Communication

Relational Health As It Relates To Peace & Conflict Studies

An individual’s relational health is generally understood as their ability to make meaningful social connections and their ability to adapt to new circumstances and to new people entering their social space. A community’s relational health can refer to a range of things but is generally understood as how well a community can relationally/socially react to newcomers, neighbors, unexpected events, and other circumstances that require social interactions on a somewhat wide scale. This is in a sense an attempt to gain an understanding of how well people and communities socialize and how communicators and communication therapists can aid people and communities in improving their ability to communicate with other people and newcomers or neighbors in a more healthy way that creates and sustains social relationships.

What Does This Have To Do With Peace & Conflict Studies?

When people and communities enter into states of conflict or inch in that direction the ways that people communicate change. Relationships, even individual and intimate ones, can be negatively impacted when communities, families, or individuals enter a state of conflict. Having higher/better/stronger relational health helps to mitigate the negative impacts of conflict states on individual relationships which can make it easier for people to fully enter a transitive state wherein peace is on the table and is understood to be accessible/possible.

Peace communicators understand the importance of relational health even if we don’t always have or use the specific vocabulary I am using in this post. On some level we’re aware of the importance of ensuring that the people and communities we aid have the mental and social means and frameworks to react well and positively to peacebuilding processes and to rebuild or speed up the recovery of relationships that were negatively affected by the conflict state the community will transition out of once the transition begins.

By working to improve a community or an individual’s relational health we are also working to improve their ability to engage with people they disagree with in a more positive way and also giving them the means, knowledge, and attitudes that can help prevent a disagreement from becoming a serious conflict or a conflict from devolving further into actual violence or other negative states.

What Can People Do To Increase/Strengthen/Improve Their Own Relational Health?

There are a variety of things that can be done to make someone or a community improve their relational health. These things include researching other perspectives, volunteering with unfamiliar people/other communities, going to different places and interacting positively with the people and institutions you come across, interacting online with people from different spaces and with different perspectives, and intentionally & genuinely seeking to learn from people with different views than yours as well as different backgrounds.

As a peace communicator I want to help people gain an understanding and awareness of their own relational health and by doing that give them another tool with which they can understand their own reactions to negative situations which could become conflicts or worse if they react impulsively and not introspectively and carefully. It is my intention to show people ideas and concepts from various fields of study that can help them better grasp their own communication strengths, weaknesses, and ways to build upon those strengths and improve their own shortcomings.

A Vital Task Communicators And Mediators Have In Common

We’ve all seen a common tactic people employ when they’re angry at a specific group. At some point one of the groups involved in an intragroup conflict will make a false statement. This happens all the time in intragroup fights and disagreements. And what’s next is an event most people have seen: someone in the other group will accuse the group who made the false statement of lying. It’s a natural reaction and happens all the time. It’s also very often not accurate.

A lie is not a descriptor that applies to all untrue statements. An untrue statement can be made without it being a lie. A lie requires intention, specifically intention to deceive. If I go up to you and make a statement that is untrue that by itself doesn’t mean I’m lying to you. I could have made a statement that is not reflective of reality but sincerely believed it to be true, and that’s not a lie. In order to prove a lie it is necessary for someone to not only prove a statement to be untrue but also that someone demonstrate there was an intention to deceive. This is a high burden of proof and that matters. Not all, and possibly not even most untrue statements that people make are lies.

Mediators and communicators have a shared task:

If you’re involved in a conflict between two or more people and you’re taking it upon yourself to be a positive participant and conflict transformer you’re an informal mediator. As such when rhetoric escalates you have a certain level of responsibility and a specific responsibility: to keep the dialogue open and civil. Part of that means knowing when to call out conflict actors for acting in bad faith and oftentimes accusations that people are lying are folks acting in bad faith.

This is a task many communicators also have. This is a simple but continuous task that challenges pretty much everyone who has it. It’s a consistent task that will need to be repeated over and over in conflict settings and discourse as well as in messaging and in even friendly dialogue between competitors and folks who share resources, objectives, and relationships of various types.

How have you approached this task? What have you done to call out rash and frustrated accusations of lies that lack evidence? How would you approach this if you were a mediator or communicator who was tasked with keeping dialogue and conversations civil?