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Posted by: Tesfa Gebremedhin

Date: Friday, 09 February 2018

Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups of people that differ in personality, attitudes, values, needs, and difference in perceptions or perspectives, and who interpret objective reality differently. In view of this normal fact of life, when we closely examine the behavioral characteristics and social fabrics of our Eritrean society in Diasporas, we observe with tears in our eyes dysfunctional communities and fractured religious institutions. Too many of our established communities in various cities have disappeared immediately without any trace. The Eritrean Orthodox Christian church is also divided into two groups: those supporting the Eritrean religious function in Asmara and the other is the so-called opposition group located outside Eritrea. Every time a church is established with great enthusiasm anywhere in Diaspora, it splits into two groups before it even celebrates its first-year anniversary. It is sad to observe that we are divided amongst our own communities and religious institutions. More so, this division is reflected in our respective households and interpersonal relationships and communication. Consequently, our Eritrean society in Diasporas is in very critical crisis. Our traditional values, cultural heritage and national identity are at great risk. We have children who are currently incarcerated in prison cells because they get involved in drugs and violent crimes. We have children who are also involved in teenage pregnancy. Single parenthood is increasing at an alarming rate among Eritrean youth. We have children who are dropping out of school and running away from home. We are losing our children to other nationalities and cultures through inter-racial marriages because our religious institutions and communities have failed to prepare a conducive environment for the children to interact with each other as Eritrean friends, to embrace and cherish their national identity, and to maintain and respect their cultural heritage. When we go to our Eritrean Orthodox Christian churches, we are expected to behave like decent Christians and worship in peace and harmony. Instead we instigate fights and create chaos and disorder among ourselves in churches over senseless socio-political issues. The churches have become a hostile place for our children and that is the reason our children do not want to attend. It is important to realize that we need to resolve our conflicts if we are going to save our children from the violent storm that the parents have created in our communities and religious institutions. We all have the moral obligation and parental responsibilities to put our children ahead of any senseless political drama. To resolve our conflicts we really need to understand the fundamental concept of conflict resolution.

When we came into this world, we arrived individually and separately. When we leave this world, we depart individually and separately. However, when we live in this world as human beings, we are expected to co-exist collectively together. When we live together, since we have different behavioral characteristics and have gone through varied life experiences, conflict is inevitable in any kind of situation or relationship. It is essential to realize that it is conflict, not harmony that binds people together. According to Heraclitus, “Nature desires eagerly opposites and, out of them, it completes its harmony, not out of similars.” That means, conflict is an opportunity or a challenge for a positive change and there is no progress in life without a change. So also peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means so that it will generate a productive outcome. It should be quite clear that each culture has a unique understanding of conflict and its resolution process. Some cultures encourage open and emotional discussions and disputes are resolved openly. Others value strict politeness and very cautious disagreement. Conflict can lead to positive changes, if it is appropriately handled. If conflict is not properly addressed or if it is purposely ignored, or arbitrarily settled, however, it can become destructive in any kind of relationships. Conflict per se is neither good nor bad; it all depends upon the way we handle it. Conflict can build character and it can also build crisis. How we use and resolve conflicts determines their natural characteristics. Since conflict is always a normal part of life, it can exist between groups of people like the two groups we have in our Eritrean Orthodox Christian church. Obviously, conflicts may arise over various issues. They can be interpersonal, maybe as a result of different values or miscommunications, and may also arise when expectations of one group from the other are disappointed. However, the conflict we have in our communities and religious institutions is strictly related to lack of proper socio-political dialogue. We are consumed by our petty socio-political adventures. It would at least make sense if most of us really understand the issues in our socio-political argument or dispute. Most of us support one group or the other without having a clear idea for what issue or issues the two groups stand. As a result, many Eritreans in Diasporas who were longtime friends for so many years have turned against each other and have become enemies for the simple reason that they declared to belong to opposing political groups. The problem is that we failed to understand that we can have different political perspectives and religious beliefs and still remain friends. Surely, we have common grounds that enable us to establish amicable relationship among ourselves, despite our differences in our political demagogue. We can build and maintain our communities and religious institutions together and collectively work together in saving our children who are currently in great danger.

Fear of conflict is common and most people, particularly the Eritrean scholars and professionals, will go to some length to avoid it by isolating themselves from actively participating in the affairs of our communities and religious institutions. It may be that they worry that the conflict could get out of hand and ruin their friendships with others, or they become disgusted by our endless fights and quarrels, which sometimes erupt like a volcano, It is disturbing to observe that practically in every church an active volcano has either erupted or potentially it is about ready to explode any time. As Brendon Burchard indicated, “Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict and the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering,” and this particularly has an impact upon our innocent children. This is because when two irresponsible parents fight, it is always the poor child that suffers in between. All too often, however, avoidance or isolation does not lead to resolution of existing conflicts. On the contrary, conflicts which are not dealt with immediately and properly, will gradually grow and develop into resistance and resentment. That is why they become personal, and, ultimately, difficult to deal with such kind of conflicts. Instead of avoiding conflict, it is essential to recognize the potential benefits of dealing with them. Many conflicts arise because of poor communication resulting in misunderstanding which are commonly observed among Eritreans in Diasporas. We usually fail to listen to our counterpart properly and do not communicate appropriately. Misunderstandings or feelings of not being heard are frequent sources of conflict. Thus, the first rule in dealing with conflict is to listen and try to understand the message and true concerns conveyed. This is not always easy and it becomes more difficult among Eritreans, as more personal feelings and emotions become involved in any type of conflict. Conversation with humility and respect is essential in conflict resolution. Conversation brings people closer and together. It is important to realize that our brains are wired differently and our bodies are structured and arranged differently from each other and that is why we have different behavioral characteristics and perspectives. We are all different in many ways as normal human beings, but we are decent people from the same country, Eritrea and that is all we have in common. We need to appreciate our diversity in our perceptions, perspectives, values and needs as we appreciate a beautiful rainbow which is composed of different colors harmoniously arranged in a proper order.

Starting from the humble single household or school yard to the complex work place, we encounter and experience all kinds of conflict in every stage of our daily life. The ability to resolve conflicts with one another is a critical life skill, especially in today’s divisive, complicated and obscure world. Whether we are involved in a family dispute, or a fight between a husband and a wife, or between two friends, or a lawsuit involving a group of people against another group, just like the disputes we commonly observe in our religious institutions and communities, it is quite necessary to encourage the individuals or groups who are involved in the dispute to work it out amongst themselves before exposing themselves in the court house. Not long ago, over 98% of disputes in our Eritrean society in various villages and even towns were traditionally resolved by a committee composed of selected elders (shimagle) together with the assistance of the church. It was less than 2% of the cases that was settled in court. However, at the present time in our Eritrean society in Diasporas, over 98% of the cases are arbitrarily settled in the court house and the remaining less than 2% of the cases are resolved by the elders and the church. To this effect, looking for reasonable ways to resolve a conflict that meets the needs of two parties is challenging. But something that we all should learn to strive towards resolving conflicts is to consider the following rational dispute-resolution procedure.

First, open communication is key in any dispute, even socio-political dialogue. Expressing how you feel about the situation and sticking to the facts related to the dispute will let the other person know that you are genuine in your intentions and actions. Focusing on the problem at hand and not what the other person did will avoid unnecessary conflict. As Martin Luther King said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Most misunderstandings among people could be avoided, if people simply take the time to ask relevant questions for clarity and understanding. Honest communication and willingness to cooperate always promote the effort to resolve the dispute. Second, it is essential to actively listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting the conversation. Everyone involved in the dispute should get a chance to express their views and talk uninterrupted. It is commonly observed that members of many Eritrean Orthodox Christian Churches could not resolve their disputes by themselves because we, Eritreans in Diasporas, do not communicate with the intent to understand; we communicate with the intent to reply and argue. Giving proper attention and listening attentively enhance understanding the nature and characteristics of the dispute and resolving the conflict properly and appropriately. Third, it is also important to review options together by talking over and analyzing the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone should be the main goal of the procedure. Do not feel pressured to come up with one answer immediately. Bring in an objective third party for ideas, if necessary. Fourth, end the discussion with a win-win solution. Though the solution to the problem is not going to be perfect, the ultimate goal is to agree on an option that benefits both sides to some extent. When one party wins by aggressive behavior or arbitrary decision, or one party simply gives in, someone is definitely losing. It means you get outcomes that do not resolve the underlying causes of the conflict.

To understand the essence of conflict and to resolve it rationally and appropriately according to the above narrated procedures, we need first to realize that there are many things or issues that can bring us together and there are also many other things or issues that can keep us apart. However, the things that can bring us together usually exceed the things that can keep us apart. Our interpersonal relationship and mutual communication can be enhanced and sustained, if we concentrate on embracing the things that can bring us together. One very important element that can bring us all together is the concern of our children who have become the prime victims of our political disputes. Pride, arrogance, selfishness, and at times mere ignorance, have been the driving forces behind the obstruction of our interpersonal relationships and the worst and most powerful obstacles against resolving conflicts between the two groups in our religious institution. It is about time to learn to swallow our pride; to get rid of our selfishness; to put down our arrogance; to get out of our comfort zone; to liberate ourselves from alienation and affiliation by region (awraja); to realize our limitations of proper socio-political orientation; to cherish our friendship by being honest, sincere, and kind to one another; and to humble ourselves like decent human beings by respecting and honoring our fellow Eritreans as own selves. The Eritrean scholars and professionals and members of the clergy should come out of their hiding places and step up forward to take the initiative to play an important role in resolving our prevailing conflicts and planting the seeds of peace and harmony in our Eritrean society in Diasporas, Let every one of us actively participate in creating viable Eritrean communities in Diasporas and uphold the churches as the House of the Lord instead of being the court houses for animosity and hostility. Thus, we have to be aware that conflict or dispute among ourselves in our communities and religious institutions cannot at all survive without our active participation to sustain its existence.

The person in the middle desperately needs our help in resolving the dispute and bringing peace and harmony between the two goons –   ኣርዓዶም and ዓብለሎም. We have too many of such knuckle-headed bullies creating disturbance and annoyance in our communities and religious institutions. We should not let the weeds grow wild on the green pasture of our healthy interpersonal relationship in our communities and religious institutions.

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