Symposium Book Club – Summary of Michelle LeBaron’s Suggested Readings About Understanding Different Worldviews

This is part of the “virtual book club” discussing readings for the symposium at the University of Missouri on October 7:  Moving Negotiation Theory from the Tower of Babel Toward a World of Mutual Understanding.

Tower of Babel Symposium ad - big

This post discusses several pieces suggested by Michelle LeBaron and begins with her summaries.

Murray Stein’s short commencement speech, Stories to Tell and to Live With, addresses Jungian analysts – quite a different breed than those who teach or practice negotiation or assisted negotiation.  Yet the point he is making with the story is vitally important for negotiators to consider:  we are unavoidably part of relational systems, and we need to draw on ourselves and our inner resources to make a difference.

Argentinian philosopher Oscar Nudler’s chapter, From Controversies to Conflicts between Worlds: The Trials of Socrates and Galileo as Examples, connects well-known cases, such as Socrates´s trial, to a discussion of tragedy as a poetic genre and conflicts between worlds.  I appreciate it particularly for its treatment of the inter-relations among “culture,” “society,” and “subjectivity.” [Nudler defines society as “the network of intersubjective relationships patterned according to a common set of rules.”  Culture is “the shared meanings that subjects attach to social rules, the behaviour following them, and the products of such behaviour.”  Subjectivity “refers to the psychological ways in which subjects experience and react to their social and cultural context.”]  The term “example” as applied to an event means that such event has universal significance without losing its irreducible uniqueness.

Owen Frazer and Richard Friedli’s paper, Approaching Religion in Conflict Transformation: Concepts, Cases and Practical Implications, is remarkable for its systematic approach to distinguishing the various ways religious and worldview differences are important to negotiation and conflict engagement.  It gives a number of specific examples of this emerging framework.

All three pieces deal with understanding people’s worldviews, looking at this from different angles.

The Importance of Stories

I will start with Stein’s graduation address to graduates of a Jungian psychology program.  He emphasizes the importance of stories and provides a detailed analysis of one of Jung’s favorite stories.  Rather than try to summarize Stein’s ideas, here are a few passages that capture it.

“In Jungian culture, we too have such stories, and they do indeed function to draw together the worlds of reality and imagination for us as a community, and they help us to reconcile the complimentary worlds of our everyday ego consciousness and the imagination that has deep roots in the unconscious.  Reality offers us, individually and collectively, many pleasures and satisfactions, and also confronts us with sometimes severe challenges. Imagination offers a way to enjoy and to engage reality in all its multiplicity from positive to negative aspects.  Stories combine the two realms ingeniously and act as symbols, drawing wisdom from the deep well of the unconscious.

“Our clinical practice rests on this fundament.  Imagination and reality must meet and touch one another, intertwine and form a coniunctio, and bear fruit.  A symbolic story is the child of their interpenetration.  We draw wisdom from the wellspring of dreams, which are such stories that combine features of reality and dynamic, often dramatic, elements of imagination.  We need such stories to guide us in our work.  We need stories to live by.  Our personal narratives are also such stories.

. . .

“As Jungian analysts you – now as graduates! – are working for the individuation of your clients and through them for the health of the world.  The good stuff spreads around, across families and neighborhoods and political parties and nations.  When you open the way to the creative waters of the unconscious in the individual, this touches the creative energies in the Unus Mundus, and the effects spread out above ground and underground.  We are working for the world, even though it may look like we’re working in isolation and with only a very limited number of individuals.”

Reconciling Stories and Worldviews, If Even Possible

For me, the central insight of Nudler’s chapter is his concept of incommensurability of worldviews.  He defines people’s worlds as their perceptions of what is happening around and to them, which they internalize.  He distinguishes between theoretical concepts that he calls “intra-world” and “inter-world” conflicts.  Intra-world conflicts are where different people have very similar perceptions of the world but just disagree about something.  By contrast, in inter-world conflicts, people’s understandings of the world are very different from each other’s.  In the latter type of conflicts, people may or may not be able to understand each other.  Nudler writes that people’s worlds are “incommensurable” if they cannot even understand each other.

Nudler cites the case of Galileo as an example of an intra-world conflict.  Galileo accepted the existence of (Christian) God but disagreed with the Church about whether the sun or the earth was the center of the solar system.

On its face, the trial of Socrates centered around his lack of belief in the Gods of contemporary Athenian society and belief in any god at all.  Nudler argues that Socrates and the Athenian jurors occupied incommensurable worlds in their beliefs about whether consciousness and law were objective or subjective.  It was as if Socrates wasn’t an Athenian at all.

An example of a modern intra-world conflict would be a dispute between sports teams about whether or not a ball landed in bounds.  Both teams share the same basic understanding of the game – they just differ about what actually happened.

An example of a modern incommensurable inter-world conflict is between the Western World and terrorist groups like ISIS.  It is hard for Westerners to conceive how one could justify bombing civilians or televising beheadings.  And presumably it is hard for terrorists to understand the logic and values of Western societies.  A somewhat less extreme gulf of incommensurable worldviews exists between devoted supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the US elections.

Nudler notes two opposite forces in the modern world.  Centrifugal forces lead to cultural homogenization based on the hegemony of Western culture.  Centripal forces cause migration to the West, leading to heterogeneity of Western societies.  Because of this migration, Westerners can encounter conflicts of incommensurable worlds in their own neighborhoods.  This insight can help explain many conflicts in the US and Europe in recent years.

Religion as a Factor in Conflict

Differences in religious beliefs are prone to being incommensurable as the trials of Socrates and Galileo illustrate.  And differences in religion are major factors in much modern conflict.

Frazer and Friedli’s report describes the following five different ways that people think about religion and how they may serve either as dividers (sources of tension) or connectors (providing capacities for peace).

Community – “the collective, community-forming aspects of religion”

Teachings – “inherited teachings on how things are and how they ought to be”

Spirituality – “focuses on personal experiences of the ultimate”

Practice – “something lived in everyday life, in food, dress, etc. and in a series of coded practices of enactment (customs, rituals, ceremonies)”

Discourse – “the words and language used to communicate”

The report uses conflicts in Iraq, Kashmir, Morocco, Sierra Leone, and Tajikistan to illustrate this framework.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.