The enemy of my enemy … may unite me with my enemy

An excellent series of lectures and workshop-type studies last week prompted a bunch of thoughts – some of which I’ll pick up in the coming weeks. One in particular that was raised again today was while looking at a particular case of an area where there were a wide variety of conflicting groups of people. Some in particular were causing greater problems to people outside of the area and so programmes were put in place to deal with them.

At which point, groups that had hitherto been in conflict with the target group suddenly came to their defence. There was a degree of surprise about this – after all, hadn’t these other groups been arguing and in some cases actually fighting only a short time earlier?

I can understand the surprise, but it’s easy to forget that the arrival of a common enemy can overcome all sorts of differences. Witness, for instance, in the UK the sudden support of the Olympic games by skeptics like myself – all in response to criticism from Mitt Romney, US presidential candidate. He may have said nothing that hadn’t already been said by others in the UK – but we can say that about each other because we’re family. An outsider saying that produces a very different dynamic.

Now clearly, some outsiders can criticise without uniting opposing factions, but I’d suggest they need to have high degrees of credibility or trust first. And for most organisations wading into a tricky area, the more likely outcome is going to be focusing the conflict on themselves.