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A few stray thoughts on dealing with conflict

The cloud of a political showdown between the red shirts and the government and its backers, looms over us. It is understandable then that the layman feels helpless and fears bloodshed, anarchy, coup, civil war, economic ruin - or all of the above at this stage.

Fear not. Conflict is a natural and integral part of politics and democracy. It's how people handle it that matters, leaving us as a mature and democratic society.

As the countdown begins, here's some humble advice.

- Avoid dehumanising others. Instead of calling red shirts "red buffaloes dragged by the nose by Thaksin", or calling yellow shirts "minions of Sondhi Limthongkul and the old order", one should remember nobody is absolutely evil or angelic. Try to see others as fellow human beings and ponder harder as to why they are red, yellow, blue or light blue. Doing so, will make one feel less compelled to want violence, even if those shedding blood are on the other side of the divide.

- Avoid dichotomous thinking - a result of years of repressive black-or-white, absolutely-right or absolutely wrong Thai indoctrination. A winner-takes-all mentality won't do Thailand much good. One must try instead to examine one's own shortcomings and see if some compromise and trade-offs can help break the political impasse.

- As much as possible, support and adhere to non-violence. Try to handle conflict in a mature way with as little violence as possible, verbal or physical. This doesn't mean not taking an opposing stance or engaging in conflict, but do it peacefully and mindfully. Killing only shows how barbaric people are, leaving indelible scars in the minds of those left behind. We need to make sure that leaders from all sides convincingly prove to society that they are committed to non-violence.

- Oppose yet another military coup d' etat, regardless of whether it is a "coup for your side", "coup for the poor", or "coup for the rich". The September 2006 coup was proof that military coups don't solve problems, reduce political conflict or restore democracy. Conflict was just artificially suspended and later intensified by the 2006 putsch. Military coups are a crime, unconstitutional, and a form or violence - whether or not blood is shed - as they involve political coercion.

Remember, not all means justify ends. People should dwell less on the possibility of another military coup. The media asks every single who-is-who whether or not there'll be yet another coup and this is not very helpful. Instead, it should think more about reducing the risk of yet another military coup, and on how it can be opposed - if some generals persist on staging another one "for us" and our nation. More collective effort is needed to eliminate the military coup from Thai politics for good, and concerned citizens might want to start thinking and preparing now.

- Avoid ultra-royalism - as it will put Thailand on the path of democratic regression and unrealistic expectation. Instead, all parties should compete to advance the cause of participatory democracy.

- If clash and killing become inevitable, may they genuinely be in the name of advancing democracy and political equality, and not for certain political leaders. We cannot run away from being partially responsible for the current state of Thai politics. We must do what we can to ensure Thais learn to cope with political conflict and confrontation.

Let's not see political conflict as something to be avoided at all costs; but let us try to live with it as a part of democracy - in as mature and non-violent a manner as possible.