A Congress in Conflict and a New Type of Politician

A Congress in Conflict and a New Type of Politician September 14, 2018

A very common definition for conflict is a serious disagreement, typically a protracted one. I feel like if people read that definition and had it in mind as they read about Congress they’d naturally see a Congress that is quite routinely in conflict. As someone who is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, I have come to the realization that Congress is in need of a politician and indeed many politicians who have worked in professional conflict management and studied theories related to conflicts and conflict management. Congress desperately needs people who want to resolve conflicts and advance a nonpartisan agenda that focuses on what the people need in bipartisan and grassroots ways.

These two are in conflict and for all we know could be lawmakers. One day I'll be a lawmaker and I'll help stop the conflicts.
These two are in conflict and for all we know could be lawmakers. One day I’ll be a lawmaker and I’ll help stop the conflicts.

A Congress in conflict:

Why might someone consider Congress to be in conflict? Well from a personal and anecdotal standpoint someone might see very polarized ads as evidence of an increased divide between members of Congress. Another reason to think about Congress as being particularly polarized include the days of hearings the public has seen related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in which chairman of the Judicial Committee Republican Senator Chuck Grassley claims that Kavanaugh faced a “partisan blitzkrieg” which could definitely cause apolitical or less politically acute people to have the impression that this is an unusual episode and thus indicative of an increasing level of conflict in Congress.

If you’re wondering what’s the possible impact of this conflict in Congress relative towards approval ratings in Congress and perceptions of Congress’s performance overall then some of the research is hidden behind paywalls but the article in question evidently says that while compromise is less preferable to flat-out victory long-term gridlock dangerously damages approval and public opinion unless the issues in gridlock are fundamental to the specific voters being polled and other publicly available data backs up this idea.

Conflict Professionals In Politics:

So why do I think that conflict professionals should get involved in politics and run for office? Because the skills employed by people in this field and at all levels of this kind of work are valuable skills for lawmakers. Even this article on what skills are needed for conflict resolution helps make a solid case for what I’m saying here.

Imagine a Congress where more people were capable of managing stress quickly while remaining calm and alert and had control over their emotions and behavior. Do you think these things would happen?

In case you’re curious about what that second video showed, it was Mike Bost (who was at the time a member of the Illinois State House of Representatives representing the 115th district and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Illinois’s 12th district) who was angry that he didn’t have time to read a pension reform bill, and frankly that’s not at all a bad reason for him to be angry. At least in this situation, his anger is well-placed but these sorts of outbursts do contribute to the idea of the government being in conflict a lot.

If we were more aware of and respectful of differences of belief and culture we wouldn’t launch political attacks based off of an opponent’s atheism for instance. If we paid more attention to emotions and emotional expression many women in politics wouldn’t feel this sort of way when they express emotions publicly and wouldn’t have to think about running the risk being labeled a person or character of emotions.

If we had politicians who focused on the present we wouldn’t stick to the idea of political “flip-flops” or political “evolution”. If we had politicians who knew when to let things go our President wouldn’t have tweeted this just a few hours ago:

What I’m saying here is that the frameworks that people apply to conflict transformation and resolution make sense in a political context and could easily be behaviors that are seen as good in Congress and help create an atmosphere better suited to generating positive and meaningful legislation.

As a conflict worker and professional the sorts of work we do and the sorts of things we learn in our workplaces through experience or education are valuable. One example I can think of is an idea that’s familiar to some people in sales, the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) factor. This is basically what it sounds like, a concept that encourages those in sales to consider how to market something to someone else with different values and guiding motives. This is the perhaps unnamed process that happens when smart politicians make moves to market their legislation to members of the other party in Congress. This is also a tool used by some corporate conflict professionals in the office.

Another valuable framework that could help in Congress that some conflict professionals learn about is the ARIA approach. The ARIA approach is most routinely used in identity conflicts and shifts how to approach conflicts and moves to encourage people not to think about the moral opposition someone might have and how to prove or disprove their points but rather to focus on the observable realities and concrete objectives of the people involved in the conflicts. If this is applied to Congress by lawmakers they’ll start thinking in more bipartisan ways instead of focusing on things that are more subjective like perceptions of moral codes and morality that color some of the discussions lawmakers engage in in the present day. This is also a realistic approach that acknowledges that there will be tension and antagonism between groups in conflict right away in its “surfacing Antagonism” step which is, in fact, its first step.

When I run for office I am going to take with me and use my experience, skills, and education as a conflict professional studying Peace and Conflict Studies with me. And I wanted to share some of my perspectives and thoughts about the intersection of politics, policymaking, and conflict work. I hope you’ll share your perspectives with me and let me hear your thoughts and insights!


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