[Strategy] Peace Building is not a Commodity

There are commodities, massive amounts of resources, products, and even ideas, that consumers use and discard at mass.  Commodities can also be traded for money and generate outsized revenues because they are so valuable to consumers and can be differentiated across so many secondary and tertiary products in the market.

An obvious commodity is oil.

Another obvious one is meat, such as hogs or cattle.

And yet another obvious commodity is metal, such as steel, copper, or gold.

The price of a commodity fluctuates over time, as the amount of it either decreases or increases. So when new oil deposits are accessed through new technologies (e.g. the hydraulic fracking process) the cost of that commodity decreases as the available amount for consumers to use increases.

There are non-obvious commodities as well. We see this in the job market when too many people trained, or graduated, from one academic area to the working world, and then they ‘flood’ the market. Currently, the legal field is seeing a classic increase in the commodity of educated graduates, followed by the commensurate decrease in the salaries that they are able to command.

Another non-obvious commodity is information. We see this on the Internet, where the search giant Google has made the ease of accessing all the world’s collected knowledge (not wisdom mind you) a cornerstone of their business model.  When access to information becomes cheap (the commodity increases) then the revenues provided to people who used to guard access to that knowledge (e.g. journalists, writers, commentators, academics, social authorities, etc.) decreases.

Until the revenues generated from the exploitation of non-obvious commodities hits zero.

The reason why this phenomenon doesn’t happen with obvious commodities is because obvious commodities have a limited shelf life (meat rots if not processed), they will eventually run out (anybody heard about peak oil lately), and they become less valuable as new ways to do old things are discovered (cutting down trees for paper versus recycling old paper).

The trouble with selling peacemaking in light of this unconscious thinking and valuing in the market of obvious and nonobvious commodities is three-fold:

  1. People in conflict value trust (a non-obvious commodity) at a higher level than process (another non-obvious commodity) and thus will ‘pay’ more to the peace builder—in terms of attention—who works on trust first rather than process.
  2. People in conflict view disagreements, disputes, fights, ‘differences of opinion,’ and other interactions with other people as an obvious commodity. For many people conflict is something to be avoided, and they have worked out sophisticated processes in their own brains to justify, avoid, delay, or surrender, to the conflicts in their lives. The approach that many peace builders take of trying to ‘sell’ resolution as a transformative, evaluative, or even facilitative process, does not strike a chord with such people.
  3. People in conflict don’t view making peace as a commodity. Instead, litigation, escalation, negative confrontation, revenge, ‘getting what I’m owed,’ or even ‘getting a reckoning’ are viewed as rare commodities (even though they aren’t) worth paying a premium for in time, money, attention, and emotional labor. When peacemaking as a process and a goal is not viewed as a commodity worth pursuing by people who see themselves as powerless, rather than powerful, peacemaking will not be valued by the open market as highly as all those other processes.

Understanding how peacemaking as a process is viewed and valued by an open market, can go a long way toward encouraging the development of realistic goals, timelines, and plans for the academic training, professional development, and business development of peace builders from all backgrounds and stripes in the world.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSConsultingandTraining
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