Student opinion: The time to be peacemakers is now
April 21, 2020
Undergraduate Conflict Resolution in the World of COVID-19
By Mackoy Turpen
Personally, I am in shock. Interpersonally, tik-tok compilations and social media challenges seem to be helping, but external to our own sociality. What has happened? There are answers to that question that we know. We know millions have caught this virus around the world and hundreds of thousands have died from it. We know that most of the world is on lockdown, or as our institutions call it, quarantine. We also know, first and foremost, that no nation was readily prepared for this pandemic.
But as conflict resolvers, in addition to asking ourselves what we do know, we must ask ourselves what we do not know. We do not know how homeless people in cities around the world are being affected right now, or how they can quarantine themselves, as homeless shelters are clearly out of the question. Even if they were, they would probably not be viable in any case, as social distancing standards require six feet of distance between individuals. We do not know how nations in the global south, with no healthcare infrastructure, will protect themselves from a disease that has no cure, when even the United States system does not have enough respirators. We seem to have no idea how to respond to, let alone recover from, what is arguably the largest health crisis the 21st century world has seen. And, to make things even worse, this health crisis is a conflict of global proportions, one that will aggravate a multitude of new and old conflicts driven by resource scarcity.
It is clear there are no definitive answers to these questions posed, nor solutions to the conflict dynamics discussed. However, as young conflict resolvers, we can, at the very least, try. This is why we chose our area of study. We are in the dawn of an era of conflicts that will continue to grow exponentially. Our society is fragile. Our international community is breakable, if not already broken. The time to be peacemakers is now. This is not to say that “social distancing” is not important. It is not to say that we should not flatten the curve. And it is not to say that we should fly to the most impoverished nation in the world and put ourselves on the frontlines. This is to say that we should all think deeply about the world around us. We should think about what we know, what we think we know, and what we could possibly accomplish in a post-COVID-19 world. We need to question every piece of information we encounter, question every action we take, and question every action taken by others.
In your peace and conflict studies, if you are concentrating in interpersonal dynamics, ask how distancing is affecting the relationships and psychological health of those around you. If you are concentrating in collaborative leadership, ask how you can make projects more effective in an increasingly digital world. If you are concentrating in justice and reconciliation, ask how healthcare is an issue of justice, and how impoverished people can access healthcare not only in this emergency, but from this time forward.
If you concentrate in political and social action, ask what political and social steps you can take right now to make the world around you easier to live in. As we are currently witnessing, the social can so easily become the political. If your concentration is in building peace in divide societies, ask yourself how structural violence will explode as structures and institutions crumble in front of our eyes. And if you concentrate in global engagement, ask yourself about the international response to this global pandemic and how can it be improved.
By no means will this set of social, political, economic, medical, racial, and ethical dilemmas be resolved any time soon. In fact, things will no doubt become worse. There is, however, despite everything to the contrary, room for hope. The worse it gets, the more we learn about how to be prepared in the future. This will happen again, in a multitude of ways, all of which are almost impossible to predict. That is the reality, and as such, it must be recognized. I have confidence, however, in every individual person in our community of peacebuilders. We will overcome adversity and continue to get better. Remember that as the world seems only to get worse, our job is to work to make it increasingly better.
As students of peace and conflict, we know all too well the worst the world has to offer, but knowing this makes us more than ready to work tirelessly toward the establishment of a world that is—politically, economically, and socially—just and equitable. Without our efforts, the world will stay as it has, and the suffering of the past will continue into the future.