Interdisciplinarity: Using physics in conflict management

Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon

Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon

REALITY in any sphere of human life is complex. One can better satisfy the inquiring mind if reality is not perceived in bits and pieces. But to develop a mind that can appreciate a phenomenon from peripheral angles, calls for being able to relate the “bits and pieces” that impact on one another. How to avoid a tunnel vision? How to shape the mind of our learners to be expansive? This kind of mind is developed by not only providing the learner an informed understanding of the disciplines, but a goodly practice to integrate them, such that a discipline could be in the service of another or of others and could be applied in practical life as well. Let’s share several examples.

Interdisciplinarity in practical life

We use interdisciplinarity in decision-making. If President Duterte decides to raise the minimum wage across regions, he would require the Labor department to review employers’ paying capacity, pay differences among kinds of jobs, classification of cities, municipalities, provinces and regions. Sound decision-making will draw from economics, sociology, political science, moral philosophy, governance, etc. “Students who are regularly exposed to classroom conversations and assignments that tackle real-world problems in an interdisciplinary fashion, engage in significant learning, realize cognitive gains, are better positioned to understand challenging problems and to frame viable solutions.”< html>
Human problems being not all simple, their solutions have to draw from various disciplines.

Interdisciplinary approach in organizational life

In managing conflict, we can draw concepts from the law of equilibrium in physics: the sum of all forces acting on a body that is in equilibrium is zero (because opposing forces — Resistance and Effort — balance each other). Using physics in managing conflict arising between a boss (Resistance) and a subordinate (Effort), a third party could work for equilibrium. If this third party allies with Effort (the side of the subordinate), the boss’ amor propio will be affected. The boss is likely to be more resistant, feeling that the Effort forces are heavier, swinging up the boss in the air in a see-saw of arguments. This will continue to upset the equilibrium. The Boss will exert his power, even threaten the subordinate. To prevent a seesaw movement of Resistance and Effort and induce an equilibrium, (stability), the third party could help explain to the subordinate the merits of what the Boss prefers and which will likely mellow the Boss. As the equilibrium regains, the third party could discuss the merit of the subordinate’s side of the conflict. Given tact, clarity and unbiased discussion, and a common commitment to organizational interest, some compromise will likely settle the conflict. However, conflicts that have long been existing may not be easily settled. Much more time for the third party is needed to induce a balance of merits—of Resistance and Effort. No matter, the bottom line is to manage keeping as much as possible an equilibrium, where Resistance and Effort—- that is both sides are heard, merits of both sides are recognized, mutual efforts to have “the opposing forces” remain at par. This example integrates notions and concepts and guiding principles in Physics, Filipino Psychology, Communication Arts to “systematically form a more complete, and hopefully coherent, framework of analysis that offers a richer understanding of the issue under examination.”

The interdisciplinary approach in the classroom

“Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It is about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them.”< /Interdisciplinarity>

In teaching English grammar, teachers in the long past instruct as to “diagram” sentences. This consists of mapping a sentence on a straight horizontal line cut into two by a vertical line drawn through it. On the left side of this horizontal line, we write the subject of the sentence, and at the right, the verb. All modifiers are written below this horizontal line. Adjectives are written on slanting underlines below the domain of the subject; adverbs, below the domain of the verb. Similarly, prepositional phrases are written under the domains to which they relate — either the subject or the verb. Our English language teacher who also taught us British literature would give us a passage from an eighteenth century blank verse to diagram. In a simple sentence the subject is usually at the beginning. In blank verse, it can be anywhere. These are two disciplines where we learn both grammar and find deeper meaning in the blank verse.

Interdisciplinary to multidisciplinary approach

Learning what Renaissance Humanism is, by drawing understanding from European literature and the later Middle Ages of Europe’s history, are examples of the interdisciplinary approach. The relationships of several disciplines, in this case, literature, philosophy, theology and history are “drawn out for learners to realize that the reality in this world interconnects many aspects of life.” This approach provides the type of learning which “enables teachers and learners to make connections across learning through exploring clear and relevant links across the curriculum. It supports the use and application of what has been taught and learned in new and different ways. It provides opportunities for deepening learning, for example through answering big questions, exploring an issue, solving problems or completing a final project.”

“Interdisciplinary analysis examines an issue from multiple perspectives, leading to a systematic effort to integrate the alternative perspectives into a unified or coherent framework of analysis.”< interdisciplinary/index.html>

Training of teachers in using the interdisciplinary approach helps better ensure discipline integration, such as in STEM, in the K-12 curriculum.
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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and institutional management experts, held top academic positions at Xavier University (the Ateneo de Cagayan) before heading chartered institutions. She studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. An internationalization consultant on call, she is copy editor of the Liceo journals, and professorial lecturer at the Graduate Studies of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro City). Awards include a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education. (Email:


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  1. Is it important that truth must be the basis in any decision making and not the equilibrium ? Weather the solution is popular or not, what is right prevails whose ever your side you are in. Politicians are guilty of using public sentiments in making a decision. When the decision is based from emotion, then there will be problems ahead. Case in point, Pnoy Aquino who does not have the capacity to be a president was elected due to his mothers demise. So you see the outcome. Duterte was elected because he acts like a goon and talks like a gangster . We will see if this is the right choice.

  2. Thought provoking post. Sadly, academia has divided our reality into discrete disciplines. And, it is not always easy for the student to pull the pieces together into a cohesive whole.

    Problem-solving in the real world is best done when issues are comprehensively viewed from a broad range of perspectives. Persons with broad perspectives – politicians, journalists, bureaucrats – may possibly be the type of problem solvers that the country needs today.