Conflict Escalation Curve

Given a scientific approach to nonviolence we want to use the proportional approach to the degree of conflict we are facing. It would be wrong to reach for an extreme method like fasting too early or carry on with introductory level methods like letter writing past the point where it can be effective. Tempers flair and conflicts escalate in the degree with which parties can dehumanize one another. That escalation has been illustrated in the accompanying graphic, and as you will see, it is convenient to plot that escalation in three stages.

  • In the first stage, the component can be reached by reason and negotiation; here the techniques of conflict resolution proper, especially in the advanced forms of Nonviolent Communication, is the appropriate set of tools.
  • However, as Gandhi said, there are times when “ you need to reach the heart also.” Your opponent is not listening to you, this is where Satyagraha comes in and we may need to invoke what Gandhi called “the law of suffering”—taking on rather than inflicting some of the suffering that is inherent in the situation. Correctly done, this is a powerful approach and will serve to resolve practically any kind or degree of dispute.
  • However, because we find ourselves late in a conflict and/or the opposition is unusually stubborn, the only way still open to reach the opposition is by undertaking the risk of our very life. This is never to be done lightly. On the one hand, Gandhi fasted unto death often with “miraculous” results and on the other we have activists like Kathy Kelly who have repeatedly gone into war zones to share the fate of the victims and awaken their oppressors.  Note in this image that constructive programme can be carried on continuously.



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    By: Stephanie Van Hook

    Before joining the Metta Center Team as Executive Director, Stephanie received an M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Portland State University; was trained and certified in mediation in the state of Oregon; worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa, where she created a program for girls’ empowerment and education; has taught French and English for the Alliance Francaise; and was trained in Montessori Early Childhood Education with seven years of classroom experience with 3-6 year olds. 

    She is the author of Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children (Person Power Press, 2016) and Nonviolence Daily: 365 Days of Wisdom from Gandhi (Person Power Press, 2019, co-authored with Michael Nagler).  Her articles have been published at Transformation at Open Democracy, Yes! Magazine, Common Dreams, and Waging Nonviolence. Additionally, she’s host of Nonviolence Radio, an FM and Pacifica syndicated radio program out of Point Reyes Station, California, (KWMR) and co-creator of a cooperative board game, Cosmic Peaceforce: Mission Harmony Three.

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