CPP – Italy

The CPP (Centre for Peace Psychology and Education on conflict management) an Italian Institute to educate to peace

di Daniele Novara


Education to peace as an ethic need

Educating to peace has always been a recurrent point in the works of the most important educationalists of the 20 century, worried that the ‘culture of war’ might filter into young generations and might cause the damages that have then actually been produced. Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, Celestin Freinet, Gianni Rodari, Danilo Dolci and don Lorenzo Milani are only a few among the several names that can be quoted to demonstrate that in the educational theories this vocation for peace and non-violence has always existed.

Maria Montessori has certainly been the most significant representant of this current of thought: she was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize for Peace, for her constant appeals to educational commitment as a means for the prevention of wars. It is a matter of fact that the European world - and not only that - was full of military educational theories, from German ‘Hitlerjugend’ to the fascist ‘Balilla’, from Russian pioneering to the military training in the Eastern countries: all through the 20 century educational theories were often very near to military training. However, this trend - that was “pure opposition” - had its limit in the fact that it wasn’t an operational educational method: it couldn’t be more than exhortation and intimism, and couldn’t develop into an operational procedure that might penetrate the school system and society in general.

This is the reason why during the 1980s in Italy and at an international level (at least in the Western countries), educationalists started working with strong commitment on a more operational idea of education to peace, creating a logic that seems antithetic to the concept of peace: conflict management. There has been a shift, from a theory that set a strong opposition between peace and conflict, considering war a sort of completion of conflict, to a theory that looks at peace as the skill to fully assume the conflict and to consider it as the core of relationships. This brought to a widespread operational literacy to conflict management as a learning tool for the new generations.

In the whole Western world many institutes were created with this aim and in Italy the CPP –Centre for Peace Psychology and Education on conflict management – undertook this type of task since 1989 (the year of the fall of the Berlin wall) with the responsibility of creating theoretical and didactic instruments in Italy.

Conflict as relational learning

Having overcome the ambiguous definition of peace as lack of conflict, the problem is to define what are the skills that need to be developed to manage and experience the conflict as a chance to grow and learn. The actions taken are the following.

First of all, the distinction between conflict and violence is an inevitable and unequivocal argument from an epistemological point of view.

Considering the difficulty of the Italian language – perhaps due to cultural legacies that are easy to recognize – which tends to semantically overlap and confuse the word conflict and the word war (confusion that wouldn’t be possible in English, where conflict and war have completely different meanings), there’s the need to define an area of opposite meanings that match the destructive element (and then the irreversible damage) with violence and the rational element with conflict, that presents features of reversibility despite suffering, unease and difficulty. In other words, the damage of violence is basically irreversible, the “damage” of conflict has features of reversibility, i.e. reparability.

In this way these two experiences can be divided by a border line that even if not very clear is nevertheless definable. It allows us to assume conflict as a field of interest and to refuse violence as an ineffective tool in the management of relations between people and groups. Not only ineffective, but also terribly harmful. Actually the common sense often suggests that avoiding conflict is always the best solution because violence and war always come from conflict. This is true. But in what percentage?

If we look carefully, it is a very low percentage. Many other situations, many other experiences, many other outcomes can arise from conflict. The violent and warlike outcome represents a minimal percentage of our common and daily conflicts, so that it can be easily said that many violent situations absolutely don’t come from conflicts. On the contrary they can spring from situations of repression and concealment of conflict, which bring to a manifest explosiveness in some behaviours, where it is easy to think that the subject couldn’t express his discomfort, thus let it explode. From this point of view, conflict management represents the natural antidote against violence and war. And it is in this context that a deep literacy can be operated, considering some well-defined constituents. We must list some primary aims, because the problem is extremely complex:

To be able to stay in the conflict: the slogan chosen by CPP is so-stare nel conflitto [in Italian, “to be able to stay in the conflict”, but also “to stop in the conflict” (translator’s note)], which means first of all to be able to go through his own feelings inside the conflict, to understand them, to communicate with them, to study them and of course to tame them. Conflict contains the feelings but it is a much more complex relationship than just feelings. The pure and simple rage doesn’t tell us anything about conflict management. The management starts when somehow there’s an emotional restraint of rage, and this allows building the first step for a relationship. This is why “to be able to stay in the conflict” represents a moment for settling and outstripping, that is not always understood as a basic need of the relationship, because in our culture the relationship is usually perceived as closeness, as a bond and with a sort of ritual fusion. On the contrary, in the case of conflict management the right distance allows to go through the conflict in the most communicative way.

If conflict is a relationship, it can’t be managed according to the logic of ordinary justice, that is to say the introduction of pure and simple justice in conflict management brings to ineffective and poor communicative outcomes. Looking for the culprit, for the right end and the wrong end moves the conflict to the logic of judgement and then of the possible punishment, that are absolutely antithetic to a relational approach to conflict, where it is possible to meet only if a relative emotional and empathetic decentralization allows to symbolize the situation of contrast and move it on a communicative stage. This communication would fail if reduced to a pure and simple search of the culprit. Teachers and parents always experience this when they desperately try to solve quarrels among brothers or pupils according to the logic of the culprit. It’s well known that this type of intervention doesn’t produce real effects, and it also creates extreme dependence on the teacher and on the parent as distributor of justice. Justice is always requested by children, who can’t experience autonomy and growth.

One of the basic principles of the science of conflict is the opposition between victory and interest. In other words, in a conflict the winner is often the one who loses. The pursuit of supremacy and of the defeat of the antagonist doesn’t necessarily produce any interest, either personal or mutual. The overcoming of the logic mors tua, vita mea, that is the logic of the self-imposition and of the narcissistic competitive gratification is essential to move conflict management to the relational level. The basic rule is that the priority must be interest, even only the personal one, and not pure revenge. Both a mutual process in the relationship, and a serious reflection in the conflictual context about the real interest and personal benefits must be activated. Interests and benefits especially have to be constantly analysed and highlighted to avoid the trap of resentment, which stems from the desire of overcoming the antagonist at any cost.

Learning negotiation, mediation and Maieutics as the conflicts’ art

Finally, from a technical point of view what has been previously said brings to a stronger commitment in schools for the learning of the negotiation techniques (that is to say the conflict that concerns me personally or as a group towards another person or another group) and also the mediation techniques (that is to say the conflict that doesn’t concern me directly, concerns others that I can help in the logic of neutrality: this logic allows two opponents to find an external and neutral facilitator who can help them in building communication and finding possible solutions to their conflict). But I find it useful to remind that at the moment CPP is working at the definition and experimentation of an innovative model for conflict management, that is to say a relational model: the maieutic model, that keeps into consideration all the things said so far. Its starting point is the acknowledgment that each conflict is nothing more than a radiography of what each of us experiences, and that somehow it tells something deep about the nature of human beings. This is why the conflict belongs to he/she who experiences it: it becomes a chance to increase self-consciousness, to find resources inside oneself, and implement one’s own skills to give oneself some answers. As maieutics refers to the work of the obstetrician, also the maieutic management of conflicts refers to the need to live this essential experience of life as a heuristic and generative moment with other people. It also makes reference to the possible coexistences that today represent the true challenge of our societies and cultures.