Yesterday I was sitting with an old friend for brunch at La Madeleine, a French restaurant that is a cozy spot for a lazy and casual brunch. It was good to catch up with them over a caffeine-fueled conversation after having had my fill of eggs Benedict. As we were talking we began on the subject of international business, security, and the inclusion of parties for conflict transformation. Sitting across from each other we lived in two different worlds. I am a staunch advocate for law and order with a firm grounding in business and security; while she has worked most of her professional career in higher education focusing on work in positive psychology, somatic education, and social justice.
The conversation precipitated to a dilemma on inclusion. Let’s take a hypothetical in which you have a conflict-ridden society experiencing a breakdown in social services, government corruption, and economic recession. There is most likely even outbreaks of violence. An excellent case study on this could be recent developments in the politics of Egypt. The dilemma we discussed involved how to handle inclusion of stakeholders for the transformation of this society to more productive ends and a more inclusive forum for decision-making. I will begin with her argument followed by mine and a personal commentary on how I believe that process in a society is enabled to function.
Her argument was that inclusion is mandatory regardless of the stakeholders dynamics. Lets say that there are power disparities in which one person is a local official, or influential businessman, that exercises power through corruption, illicit business practices, or some other form of work that increases their worth. It does not matter if that person is sitting with a group of bodega-owners, bus drivers, or pilots, as that influential stakeholder is required to be with the group if there is to be a stakeholder consensus that creates a lasting peace in the community. Power disparities will need to be dealt with and facilitated accordingly. More was said, and I may not be doing her argument justice, but I believe that was the essence of her point.
My argument was that while inclusion is essential for a society to be well represented, you must take each situation as a circumstantial case. If that influential stakeholder is repressing the voices of several other individuals then that defeats the purpose of a consensus and in result democracy. If that stakeholder is responsible for intimidation, corruption, and a power imbalance then it is the obligation and responsibility of the members of society to fight for all voices to be heard.
So what does it mean to hold a consensus and create a representative democracy? That is a much larger question than I am able to answer, however there are a few key tenants that I believe are essential for a society to endure.The first is justice. The second is equity and a representative voice. The third is a social contract for the state to serve the will of the people’s interests and provide their civil functions. If a member is allowed to impose their will in such a way that is not in accordance with these pillars then it needs to be addressed. Justice must be administered through some form of redress, whether it be legally, politically, or socially. If there is a stakeholder that represses others’ ability to speak freely and exercise basic rights then there must be a change in that behavior. I do not believe that a genuine consensus can be created if they are allowed to take part unchallenged. In procedural conciliation you are taught to be aware of power differences due to its effect on the outcome of the negotiations. While there may be a short term agreement, if a member feels they do not have the ability to be heard or invested in the outcome it will surge in to resentment and conflict.
As I write this my thought process is trying to follow a practical procedure for a functioning society. Everyday people look to have trades, spend time with their loved ones, and fill what time they have left with hobbies or interests that they enjoy. Conflict arises when someone infringes on their business, basic liberties, or social rights. It can be resolved through active participation of such systems as forums, legislative bodies, or courts- and if deemed by a large enough voice a re-organization in politics or justice against those who perpetrated illicit actions.
It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. – James A. Baldwin