The “Business” of Peace

Establishing new relationships between adversaries is always a primary goal of the peace process. There is much in the research literature that talks about transforming relationships and typically this discussion focuses on changing attitudes, stereotype reduction, and humanizing the other. But one relationship change that receives relatively little attention but is quite effective is the process of what I call “rationalizing” relationships. Rationalized relationships are based less on personal intimacy and more on instrumental and pragmatic interdependencies. “Business relationships” are the best examples of a rationalized relationship where the two parties benefit and interact on a regular basis but do not have to be personal. Of course, an ideal goal rooted in theories such as the contact hypothesis would be to improve the quality and personal nature of the relationship since this mitigates various tensions. But this more personalized relationship is not the primary goal.

These “business relationships” are slightly different from the political relationships I wrote about on October 29th because they are less oriented toward problem-solving. Still, emotional attachment to the other is less important than the realization of interdependence and the need for practical coordination. This form of a communicative relationship serves as a useful starting point for conflict resolution, and allows minority groups in multicultural societies to establish mature relationships with the dominant group. Business relationships treat others as respectful partners that have common interests in problem resolution as much as anything else. The experience of rationalized relationships is quite compatible with the ability to sustain “reasonable disagreement.”

Business relationships recognize self-interest but develop a relationship that rests on equitable self-interest; that is, a relationship where each attends to the utilitarian and practical needs of the other. These rationalized business relationships entail, above all else and as in friendship a habit of attention by which participants in a conflict are attuned to the balances and imbalances in what they are giving up for each other. Business relationships are less concerned with intimacy because intimacy is reserved for relatively few relationships that are more absorbing and based on sacrifice and strong identity with the other. But utilitarian business relationships can apply to large numbers of people and is focused on the pragmatics of resource gratification. Parent-child, ruler and ruled, or superior- subordinate relationships are not business relationships because they limit the autonomy and agency of one person (the child, ruled, or subordinate) and are based on maximization of differences. In short, the business relationship is central to the problems associated with multicultural contact and the ability of groups to develop their capacities for trust and communication.

Recently, a United States Institute of Peace special report (special report 315) outlined the ways in which the business sector could foster peace and assist with the conflict resolution process. The relationship between business and peace is certainly complex and potentially fraught with problems of ownership, ethics, corruption, tribalism, and preoccupation with narrow market interests. And there is a line of research that points to how business exacerbates problems and can be a source of strife and tension. For example, the routine operations of a company can have negative effects on the local community, degrade the environment, and engage in unfair labor practices. But business can also sustain peace because it is based in nonviolence and consensus ethical relationships. The USIP report describes five main areas in which business relationships can be promoted of peace.

The first is economic activity which helps alleviate the relationship between poverty and violence. Jobs and a vibrant business environment creates a context for people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to work on common goals. Cisco Systems, for example, connects Palestinians and Israelis through a $10 million investment in Palestinian technology development.

Secondly, there are benefits that accrue by respect of the rule of law associated with international labor standards. Businesses with strong ethical commitments are powerful models for the value of respecting the rule of law and clearly an avenue of peace.

A commitment to good organizational citizenship, which includes attention to local community and culture, stimulates a positive social environment and teaches the lessons of responsibility. Moreover, these relationships develop outside the company and establish an organizational-cultural relationship that engenders trust and promotes the habits of democracy.

The interaction between track one and track two diplomacy is a fourth feature of business relationships that helps lessen tensions. Business leaders can partner with government leaders to address political challenges. Finally, businesses can engage in assessment of practices that are particularly suited to the political environment. By paying attention to the unique concerns of employees, customers, and suppliers business relationships continue to rationalize the political culture.

USIP report 315 outlines these issues in more detail and extend the discussion of the relationship between business prosperity, the relationships that business engenders, and political stability and conflict prone environments.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 8, 2013, in Communication and Conflict Resolution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The “Business” of Peace.

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