Background: Why consider Passive Participants in a Conflict? [2 of 12]
PPiC Framework Applied [4 of 12]
A. Elements of PPiC Framework
While traditional systems of post-conflict reconciliation focus on actors, victims and perhaps the family of victims, the passive participant in conflict framework considers remaining parties also impacted by the event. This section identifies the sub-groups and hypothesizes common characteristics of their experiences.
The focus is to raise awareness about passive participation, so we will not consider role of perpetrators and victims of oppressor/oppressed groups, about which there is extensive interdisciplinary literature. The purpose of this tool is to raise our awareness about the myriad ways in which we all passively participate in conflicts. Even we, whose work for reconciliation and who are committed to social justice, are passive participants to conflict. The tool may enable us to overcome the neurological tendency to avoid seeing the truth of ourselves. It aims to provide the capacity to see our participation on all sides – to see that we are both oppressed and oppressor. It seeks to enable us to use this awareness to cultivate compassion for ourselves and for others, so that we may reclaim our wholeness and act with clarity and insight.
 cognitive dissonance and heuristic of bounded rationality.
1. Oppressor Group
This section explores possible emotional experiences of oppressor group members. Whether as an active or passive member when we oppress another group, we participate in an activity of separation from ourselves. In this context, oppression means that we use our power to suppress another (power over); for example, we hold a characteristic (appearance, age, class, nationality, language, education, industriousness, ideology) that is claimed as ‘superior,’ and we reject the part of ourselves reflected in the opposing characteristic. In the truth of wholeness, we embrace both characteristics in ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we can recognize that in different situations, we manifest both characteristics.
Inherent in being a member of the oppressor group is the experience of self-hate from rejecting an aspect of oneself. If we deny a part of ourselves, we will carry shame for the part of ourselves that we know exists, but we reject so aggressively. Passive oppressors actively supports the oppression, but do not directly injure an oppressed person. [e.g. 8th grade class from the school case]
A passive beneficiary oppressor benefits from the oppression but neither directly supports nor actively opposes oppression. For the passive beneficiary oppressor, the healing process may be more complex. On the one hand, this subset clearly benefits from the division, but as someone not actively participating in the oppression, this subset may not feel responsible for ‘contributing’ to the oppressors. This sense of separation from the oppressor group, supported by cognitive dissonance, may leave this subset not feeling a part of either group. If the passive benefits are not acknowledged, this group may not make an effort to participate in healing efforts and may ultimately feel bitter and unjustly penalized by post-conflict efforts that seek to remedy injustice with systemic rebalancing. As well, this group, unaware of their having benefited from oppression, may not have learned to use their power consciously in a way that reduces ongoing injustice. Alternatively, members of this subset may recognize oppression as unjust, but not fully understand what to do to stop it or may feel fearful of working toward changing it. This fear may arise due to varying levels of power within the oppressor group. Alternatively, this fear may stem from recognition that that the person is capable of carrying out the same behavior as the active oppressors. In a sense, the person fears a part of him/herself. This fear can often lead to paralysis, which in turn may lead to further self-hate, shame, and possibly guilt, for complicity in the oppression.
A passive privileged oppressor actively opposes the oppression yet also benefits from the oppression based upon group membership. This subset suffers from the collective self-hate and shame of group membership as well as guilt of being a beneficiary of an unjust situation that they actively oppose. The passive privileged oppressor’s situation is complex. One who actively challenges an oppression may forget or have a kind of dissonance from acknowledging his/her role as an passive beneficiary. While immediacy of efforts to oppose oppression are vital, when action taken arises from guilt it may be of dubious value to end cycles of violence. Efforts to ‘help” the victims of an oppressive situation without promoting power sharing are likely to simply require ongoing assistance ironically, keeping the passive privileged oppressor in their dominant, albeit conflicted, role rather than to transform the situation. Until one heals one’s own participation in the conflict, one may act unconsciously to perpetuate it. Those who recognize that oppression is unjust or unwholesome yet nonetheless benefit from the oppression are likely to experience intense guilt compounded by shame. This subset may need to remain vigilant about the discriminating condemnation of one side as right or wrong in order to embrace wholeness that will allow for transforming action, to accept and recognize that they are also beneficiaries of that which they ardently oppose, and to learn from that place to recognize how to use their power well. As members of the oppressor group, this subset is in the best position to promote understanding between both sides, to model how to share power, and to educate their peers about the benefits of sharing power with others. This subset has tremendous power to influence situations by concentrating their efforts on educating their peer group with whom they have credibility and by promoting efforts that empower the oppressed group.
2. Oppressed Group
This section identifies the roles and experiences of members of the oppressed group. Oppressed group members may be victims, perpetrators, passive group members, and their families as well as across generations if not healed.
The family members of oppressed-victims experience a compounding loss of power; not only are they systemically disempowered, they must also witness a loved one suffer and they are unable to ‘do’ anything to intercede or to relieve these injuries for their loved one. Unlike the actual victim, the family of a victim suffers in a different way that requires attention in post-conflict strategies for healing. The victim can reconcile the experience for him/herself forgiving the perpetrator and making peace in him/herself. In contrast, a family member is removed from the power exchange, yet ‘bears witness’ to the injury through direct and indirect emotional suffering.
The common emotional experiences that span across all oppressed groups, are fear and hurt. Fear manifests from the experience of threat from someone using power over oneself. This fear may result in someone becoming compliant or becoming defiant. Hurt arises from the experience of rejection for having the characteristic that is being used to assert power over the oppressed, and one who experiences hurt may respond with indignation or shame or both.
A passive oppressed group member is not directly injured during the conflict. Due to the power dynamic of being collectively under another’s power, the passive oppressed person experiences the power injury regardless of whether there is a clear, direct act. One might consider the situation of the war in Iraq; there are people who have clearly suffered a direct injury – lost property in a bombing, had their home raided, had a relative killed or imprisoned – and then there are the countless others whose lives have been completely altered due to
the conflict and who live in a kind of terror of what might happen to them. The passive oppressed groups are always in this state of psychological uncertainty and (re)experiencing their powerlessness.
A passive privileged oppressed group member could be persecuted, but does not suffer under the oppression for any reason. The passive privileged oppressed closely identify with the actual victims and could have been oppressed, but were not. Whether it is because they come a generation later, share a characteristic but do not live in the area of the conflict, or simply because the conditions of their life spared them from this persecution, these people never experience the oppression yet they see the characteristic they share with the oppressed. The experience of being spared may produce a tremendous burden of guilt. The passive privileged oppressed may respond to this guilt with efforts to do anything and everything to help others -- never seeming enough. Like the passive privileged oppressors, this group may work actively on behalf of those who suffer more acutely under oppression. Perhaps, if one carries the guilt of not suffering more injury too much, then one may unconsciously engage in a cycle of self-hate. For example, if we carry the burden of unhealed injustices of past generation into the present, we may feel that we cannot receive the gifts of the present because we are not worthy, instead we may work feverishly to intervene in the present on behalf of others. But what if in this drive to help others, we destroy the gift of our precious life because we failed to share the gifts of our life – our joy, our presence, our love- with those around us. Others in the passive privileged oppressed may retain a quality of overwhelming fear that compounded with their guilt leaves them paralyzed. If we endeavor to heal these legacies of injustice, we may both relish in the gifts of our life and we may use the power that we have for the benefit of others.
 Dina Ward. Memorial Candles: Children of the Holocaust. Routledge Press 1992.
As a removed bystander who hears about this school situation three times removed, am I a passive participant in this conflict? If I heard this story and it touches me, I may feel anger, despair, apathy, guilt- or I may be inclined to act in some way -- as I did in the situation with the cat-mouse, then I am a passive participant. There is little that happens in our midst that does not happen to us, whether or not we are able to see this interrelationship.
As a removed bystander in an event, I might wonder what can I do? If I sense that I identify with one side more than the other, I may not be ready to act and my action may stem from an unhealed place that perpetuates imbalances. If I am a bystander so removed that I cannot meaningfully participate to promote understanding between both sides, then it may not be the proper conditions for me to act. Perhaps, the most important contribution I can make is to examine my daily life – family, work, community and to intervene in situations of conflict and injustice where I have power to actively promote sharing power and I am in a position to deepen understanding. This does not mean that I do not see how the conflict and oppression of others impacts me, rather I may choose to express my non-cooperation with that oppression and also take the opportunity to look deeply within my own life to see where I may be unconsciously promoting oppression and injustice. For each the path to wholeness will be different and the path of transforming action may be different. When I reclaim my wholeness, when I realize the power I hold, and when I work diligently to use it well, I harness my power to transform my passive participation in conflict and to heal myself, my family, and my society.
It is easy to see injuries of injustice happening to others. It is possible to welcome these events as opportunities to also reflect on our passive participation in conflict and injustice within our own lives. The PPiC aims to cultivate awareness of passive participation and to shine light on our power. If we look deeply and honestly, we have one foot on each side of a power imbalance in almost every aspect of our daily lives. If we jump too quickly to rest in the comfort of the truths, “we are both so it is meaningless” or “we are all one so it is the same,” then we may miss the opportunity to see the power we have and to learn how to use it well. In wholeness, we can use our awareness of the power we hold to share it with others and to live in line with our thoughts. If we only focus on condemning those who act badly or helping those who are injured, we may miss the opportunity to harness the great teaching of these lesser injuries and to heal our own suffering. The PPiC framework allows us to see our role as a passive participant in conflict and to transform our experience to end cycles of violence.