Conflict and Perceptions

Various definitions of perceptions exist; one of which is the ability to interpret and understand things. Human beings have the ability to hear, see and interpret their world in various ways. Theories of perception indicate varied assumptions about perceptions.

Perceptions in conflict, however, underscore the general regard, belief, and assumptions man holds with each other. Perceptions are based on our understanding and interpretation of life. The process of socialization, level of interaction and synthesis of information we gather throughout our lives determine our actions and positions.

Perceptions and conflict share certain commonalities. The causes of conflict vary as found in differing theories [human needs theory, deprivation theory, frustration-aggression theory]; however, perceptions play an integral part of conflict. In conflict, perceptions of warring parties differ. In conflict management, perceptions are equally varied amongst the conflicting parties, mediator, mediator’s constituencies and allies, and actors.

Let’s take an example of two groups; say group one and group two. Historically, group one and two have experienced equal share of differences, hostilities and fighting despite coexisting for centuries. At best their co-existence has led to economic exchanges [trade/business], political interactions [leadership] and social interactions [intermarriages]. At worst, their co-existence has led to conflicts. Historical evolution has resulted in a change of administration [colonial to self governance], and leadership [style]. Historically, group one is largely characterized as dominant and aggressive. Communities testify of their tendencies of economic, social and political dominance.

Group two, in contrast, are perceived as less demonstrative in the same areas, despite their natural abilities. Smaller in number, group two, generally tends to shy away from face to face challenges with group one. Group one recognizes this deficiency and takes full advantage of it. Angry and frustrated group two has continuously “fought” back, bringing forth their hatred and suspicion of group one. Arrogantly, group one has assumed their superiority status. In the absence of cohesion, both groups have engaged in protracted social conflicts, resulting in temporary cease fires. Now, do such groups exist in your country? They do exist.

Perceptions are shaped by the process of socialization [interactions and interpretations of the world and its events] and historical patterns. Socialization pre-determines perceptions. Historical patterns support perceptions, for they are based on historical occurrences and interactions. Superiority complex and inferiority complex are products of socialization. If one believes they are better than another, then the general tendency is to assume the other is inferior. Intergroup and interpersonal interactions serve to support this notion. The dynamics between groups, for example, constitute factors of belongingness, association, and camaraderie. The strength of one group or person may be a factor of hostility for another.

Negative perceptions are disastrous particularly where human dignity is concerned. If supported by history, tend to dominate the general regard amongst persons, requiring efforts to change. Perceptions are also powerful tools in conflict, for they help sustain the disdain and attack of one group over another. It serves as a stimulus, like coffee is to some. It calls for action, where disagreements occur. And seeks for reinforcement where others are involved.

Throughout the world, we have witnessed conflicts that have been supported by archaic perceptions. We have witnessed presumed justification of the perceptions based on religion, culture, to name just two. Conflicts have been centered on resources, territorial integrity, and power; in the process, we have also seen levels of human destruction.

The commonalities between perceptions and conflicts are undisputed. Besides, other factors, perceptions play a key role in the interpretation of conflict and conflict resolution. However, the starting point in any paradigm shift is dialogue; dialogue of the fears, attitudes, beliefs, causes and factors of conflict by warring parties exercised through mediation [or use of a third party]. In so doing, misconceptions, negative attitudes, thoughts, tendencies and actions are addressed aimed at reaching agreements. The mark of successful mediation process is the change of behavior and perception between warring parties, amongst other factors. This is demonstrated by the fulfilment of agreements and deliberate actions. A question, do you think negative perceptions can be corrected?

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