If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem


How:  Margaret Mead is famously quoted as saying: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In the context of complex, intractable conflicts, it will take more than a small group of people–it will take a very large group of people, each person making his or her own, small steps. All of these actions will likely be different, all of them  will focus on different problems and different locations.  But together, they can add up to a potent force against evil which flourishes when people assume either that there is nothing they, personally, can do about it, or that “everything will turn out all right–it always has before.”  

We (Guy and Heidi Burgess) can’t tell anyone what to do, or how to do it–the answer is very person- and situation-specific.  Just look around you at the problems most pressing in your locale, choose one, and start doing whatever you can to make the situation better–keeping in mind that one can’t just “fight harder,” one needs to “fight smarter.”  Focus on acting in ways that First, Do No Harm. Look at the conflict dynamics that are stopping people from doing what needs to be done.  Figure out how to change those dynamics. Get ideas from this website and others focused on constructive conflict engagement. Recruit your friends to do the same…and find out what others are doing along the same lines…you’ll start being that potent force for good!

Why: Another famous saying–this one is a poem with several versions, was circulating in the 1950s, after World War II.  It starts out.. “First they came for the…socialists (or communists) and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.” It goes onto “coming for the Jews,” and ends “and then they came for me.” The point was that people must speak out when bad things happen..even when they aren’t happening to them…or else they will continue to happen until fascism or other totalitarian form of governance take over and everyone is harmed. This poem is circulating again in the U.S. in 2017–and its message is clear.  If people assume they can’t do anything to improve the political conflict in the United States, the situation will swallow them up. If they assume it will all turn out all right, they are depending on others to fix things for them.  If we all depend on others….


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Guy Burgess
Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999).

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