OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Dealing with Destructive Speech

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A major contributing factor to escalation and destructive confrontation is destructive speech. Destructive speech may take several forms, each requiring a somewhat different treatment strategy. In some cases, it involves the use of provocative and insulting names to refer to opponents. Many groups have extremely insulting words they use to refer to opposing groups. These words are often seen as so offensive that they are viewed as what we call "fighting words," provocations sufficiently serious to elicit a violent reaction. . Also destructive is the use of everyday words to condemn others for their evil views or to make vague threats about how the world would be better off if they were to die or simply disappear.  In the United States, we refer to this as "hate speech."  There are two principal strategies for controlling this type of speech.

One strategy is to precisely define hate speech and then enact laws and organizational policies to severely punish anyone who uses it. For example, in the United States, universities frequently have speech codes which they use as a basis for expelling students found to be guilty of hate speech. Some political jurisdictions in the United States have tried to enact laws prohibiting hate speech as well. These laws empower the police to investigate alleged incidences of hate speech.  Guilty parties are tried and punished according to the law.

Opponents of this approach raise two principle objections. First, hate speech can be very hard to precisely define. Statements which some people regard as hateful,   others may regard as an honest effort to raise the tough issues. Hate speech prohibitions can also be used as a basis for the suppressing dissent and harassing people. It is almost always possible to accuse people raising difficult issues of hate speech crimes. Even if they're found to be not guilty, the accusation and the adjudication process can be extremely costly and painful. Hate speech laws also violate freedom of speech ideals which so many societies value. They can also have an extremely chilling effect upon efforts to honestly discuss the tough issues which underlie most conflicts. Often, when hate speech prohibitions are in place, people engaged in serious intergroup conflicts simply refuse to talk at all, preventing constructive problem solving and allowing tensions to build.

The principal alternative is a strategy which systematically tries to answer hate speech with good speech. Here, reasonable people on all sides of the conflict make an individual and collective commitment to speak out against hateful communication. For example, if an extremist belonging to a group makes hateful and racist statements, other members of that group will collectively and publicly repudiate those statements in ways which demonstrate that they are not supported by the vast majority of the population. In cases where the extremist's hateful activity results in personal injury or property damage, members of the group can pool their resources to compensate the victims.

Hateful speech is often not intentional. Frequently, people will say hurtful things without thinking about what they're saying and how it might be interpreted. There are, for example, words which have very different meanings for different groups. There are also translation problems and problems which arise when translators tend to make worse case assumptions in their translations. It is also common for members of a group to compete with one another for group approval by trying to make the most clever and most forceful statements against opponents. In these cases, problems can often be minimized through some type of sensitivity training which helps the parties 1) identify statements which are likely to be interpreted in hurtful or hateful ways, 2) understand the consequences of making such statements, and 3) understand alternate and less destructive ways of raising the difficult issues.

Links to Outside Sources of Information:

US Institute of Peace--Balkan Religious Leaders Support Minority Rights

Links to Related Sections:

Personal Attacks


Dealing with Extremists


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu