CONFLICT! The 21st Century Background Music


George Santayana, Soliloquies in England (Scribner’s, 1922) wrote “… only the dead have seen the end of war.” With the 100th anniversary of WWI behind us, those words are as true as they were the day they were penned.

If you enjoyed the 20th Century, you’re going to love this one!

The 21st Century is off to a roaring start, with nearly every part of the globe either embroiled in conflict, preparing for conflict, or working feverishly to avoid conflict. Recent political and military tactics and failure of diplomatic relations in the Ukraine have even prompted talk of yet another World War. Anyone remember when there was hope for the now cliche’d peace in the Middle East, with negotiators from Kissinger to Harvard writing the rules of negotiation for the hopeful road ahead? The Middle East has become the minnow that swallowed the whale. Today, the entire globe has become engulfed by the once geographically limited Middle East conflict. From contending countries all the way down to competitors in the workplace and everyone in between, the 21st Century air is thick with conflict.

The “Seven Revolutions” initiative, a bipartisan, nonprofit partnership housed in an international policy center in Washington, D.C. in partnership with The New York Times, and eleven other member institutions, has defined conflict in its varying forms as “Revolution 6” of the seven revolutions to characterize the 21st Century environment. Fasten your seat belts and keep head and arms inside the car at all times. Apparently, we’re in for quite a ride. Does America have the mentality for that?

Oh, America may not love war, but it loves the idea of war. Especially when it seeks to solve big problems, America declares “war.” End poverty? Declare a war on it. Defeat cancer? War is the answer.  Beating the competition for the best talent? It’s a talent war with competitors.  The war on drugs rages on. Even when we want to end war, what did America wage? You guessed it. “The War to End All Wars.” (A note to our younger readers, that didn’t work.)

War has been declared on so many things there isn’t enough time in the year to engage in them all, so America is now parsing the war schedule to assign some wars only one month out of the year. On the flip side, when we discover something that doesn’t quite flange up with our moral and ethical framework, the conspiracy theorist in us declares that someone else has declared covert war on one innocent, unsuspecting group or another.

According to Richard Slotkin, Wesleyan University, the book, “Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam America,” by James William Gibson, “shows how this new ‘cult of the warrior‘ has affected life at every level, from the offices of the federal government to the mean streets of our cities.”

War! It appears to have become the “other national past time.” But all for a good cause, of course. That is, until we get to the multicultural arena, and the war between diversities.

That ‘cult of the warrior’ mentality seems to have comfortably migrated into themulticultural diversity arena, pitting Diversiphiles against Diversiphobes. Among the most prominent of battles was racial discrimination. Not to be outdone, though, the war between the sexes is a conflict as enduring as they come. Christian fundamentalists raise the specter of war on marriage as the LGBTQIA community seeks something more than civil union. Forbes news covers at least three warring viewpoints on the question of corporate diversity programs, whether they are crucial to business successcounterproductive and wrong-headed, or simply outright frauds.

Given the pervasive ‘cult of the warrior’ mentality, could we have rationally expected that a new focus on differences wouldn’t generate a new battleground? The cultural conflict between Diversiphobes and Diversiphiles was born. Consistent with the warrior culture in which the “Diversity” paradigm was spawned, even staid and stable corporate environments became embattled. The waning civil rights struggle had shifted to surrogate “Diversity” interventions, zeroing-in on differences, eventually broadening diversity’s definition sufficiently to engulf everyone in differences over difference.

Diversiphobes felt doomedwatching in horror as the business case for diversity went national. The business case against diversity retrenched, people chose sides, and the battle between Diversiphiles™ and Diversiphobes™ was launched. Corporate America was paying the price on both sides. The scorecard is coming in, even as the banner of “that business case” for diversity is being hoisted higher than ever. The results of the warfare are becoming manifest in the expenditure of resources, the distraction from core business, and the psychic cost, a sense of fatigue with the unending conflict.

Intercultural conflict shows no sign of abating. Mankind’s history is rife with the win-loss accounting between the two primary types of belligerents, aggressors and defenders. Intelligent, thoughtful people are emotionally and psychologically fatigued of “Diversity” as we know it, and are desperately seeking a way out of the entrenched focus on “differences.” Some are predicting an end of the current Diversity Paradigm, but not an end to the diversity dilemma it has engendered.

Diversity has most so deeply entrenched in the “differences rut,” trained so intensively to engage in the conflict between differences, they cannot see beyond them, putting differences front and center in the very methodologies they devise to escape it. A difference-based approach may only ensure that the background music of the 21st Century will play on.

Even as you’re reading this article, posted mid-2013, media pundits predict increasing conflict, inexorable forces of response to disenfranchisement, inevitable clashes of cultural factions and radicalization at the fringes, escalating tensions, engulfing a globe struggling to deal with cultural tectonics by centering attention on intercultural differences.

Is there an alternative to engaging in a fruitless, systemic cultural conflict rooted in a differences mentality? Can a Post-Diversity agenda clear the decks of a differences-based approach to intercultural relationships, especially in the workplace? The end stage of the Diversity Paradigm is here. Of that there is little doubt. But given the “Revolution 6” environment into which we appear to be headed, there’s got to be a better basis for interacting than leaving “differences” as the last word.

There are widely recognized groups that have utilized a third space, an alternative to belligerency, a space in which many have set their stake and stood their ground. History accounts for them well, though few today seem to look toward that “third space” alternative as an option for dealing with the seemingly intractable conflict between Diversiphobes and Diversiphiles of all types.

There are longstanding proven, tried and true strategies, tactics, tools and techniques for dealing with conflicts, from mild to intense, from tractable short term to intractable long term. It may be that one set of concepts and principles in particular hasn’t been adequately explored for use in matters of intercultural conflict in the workplace and elsewhere.

The CultureNeutral® Framework incorporates those concepts and principles and offers an alternative way of thinking about conflict. CultureNeutral® promotes a way to disengage from conflict without disengaging from culture, and promotes a more constructive, purposeful and productive form of engagement that can enhance interpersonal, group/team, and organizational interactions of all kinds.

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