Justifying Requests to Change Customary Behaviour

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4432.htm)

People may resent being asked to change the way they behave if that involves changing their customs.  This can happen when different ethnic groups live side by side and neither group wants to change.  A compromise may have to be negotiated and people need to be given good reasons why they should change.

The positive reason for finding a compromise is that it is nicer for everyone to live in a friendly environment.  The Golden Rule – do not do to others what you would not have done to you – is a commandment of every religion ( and it is underpinned by most philosophies (4.2.3).

The other main reason is to avoid the risks of division.  The potential for conflict between ethnic groups is explored in a later section (4.4.5).  Horrific violence can be unleashed, as shown by historic religious wars in Europe and current problems in the Middle East, but people are faced with uncomfortable choices long before that stage is reached:

  • They can try to defend themselves against aggression by building walls with electric fences, such as those found in South Africa. A Christian Science Monitor article, Backstory: In South Africa, home sweet fortress, included this quotation:

“In South Africa, nothing says “Home Sweet Home” like 10-foot walls, electric fencing, burglar bars, and at least one panic button wired directly to an armed-response team, licensed to shoot, if not kill.”

  • The police can be given increased powers of surveillance (which can too easily be subverted by a government to create a ‘Police State’).
  • People can choose to live elsewhere, either by forming separate neighbourhoods (which make ethnic divisions more visible and permanent) or by leaving the country as refugees.

The unappetising nature of these defensive choices and the attractiveness of a friendly solution are sufficiently powerful reasons to motivate community leaders to negotiate the necessary compromises.  Some measures that can be taken to increase inclusivity in the Moral Dimension are discussed at the end of this chapter (4.4.7).


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