Everywhere I’ve lived and worked, I’ve met people who feel a deep inner echo to the idea of making peace. I’m a bit mystical about such things. The inner echo is one mark of a calling and I have a lot of time for people hearing it.But then it gets complicated. How to get from inner echo to outer action? Sustaining my own call over 37 years and observing others, I’ve learned a few things:
By adopting practices of interaction largely stripped of symbols and moments to engage Depth, we cut ourselves off from the most powerful source of energy for creativity, connection, and change available to us.
Conflict style awareness is truly useful in day-to-day management of differences. It's easy to learn.
But not so easy to do!
Easy: Learning the basics of conflict styles. Do this in a few minutes with this free "Intro to Conflict Styles". You can figure out your own conflict style almost as quickly by taking a conflict style quiz (such as my Style Matters; the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, or even a cross-cultural one).
Challenging: remembering, in the heat of conflict, to use those great conflict resolution strategies. We are hardwired by nature with a tiny set of responses when we are frightened or angry: flight, fight, or freeze. Those three simple responses enabled survival in the jungle and you can witness them any time you want in the animal world. But they have limited use for human beings today.
To build partnerships and solve problems in a complex world we need additional options for responding, and the ability to choose rather than merely react. We acquire these capacities, not by relying on instinct, but by thought, practice, and reflection.
Injustice is a big problem. But it's always a symptom of a deeper cause.
You can't build lasting peace and you won't get justice if people feel excluded from decisions they care about. That works sometimes for a little while but in the end things fall apart.
This diagram contains important clues about an alternative to the widely held notion that religious extremism can be forcefully countered. It's from Ian White, a key strategist behind the scene in stabilizing the Northern Ireland peace process.
Religion is deeply embedded in human experience. The goal in responding to religious extremism must be to work with and constructively engage the powerful energies of religion rather than to remove or thwart them, what White calls "countering".
The latter rarely work out as expected. To the extent that strategies to counter extremism are violent, they share and strengthen the underlying assertion of extremism, that force is acceptable and effective in building a desirable future. Even when not violent, if such strategies fail to engage religious leaders, they are devoid of understanding of the world from which extremism emerges; and thus bereft of potency and sustainability.
The only option for responding to religious extremism without making things ultimately worse is a strategy of transformation.
Such a strategy works respectfully and knowledgeably in regard to the role religion holds in human functioning and it engages religious people where they are. It actively seeks out and finds common cause with those values, symbols, traditions, individuals and institutions that support non-violent responses to human diversity; responses that exist in virtually all religious milieu, even if not always apparent from a distance.
Because the only realistic goal is transformation, not transmission or domination, such an approach must be a dialogue, not a monologue.
I spent much of the last month writing new text for the score report of Style Matters. That’s the 10 page personalized report from the online version of my conflict style inventory, whose numbers, with my reflections thereon, go out to users after taking the inventory.
Commanders in military establishments, janitors in neighborhood associations, freshmen at Bible colleges, and pretty much everybody in between read (and I like to think, ponder) this thing; according to logs on our server, nearly 365 days a year.
As usual in our multi-religious family, I did both Pesach and Easter celebrations. Sort of. But mostly, while others congregated for holidays, I wrestled epiphanies in text on my laptop.
And got new hope and vision as I remembered why conflict resolution continues to grip me. Here my traditionalist and my modernist, my believing and my agnostic, my monastic and my populist selves meet. Conflict, or at least reflecting on human responses to it, remains holy ground to this once Mennonite farmer, now aging peace process facilitator.
“Conflict management starts with self-management,” we say on the Style Matters frontpage. The lone boatman there launches his journey to an unknown destination, symbol of the journey that peacebuilding can launch us on.
What is the connection between interpersonal conflict resolution tools like my Style Matters conflict style inventory or the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and big conflicts of our world, like ethnic and religious violence or threat of nuclear war?
There is in fact a connection between what happens between human beings at the smallest level every day and what happens between nations. We can't build a peaceful world until parents, teachers, and leaders see this connection. We must all act on it and teach others about it.
Below is a Pyramid of Competency to show the many layers of competence - and how they relate to each other - that are required for humans to live together peacefully. I use it at the beginning of training on almost any conflict resolution topic to locate it on a map of "the big picture" of peace skills. I also use it with individuals eager to pursue conflict resolution skill development to chart a pathway for learning.
If you took my Style Matters conflict styles inventory or the Thomas Kilmann, you've already given some attention to the second level, "Interpersonal negotiation and conflict resolution".
Ponder this pyramid and you get some clues about why, despite all the progress humans have made, and all the institutions we've created, we're still barely out of the Dark Ages with conflict resolution.
Do you use an angry voice to communicate or give instructions when a firm, even voice would do the job just as well? I witness this most commonly in sports settings, where it seems to be accepted that coaches and trainers shout angrily at those they are training. I'm not talking about raising the voice to be heard. I mean shouting with angry inflections and body language, to convey authority and motivate.
Sports isn't the only place this happens. Every parent and teacher - and I speak as a veteran of both roles - gets ticked off at the youngsters in our charge sometimes. So do team leaders, managers, and supervisors of all sorts, working with all ages. Frustration comes with the territory of leadership.
Anger is a powerful tool for many good purposes, when used sparingly. The volume and intensity of anger say "Listen up...!" and often people do. When it's exceptional, anger gets attention and underscores a message.
But used frequently, the positive effects of anger diminish. Anger stresses people. Eventually they tune out and turn inwards for relief from the bombardment. Then you have to shout louder for the same effect.
Worse, your emotional outbursts trigger similar responses in others. Drama and disrespect creep into many discussions and become normal. All communication suffers, frustration spirals, and morale goes down.
Those called to work for healing and social transformation of our world must think about two transformations.
The first is obvious, the mission of healing, leadership, or change we’ve trained for, and on which we spend our days: To call for peace when the masses clamor for war, to build bridges across no-man's land, to assist wounded people to get to safe space, to build coalitions among those too weak to stand on their own, to be an advocate for the voiceless.
These tasks require knowledge, skills galore, connections, experience, ability to find resources, and more. Graduate programs of many kinds excel at preparing young people for vocations of healing and social change.
But there is a second kind of transformation that is just as important and just as challenging, a transformation the professional schools and guilds barely acknowledge, let alone touch. This is the transformation of the peacebuilder, the healing of the healer.
To say others have problems and we want to help is one thing. To admit that in the process of helping others we encounter our own problems and need help is quite another.
(Part III in a series from a forthcoming book, Transforming the Healer)
As we accept the reality of our own pain and struggle, and begin to recognize their universality, we open ourselves to the voice of the soul. We hear and feel things we never heard or felt before about our gifts and our strengths. There is energy within, a nudge to speak out, move, or act in new or different ways.
We also notice things in the world that we never noticed before. Eventually the inner stirring is confirmed by an opportunity or request from without.
In the interplay of the inner and outer comes a message: “You possess the right capabilities to address a particular problem in the world. You are the one able to offer that which is needed.”
This is Call, a deeply felt motivation to mobilize our own unique blend of interests and abilities to address a particular need in the world. As the next story shows, transformation is not only about hearing our own Call, but about relating to others in ways that help them hear theirs.
You know me as a peace process guy, a conflict resolution trainer, an author of peace training materials. You don’t know this: I love guns.
As far back as I can remember, guns stood in the corner of the pumphouse on the family farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Carrying a 12 gauge shotgun down rows of corn on a chill Saturday morning in October, with our terrier on the prowl and all my teenage senses tuned to the hunt, thrilled me. With the deadly power in my hands I could bring home a pheasant or rabbit if I was quick enough. I felt grownup, part of the world of men.
So in 1993, in a remote training camp in the high veld above Pretoria, on the third day of a course in conflict resolution for police in the new South Africa, when smiling officers came during morning break and asked if I’d like to go out on the firing range, I instantly said yes.
I wasn’t sure what they had in mind. But soon as I jumped into their van after lunch, I knew. A pile of weapons and ammunition sprawled across seats and floor. Three burly police trainers grinned at me knowingly. We were boys in a toy store and my heart was pounding.
We started with rubber bullets, in two varieties. One was a heavy chunk of rubber an inch and a half in diameter and over 3 inches long. I had seen these fired at protesters and witnessed a colleague take a direct hit a year ago as a peace monitor working a chaotic line between police and protesters. She limped into the office the next day with an angry welt on her thigh the size of a saucer. Centered in dark purple was a perfectly round, pure white circle larger than a quarter, exactly the size of the rubber bullets I was now firing.
The passing this week of Archbishop Desmond Tutu brings a flood of memories of an amazing man and a remarkable chapter in history. I was in South Africa from 1989 to 1995 and witnessed him in action on many occasions.
For anyone committed to leading peaceful change in organizations, communities, or nations, there's much to learn from Tutu's life about how to be effective in human transformation.
How can we assist the healing of a broken world when we ourselves are far from healed?
The question has followed me across forty years of work on four continents. I first saw it as a problem for others, in the inability of colleagues to “walk the talk”, in conflict within and among the peace organizations that have been my home, and in burnout among colleagues on rugged edges of my field.
It was another step when I came to see it as my problem, as I grew more aware of my own inconsistencies and wounds, and my own perennial struggle with exhaustion. Then came a third big step as I slowly realized we all struggle with a challenge larger than any of us.
The very enterprise of helping, leading, and healing others brings complex issues and decisions into the life of any mortal who steps into it. Those issues can diminish or enlarge us, socially and spiritually. If we recognize the opportunity they present for growth, we can make our calling a location of profound growth at all levels of being.
When I arrived in Denver at the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in June, 1986, I was excited about the prospects ahead. The field of conflict resolution was in its infancy and five hundred people were gathering from all over the world to share our experiences and learn from each other. As founding director of one of the few organizations with full-time staff in the field at that time, I had looked forward for months to this rare chance to engage fellow pioneers.
In my early days in peacebuilding, I met with John A. Lapp, the executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee. I had just been "hired" for a one-year stint of voluntary service with MCC to establish a new unit, the Mennonite Conciliation Service.
As requests for mediation increased, I sensed a call for deeper forfeiture than I had first understood. I could be only one place at a time; conflict is everywhere. To achieve our goal of encouraging constructive resolution of conflict in communities and the nation, I should let go of the goal of becoming the mediator and instead train others as mediators. I loved mediating, but I recognized I must shift my priority to training mediators, a mission I felt pretty shaky about.
I soon came to love training even more than mediating. But as demand for MCS workshops increased, it became apparent that a still deeper level of relinquishment was called for. My calendar couldn’t accommodate all the promising possibilities to lead training workshops. Rather than training mediators I ought to be training trainers.
Of course it didn't take long to see that being at the heart of a network of trainers grateful for what I had taught them was even more rewarding than training itself!
So the “job” as I have come to understand it in recent years is to find and be an ally to those with a vision for peace. Some may become mediators or facilitators, but others will become advocates of tolerance, bridgebuilders to supposed enemies, conveners or funders of fellow peace visionaries, professionals in other callings who use their connections and influence to create processes and institutions that build peace, etc.