The Coexistence Initiative
Topics: coexistence, cooperation, identity, human rights
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
Listen/Read Selected Interview Segments on the Following Topics
- Goals and Visions
- Coexisting in Cyprus
- Coordination and Cooperation in Conflict Areas
- Learning from Other Intervenors
- Defining "Coexistence"
- Coexistence and Human Rights
- Working Across Levels
- The Coexistence Component of Conflict Resolution
- Bi-Partisanship in Identity Issues
- Coexistence and Transformative Mediation
- Inspiring Work on Human Rights
- The Purpose of Evaluations
- Identity and Fear
- Linking the Grassroots and Power Levels
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: Yes. The coexistence initiative is an organization that works within the peace building, conflict management field. It has a particular sub-slice of that field, which is an emphasis on the word "coexistence." There is a tag line to what we do, which is called "making the world safe for difference," or making the world safe for diversities. We have that particular slice or sub-field of the overall field might be useful to spend a couple of minutes talking about the word "coexistence." To do that, backtrack slightly to the importance of definitions at all. What the Coexistence Initiative has done over the last two or three months is focus intently in trying to make sure that it's articulating clearly to itself and to the people that it serves what "coexistence" is. Part of that comes from the fact that this particular word can cover all kinds of things. Part of this is also a function of where we think the broader peace building and peace management field is right now. Particularly in the post-September 11, post-haydays of the dot com economy world. There simply are not as many people available to write large checks, simply on faith.
The Coexistence Initiative thinks it is extremely important that any organization, and of course that also means us, can clearly explain what its goal and vision is. It cannot use random words that might be interpreted by one person one way and another person in another way. That is important in general because any non-profit organization is basically holding the public trust. We don't have to pay taxes; we are given a series of advantages in society writ large. We feel that it is important that we are the guardians of that trust, which means that we've got to have, and this is a word that's key to us, a "value added." We've got to be able to say that we do something we think is good and that the person writing the check will also decide whether they think it is good or not. And if he or she thinks it's good, they write the check. If he or she thinks it's good then they write the check. We do something we think is good that isn't necessarily duplicated by anybody else out there. It is not simply more of the same.
Q: So when people say "what do you mean," what do you tell them now?
A: By coexistence?
Here's what we mean by coexistence as things now stand. This is a work in progress. We are defining coexistence by twinning coexistence with diversity. Then we look at diversity and ask what are the different causes of diversity. There is a long list: gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and political beliefs. It can include a variety of ideological differences.
The argument is that much, not all, but much of the conflict, is in one way or another, either caused by or exacerbated by the misuse of identity, the pitting of different ethnic identities against one another--the pitting between different religious beliefs, the communal faith against one another.
For that reason, because we think that so much of the conflict that we have in the world or around us today is tied to that particular subset of the list of things that defined diversity, it's that subset that we are working on.
What is coexistence on the basis of defining diversity through ethnicity, religion and gender? We want to argue that diversity should be viewed in a constructive way. Resolving conflict in some ways can be defined as creating a neutral space in which you park your identity at the door. It is our argument that that may be necessary at a certain stage of a conflict because it is so heated or so violent that you need to have a cooling off period, but you can't leave your identity parked at the door indefinitely.
One of the short comings of a very rich, very committed field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding is that it doesn't have a full set of tools or a full theoretical awareness of how to bring identity back in. The argument is that you cannot strip people of their identity. So we wouldn't want to create some sort of very homogenized thing where everybody was the same color, or some how the same gender (who knows how that would work?). There would be no sense of identity. It is part of the human condition to have identity. Our goal is to create the tool kits, the technical mechanisms, but also the embrace of the values that leads us to the point where someone will say, "We want to know how to embrace diverse identities constructively", or "We don't want to park our identities at the door."
A: Here's what we mean by coexistence as things now stand. This is a work in progress. We are defining coexistence by twinning coexistence with diversity. Then we look at diversity and ask what are the different causes of diversity. There is a long list. That list includes gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and political beliefs. It can include a variety of ideological differences. The argument is that much, not all, but much of the conflict, is in one way or another, either caused by, or exacerbated by the misuse of identity, the pitting of different ethnic identities against one another--the pitting between different religious beliefs, communal faiths against one another. For that reason, because we think that so much of the conflict that we have in the world or around us today is tied to that particular subset of the list of things that defined diversity, it's that subset that we are working on. What is coexistence on the basis of defining diversity through ethnicity, religion and gender? We want to argue that diversity should be viewed in a constructive way. Resolving conflict in some ways can be defined as creating a neutral space in which you park your identity at the door. It is our argument that that may be necessary at a certain stage of a conflict because it is so heated or so violent that you need to have a cooling off period, but you can't leave your identity parked at the door indefinitely.
One of the short comings of a very rich, very committed field of conflict resolution and peace building is that it doesn't have a full set of tools or a full theoretical awareness of how to bring identity back in. The argument is that you cannot strip people of their identity. So we wouldn't want to create some sort of very homogenized thing where everybody was the same color, or some how the same gender (who knows how that would work?). There would be no sense of identity. It is part of the human condition to have identity. Our goal is to create the tool kits, the technical mechanisms, but also the embrace of the values that leads us to the point where everyone will say, "We want to know how to embrace diverse identities constructively", or "We don't want to park our identities at the door."
Q: So in that sense it sounds like you are including coexistence as conflict resolution with an emphasis on preserving identity. When I hear coexistence I think of things like Cyprus where there are two parties in conflict in sort of a holding pattern. There is not a lot of violence but there is not a lot of progress. When I hear coexistence I don't think resolution.
A: Our goal is resolution. So let's take Cyprus as an example. Cyprus, as it now stands, is an example of what we would call "passive coexistence." There is not a lot of violence right now. That is certainly better than it could be. The situation is also not resolved. Cyprus is a good example of the piece that is missing, because a lot of very dedicated effort has gone into trying to figure out, into trying to move forward into the next step in the context of Cyprus. One of the arguments we make with relation to a situation such as Cyprus is that you need to have a way in which you can do more than come up to the line and look at each other across the line. As you look across the line you say that I actually want to have the identity of the person on the other side of that line part of my broader civic and cultural identity. I not only know that I need to do that because we don't want this stalemate to go on forever, but I would like to do that. That process would enrich us.
There is a technical process but there is also, in the long run, one of ways how we know we've gotten there, indicators is that people will actually demand, actually reach out for and embrace different identities without fear that is going to cause them to loose their own identity. You can be what you are and interact with identities different from yourself without fear of losing your own identity, and in a way that is constructive to both sides.
Q: What experience in your work has especially touched or inspired you?
A: I'm going to need to ponder that question, if I could? Let's definitely come back to that question it's an important one. Let me give you an illustration of one way that it might work and then we can move on to a sense of what's inspiring about that work, some of the lessons learned so far and the context of that work. If you think of the people that are working in conflict areas there is something of a continuum that runs from the people who get their first through the organizations working on development, human rights, and restorative justice isn't exactly a straight line; but there is a diverse community. The organizations within that continuum often see themselves as being development organizations. That is what they want to do. They want to get economies going. They want the wells dug so you have clean drinking water and so on. There are organizations within that spectrum who see what they are doing as addressing issues such as governance, justice, human rights, some organizations dwell with that, but an increasingly amount of organizations that are multi-task organizations.
There is a second community. If we were looking at a white board it would be almost as if we are looking at two tracks running along that white board. The second community is people who work specifically on tolerance, multi-culturalism, and anti-bias education. These people, in particular, work in education and at the grassroots level. There is some cross-fertilization between those communities, but not a lot and not systematically.
One of the ways that we'll know that we've moved forward with our slice of the overall set of needs and vision is if we can create systematic linkages so that a development agency, for example, working with conflict, post-conflict and conflict prevention can reach into the lessons learned, the tool kits, the experience of the tolerance, multi-culturalism and anti-bias people. There will be a systematic cross-fertilization between those two different communities. Many of the tolerant, multi-culturalism, anti-bias people/organizations don't think of themselves specifically as conflict resolution and as being part of the conflict resolution field. Much of the work of multi-culturalism, tolerance, anti-bias training, and community dialogues actually predates the emergence of conflict resolution as a professional field. This work is easily pegged if you trace its roots to the 1960's in the United States and Western Europe and before. Now there are organizations that are part of the conflict resolution field that actually date that far back, but the field is a field. You would recognize in the context of having theory, having education programs, having networks, and having journals-all of those things that define a field. The conflict resolution field is much younger than what we will call the tolerance/multi-culturalism field.
One of the ways that we are going to know that one of our tests for whether the work coexistence initiative has succeeded or not is, if we can create a systematic kind of cross-fertilization and facilitations of communications between those two tracks or fields.
Q: Is that because the coexistence initiative sees itself as being in both of those to begin with?
A: Yes. It sees itself as being part of the bridge between those two fields. We also believe that there are a wealth of lessons from the tolerance, multi-cultural, anti-bias field that are sitting there waiting to be drawn in to the peace-building field at large. Part of the reason they haven't been systematically drawn in is that there has been something of a tendency within the conflict resolution field to assume that there needs to be a kind of neutrality, that makes perfect sense. If you are a third party helping create/or facilitate dialogue, create capacity for dialogue and communication, create capacity for civic building of trust, something for what we might call the conflict resolution tool kit.
One of the messages that is implicit in that is you as a third party are neutral. What has tended to happen is that people make the assumption that the process must be neutral, which gets to the park your identity at the door tendency. We've got to create the neutral common ground. For a certain amount, for historical reasons, this vast set of resources describing how coexistence works, how people of different ethnicities, religious beliefs, etc, how they work together. Much of that part of the tool kit, the skill set and the values is embedded more in the second of the two communities. We see ourselves as being a bridge between the two because we recognize and know that resource base. We have come largely out of the first conflict management/resolution. We physically stand in one community, but are trained and are aware of this vast resource base in the other community. We see our principle challenge as helping to build bridges to facilitate the sharing of resources, ideas and ultimately the sharing of values.
Q: If I were to come up with something brief about the Coexistence Initiative it sounds like I might say that it is a conflict resolution organization that seeks ways to reduce threats of identities to parties in conflict?
A: Not exactly, because what you just articulated is one of the problems that we are trying to address. This problem is the tendency to articulate coexistence in a negative. The way that has been done in most cases gets us to the park your identity at the door approach. How to reduce a threat and keep the threat out? The reality is that we will always have our identities with us which is part of why conflicts arise that sometimes seem to get resolved and then mysteriously become conflict again. They do so in part because as people left the arena in which they could come together to resolve the conflict, they picked up their identities again because you always take your identity with you. In some ways the answer to your question turns around the vocabulary. The 60 second sound byte is that our goal is to create an awareness and a capacity for organizations and people in the peace building community to view coexistence as a positive source of dynamics, and values within any given society across social and national lines so that diversity becomes something to be valued, and embraced. What are the tools and processes to do that? That is what the coexistence initiative sees itself as doing.
Q: Do you want to talk about those tools now? Or should we go to the inspiration question?
A: Let's talk a little about tools, or more specifically about processes and arenas of activity if you are interested in coexistence. Where do you work? With whom do you work? To my knowledge no one yet has one single simple tool kit. As in, here are the four things you should do and if you do them we absolutely guarantee you that coexistence will be a positive experience for everybody. Everyone will be free from fear about loss of identity and so on. It isn't out there yet. In some ways there is a good parallel here to the human rights movement.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948. If you read that document thinking of yourself as being in the late 1940's, the document basically spelled out a set of goals that no one could possibly achieve in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or 50 years if you take that declaration as the base line for the human rights movement. They have done what in some ways we are going to try to do also because by now human rights really has become something of an embedded value. People do not only hope for that but call for that. Given that, where do the arenas in which someone interested in making coexistence a positive experience, making the world not only safe for diversity, but having people want to reach out and embrace diversity go to? With whom do you work? How do you go about doing that work? This is one of those goals that require that you work at a number of different levels. Let's take three in particular. The Coexistence Initiative is working with all three.
The first focus is on practitioners themselves, the people in conflict resolution organizations, human rights organizations, development agencies, organizations dedicated to justice and rule of law, and the practitioners in the field. That is one target audience and target set of partners.
A second target audience is policy makers for obvious reasons. Again getting back to the issue of conflict resolution, many conflicts into which people have invested a great deal by way of time and resources seem to almost get resolved and then they explode again. I said a few minutes ago that one of the reasons for that is the tendency of saying that you need to park your identity at the door and people pick it up as they walk back out again.
There is a second reason that has to do with the abuse of identity, or really the abuse of power by policy makers or by political leaders. It is central that this kind of work encourages these people to recognize the value of embracing diversity, rather than using diversity as a way of pitting people against one another.
Q: For example the first thing that comes to mind there would be Slobodan Milosevic, in the sense of manipulating historical myths to reign.
A: Yes. Excellent example. The practitioners need to be aware of this particularly when they are in the conflict resolution stream whether they are trying to prevent a conflict, address a conflict that is ongoing, or secure post-conflict reconstruction. Those people themselves need to have these values, ideas, the awareness of the toolkit, but so do the policy makers because they are the ones ultimately with the power. They can undo a great deal that has been done by the practitioners if they don't share the same values. The third community that needs to be addressed is effectively the real live world. We usually think of this as community level work or grassroots work. Here we are talking about dealing not with the practitioners of aid and development agencies that may have come in from the outside. We are talking about dealing directly with the people that "live there": community groups, indigenous organizations interested in conflict management and post-conflict reconstruction. The three levels that we are targeting are the practitioners, the policy makers, and grassroots level.
Q: Interesting. I think there has been little focus on the practitioners and very often about three levels. Track 1 levels, Track 2 levels, and grassroots levels. You are all concerned also with the conflict resolution, peace building practitioners who go into that?
A: Exactly. For a lot of reasons the Coexistence Initiative comes out of that background, but also particularly in the context of resolving a conflict or securing, nailing down those successes. The conflict remains post-conflict rather than popping back up again so that you can start the cycle all over again. Much of that work could be moved forward by the practitioners. There is a certain amount of frustration by people who are not part of the conflict resolution field as to why the conflict resolution field doesn't seem to have resolved a lot of conflicts. It is a fair question, but also a critical question when funding is short. Someone is going to come to you and say, "Well what have you done? Why aren't conflicts A, B, and C resolved by now? You've been working at this for a while." We are making two arguments. One is to the funders. We say, "Look this is a long process." The other is to the practitioners. We then say, "Look you need this component." Some conflict resolution organizations are ahead of others. They would say, "Yes we already got that." There is a handful who really do.
Q: This component is coexistence?
A: Yes, the coexistence component. It's not well articulated and in a number of cases part of coexistence initiatives are focusing exercises. I've been interviewing people who are conflict resolution organizations, development agencies, and so on. The people I am talking to will often say yeah, I get that. Then as the conversation moves forward and they realize what we are really talking about is that identity must come with you at all times. What are your approaches to encouraging not passive coexistence, but constructive coexistence? Then the light goes on in their eyes. Do you know that there is a large body of resources that are available that is really outside your particular community? The light goes on and there is a real look of interest in the context of the people that are in that first continuum.
Q: In a sense it sounds like the coexistence philosophy is a certain way to capacitate practitioners in the field to understand identity in a new way, or at least how identity intersects with a given conflict?
A: Yes. We really are talking about understanding identity in a new way. In the sense that we are arguing strongly that identity is part of the human condition. You cannot park it at the door. So the word "neutral," if it refers to identity as neutral, is problematic. We are not arguing for being partisan, as in "I like identity A better than identity B." Let's say we only have two identities at issue in a conflict. We are talking about being bi-partisan, as in both identities need to be more than just recognized. We need to encourage side A and side B to want the identity of the opposite side to be part of the equation for conflict resolution.
Q: It's becoming clear! I'm getting it.
A: It's taking us a while to get it. In particular because much by way of the approach to coexistence there is a vast embodied theoretical writings on coexistence. Much of it is coexistence despite identity. Then there is a negative word in some way or another, or a passive word; so there is coexistence, verb-identity. The verb is often negative or passive. You can have in some ways very destructive passive coexistence. You could argue this by using the United States as an example that segregation was a form of coexistence. Two clearly distinct groups of people by law coexisted but they did so under conditions of what I would call passive, or cold coexistence. We would argue that that's not a model. People weren't killing each other; although, there were certainly people killed. We would argue that where we are beginning to move in the United States we don't necessarily hold the United States up as a model. We are not trying to Americanify the world. Our children are better off if when they are school or in the workplace if they look around and see that everyone is exactly like themselves. They say to themselves, "I am missing something, this isn't quite good enough." They are enriched by being in a multicultural nation, a multicultural workplace setting, and a multicultural school. So it is a positive goal rather than a negative one.
Q: It sounds a little bit like transformative mediation on a very large scale, recognition of the other and empowerment of the self through that recognition.
A: Yes. The other is a phrase that we are not worried about using. Whereas the negative phrases we explicitly try to move away from. Understanding and embracing the other is a critical part of what we are doing. The first half of that is in particular embedded in the work of the people who have been doing tolerance training, multiculturalism, and anti-bias training. You should study another culture and they are absolutely right. That is essential. Then there is one more step which is to take what you now know and figure out how to make that other interact with yourself so that other isn't at arms length. This should be part of your daily interaction in such a way that you won't be afraid to cease to be you and other won't be afraid that it will cease to be other. You are actively interacting on a daily basis.
Q: Which ideally, would make both sides richer?
A: Absolutely. That's the goal and we firmly believe that it does make both sides richer, or all sides if you have A, B, C, and D as your other. That's the key, there has to be an incentive for this. We think the incentive is authentically there. We do not think that we are creating another organization like other organizations in particular in the tolerance and multi-culturalism field who aren't creating a fake goal, to justify what they're doing. In examples where there have been steps toward a positive embrace of other or a positive approach to coexistence, the cultures are richer. You are better off, you are enriched if you are apart of that cultural dynamic, but it is to underscore a word that you just used; because it is highly transformative. We have short-term activities and goals, but the long-term goal. The ultimate litmus test is one that is going to take many, many years, because we really are talking about transforming how people understand; in many ways the human condition. What we're arguing in that regard is that transformation will not produce a homogenous identity. It's never going to happen. What it will produce is a positive and constructive way to interact with other.
Q: OK, I think I'm getting there.
A: If you get there, what do we know? We are still working on how to make sure we're going to get there. We welcome all the feedback we can get on this one.
Q: OK, I wonder if can you tell me just a short version of what the founding purpose of the coexistence initiative was? I mean, who saw a gap out there and said ah ha, here's what we need?
A: The Coexistence Initiative is an initiative, and previously it still existed but I'll call it another organization, or more accurately a forum, called the State of the World Forum, which was for many years based in London. It's now based in a smaller State of the World Forum in the United States. Along the lines of Davos, for example, it brought together very accomplished visionary individuals from a wide range of fields, including business leaders, political leader, cultural leaders, educators and so on. Over a number of years, and in particular for the purpose for the Coexistence Initiative, in the mid to late 1990s, it identified needs, and then seeded what they called the initiatives. The 1990s was a period in which we were far enough beyond the end of the Cold War, so we could no longer say, hallelujah, we're not into nirvana, everybody's happy,
Q: The end of history?
A: Exactly. By the mid-1990s, we could say for better or worse, that it is not the end of history. The post-Cold War era was not necessarily peaceful time for the human condition in much of the world. It was a little bit like the period after World War II when ex-colonies or colonies that wanted to become ex-colonies were fighting hard for their independence. With that process often came violence. What we now know is that the end of the Cold War took the lid off of what were simmering sources of discontent in many different places of the world. Some of these, Rwanda is an example of this, the origins of the conflict actually go back to the colonial experience for a range of reasons in large measure, not completely, the lid was held on to them.
For the mid-1990s, it was far enough into the post-Cold War era to say, conflict is a serious problem. State of the World Forum seeded several initiatives, and one of them was the Coexistence Initiative. This group of really visionary leaders said we need an organization, (this is called an initiative because of the following part of what they said). They said we need an organization that facilitates and serves, it doesn't necessarily do all the work itself, but it facilitates and serves other organizations in such a way that it can help create a positive experience, in terms of coexistence, and at a minimum, a world safe for diversity. That's really our bottom line, because that could potentially be a passive form of coexistence. The active participants of the State of the World (SW) identified this problem in the mid-1990s, and held a series of meetings in which they discussed different definitions of coexistence, different definitions of diversity, and how one wants to move forward in setting up an organization in trying to discuss these things. Out of those discussions in mid-2000, the Coexistence Initiative (CI) chartered, if you will, as a type of 5013cs in the US.
Q: OK. Should we go on to the inspiring work? I think I've got the purpose.
A: OK, inspirations, case studies that have encouraged success. Let me give you 2 answers to that. Again with the caveat that the CI as an organization, and also the idea of positive coexistence is relatively new, newer even then the conflict resolution field, if you consider how long it actually takes to change fundamental values and practices. A source of inspiration is one that I've actually touched on briefly, but it's worth stressing. The human rights movement in many ways came into being as a gleam in the eye over 50 years ago. I had a vision to create a set of standards that are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were way ahead of their times, in fact their still ahead of our own times. If one goes back and reads that document, if you haven't read it recently, there is a certain amount of it where you say, oh we are doing this, and a certain amount of it, you say this is still vision, we are not there yet. Given how visionary that document was in 1948, it was almost the equivalent of saying there should be peace in the world, period we're done. The peace movement would very much like to not only say, but to have peace in the world, we're done. We are nowhere close to that, and yet human rights movements stayed the course.
Year after year, decade after decade, it worked to embed it's values, and slot them into every opportunity that it could find- newly emerging nations, political movements such as the civil rights movement in the US. This was an equal opportunity need around the world, even for international law, all major players, including the US, the US was in some cases reluctantly have become to sign on. We are now 50 years plus into the progress of the human rights movement, and we are now really beginning to get to that goal that I mentioned a little earlier that is the litmus test goal for the CI. When we get there, and that's probably another 50 years down the line. The goal is the internalization or the embedding if we can sort of extract that word back from the Iraq war and use it to embed it into our real life. We're embedding those values, and not only expecting them or hoping for them, but demanding them. I see the human rights movement in that sense as highly inspirational because it was willing to have a vision early on that was way ahead of it's time, and then stayed the course in such a way that for those values to work in practice. They have over time, and are increasingly becoming embedded in our daily lives. Let's use that as an example of inspiration. Inspiration and success are often closely related, but let's take a second example that's some what more along the lines of a success story, although it's also inspirational. This is specific to Western Europe and North America, because many who may be listening to this will be American.
By the 1960s, early 1970s, there was a process or a movement, because it was never a completely organized movement, you could never find it's headquarters or go talk to its executive director, but there was a movement to multi-cultural ties, if you will. The US had a very strong emphasis on education, which produced among many things, good things and bad things. The good things, had to do with encouraging Americans to understand other cultures and to have to study other cultures. This produced what was known as the Culture Wars of the 1970s and 1980s, which pushed people to understand America as more than a white, probably Protestant, western European extraction, which was sort of the pre-50s equation that defined the US.
The effort to make multi-culturalism an embedded value in the US was not an easy one. There really were cultural wars. If you look around you today, you can see it almost everywhere, and we are not yet finished with this. We know that this is a very fragile success story, but if you flip through business magazines, Forbes and Times magazine and the like, you learn your range in terms of the media. If you look at corporate boards, or the military, which is one of the best integrated institutions in the US, think for a minute about the religious representations at the memorial service after the Columbia disaster. The religious communities were represented by religious leaders from the Christian faith, the Jewish faith, the Islamic Faith, the Janes; there was a wide range of religious representations, and the representatives were there as representatives. The memorial service said, all of this is us.
Q: The best and the brightest, I mean the astronauts, the most well-trained and...
A: Yes, and intensely multi-cultural. In terms of gender, in terms of religion, and that was true of the people themselves. It was reinforced by the way that the US memorialized and honored those people. All of that represents the success to date. This is something that is ongoing, so is peace management and so is success. These are things that we will need to work on forever, because they will be with us forever. There is a real success story to be told I think by people who have worked on multi-cultural curricula, and inner-faith dialogue at the community level. Many of these people come out of that 2nd community I was referring to that have worked for decades on tolerance, multi-culturalism, anti-bias, and so on; despite the cultural wars, despite the tension and to some degree, despite the fear that if you recognized my identity, you would have to weaken your own. For example, in the US -- well its also true of Canada -- you could say North America has moved a long way toward being comfortable with the idea that who we are is just one specific identity. I think it's a real success story that could take a lot of nurturing and could be undone easily, but it is a success story.
Q: Jumping ahead to 2003, CI is a young organization, created in mid-2000 you said?
A: July 2000.
Q: CI is working towards disseminating this success story that you are talking about all over the world. The tools for your trade are what? I see trainings on your newsletters that come on now and again. What does the CI do to further those goals?
A: We see several types of activities, each pegged to what I call program accountability. I'll give you a list of our activities and I'll note that each time we do one of these it's incumbent upon us to step back from it and say what are the lessons we have learned? Then 6 months, 1 year, 2 years down the line do a health check on what we thought we learned in order to perpetually widen the circle. If you want to think of this as a spiral, we want the circumference of the circle to be ever larger as we move forward. The activities include, workshops in which in particular practioners and policy makers have exactly the conversation that you and I are having now. What is this thing? Why do we want it and importantly, are we putting it as a high priority in our goals and missions statements? Workshops and seminars, this is a second type of activities, are supposed to bring together the kind of people that cross the line between the 2 communities I talked about earlier. You could think of this as research sharing. Where we are bringing together as resource people, individuals who have worked long and hard at diversity, education, anti-bias, and schools in the community and so on.
Where there's a conscious sense of grassroots organizers, practitioners, and policy makers who can say of someone who has spent the last 10 or 20 years working on tolerance education in the schools, what works best? What doesn't work best? How can we apply what you are using if you're the educator working on these issues, where you're working only in a school, and we're working in a country with a conflict? How do we adapt the application so the facilitation of the sharing of resources initially in workshop form, would be a second area of activity? None of this is reflected yet in our literature because we've just gotten to the point where we can articulate what I'm seeing to you, it's what we see as our particular value added.
A third set of activities as we move forward is going to develop a resource base in no small measure of CR Info's resource base, but a resource base that is to use the analogy of classrooms versus bulletin boards. We're going to develop a resource base that's a classroom. It's interactive. If someone said to you, " If the word coexistence floats across the screen, and you weren't having this interview with me or anybody else working on these kinds of conflicting identities, you would scratch your head and say, 'What's that?'" That you can go to that website, you cannot at the moment do this with our website, but we're going to create quite a different on-line resource base that will actually guide you through a state of the world as it were now. You're standing on a reality that you recognize as you begin this learning process on our on-line research base, which you might think of as a classroom, distinct from a bulletin board. It will guide you through how to understand what coexistence is, different types of resources and success stories for positive or pro-active coexistence will become not just a passive resource base, but a way in which you can actively intervene, be guided by, learn from, and then feed back into from your own experiences the process of creating positive coexistence.
Your question about how we go about creating these consciousness raising workshops, if you will, resource sharing, lessons-learned workshops, and dialogues is in a resource base that you can go to a kind of classroom as distinct from library on-line. As part of that, we have what we call a network: organizations and individuals interested in our work sign up, and become network partners.
As things now stand, anyone can sign up, which is fine as far as it goes. What we would like is a network that is much more interactive, so if you're a network partner of the CI, you're going to expect to hear from us on a regular basis, and we're going to expect to hear from you. When we hit points where both of us say, ah ha, that's good, it goes into the resource base, so that somebody else, another network partner, or somebody just plain logging on to look at the resource base can find that ah ha and know where it fits in the issues that he or she is addressing.
Q: It sounds like it is based on many of the principles of the multi-diversity movement that has been going on in this country, and the declaration of human rights in the world. You are taking the domestic model of diversity training and then adapting it and changing it to people who can resolve conflict all over the world. I don't mean to reduce this to diversity training by any means, but it seems as though those principles are being adapted to people acting in an international context in an effort to resolve conflict and especially inter-ethnic conflict.
A: For now, there is likely to be a strong emphasis on inter-ethnic conflict. I've had 2 short caveats, which now completely messes up the 60 second sound byte, but I had two short caveats to the description that you just articulated. There are outside the United States, some very good examples of positive coexistence. In some cases (actually empires), the Ottoman Empire, in it's height, certainly passively allowed distinct religious identities, and it also actively encouraged discussions, dialogues, and debates. It may have been doing that so it could hold on to power. You can't really go back and get into the minds of the people who at the top that would encourage this sort of thing, but it isn't solely a US based skill. Much of this is being well articulated, I would say in particular by Western Europe, and by North America, so in that sense it is Western based, but we're not alone in this.
Q: Am I right to suggest that the focus is international?
A: The CI sees North America as well as the rest of the world as being it's target base, so yes in that sense, but yes, in the sense that the US is apart of the international community. Yes, if you think of it as the big picture.
Q: I mean non-domestic when I say international.
A: Yes, we are working both domestically and undomestically, if you will, but all of that in our minds constitutes international. We fully expect, we in the process for example, of structuring a series of what we're calling community consultations with an emphasis in this because our target area is Africa, working with a conflict resolution organization in South Africa. We have another office in Uganda, where we're looking to do the same kind of thing where we ask local communities who have gone through conflict, and have come out the other end to simply talk to us about how they understood the process. We can listen to public discourse, actual words, language, so we can learn how that process is perceived at the grassroots level. We're calling these community consultations we could easily see ourselves doing this along the same lines in the US, so the domestic/nondomestic line blurs fairly quickly in things like this
Q: International in a pure sense?
A: Yes, true international, that's right, not in an American perspective, and in all of this the word people, the discourse people are critical to us, because all over these words are freighted, if you say international, if I say international, you do tend to think that doesn't mean us, that means everybody else but we're actually part of international. So language is a critical part of all of this since each of these words triggers a certain set of understandings, the word conflict itself does that. There is a way in which, conflict tends to be one of those things where if you say we've got a conflict, I mean not the 2 of us, but hey, somewhere out there there's a conflict, in many ways the initial reaction is uh-oh. We've got to somehow manage to resolve it. Conflict that can be properly managed can be positive. So the words themselves have got to be thought through so that our initial reaction to them is triggered in the right direction.
Q: What other mechanisms for change are there?
A: Exactly. Exactly. So there are some ways in which we wouldn't want a world totally free of conflict, we would be bored out of our minds by next week if we had it, if by conflict we do not mean. If we define conflict correctly, so by conflict in that sense we are not saying if by next week x many people were killed each week because somehow that keeps us thinking because that's not what we we're talking about but conflict, coexistence, all of these words, international, tend to trigger certain meanings and one of the issues that we see as important in our work but I think it's important for the field of conflict resolution as a whole is that when we use these words, we look into the eyes of the person we are speaking to see if we're saying the same thing when we're using the same word.
Q: What are the most common obstacles to the success of the CI?
A: A number of obstacles, one of them we have already touched on, We're talking about something fundamental to the human condition, how do you do that in vocabulary and in short enough air time if you will and at the same time get through. How do you produce the sixty second sound byte with the right vocabulary words that don't trigger the wrong reactions so that message becomes clear. We're working intensely on this and we expect that we will be for a long time. The actual discourse can be a problem. Fear can also be a problem because identity is so fundamental to what all of are, that if I come to you, you represent Plan A and I represent Plan B. If I either come to you as an outsider or if I come to you from another clan, particularly if I'm more powerful than you are, and I say, "You know we're going to get along, we're going to coexist," you would have every reason if that's all I said to be afraid, to be afraid that what I really mean is we're going to coexist and the identity of my clan is going to more or less dictate values, social practices and so on.
Q: "We're going to coexist under my conditions?"
A: Exactly, "coexist under my conditions." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights talks about being free from fear, in particularly in the context of basic needs. One of our challenges is to encourage the people we are serving, the people we learn from to be free from fear that their identity will be attacked. So that's another challenge. A 3rd challenge, which is also one we've talked about, is the need to link the grassroots and those with power. If that linkage doesn't happen, even at that the linkage is step 2 because step 1 is getting grassroots and the people with power to understand what it is what is needed. But the step 2, that linkage is a real challenge, because it does not automatically take place and if it doesn't take place, as we talked about a little bit earlier, those with power, those at the top can undo what exists at the grassroots level very fast, if they work on it. So that too, is a challenge.
Also every organization in N. America and W. Europe in particular has a challenge, not really of sustenance, but simply of means which is that these are financially very difficult times for organizations that don't produce money, which by definitions 5013cs don't, we're not supposed to do that. But the result of that is that we have to rely by law on charity. We are a public charity. That's good in terms of keeping us focused. But in times when there's little going around and a lot metaphorically speaking by way of mouths to feed, that is a real challenge. So we have challenges in terms of vocabulary, we have challenges in terms of how we actively go about doing the work that we do, and we have challenges about the climate in which we work.
Q: Ok, moving forward a little bit, and also backwards at the same time.
A: Ok, sounds a bit like what TCI is doing so I'm at home with that.
Q: which is, what is working then, for the TCI? What's working right now best for TCI?
A: One of the things that we're particularly proud of, I'll give 2 examples, one is our network, because the TCI seeks not to duplicate anyone else's work. We seek to facilitate. We seek to provide services, than claiming credit directly ourselves. One of the best ways that we do this is through our network. We turn to our network partners for advice and guidance, and we can provide services to our network partners. Having an active network is one of the high points of TCI, as it's evolved. The network will evolve further.
A second, and these are not in particularly in order, both of these are big pluses, high point we have is what we call a node, or an office which is the first of what we hope will be a series of offices. This particular office is in Kampala, this is our Ugandan node, and it's 2 things, it's TCI in Uganda, but it's also a teacher for us. That the Ugandan node holds local dialogs, it encourages discourse on coexistence, it targets both grassroots and policy makers and it is obviously in a different cultural setting than the US. So much of what we do moves back and forth to understand culture in a broad sense, not fine arts specifically. We are very pleased with how the Ugandan node has evolved, both with what it's been able to do in Uganda drawing on the work of the NY office, but also because it provides us a learning opportunity in terms of seeing what we're doing in a different cultural context, and learning and adapting on the basis of that.
Q: So you're working with the Ugandans, what are they doing?
A: The Ugandan node has conducted a series of dialogues that has targeted both grassroots and policy people. In each case what it has sought to do is to take that first step in encouraging people in Uganda to understand coexistence, and to understand ways of interacting with each other without fear of loss of identity. The dialogues in Uganda have spanned a wide range, from community organizers to local police, you know brilling moves, extensively across a large range or target audiences. To use the words of one of the conflict resolution organizations in Uganda, so this is not the node, but an organization that works specifically on conflict resolution: "In the very beginning we weren't quite sure what this deal was, this node, and now we can't imagine an activity where there isn't a coexistence component," and we look at that and think, ok we know we're not perfect yet, but we know we're getting somewhere.
Q: That's a great little reflection for TCI, that model of taking nodes to countries in which you work, what you're looking to get to. Is the Uganda model what you want to establish all over the world?
A: We expect to establish over time, many more nodes. If we now had 12 nodes instead of the one that we've got, how exactly would the nodes interact with each other? Does NY become the US node? These are questions that we haven't worked out yet. Yes, Hubs and Spokes is one model, but lots of nodes crosscutting is another model. If the NY model became one node, then its target audiences are actually in the US, it's actually not the hub in that sense, it's one of many in a constellation.
Q: Then you become what you're seeking, which is this network of people?
A: That's right.