Respect and Conflict in the World Today

Respect and Conflict in our society

The year 2017 has been a difficult year in international politics. Leaders of important nations that treat each other with a lack of respect have increased the tension in the world. This has influenced international relationships. As such, it also increases the likelihood of conflicts. Respect is a concept that is not always understood and certainly this lack of understanding is a hazard in our modern, hyper-connected world. Respect, in the way I see it, is giving a dedicated and appropriate attention to someone or something in order to better understand what is happening. Respect and conflict are linked and this plays a crucial role in society as a whole.

Conflict and extremism

The importance of Respect is something I discovered during an exercise I facilitated during a course in Systems Thinking. The purpose of the exercise was making participants to understand and discover the dynamics of actual problems in society. The selected topic became conflicts and extremism. The participants wanted to understand the dynamics of the numerous conflicts going on in the world. Discussing and telling stories regarding the issue of conflict and extremism revealed the important factors involved. At least, as perceived by the participants in the dialogue. Consequently, the relationships between these factors were discussed and determined in the way systems thinking considers dynamics. Which factor influences which and how? Are the relationships equal (i.e., do they change in the same way, marked with an S or a plus sign). Or, are they opposite (i.e., do they change in opposite ways, marked with an O or a minus sign)?

Important parameters playing a role in conflict

As a result of the dialogue, following elements surfaced as being of importance in conflicts in the world today. Variables were selected to construct a systemic map on the theme CONFLICT: Conflict, Extremism, Economical Power, Prosperity, Dominance, Openness and Respect

Although this is just a limited and very general perspective on the elements (variables) playing a role in respect and conflict, it gives an indication of what the participants perceived as being important. Obviously, many elements were left aside in the map which can also be important. However, the group considered the mentioned variables as the most important factors concerning conflicts and extremism. The resulting map of this exercise on respect and conflict is shown below.

A systemic map of Conflict and Respect

When a set of variables forms a closed chain of effects and influence, we call this a loop. It is how reinforcing or balancing dynamics can be discovered in systems. The dynamics involving respect and conflict become evident when noticing the loops in the diagram. As a result of the dialogue and discussions in this exercise, a systemic map was constructed.  The map contains all relevant parameters which surfaced during the discussion of the chosen subject.

A Systemic map related to Respect and Conflict.

The basic loop of Respect and Conflict

A very basic loop is the one between RESPECT and CONFLICT itself (R1). Both influence each other in opposite ways. The more respect (certainly in the way TR³M defines it), the less conflicts will arise. On the other hand, showing disrespect or less respect means conflicts will arise more probably. Also when there is a conflict, the more disrespect will emerge. In itself this is a reinforcing loop, triggering or sustaining conflicts. But reinforcing loops can turn both ways. So, on the other hand, when more respect is shown, the same reinforcing loop can also lead to the diminishing and ending of conflicts as shown by Muhammad Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin, ending the Egyptian – Israeli conflict in 1979.

Reinforcing loops

Another reinforcing loop adds to this via the variables OPENNESS and CONFLICT (R2). Conflict increases when there is less openness (more secrecy) and when conflict increases, more concealment is a result. It is also by opening up to each other, people allow respect to develop, as shown by a third direct reinforcing loop between the variables RESPECT and OPENNESS (R3). The more people are open to each other, the easier it is to respect one another and vice versa. Likewise, the more respect people feel, the easier they will open up. Again, reinforcing loops can turn both ways. Less respect can lead towards less openness, which in its turn reduces respect and understanding for each other, possibly leading to conflicts. A positive example of this loop is Mikhail Gorbachev and his Glasnost (more openness) leading towards the end of the Cold War. Today, unfortunately, we see other, less promising examples of the opposite for example between the USA, Europe, Russia or Turkey, where a positive evolution of openness and more economical prosperity have come to a stop due to upshots of a lack of respect and unresolved conflicts, making the advent of war more likely.


In the diagram above, it is clear that RESPECT and OPENNESS are the variables which provide leverage. They are able to determine in which way the dynamics in the system will progress, as they are the direct result of choices one can make. However, there are also other variables which can provide for balancing effects or disturb the positive dynamics. Such variables can lead towards negative dynamics of the same system.

Balancing loop

A balancing loop can possibly appear (B1) when OPENNESS leads towards better communication, cooperation, motivation, etc… This increases the ECONOMIC POWER of the society concerned. Economic power, in turn, could lead to DOMINANCE. DOMINANCE in its turn often leads to a lack of RESPECT, leading to CONFLICT and less OPENNESS. This will eventually reduce the ECONOMIC POWER as a balancing effect. Perceived DOMINANCE as a result of ECONOMIC POWER or other factors can also have another secondary effect, triggering an opposing EXTREMISM. It leads towards a negative and reinforcing effect on RESPECT (R4) and a second balancing loop (B2) when ECONOMIC POWER is involved. These loops can also trigger a reinforcing loop. It happens when a lack of OPENNESS is directly aimed at DOMINANCE or when DOMINANCE is an aim in itself (R5).

Total Respect Management

A way to counter these pitfalls of ECONOMIC POWER and DOMINANCE is to develop the mental model that uses ECONOMIC POWER to bring PROSPERITY for all. It takes away the fuel to EXTREMISM and allows for more RESPECT, creating the outer reinforcing loop R6. However, when PROSPERITY for all is not the real aim of one’s efforts, one ends up with the reinforcing loop R7. This situation leads to more EXTREMISM and CONFLICT; a situation which seems to be present at regular intervals in the world for the past decades and centuries.

The purpose of Total Respect Management is to trigger and enforce R6 and create PROSPERITY for all the stakeholders; in a team, an organisation and society as a whole.

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General Manager at BYAZ
Peter Blokland is the author of 'Total Respect Management' (Lannoo Campus, 2013) and 'Safety and Performance' (NOVA, 2017). In a former life he was a Belgian Air Force pilot, Staff Officer and aircraft accident investigator, finishing his military career at NATO’s Allied Command Operations at SHAPE (BE). In 2008 he became an organizational and business coach, helping organisations, companies and teams to improve and excel.
Since September 2014, Peter is also employed at TUDelft, working as a PhD researcher for the Safety Sciences section of the Technology Policy and Management faculty.
As the managing director of G31000 Europe he is now a trainer and consultant using the ISO 31000 Risk Management Standard.
Some of his articles can be read on LinkedIn
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