As my career of thirty six years as Court Administrator of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County (PA) was drawing to a close, I made the same discovery. In that capacity, I had applied my education, talents, skills and energy to ensure that the machinery of justice functioned efficiently, in a cost effective manner, and was equally available to all who sought recourse to the judicial process for the resolution of disputes and the redress of grievances, without regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity or economic status. I discovered, to my surprise, that in more than one thousand years of the evolution of the judicial system based on English "Common Law", precious little had been done to resolve the underlying conflicts that led to irreconcilable disputes. The adversary system of advocacy was and still is the basis upon which disputes are resolved. This applies to civil cases - plaintiffs and defendants; criminal cases with victims and defendants; and, to family disputes over divorces, property, and custody of children, where the estrangement is exacerbated by court orders with which no one is happy. Losers don't like to lose, and, for the most part, winners are dissatisfied with their victory. Conflict remains.
It is my sense that war is but another, yet the most severe and far reaching manifestation of deeper and more irreconcilable conflicts, and one in which human suffering is greatly exacerbated by the consequences of the violence it produces. I am of the further opinion that most of the well meaning attempts to deal with wars and their consequences have been to treat the symptoms and not the causes thereof. Perhaps, if war is considered as part of the overall problem of conflict, we may come to a better understanding of its origin and amelioration.
In recent months , I have been re-reading the works of philosophers, religious leaders and historians that had been included in my undergraduate studies at Earlham College more than sixty years ago. These include the Greek philosophers of antiquity, those of the Age of Enlightenment, Quaker writers and those responsible for the American Revolution and the government it produced. To this list I have added the works of the ancient sages of China, and more contemporary writers such as Arnold Toynbee, Paul Tillich, Edmund O Wilson and Steven Pinker, to mention but a few. While these writers may be incompatible or inconsistent with, or even diametrically opposed to each other, a certain thread of connectedness appears when they are considered together. I am persuaded that what we call God is exemplified by a transforming power of divine origin that is the essence of all being - space, time, energy, matter and life itself. It is this power that energizes love in humans, Only when we are energized by love can we have a sense of shame. If this feeling of shame is severe enough, we seek to ease its discomfort by turning to the Way of Virtue. By following the Way of Virtue we may achieve enlightenment - the abode of the soul. There, and only there can we come to know that peace which produces harmony, the harmony that leads to joy and happiness, and that joy and happiness we then share with those we love. Thus, love begets love.
In considering the Way of Virtue, I am led to believe that five concepts cover all conduct that may be called virtuous. They are: renunciation, forbearance, forgiveness, seeking forgiveness and reciprocity. These paths to peace are found in the Way of Virtue and each may be followed simultaneously with the others. It is the plan of this treatise to examine the origins of conflict, to assess the consequences of the human response to conflict and to assess alternative approaches to conflict and dispute resolution. While the above concepts have been taught separately over more than three millennia, my readings do not find that anyone has considered them collectively. Perhaps now is the time to undertake a comprehensive and consolidated analysis of them, and see where it leads us.
*Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 79. Translation by Red Pine, Copper Canyon Press (2009)
By Paul Kester