Filippo Aureli & Frans B. M. de Waal
The reason we customarily speak of the need for cooperation and the potential for conflict is because the former is desirable whereas the latter is inevitable. Whether the units are people, animals, groups, or nations, as soon as several units together try to accomplish something, there is a need to overcome competition and set aside differences. The problem of a harmonization of goals and reduction of competition for the sake of larger objectives is universal, and the processes that serve to accomplish this may be universal too. These dynamics are present to different degrees among the employees within a corporation, the members of a small band of hunter-gatherers, or the individuals in a lion pride. In all cases, mechanisms for the regulation of conflict should be in place.
It is sufficient to reflect on our everyday life to find examples. We employ various “rituals, ” such as handshaking or verbal apology, on a regular basis to prevent or mitigate conflicts. We have developed social rules to regulate interactions within a community and legal procedures to solve disputes when the individuals in conflict are not able to find an agreement by themselves. We are so concerned about the disruptive consequences of conflict that we celebrate its resolution at various levels: within our family, community, and nation and at the international level. Conflict resolution, like conflict and cooperation, appears to be a natural phenomenon. We should then find similarities in its expression and procedures across cultures and species.
During the past two decades we have witnessed a change in interests across disciplines from competition, aggression, and war to cooperation, peace, and conflict resolution. For example, there