Changing the Story as a Solution to Conflict

Applied ICDIntercultural dialogue is often about finding a way to recognize and reconcile two different sets of assumptions/beliefs. A particularly graceful solution to a conflict of beliefs between locals and tourists is described below. What is uncommon is that a solution was found in acknowledging a lack of action. 

Context: Uluṟu /Ayers Rock used to be frequently climbed by visitors, but as of October 26, 2019 is to be closed to further climbing. Uluṟu is an intensely sacred landscape for the Aṉangu people.

“In regards to the climb itself, the management board did a clever thing. Rather than simply encourage visitors not to climb, they provided a way for them to feel they had contributed something by their decision. At one time, there was a visitors’ book on the summit with the title “I climbed Ayers Rock,” where climbers could record their achievement. So, at the visitors’ centre in the nearby town of Yulara, staff installed another book, with the title “I have not climbed Ayers Rock,” where visitors could make a comment about why they chose not to climb. This inspired piece of social psychology enables visitors to see their decision as an active endorsement, rather than a passive abstention. Signing becomes a record of a different kind of achievement. I glanced through some recent comments, many of which mentioned newfound respect for Aboriginal feelings. One visitor wrote: ‘I climbed it 29 years ago. Came back wiser.'”

Among the author’s conclusions: “social change may be hastened if the narratives stress mutual benefit rather than ‘us’ vs ‘them’ antagonism. The Aṉangu position was that not climbing Uluṟu was good for visitors’ bodies (safety), good for their souls (respect for sacredness), and good for building relationships between blackfellas and whitefellas.”

Warne, Kennedy. (December 10, 2017). No more shoes on Uluṟu. E-Tangata.