Swinging open the door, I peeked my head in. A few older gentlemen and ladies peppered the conference room. I was early to my first class. I sat there quietly unpacking my notebook and looked around. I found my first friend, Heather, and launched into a conversation about politics and our favorite foods. Everyone in the class, as I was soon to learn consisted of my new cohort, was similar to Heather: funny, kind and compassionate. Our first class discussed the uses of mediation to solve a plethora of issues ranging from separation cases to workplace conflict to commercial disputes.
As class drew to a pause for lunch, I had no idea what was to come next. Over lunch, I was initiated into the Irish culture. I learned what “craic” meant and how to speak a few words in Gaelic. I then knew the rules of hurling and rugby, along with a schedule of the upcoming big matches I could not afford to miss. As edifying as the banter over lunch was, curiosity about my background followed. They wanted to know everything about me and share stories about their time in America. Lunch was the “craic” and one of my favorite memories in Maynooth.
Aside from the newfound friendships, a comment and a reaction to that comment has shaped my thoughts on conflict throughout my coursework. I raised my hand and answered a question the lecturer had posed, saying something similar to, “Resolution of conflict can sustain if the interests of both parties are satisfied.” The lecturer responded, “Conflict is never resolved. We may think it ends, but it is only temporary. Intervention, not resolution of conflict is our aim. Conflict is intertwined with life that an approach to manage conflict in the beginning, during and conclusion is best.”
Like many things, we mark something off a checklist. The New Yorker recently criticized bucket lists as artificial due to a checklist mentality. I suppose some may think about this regarding conflict – once one conflict ends, it is on to the next one. Ireland, and every country, has it fair share of conflict. The Irish have come off the upsetting Garth Brooks concerts cancellation and ongoing controversial water tax. What happened if conflict was treated like my lecturer pointed out? How could conflict management take place before, during and after the fact? Above all, how could practices prevent future conflict? Is there political will for these practices to be implemented here and elsewhere across the world? These are all questions that I did not have an answer to on the first day of class. Yet as the second and third and every other day of classes have unfolded, the answers are becoming less cloudy. These questions have and continue to shape my reflection on conflict in Ireland and across the world.