Conflict as Dissonance Between Inner and Social Peace: Is There a Connection Between Inner Peace and Social Peace?


Plato believed the state was man writ large.  To accept this as an accurate and positive correlation, then any nation is as healthy as its most virtuous citizens.  The converse is just as valid.  The state is as weak as its most toxic members.  Taking Plato’s premise to the task, the possibility for social peace to exist is contingent on the inner peace of society’s members. Inner peace, operationally defined, suggests the internal harmony present within a person.  This harmony provides mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual vitality and consistency.  This state includes contentment within oneself; in other words, peace.

In the absence of peace, one loses inner balance.  When peace diminishes, anxiety increases.  Fear, worry, and instability within cause people to find peace elusive.    This is genuinely challenging for anyone.  In some cases, an impossible reality threatening the ability for survival.  Consequently, aggression increases within causing conflict within and all around oneself, Tint and Zinkin (2014).

Leon Festinger, an eminent social psychologist, coined the term “cognitive dissonance” in the 1950s.  The premise behind this theory argues anxiety appears when the thoughts entertained by a person are inconsistent with the actions of said person.  This dichotomy between thought and action disables the possibility of peace to exist within the person.  Resolution to this problem can only occur by altering the thoughts or actions so inner harmony can flourish, Anderton, Pender, and Asner-Self (2011).

Festinger’s theory can easily explain the nature of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual inconsistencies leading to conflict.  In society, the inner conflict of any member can easily influence the environment of those living close to them, as well as modeling conflict as ineffective problem-solving — specifically, modeling conflict as means of coping with younger members of society.

Although the nature of any conflict is a sophisticated area of research, human nature seems to be inclined to conflict.  Conflict is not an aversive enterprise when one considers how invested engagement with others can generate the ideal conditions for creativity to flourish.  Conflict can reveal the depth of an individual’s commitment to a cause, a relationship, or healing.

Conflict is also aversive.  Conflict scales from uncomfortable exchanges to heinous crimes against humanity and the planet.  Even along this vast continuum, the underlying cause for peace is harmony, and for conflict is the converse. Just as the reason for conflict is the absence of peace, it is the resolution of conflict that can nurture the hope for peace and foster resilience, which is vital for perseverance in conflict resolution.

This paper will address the unquestionable relationship existing between inner peace and social peace.  A literature review will serve as the primary means of achieving this end.  Inner and social harmony is a mutually inclusive reality.  Disharmony in either domain ensures instability for both contexts.  If the inner peace of an individual is lacking, so will the place this person lives in will incur the results of the thoughts, perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors, perpetuated by inner and social disharmony.  I believe a lack of spirituality produces conflict.  The Dalai Lama, for instance, is cavalier about this truth.  He invokes religious reflection as a means toward social transformation, Goleman (2015). The impossibility of peace for many is a projected view of one’s accepting the difficulty of inner change.  World religions abound, and their ethical worldview is practically identical.  It is not coincidental ancient spiritual traditions continue to speak to countless generations.  The most significant movements of peace have been inspired and guided by spiritual principles.  From Akhenaten to Dr. King to the Dalai Lama, these figures continue to challenge the conventional wisdom that violence can bring about a lasting peace.  Neither will it bring peace within us as humans, nor will it ever be true of our societies. 



Johan Galtung extensively wrote on the nature of conflict.  Basic human needs, he believed, served as the unequivocal underpinnings for conflict.  In the absence of these essentials for survival, peace is impossible.  Perhaps initially expressed as personal anxiety, the greater community will begin to manifest the wear and tear related entirely to the absence of food, water, security, and protection from the environment.  As the collective anxiety reaches critical mass, the inevitability of conflict is assured. To satisfy basic human needs is fundamental to the work of any civil society.  Civil society exists to perpetuate the opportunities for all members of a community to live in safety and empowered for the achievement of personal ends.  Peace is contingent on the ability of each person to realize their dreams and those of their loved ones, Galtung (2005)

Inner peace often is spiritualized.  Making this error is fundamental to the misinterpretation of the human condition.  Inner peace requires the security afforded by society as much as financial security, political stability, and interpersonal health. Social peace mirrors inner peace.  Social peace mirrors inner peace.  Social peace reflects the interior life.  Gandhi understood this unequivocal truth.  Gandhi believed peace impossible if disconnected from a life of prayer and spirituality.  Cleansing oneself daily of the thoughts that led to violence was essential for the movement of self-determinism and liberation from colonialism to succeed.  Boulding cites the fourth sequential methodology of nonviolent action as “continuing the process of self-examination and search for possible cooperation with the adversary on honorable terms.” Self-examination is the handmaiden of self-determinism. The evolution of one’s private life begins with reflection and redirection of one’s thoughts.  Reconfiguration of a worldview accepting of violence enmeshed with suspicion of diplomacy rather than openness to sincere dialogue needs exploration, (Boulding, 2000, p. 62).

Gandhi’s view of self-determinism can enhance Galtung’s theory to the extent that human spiritual needs provide the existential rationale for why it is essential to attain the basic human ones.  In terms of gender equality and dignity, Elise Boulding explains how women such as “... Madame Pandit and Sushila Nayar not only helped empower their Indian sisters but also gave charismatic leadership to the growing European women’s movement” (Boulding, 2000, p. 63).

Another example provided by Boulding is that of Vinova Bhave’s Gramdan movement.  Bhave continued to employ nonviolent action founded by Gandhi.  Jainism inspired Gandhi and Bhave.  Considered a world religion, Jainism purported Ahimsa, a cardinal principle of non-violence.  Ahimsa Paramo Dharma, or non-violence, is the highest moral virtue, is the quintessential worldview of the Satyagraha or truth force, movement as led by Gandhi.  Ahimsa begins within the individual.  It is for this reason Gandhi developed the Ashram as a center of re-education and spiritual practice.  To the extent that each member of the movement was one with God, practiced prayer, fasting, and sought to submit to the principles of Ahimsa, was the individual ready to serve in the transformation of Indian society.  Otherwise, the principles of non-violence would seem ludicrous.   As one’s central notion of peace evolved, one could entertain Sarvodaya.  According to Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, “Sarvodaya means the Awakening of All – from an individual Human Personality to Humanity as a whole. This awakening has spiritual, moral, cultural, social, economic, and political dimensions. Whatever we do in one of these sectors influences all other sectors” (Ariyaratne, 2019, p. 1). These practitioners of non-violence comprehended the connection between inner peace and social peace. One must live peacefully to visualize peace all around. 

To take the philosophy of non-violence as both an internal reality and a social necessity requires concrete action and solutions.  Despite the challenges pertinent to change, and to establish lasting peace, the need to adopt inner work to a peaceful worldview must not marginalize the philosophy in the social practice of peace. 



Life is thought.  Most live into, wrestle with, and imagine life, their experience, joy, sorrow, and anticipation of what it to be.  Mindfulness is widespread, although most are not mindful of it. There is a theoretical place most human beings want.  A place of peace – within themselves and all around them.  Druckman indicates conflict to be prolonged or resolved, to an extent,  according to personalities reflected in any given situation.  Showcasing the work by Margaret Hermann, Druckman cites this political psychologist’s view of two types of leaders: a responsive one (open and sensitive) contrasted to a less responsive leader (more principled and driven by a cause).  These personalities influence outcomes.  The responsive leader tends to be pragmatic and flexible.  How personal characteristics respond to situations is just as telling.  Hermann identifies leaders who manipulate situations and those that allow the case to shape their behavior, Druckman (2008).

What drives the personality is fundamental to comprehending this taxonomy.  We can agree with categorizing Gandhi as a combination of both leadership styles.  What then was the primary drive behind his work – peace.  A peace arrived at without the employment of violence and refusing others engaged in the Indian experiment of self-determinism to be violent.  The attitudes are not as influential as the worldview that drives the leadership style. This is why I appreciate Botes' perspective upholding the need for human freedom and not underestimating human agency altogether.  Botes writes, “it is incorrect to assert that human behavior and interactions are necessarily the direct results of social and political structures. This argument denies the role that human creativity and freedom of choice lay in human interactions,” Botes (2008)

When I consider what peace is, I find that how my thoughts happen to align with my actions.  Sandole rightfully illustrates two interpretations of peace.  Positive peace, which requires a transformation of the inner person and of the social conditions that promote conflict and negative peace, which “do not necessarily deal with the underlying causes and conditions” that cause violence.  This is what Galtung called structural violence.  As in-class discussions, lectures, and readings underscore, structural violence impresses itself upon individuals in society.  Despite sincere efforts to sustain peace within oneself, there is just as much urgency in advocating for the dismantling of the structures in any society which disenfranchises groups within any community causes conflict along cultural, religious, economic, political, and institutional lines. Structural violence is the superstructure that impedes engagement, peace-building, empowerment, justice, and protection for all members of society, Sandole (2008).  Rubenstein refers to this as relative deprivation.  This principle aligns itself with the social-psychological concepts of frustration-aggression and threat-aggression. 

Frustration-aggression is the response members of a society experience when basic human needs are not satisfied.  Threat-aggression leads to conflict when individuals feel their ability to attain basic needs is thwarted or denied.  These two social psychological concepts reveal how social injustice can rob peace within individuals.  The relationships between inner and social harmony are mutually inclusive. Inner peace requires conditions promoting it.  In the absence of open and just civil society, the lack of security for all to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, will surely bring conflict. Gender equality and for all minorities, be it age, sex, gender, ethnicity, and religion (this list is by no means exhausted), must be part of the fiber and expectancy of all living in said society. 

All members of the community are to be accepted as legal persons in legitimate civil society. Any threat to this pluralistic environment threatens everyone.  This is how structural violence seeps in.  As more and more ground gained by the fear, suspicion, inequality, and binary attitudes of us versus them, the earth is fertile for conflict to ensue.  



According to conflict analysis and resolution scholars, there are four levels where conflict unfolds.  First, there is Intrapersonal conflict.  These are the thoughts, attitudes, and worldviews, harbored by an individual.  Hocker and Wilmot define interpersonal conflict as an internal strain that creates a state of ambivalence, conflicting internal dialogue, or lack of resolution in one’s thinking and feeling. These truly potent forces that drive individuals to act in particular ways and abstain from others. Although an interdisciplinary field, conflict analysis, and resolution scholarship tend to refrain from furthering research in this area, yielding said work to therapists and other mental health professionals.  The fact that all conversations regarding the evolution of conflict commence from an intrapersonal level suggests that inner peace is paramount to that of social peace.  It is, therefore, incumbent upon conflict analysis and resolution scholars to further the development of intrapersonal models of conflict.

Festinger argued the resolution of cognitive dissonance required changing the thoughts of the person so that they coincide with the actions, or the behaviors need altering to mirror the individual’s thoughts favorably.  Once again, the source of conflict is intrapersonal.  If dissonance remains unresolved, the discomfort and anxiety will lead to conflict, Anderton et al. (2011).  As most conflict, the fatigue of unresolved inner conflict will ultimately lead to external manifestations, which can affect the environment and lead to conflict. Second, there is interpersonal conflict. This conflict is social.  Second, there is interpersonal conflict. This conflict is social occurring among spouses, familial, work-related, or among neighbors.

Third, on the list is intragroup conflicts. These occur among members of religious organizations, companies, teams, and organizations.  Dynamics, history, DNA of the organization, and previously unresolved conflicts, will cause conflict or exacerbate it. Fourth, intergroup conflicts.  These are conflicts between groups, political parties, tribes, villages, and nations.  Ultimately, it is as Plato said – society is man writ large.  The intrapersonal harmony – or lack thereof, will indubitably produce social consequences benefiting all, some or a few.  These are the conditions wherein peace is fostered, or conflict ignited.



Inner peace is a pre-requisite for social peace.  Social peace reflects the intrapersonal peace of its members. Reciprocal determinism is a social cognitive theory underscoring the influence individuals exert on environments and behavior.  Behavior and environment influence each other as they do the individuals in their presence.

Albert Bandura taught this theory alongside the famous 1961 Bobo Doll experiment. In this watershed social psychology experiment, children mimicked the violent behavior modeled by adults toward an inflatable punching bag resembling a clown.  This was the Bobo Doll.  As kids learned to be violent through observation, their acts of violence evolved from those they observed.  Kicking, punching, and throwing the doll as modeled initially by adults, diversified among the children, to include, but not limited to, threatening the doll, hitting it with objects such as toy guns, pots, and pans, Hayes, Rincover, and Volosin (1980). 

Inner peace can be affected by one’s surroundings.  One’s environment can be loving, affirming, nurturing, and supportive.  An individual’s mind, emotions, and spirit will significantly benefit from this.  As a schoolteacher, I see this regularly as it concerns a student’s progress and academic development.  When students have a nurturing, supportive, accountable, and stable environment, they thrive.  Meanwhile, if the caregivers are disconnected, ambivalent, or demonstrate little to no interest in their student’s schooling, they will do poorly.  

The need for transformation, in this case, is three-fold. First, there is a need for context transformation.  Specifically, the student’s asymmetrical relationship with caregivers must alter.  As the caregivers are the dominant party, the student, being the weaker one, possesses little to no power in which to exert influence or demands for change.  The student is at the mercy of the parents and will internalize the resentment, pain, and anguish, as it is the only option available to her. 

Abraham Maslow indicated that safety needs, being the second tier of the hierarchy of needs, will be utmost in the minds of the humans feeling uncertain about the ability to have the security of person and purpose.  Following safety needs, those related to belongingness and love are paramount to secure.  There is little to no expectation for a student’s ability to fend off the weight of pain and suffering endured by 18 or more years of this toxic situation.  Once these feelings define the person, internal conflict is guaranteed, and the social ramifications, too, Mercado (2018).

Secondly, there is structural transformation, or the need to empower the powerless party.  In this particular case, the student wouldn’t be equal in power. Still, child development scholars recognize how authoritative parenting provides for communication, dialogue, and healthy interaction between parents and their kids. The reconfiguring of these roles scholarship refers to as actor transformation — specifically, the change of goals, values, and beliefs concerning the parent-child relationship.

The foundational change required, however, is a personal one.  Again, the relationship between inner and social peace affirmed.  As mentioned in the literature, a new life is required — a fresh perspective and a new set of values, goals, and beliefs about oneself and others.  As personal transformation takes place, the social context does, too.  As social transformation becomes apparent to all parties, the motivation to proceed with more significant changes, sacrifices, and goals will strengthen the probability of a lasting peace encouraged by all.

It is essential never to underestimate the latent content associated with conflict. Scholars refer to the protracted social conflict as having natural causes. Transformation occurs at the levels mentioned above when care and attention granted to the underlying causes happens.  Azar purports security needs, development needs, political access needs, and identity (cultural and religious expression) are crucial to the peace of a community, Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., and Miall, H. (2018)

Most of these resources are rooted in economic access.  Economics, whose etymology is Greek, oikonomia, encapsulates the management of a household.  It suggests the fiscal acumen expected for a home to be self-sustaining.  Over time, the ideas of thrift, wealth, and household codes were incorporated.  Civil society expects the institutions of the nation it represents to afford every citizen with peace, justice, reconciliation, egalitarianism, educational opportunities, financial, and physical security.  Economics, or household management, will, therefore, ensure this for all citizens.  The generation of wealth, the savings of wealth for future generations, the diversification of industry, educational opportunities, and the minimization of conflict are all made possible by a strong economy for all.

When conflict occurs within nations and across national boundaries, a failed economy is to blame.  Across history, the lack of basic human needs has been the catalyst for conflict.  When nations undergo internal conflicts or with other countries, the lack of economic provisions caused by corruption and fiscal incompetence, fuels the conflagration, and it spreads rapidly. When the absence of financial provision is a dire reality in the lives of individuals, the inability to experience peace within will extend without. 

Another area where inner peace can find solace and restoration is through spirituality.  The Dalai Lama invokes religious reflection as a means toward social transformation.  Gandhi inspired an entire nation through the Jain principle of Ahimsa.  Religious thought as an academic exercise is not proselytizing.  The need is urgent to reconfigure spirituality from that of religious indoctrination to genuine reflection.  It is the fear of the unknown many possess that causes conflict. All see the need to learn from one another. Still, even more, significant is the apparent complicity by the majority not to do anything.  As anxiety reaches the status of the new normal among the majority of members of Western society, and as nature deficit disorder continues to spread among the younger generations - disconnecting untold numbers in our community from our planet, we can expect only to further the existential crisis of inner and social alienation.

The integration of all members of society requires a leadership style that empowers all.  The work of Kurt Lewin is useful in comprehending this vital integration.  Lewin’s work laid out three particular leadership styles.  He studied the interaction between the leadership and those led.  He later analyzed the effectiveness of each method by reviewing output.  Finally, he observed the levels of conflict each group had as a direct result of the leadership style employed.  What resulted was a crucial discovery that further complements the thesis of this paper that inner peace and social peace are inextricably connected and mutually inclusive.

Lewin designed the study employing a confederate to serve as the leader.  He then selected 5 to 7 boys to serve as members of the community. An authoritarian leader led the first group.  The leader micromanaged every facet of the group’s interactions.  The leader did not dialogue, instead commanded the steps to be taken regarding an activity or group project.  When the leader was present, the output was reasonable.  In the absence of the leader, work efficiency dropped.  The members of the group increased in scapegoating – blaming other members of the group for mistakes and were more hostile with each other.  Members were willing to tell the leader of the errors committed by other members. 

A democratic leader led the second group.  The leader delegated responsibilities, affirmed the innovative ideas of the children, and encouraged everyone to participate.  The group shared in the successes of the group and supported one another.  There was a greater sense of playfulness and peace in the interactions between the leader and the group and among members of the group.  Production was the highest in this group, and conflict was minimal.

A laissez-faire leader led the third group.  The leader disconnected from the group.  Little to no instruction provided to the group increased uncertainty and boredom.  No expectations for group management or production were voiced, modeled, or affirmed.  Production was at the lowest rate in comparison to all three groups.  As the group members had no guidance or a sense of purpose, senseless horseplay and conflict ensued  Espelage and Swearer (2010).  

Underestimating Lewin’s work cannot occur.  The results are central to the interconnectivity between the intrapersonal aspect of the human being and the social contract entered.  Although the vast majority of human beings never see the fine print of Rousseau’s convention, it is worthy to note that those in power have.  It is the moral obligation of all members of the superstructure to dismantle the structures of violence from the educational system, legal system, political system, military-industrial complex, the food-industrial complex, and the medical-industrial complex.  The economics of conflict prove too costly and immoral.



There are many approaches to finding peace between the inner self and society.  Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall cite in their edited text, Contemporary Conflict Resolution, dedicate an entire chapter on culture, religion, and conflict resolution.  It is the view of these and other scholars that ethnic and religious factors play a decisive role in the management of peaceful social circumstances or not.  Indeed, it is the universal principle in most religions that peace is crucial to living in unity with God or some form of higher power, consciousness, or deity. To question whether religion is a source of conflict is abrasive to so many who believe religion is a salve for humanity’s woes.  Sadly, this is far from factual or true.  The teachings of any religious system since time immemorial has upheld principles regarding the dignity of the created order and all life forms.  It has clearly outlined the sanctity of life and the planet.  It has illustrated the challenges divinity and humanity have experienced in relating to one another and the subsequent ramifications.  Morality, ethical systems, and the expectations for every person to live in authentic and intentional awareness of oneself before deity and among one’s neighbors is indisputable.  Hence, religion technically promotes peace, justice, reconciliation, egalitarianism, education, security for all persons, and opportunities to evolve as spiritual beings, Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., and Miall, H. (2018). 

Religion, therefore, hypothetically promotes economic justice as the economic system of any nation should guarantee the peace, justice, reconciliation, egalitarianism, educational opportunities, financial and physical security for all citizens to evolve as both civil and spiritual beings. Religion is a cultural reality for most of its adherents.  It is the minority within every expression of the world’s religions that invests the personal time, years, and reflection, to arrive at a sincere, personal statement of faith.  This credo is the result of their heartfelt pain, suffering, joy, uncertainty, and humbled arrival at a place of deep, existential meaning, and hope.  The ground of all being, as it were.  This may seem a judgmental and cavalier statement.  I submit that if most individuals embodied their “authentic” credo, then the nature of the planet’s conflicts take drastic turns for the overall well-being of all parties, for the environment and the world over. 

Religious leaders are called to be spiritual activists.  In every single expression of the world’s faith systems found on the planet, there isn’t any exception to this mandate.  No religion provides any ordinance for its subscribers to detach themselves from promoting goodwill, peace, and justice to all.  Independent of the exclusive practices or methods found in the world’s religions, the modalities of care are all rooted in unswerving ethical principles expecting the faithful to embrace conscientization of the inner self and one’s neighbor.  One’s neighbor depends on the faithful as much as the faithful are to do for their neighbor in their deity’s name. When people suffer economic disparity and injustice, it is an indictment of the representatives of the faith they profess.  Let me be clear.  There is no question all religions seek to instill a yearning to love, provide for the welfare, and of spiritual evolution of all.  The way of forbearance is taught as a means of living within means, and to guarantee that all can pursue life and be blessed.  For if they are, the testimony of the faiths represented in any nation, region, or locality, prosper because all see God in their midst.   

Although the global religious systems may or may not share similar theological views, it is secured a path to mutually assured conflict and violence if the intolerance toward dialogue and sharing of resources, support, and advocacy, is sustained.  The economic disparity will continue, and as it further diminishes, the basic needs of all people regardless of religious identity will suffer the consequences of scarcity, poverty, inequality, crime, illness, war, and civil unrest.

The role of spiritual activism is relatively open.  Roles for religious leaders to faithfully advocate for those whose dignity is denied must be tailored to secure faithful administration of one’s vocation in the religion one professes.  There is one constant, notwithstanding.  It is the tenacity to prophetically speak against the power that refuses to honor diversity, secure people against the pain and suffering brought upon by economic disparity and to guarantee that all people have an opportunity to live alongside others expressing religious liberty.  Unless religious leaders invest in all people of faith, regardless of creed, then the hope to stand united against the forces of inequality will also remain secure to continue their unethical and dangerous adventure in global profiteering. 

This is the role I believe religious leaders can take to promote peace within members of any religious tradition and socially.  Cultural differences, ethnic challenges, and religious tensions are part of parcel of living together in the community.  All religious and spiritual leaders can recognize their tradition’s views of violence, and the history of their religious tradition and culture as having participated in violence.  This sobering reality must be faced despite religious language, as well as the sad truth of members belonging to said religious groups that may be prone to violence. 

Viewing the world stage objectively, the apparent presence of religious strife is undeniable.  From these shores to the most distant, the secure and protected place of religion, spirituality, and faith is inextricably connected to the health of any civil society.  When religious conflict appears, surely economic decline is assured, and violence inevitable.  The ignorance concerning Islam on September 11, 2001, was shocking.  The average individual living in the U.S. at that watershed moment in human history had little to no knowledge of Islam, practically no one had read even as much as a portion of the Quran and the stereotypes depicting all Muslims as radical terrorists did not help the situation at from the White House to the regular citizen.  The nutrition provided to perspectives is what sustains them. 

Personnel is crucial to the success of this enterprise.  Be they teachers, mentors, politicians, parents, religious leaders, family or friends, the need to police ourselves within and to contribute to the peace we all desire all around us is desperately urgent.  It requires an individual well versed in religion, religious thought, practice. It sees the process of teaching as the conscientization of the student and the overall community.  Teaching religion, spirituality, and faith, in academic settings, can also benefit the whole school and its respective neighborhood.  By no means am I suggesting the teaching of religious themes is a panacea.  It is a necessary step toward the authentic inclusion of an inevitable part of human society – even in metamodernism.  One also isn’t suggesting that Columbine, Sandy Hook, the attacks in France, England or Sri Lanka, could have been prevented.  Can the presence of religious reflection as an academic and social practice, somehow generate a different environment?  Can it perhaps provide for opportunities to serve others with empathy and increase the awareness of the disenfranchised in our neighborhoods?  Can inner peace be fostered so that social peace endures?


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