Creative Synthesis

Linda: I first heard this story at a Peace Conference in Dubrovnic, Croatia when Johan Galtung was speaking about being called in to do a consultation with government representatives of Ecuador and Peru. These two countries were having a nasty dispute about a border between them. A body of water like a river normally marks national borders; but in this case, the river between them appeared and disappeared according to temperature and rainfall. The area in dispute was a zone of 500 kilometers, and over fifty-four years, there had been endless “negotiations” which were really verbal warfare, postponement, avoidance, and three bloody wars. Each country was stuck in a mindset that the zone in dispute was owned by them alone, and the other country would have to give in. They couldn’t think outside the box, and the whole ordeal was becoming a scandal in both countries. Everyone was tired of the whole conflict.

Galtung is good at what he does. He thinks outside the box, and prompts his clients to do the same. He proposed that both countries assume joint ownership of the disputed area and draw no border at all. They would declare it a bi-national zone consisting of a natural park, for camping, hiking, mountain climbing, and charge admission to those using the area, with both countries sharing in the proceeds. In 1998, a peace treaty between Ecuador and Peru officially became a natural park, a potent example of conflict transformation based on creativity and goodwill. Galtung had charged $125 for his brief consultation.

Creative synthesis is defined as “the combination of smaller constituent elements forming a more complex whole, as the driving force of modern creation, innovation and intelligence.” Creative synthesis is the mixture of many concepts into a new whole, particularly whenever this varies fundamentally from any of its parts.

Galtung’s creative idea was not a compromise where both parties often end up feeling that they have given up too much. The breakthrough occurred because they had committed themselves to transcend their old way of thinking. This was a brilliant example of creative synthesis, where the topic in dispute is approached in a way that dialogue continues in a more flexible way so that change can take place in a way that both parties feel satisfied.

It is a sad commentary on our culture that the creativity scores of those in first grade are the highest and go down each year, culminating in the lowest scores being those of high school seniors. We do well to embrace what the Buddhists call “beginner’s mind,” “child’s mind”, or “openness mind” which naturally thinks more expansively. Creativity is an essential skill required for problem solving and can make all the difference when couples struggle with the inevitable issues that regularly present themselves. When there is a clear commitment to problem solving with a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to cultivate creative solutions to thorny problems, couples stay in dialogue until one is designed that they can both embrace.

It is not necessary to remain mired down in endless negotiations (like the early Peruvians and Ecuadorians) designed to get our way, fraught with verbal violence, psychologically bloody disputes, procrastination, withdrawal, or chilly prolonged silences. But what is required is a willingness and commitment to cultivate a determination to bring our lost creativity back into our lives. These shifts in consciousness can make all the difference.

When we practice conscious combat, the struggle can become highly creative process leading to growth and development. Through the clash of needs and ideas and how we meet those needs, something brand new can be created. The challenge of finding a solution that is acceptable to both partners requires much more co-operative communication than we thought would be necessary. There is so much at stake. On one side is the desire to get our way that emanates from our desire for personal freedom and self-determination vying for dominance with the part that wants closeness, peace, harmony and cooperation with our partner.

While the opposing forcers are operating inside us, an identical process is occurring in our partner. It’s no wonder that dialogue with a spirit of good willis required to finally arrive at a point where both partners can feel assured that their freedom of self-expression is protected. Remaining in dialogue until a solution is found that preserves our sense of personal power, while at the same time protects our loving connection, is the ultimate goal. If the Peruvian and Ecuadorian negotiators were able to prevent a war with creative synthesis, us ordinary humans should be able to master this art. This process is what Dr. Susan Campbell calls “being powerfully loving and lovingly powerful.”


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