by Heidi Burgess
July 5, 2022
This is the second to last newsletter that BI will be sending out with MailChimp. We have been quiet over the last several months as we have been working on updating our entire site organization, adding a lot of new content related to a new discussion we will soon be debuting (with the Conflict Resolution Quarterly) on hyper-polarization, as well as updating our outreach and social media strategies. This, as always, has taken longer than hoped. (You can get early a sneak-peek and early access to the discussion by clicking on the link just above—or wait until the next newsletter when we explain in detail what this is all about.)
We will be switching our newsletter over to Substack, and we plan to send the next one out using both Substack and MailChimp to make sure we don't miss anyone. If you are currently subscribed, you don't need to subscribe again, as we will transfer the mailing list over. Our new Substack Help page provides information on how to overcome common delivery problems (such as the newsletter being diverted to spam).
In the meantime, we did want to highlight several new items that we have recently posted on BI and share some recent and, especially, time-sensitive Colleague Activity as well as BI in Context posts.
To start with, we have recently added two fascinating interviews, one with Shamil Idress, CEO of Search for Common Ground, and the other with Nawaz Mohammed, the Sri Lankan Country Director for Search. I have to credit my former George Mason University / Carter School student Allison Pike-Merrell who first came up with idea of interviewing Shamil for the course I teach (and she took) on Reconciliation. Shamil suggested that she interview someone who was "on the ground, doing the work," suggesting Nawaz would be a particularly interesting person to talk to. Which he was!
But meanwhile, I realized that it would be wonderful to talk with Shamil as well, so I interviewed him at length about his personal background, as well as Search's history. We also talked about his thoughts about the current U.S. and world situation and the role that the peacebuilding field is playing and could play in improving the rather dire situations we now find ourselves. It is a wide-ranging and extremely informative and inspiring conversation. I hope many of our readers will take the time to watch it, or read the transcript. I promise, you'll learn a lot and will be left pondering a number of things you likely haven't thought about before.
He tells, for instance, how he rose from undergraduate intern to CEO of one of the largest peacebuilding NGOs in the world in twenty short years (with stints at the World Economic Forum and the UN in between.) He explains, also, how Search grew out of its founder's (John Mark's) epiphany that his previous advocacy work put him in a very negative space that did not leave room for the humanity of his opponents. But he realized, as he got to know some of them, they were honorable people, and the issues that Marks had previously seen as so black and white, were actually quite gray. So instead of continuing to tear things down, he decided he could have more of an impact if he worked with people on all sides to build new things—new collaborations, new ways of solving problems, that worked for everyone. And that was the start of Search—which began with about 10 people in 1982, and has grown to about 500 staff members now.
Search has, for a long time, been one of the most respected peacebuilding NGOs in the field. They have been a leader in peace media, having started soap operas that taught conflict and peace attitudes and skills in 1986 (continuing to this day). They are a leader in the use of local people, rather than outsiders, delivering their programming, and designing that programming by listening to all the constituencies involved in a conflict, rather than coming in with their own agenda.
While many peacebuilders (including myself, I will acknowledge), call for the pursuit of democratic values, Shamil does not see that as important as pursuing five other goals: 1) building inter-communal trust and 2) institutional legitimacy, 3) reducing levels of physical violence 4) increasing people's sense of agency, and 5) reallocating resourcing for more collaborative, non-violent approaches to conflict. He points out that we assume that democracies do that better than autocracies, but democracy's track record on those elements, he says, is not good. On that I would certainly agree!
He has lots of other insightful material here, and wonderful stories! Please have a listen (or read)!
Shamil also shared an editorial he had recently published in The Hill. Originally entitled "A Three Step Plan for Ending War in Ukraine and Averting World War III", he (and The Hill) allowed us to reprint this on our blog, now entitled "We Must Break the Logic of War Now--Before We Get World War III" This article covers some of the same ground as his interview, but applies it to a different (but also critical) context: Ukraine. Our thanks to Shamil for sharing so much wisdom--and hope!
And our thanks, too, to Allison and Nawaz who had a wonderful discussion of how Nawaz has pursued reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Though the history of conflict and current tensions are somewhat different there than they are in the U.S., US readers can still learn a lot, both about Sri Lanka and about US polarization and distrust and how we might deal with it by listening to or reading Nawaz's interview.
Recent and Related Beyond Intractability Posts:
- Reflections on the January 6 Hearings and the Need for a Broader Investigation of Hyper-Polarization — Guy Burgess
The continuing chasm that divides Trump supporters and opponents following the January 6 hearings, highlights the need for a much more comprehensive effort to address the hyper-polarization problem.
- Making Collaborative Democracy Work
The 12 Laws of Democracy and Pluralism — Ashok Panikkar
For those who feel that the goal of a democracy that lives up to its ideals is slipping away, an online course that asks hard questions about where we are going wrong and how we could do better.
- Effective Communication Strategies
The Perception Gap from "More in Common" — An interesting online quiz to help us understand errors in the way we see the other side – errors that commonly inflame our conflicts.
- Effective Communication Strategies
Monuments, Mascots, and Naming: A guide to Conversations and Community and Memory — From Essential Conversations, a guide (and other sources of assistance) for communities that want to more constructively talk through contentious issues regarding important public sites
- Theories of Change
Adapting a Network's Theory of Change from Network Weaver — Today's very large and complex societies function through a series of interlocking networks. Effective social problem-solving requires an ability to mobilize these networks.
- Effective Problem Assessment
Measuring the Un-Measurable — From Search for Common Ground, a much-needed manual that addresses the complex challenge of measuring the effectiveness of the many peace building strategies now being pursued.
Beyond Intractability in Context
- Mobilize-the-Base Politicians
Turnout Myths Are the Democrats' Drug of Choice — Abandoning political persuasion in favor of "mobilize the base" strategies forces political leaders to rely on fear and hate mongering strategies that further drive the escalation spiral.
- You Can Make a Difference
Your Kids Are Not Doomed — A persuasive argument against one of the terrible manifestations of fear, hopelessness, and cynicism – the decision not to have kids.
- Power-Over Partisans
How Much Damage Have Marjorie Taylor Greene and the ‘Bullies’ Done to the G.O.P.? — Thomas Edsall
A look at what social scientists think are the differences between political extremes on the left and the right.
- Psychological Complexity
San Francisco Schools Are Retiring ‘Chief.’ That’s Not as Frivolous as It Seems. — John McWhorter
A look at the extraordinary complexity of language and the many ways in which efforts to control its use can have surprising, unintended, and often detrimental consequences.
- Large-Scale Violence
‘How Civil Wars Start,’ a Warning About the State of the Union — One key to avoiding war is to take the threat seriously and not fall into the "it could never happen here" trap.
- The Nature of Complexity
There Has to Be a Better Way to Run the Government — Ezra Klein
A readable case study of the complexities of contemporary policymaking and an explanation of why we can't seem to fix much of anything.
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