By Michelle Le Baron July 2003 Culture is an essential part of conflict and conflict resolution.
Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgments, and ideas of self and other.
Culture is largely below the surface, influencing identities and meaning-making, or who we believe ourselves to be and what we care about -- it is not easy to access these symbolic levels since they are largely outside our awareness.
Cultural influences and identities become important depending on context.
Starting points are those places it is natural to begin, whether with individual or group concerns, with the big picture or particularities.
Currencies are those things we care about that influence and shape our interactions with others.Intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir are not just about territorial, boundary, and sovereignty issues -- they are also about acknowledgement, representation, and legitimization of different identities and ways of living, being, and making meaning.Conflicts between teenagers and parents are shaped by generational culture, and conflicts between spouses or partners are influenced by gender culture.Cultural messages, simply, are what everyone in a group knows that outsiders do not know.They are the water fish swim in, unaware of its effect on their vision.The symbolic dimension is the place where we are constantly making meaning and enacting our identities.Cultural messages from the groups we belong to give us information about what is meaningful or important, and who we are in the world and in relation to others -- our identities.Therefore, it is useful for people in conflict to have interactive experiences that help them see each other as broadly as possible, experiences that foster the recognition of shared identities as well as those that are different.Since culture is so closely related to our identities (who we think we are), and the ways we make meaning (what is important to us and how), it is always a factor in conflict.Therefore, no comprehensive description can ever be formulated about a particular group.Any attempt to understand a group must take the dimensions of time, context, and individual differences into account.