Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Attitude is the Method


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

September 28, 2016


                In human motivation as in physics, an attitude is an inertial force that governs the direction we move from one moment of interaction within and among ourselves, and within the ecosystem that sustains us.  In social science, any datum, offenses recorded for example, has no meaning in itself.  A quantity of personal or social data means nothing without postulating what it has meant to those involved.  As Newtonian (closed-system/determined) is to quantum (open-system/stochastic) mechanics, so coding social data as implying states of mind (as in mens rea), is to inferring attitudes implied by the emergent substance during the course of what we say and do, of what concerns us moment to moment.  It is why Richard Quinney and I changed the title for the book of writings we collected from Criminology as Peace to Criminology as Peacemaking. The problem of unresolved conflict becomes a matter of evolving process rather than of change of state—as well represented in everyday discourse by talking about people having an attitude problem.  In arguments, it is manifested as determination to make a point, as by sentencing someone to extended confinement.

Essentially, I call the difference between whether conflict is escalating into homicide, confinement, exclusion, or war—that is, becomes entropic, heats up; or synergizes (see Buckminster Fuller on Synergetics), that is cools down as parties to conflict build honesty, trust and safety together (in larger terms, transform competing into cooperating) warmaking and peacemaking.

In moments of conflict, a warmaking attitude prevails as long as anyone persisting in trying to have his or her own way regardless of its adverse effects on others.  Peacemaking entails balancing conflicting interests and concerns.  On one hand, it entails being able safely and openly to take one’s own stand.  On the other hand, giving opposing parties the benefit of the same airing of grievances, without retaliation.  As I entered a year in a Norwegian secondary school back in 1961, I knew only one way to talk about teaching and learning in the language—å lære til (“to learn to”) and å lære av (“to learn from”).  Learning as teaching reminds something I was told growing up in the U.S. Midwest: “That’ll learn you!”  A corollary expression attributed to Native American elders is, “I’m still learning.”  Peacemaking in moments of conflict (as when teachers degrade students for failing to have the right answers) entails balancing safe turns between talking openly and listening—to establish balance in the conversation over, in effect, someone doing all the talking and someone else doing all the listening.  To do all the listening amounts implicitly to martyrdom or oppression.  To do all the talking, to persist in making or proving one’s point, amounts to narcissism, or in the extreme psycho-/sociopathy, individually and collectively.  It is a process which, sparked individually, can expand geometrically, so that for example the culture among actors in a formally hierarchical, judgmental, punitive criminal justice process may grow restorative. 

We typically make peace in the face of conflicts throughout our daily lives without noticing them.  Conflict becomes trivial when we’re getting along.  We don’t have to notice we’re making peace when do so.  But to me, peacemaking only grows and transforms a prevailing culture of domination and punishment into a prevailing culture of power-sharing and mutual accommodation as we become conscious of how it works, and more consciously apply it across all our relations, sustained basically our own capacity to balance standing up for ourselves with hearing back from them in their own terms.  To some degree, many if not most of us enjoy the freedom just to let go of or abandon relations that don’t work out, including where and whom we live, work and do business with.  Trying to balance open self-expression of a problem one has with someone else begins by recognizing and acknowledging that a conflict exists, and by turns, allowing yourself free self-expression, and hearing and somehow (not necessarily verbally) acknowledging one’s recognition and acceptance that others mean what they say, not what you want them to say, do or feel.  As I used to put it when I opened victim-offender mediation, peacemaking entails refraining from name calling (aka labeling) and interruption, and being willing to allow time for all issues to get on the table and discussed until no one feels anything further needs to be said, and so letting go.  From a subordinate position, peacemaking entails finding a safe way to air one’s grievances.  From a superior position, peacemaking means seeking out and listening without to others’ grievances in their own terms without retaliation; with a willingness to continue allow time for all involved to say and deal with anything further that needs to be said.  Peacemaking takes time and attention.

Methodologically, peacemaking is implicitly quantitative at the nominal level.  The transformation of violence through peacemaking amounts to shifting our orientation toward our internal and social gyroscopes, from one direction to another, as signified by what we say and do, from being determined to make a point or establish an order, to taking time to recognize and address the fear, pain and resistance it generates in others.  In mediation, shifting the direction and terms of conflict involves reframing of one’s own take on what the problem is, moment to moment, from issue to remaining issues.  Empirically, the difference between whether violence is escalating or being transformed as peace is made is manifested by changes in semantics, in what people are after, moment by moment.  Do participants persist in driving home or making points, or do they make allowances for what matters to others when they make their own points?  In theory, researchers could chart, then quantify and analyze emergence and persistence of moments of divergence and convergence, and test their effects on outcomes that emerge.  In retrospect, it is how and whether the aims and concerns of parties to conflict remain fixed, or reorient themselves as parties achieve mutual understanding, and allow their remaining differences to surface for discussion: it is narrative method, it is ethnography.

Fortunately, in my experience, it isn’t that hard for people who don’t already have the habit to recognize a choice in themselves whether to adopt a peacemaking attitude, or hang onto our grievances and to getting what we want from the outset, to keep fighting till we prevail.  In moments of conflict, we teach by learning, or we stand our ground (“put our foot down”).  You don’t have to learn from a textbook to notice the process when you engage your own conflicts, to become aware of how what you are saying and doing is interpreted as you observe and listen to others, to give yourself room to establish your own position and allow room to gain understanding in turn of where others are coming from as you reframe their responses and yours.  It is how you feel when you get together with friends and decide what to do next, let alone what to say next, which is to say what happens when you enjoy doing things together.  For that matter, it is probably how you deal with moments of conflict in long-term friendships. 

Unfortunately, most of the “empirical” social research I see defines the meaning of the data produced by people they don’t know by what it means as researchers define it for themselves.  Social inquiry only has validity to me, for all practical and methodological purposes, insofar as I infer the meaning the datum has to its producer, by inferring the story the informant is trying to tell, on his or her own terms, as distinct from mine.  Peacemaking manifests itself “empirically” in shifting, intertwining courses and direction of terms of agreement or settlement, moment to moment.  But to do it, and teach it and discover it in research, we have to notice when it happens and choose to adopt a peacemaking attitude or definition of the situation and choices of response.  In research as in practice, whether violence escalates and hardens or gets transformed as peacemaking depends on our attitude toward what matters and what to do about it.  It’s our attitude toward learning and teaching that counts.  The attitude is the method.  Love and peace, hal

Monday, September 12, 2016

political plays on fear


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

September 12, 2016


                That phrase in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address was FDR’s call to relieve national suffering at the low point of the Great Depression.

                Candidate Hillary Clinton is taking heat for criticizing “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters for being racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, “you name it.”  Yesterday, at ground zero to commemorate 9/11/2001, walking pneumonia and dehydration forced Clinton to take a rest break from her campaign.  Without having personal new today from Clinton herself, Trump’s ads feature that clip, leaving out “the other half” who Clinton says are move by threats, like loss of jobs.  Her staff clarifies whom Clinton meant to name examples of Trump’s plays on fear.  Yesterday and today, as by Trump spokespersons and journalists alike, it is that it is a political no-no to criticize voters rather than the candidate him-/herself.  Thinking back to FDR’s appeals to overcome blaming their misfortune on outsiders, as Hitler was doing to solve the Jewish problem, I suggest a way of framing what Hillary said, to clarify, reframe or rephrase what Clinton meant to say:

                The main thing we have to fear is playing on fear itself.  Love and peace, hal