- Worldview Skills: Transforming Conflict from the Inside Out
…one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it.1
There are many words that westerners use to tell ourselves that we are finally modern, developed, green, post-colonial, and civilized, for example: tolerance, sustainability, democracy, and self-governance. There is however a healthy suspicion surrounding the deployment of these terms owing to the gap between what the word is supposed to mean and what it really means as a matter of fact. Each of these words is therefore very dangerous and must be scrutinized for its nuance, rhetorical force, and for the workings of power lurking in its shadow. One of the most widely abused of these concepts in [End Page 154] the area of conflict resolution, reconciliation, is the subject of Jessie Sutherland's Worldview Skills: Transforming Conflict from the Inside Out. We are in an era where conflict resolution has shifted from international law to intra-state reconciliation and peace making. As a result, committees aimed at uncovering the truth and providing reconciliation have been active or proposed in instances of apartheid (South Africa), genocide (Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia), and native residential schools (Canada). In an immediately accessible style, Sutherland's contributions are to "reconcile" the disparate academic definitions and dispute resolution examples currently trading under the title of reconciliation, and to outline the practical skills necessary to bring about liberatory and anti-colonialist reconciliation.
Dispute resolution may be construed along a spectrum that stretches from processes where a third party renders a decision (judicial decision-making, adjudication and arbitration) to those where the parties come up with their own solution in a more participatory and less individualistic way (negotiation, mediation and reconciliation). In these processes, decisions are secured within the confines of procedural and formal notions of justice that have a limited ability to countenance the ways that the conflict between the parties is more a product of systemic and institutional forces than the result of a poor policy decision or lamentable racist past. Nevertheless, reconciliation is held by many of its proponents to be a means to both smooth over historical injustice as well as pave the way for a new socially just relationship between the parties. In practice, reconciliation often produces a stalemate because it operates under the assumption that once the aggrieved party has been symbolically restored through an official apology and reparations, both parties will be on an even playing field and equally free to pursue their economic and cultural interests. Where the uneven distribution of cultural power between the parties goes unrecognized, the decision can only be considered just from the perspective of the dominant party. From the perspective of the aggrieved party, this dangerous ruse of reconciliation only furthers feelings of hopelessness and frustration. As Sutherland argues, a solid foundation for reconciliation can only be laid where the culture and worldviews of the conflicting parties are meaningfully responded to at the personal and institutional levels. Incorporating worldviews into reconciliation processes is more than a mere sensitivity towards different belief systems as part of the getting-to-yes scenario.2 In other words, an apology and the payment of reparations are only reconciliatory insofar as the subjectivities and institutions responsible for the injustice shift from "systems of domination" to "relationships of mutuality" and are made response-able to the aggrieved party and its worldview.
In addition to a lucid critique of an impressive range of scholarly and real world sources on reconciliation, the other major innovation of the book is its presentation of four "touchstones" that inform the practical skills necessary [End Page 155] for personal and collective reconciliation "from the inside out". The first touchstone is worldviewing itself, which calls for both a clarification of one's worldview (one's ideals, cosmological beliefs and sense of human goodness) as well as an openness to other worldviews as potentially informative of one's own. The other skills, such as transcending the victim-offender cycle, large-scale social change and timing and tactics, while based upon a foundation of worldviewing...