Conflict Resolution Program, University of Denver
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Probably one of the most inspiring moments is when I see somebody who seems as a result of something in the process and some interaction with someone else on the other side, has healed a little bit. They seem to have become a more whole person. They have become a little bit less hobbled in their ability to go forth themselves and make change. So, some of the examples that come to my mind are typically where I realize a person telling kind of a personal story about how the conflict affected them personally which seems to have more impact on people on the other side than whatever kinds of facts and arguments and whatever, that they could raise.
I'm thinking about one that took place fairly recently in one of our ***** dialogues. In that conflict there are several different parties, in a sense, and we had people coming from different tribal communities that are all in conflict.This is an ongoing dialogue, so we'd had several meetings, each about a day in length. Over the course of these meetings people had been raising issues of the dominance of certain groups in the society or the illegitimacy of the way certain groups might govern or the various aspects of the politics that had entered into continuing the disputes, the really deeply embedded conflict between the communities. And I think one of the things that really brought people to an awareness of the impact of the conflict was a story that one of the gentlemen told that was there who had been from one of the minority ethnic groups. He had to operate in the dominant culture, in this sense it was one of a different ethnic group as well as a different language. Therefore he had not been able to use his language. If he had used his language it would have in a sense de-legitimized him in any kind of situation and felt that...he had to change his name because his name reflected his ethnicity and he couldn't operate, in a sense, with any respect without modifying that part of his identity. It's like he had to basically deny his language and his identity and his background in order to be taken seriously and operate in the dominant cultural view. By him telling that story, these other people sitting around the table, and it's not uncommon in peacebuilding to have people who are at relatively the same level of society across the different conflict groups be brought together. This is because even though they may be from different conflict groups, they may have something in common about their relative status or their professions or whatever it happens to be, that can now at some level serve as common ground.
So you know about John Paul's model, you can bring grassroots leaders together or you might bring mid-level influentials together or you might bring elites together, and there's something about having those kind of people from comparable status that when the people get together they listen with different ears. So you have people that are all professionals. Maybe they're all either academics or professionals, engineers, business people, that are at this meeting. And you have this person who is dressed like them, and in the American context that they're all operating in now is at the same status and level of respect. And he's talking about this experience where he couldn't speak his language and use his name. They perk up and really listen to something like that because he seems so similar.It helps to really re-humanize the other because in so many of these conflicts you dehumanize the other and you don't see that that's what allows you to perpetuate the conflict. So anything you're doing that re-humanizes the other can be a little chink in the armor that let's you think, well, okay, he had this terrible experience because of the way our language laws are structured or because of the way we don't recognize other people's languages in our culture, and he's kind of like me in many ways.
I think it helps people have more empathy for the actual on-the-ground impacts of oppression or structural injustice. I think it's some of the stories that sometimes people tell that then humanize them and their group for the other. It makes the other side stop and pay attention because it's such a personal story and they see the issue maybe in a slightly different way. On the flip side, for the person on the other side listen respectfully to you while you're telling your story about this, may have never ever happened before. This may be a very emotional experience to tell the story and have the other side, as represented in these other people sitting across from you, actually hear you for the first time.