-law.” There are no ritualized rules in these examples, only third parties that take the place of direct confrontation. The use third parties can be ritualized or formal. For example, the use of “standard structures or rules” and “hierarchical relations to maintain harmony.” In the Solomon Islands, fa’amananata’anga is the way that conflicts can be resolved. The event is held over a family dinner, speaking is serious and formal, and the most senior person is the peacemaker, all making this ritualized. In Tannan, a South Pacific island, “Conflicts among villagers or between villages are discussed publicly by groups of adult men at special meetings that last all day.” The people present are the go-betweens and the most senior people hold hierarchy positions within the group.
Rather than resolving the conflict, these meetings are a way of taking part in a “joint journey” that results in “consensus flowing from the interaction of all.” They accomplish harmony of the minds and general understanding out of group effort. Another example is the Fijian Indians. They set up committees, third parties, which interview the opponents before a formal meeting called pancayat. The Japanese use a similar method called nemawashi. It rests on the idea that “there are two wrongs and now it is right.” Neither opponent is blamed as being the only wrong and “seriously at fault.”
An advantage of intermediaries is that they “offer the needed apology without the principal losing face and can absorb rejections without taking them personally.” In the case of the matchmaker, the groom avoids the risk of rejection from the potential bride. The groom is then saving face, keeping his dignity and pride. Another advantage of using intermediaries is that the third party offers motivation. The third parties also play a role in maintaining peace and help to avoid potential violence. The idea of pancayat and nemawashi “seems a much better way of gathering information than forcing people to speak in a high-pressure public event.” The committees take the pressure off of the opponents.
A disadvantage of using intermediaries is that the third party is placed in potentially “unhealthy and inappropriate” circumstances. The third parties are subjected to others conflicts, anger and possible violence. The third parties have a chance to get hurt. The cultures that use intermediaries form a dependence on them to handle their disputes. “Even some psychologists tend to regard” handling your own conflicts is “a sign of maturity”. The use of third parties can be a sign of interdependence and immaturity.
Another idea of resolving conflict is ritualized fighting. The fighting has specific rules and culturally inclinations. This method is the “expression of opposition.” The opponents do not gage in physical contact, only express it. It is used in Bali, Indonesia and in Tori, Ireland.
In Bali, Indonesia ritualized cock fighting is a fundamental way of dealing with conflict. In Tori, Ireland neighborhood street fights are ritualized ways of dealing with conflict. The rules are not “in the sense that the players could recount them”. They are just normal and taken for granted. The fighters come out in public and threaten each other. “Everything about the fight was structured so that the two men could seem eager to exchange blows without ever landing one.” No one gets hurt because no physical contact is actually exchanged. Finally, the mothers, or a female relative, of the fighters would break it up. “She would implore the fighter to come home and stop fighting.”
An advantage of this method is that no one gets hurt. “The fighters could rely on their kin to restrain them, preventing them from hurting each other.” The onlookers, especially the kin take the role of stopping any physical contact. Another advantage is that the fighters provide the audience with entertainment and “excitement for both participants and onlookers.” The fight also provides outlets for the fighters and a way they can show their manhood and get more respect. These ritualized customs “reinforce social bonds and alliances”. The interactive part and support of the society helps to bond them closer together.
A disadvantage to this method is that if the kin of one, or both, fighters are not present during the fight, physical contact might occur and someone can get hurt. Another disadvantage is that some of the onlookers may be children. The children are then subjected to cursing and threatening. They might look up to the manly fighters and want to mimic them. A major disadvantage of this method is that the conflict does not get resolved.
Comparing the argument culture to ritualized methods of dealing with conflict, it seems that arguing overemphasizes winning, loosing and “war and sports metaphors”. Too much concentration on polarized views and not enough on harmony that “discourages confrontation”. The cultural, ritualized rules provide that culture with boundaries, values, and “controlled ways to manage” conflict. “We cannot simply adopt the rituals of another culture, but thinking about them can give us pause and perhaps even ideas for devising our new ways to mange conflict.” The article provides insight on many ideas how to manage conflict. These new ideas can influence an individual, perhaps myself, to manage conflict more constructively.
Courtney from Study Moose
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