Resolving Conflict

Middle Way Philosophy according to Robert M. Ellis and the Middle Way Society

Integration in middle way philosophy is the practice of overcoming psychological but thus also socio-political conflict in the long term.

Integration is a resolution of conflict, whether internal or external, that first requires a recognition of that conflict. Conflicts are created by systems having incompatible goals (or incomplete processes needed to maintain themselves). The same goals then recur regardless of changing conditions that block those gaols, and in humans this takes the form of recurring feedback loops that conflict with more adaptive motives.  The corpus callosum then allows us to repress, also producing other absolutizing phenomena. To integrate we then need to acknowledge differing desires over time and stop them hijacking our processes  (Ellis, 2023, p168).

Framing consists of limiting assumptions that focus our attention on one thing rather than another. Even the most basic framing does not have to be seen metaphysically, as it can be questioned. Reframing is prompted by frustration created by conflict, making it possible(with optionality) to switch to a wider frame free of the conflicts of the previous one. We are always obliged to expand frames rather than being able to free ourselves totally of them – an error-led process of responding imperfectly to integrate conflict rather than a process of deduction from a frameless position (Ellis, 2023, p175).

Conflicts may be intractable because at least one side lacks motive or perhaps capacity to resolve them. At times practical situations require the use of power to impose our will, which can be justified by greater integration of judgement, but this should not be used as a shortcut. Intractable conflict can be addressed by using an array of different types of context, often in combination through practices that use them. These contexts may be locked together, but opening up one of them can breach the absolutizing of the conflict. (Ellis, 2023, p180).

A division into the three levels of desire, meaning, and belief offers a helpful practical analysis of integration, though these levels are highly interdependent. Integration of desire occurs when the energies previously directed towards incompatible goals are united. The bodily context of mindfulness enables this temporarily. Integration of meaning is the unification of a previously fragmented associative response to symbols, developing understanding in both of the interdependent ‘cognitive’ and ’emotive’ senses. This enables the integration of belief, in which previously opposed beliefs become mutually acceptable, and thus the absolutization that divided them is overcome in the long term.  (Ellis, 2023, p185).

The integration of individuals nests within that of groups, interdependent but differing in complexity. Both are subject to conflict and integration, with the representations causing conflict in groups being an aggregation of those of individuals. Formal or informal agreements create group beliefs that can be imposed or integrated, creating two kinds of peace: pax and shalom. Pax is superficial and temporary, but idealised shalom can also be disruptive, so both kids of integration need to interact (Ellis, 2023, p194).

Temporary integration is a bodily state that abates absolutization and conflict only for as long as it lasts. This is not just a state of suppressive concentration, but rather one in which conflicts are contextualised due to relaxation, as in the Buddhist jhanas. However, temporary integration does not change the long-term neural tracks of belief, which will require a critical thinking and judgement process. Stages of temporary integration need to be invested effectively to support long-term integration, but instead they can be easily reified and absolutised. (Ellis, 2023, p199).

The process of integration is evidently not simply a single-track escalator from messy conflict to a completely unified character, but is subject to contextually-dependent asymmetries. Your virtues mark a positive degree of integration linked to a context, but are only incrementally unified through a process of working on our weaknesses. A concept of asymmetry is important when discussing integration, to avoid projecting someone’s integration into a basis of unconditional authority (falling into s ‘guru trap’), and to prompt us to focus more on specific judgement rather than character s a more reliable locus of integration (Ellis, 2023, p205).

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Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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