President and Founder of Peace-Tech
Topics: dialogue, conflict assessment, multi-track diplomacy
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
- Inter-ethnic Dialogue in Bosnia
- Dialogue in Cyprus
- Spiritual Centeredness
- Role of the Intervenor
- Trauma in the Field
- Conflict Assessment
- Safe Spaces for Communication
Q: The first question that I ask everyone is, will you please give me a brief overview of your work?
A: Since 1988, I have been working internationally as a professional peace builder. Up until two or three years ago, that work was focused in hot spots around the world, like Cyprus, Bosnia, Liberia, and India-Pakistan. In that work I did any number of things, each situation was different. I don't have a single program that you just kind of drop in and leave.
Q: That's too bad.
A: I don't think so. I think it is appropriate to work with every situation.
Q: I just mean too bad that it is not that simple.
A: I wish. I did that work working deeply in the systems -- some systems more deeply than others -- over a period of ten or twelve years. Just in the last couple of years I have decided to turn my attention in two specific directions. One is to look at the root of our cultural norms and how we live globally, and particularly in this country, in a culture of violence where norms around violence are accepted behavior. That is just how things are. Of course there are wars. Of course we slash and smash each other if we don't agree. Of course we force ourselves on others. We dominate other groups. All of these are considered normal. Of course we organize our politics around power. It doesn't have to be that way. I have really turned my attention to working with cultural values and norms on a large scale to encourage people to move toward a culture of peace rather than a culture of violence. I focused in the US because we are the number one exporter of culture. If we can make that transformation here then we can make that transformation other places.
The second direction where I have turned my attention is on the issue of peace leadership. This comes directly from my work over a decade in Cyprus, in the Middle East, in various other places where it was very clear to me that the people wanted peace. People not only wanted a resolution of the conflict, which was historical, but they wanted to move forward into the future. They wanted to move into the 21st century. To become part of Europe in the case of those two situations, but to become part of what is growing, not stuck in what is festering from the past, but they were unable to do that in a large degree because of their leadership. The leaders tend to be older men, who are still "fighting the last war." Really I think they are unable to help their society move forward, because they are totally wrapped up in getting their needs met, their positions met, and being justified in the torch that they have been carrying, unable to see what their societies could look like if they truly led for peace.
I have been focusing my international work on helping to train the next generation of peace leaders. How do you lead for peace, and what is required? If you really wanted to move Bosnia into a 21st century modern European democratic nation that could take its place in the European community, or not if it didn't want to. What would have to happen and who would make it happen? We know who is not allowing it happen, but how and who could make that transition?
I have been developing a lot of training programs and course work online, on sight, and home study programs to engage people in the conservation in how do we engage for peace.
Q: You mentioned the cultural violence, and that there are other ways. What other models do you have in mind when you are suggesting cultures of peace versus cultures of violence that we live in within this country?
A: I would say that the culture of violence is pretty pervasive in dominant society all over the world. There are still tribal and traditional societies that may have a different way, but mostly our assumptions have spread globally now. It is pretty hard to find too many places where there isn't a buy in to that system.
My hope comes from looking at other cultural transformations. For instance, in the US we have seen a cultural transformation in the last five years on the issue of tobacco from what was considered acceptable, normative, and proper to what is considered that now. With economic arrangements to follow, it is not just a mental shift.
If we look even deeper I would see what I would call the environmental transformation. In the last thirty, even forty, years we have developed a huge awareness of the ability to activate a commitment to sustainability in our environment. It is mainstream. Schools all over this country teach kids about ecology, even the smallest towns in this country. Even Bristle, with a population of maybe 1200 people, we recycle, and we even have a horse drawn carriage every Tuesday to pick up our recyclable materials. It isn't just what our towns and schools are doing, but we have industries around ecological friendly products; there is a whole economy around it. We have a cabinet level department of environmental protection, that didn't exist decades ago. We have international treaties about it. It has become a part of the conversation; it is not like we have made the total shift. We are not living totally in a culture of environmental sustainability, but we are way ahead of where we were thirty or forty years ago.
Something big has happened. I think we can do that more quickly around a culture of peace. The reason I think that we can do that is because a culture of violence has some very clear end points. When you buy into that set of assumptions you end up building weapons systems that are bigger and better, because you always have to compete with the other guy who is trying to get you, so we have an escalation of arms. It is not just the big weapons, but we have an escalation of small arms. Any one can buy an AK-47 for $25 in any country in Africa, or any city in the US. It is a logical consequence of how we think and act and how we have organized our selves.
The end point that I spoke of is that once you buy into that system you find humanity at the point where essentially where we are now. We not only have the capacity to destroy life on the planet, but there is a certain road that we are on that will inevitably lead there. Someone, somewhere is likely to push that button. As it gets closer and closer we think about what would happen if these weapons got into the hands of terrorists, for example North Korea. It is not a very remote possibility. It is a very logical progression from a set of assumptions that says, "We are separate, that some of us are better that others, and those of us who are better are stronger have the right to impose our will on others." It is a core belief where as a culture of peace -- and I would submit all of peace building, and conflict resolution -- is based on an entire different assumption and set of values and set of behaviors that arise from that assumption, namely that we are all connected. We are all human beings in the same family of life. We all basically want the same thing and when we cooperate and work together for the benefit for the larger whole we all come out better. It is a different world.
In your work for cultural change or in your work training new peace leaders is there a moment that you can recall that is particularly inspiring?
A: Oh, let me count the ways.
Q: It can be a couple.
A: I will give you two or three.
There was a moment in Bosnia where we were asked to go to Bosnia after the Dayton Accords were signed when I was at IMTD. It was the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that asked us to come and they said, "Look we are responsible for the democratization process. We know there has to be dialogue and we don't know how to run dialogue." We convened some of the first dialogue that happened after the war between the primarily three different ethnic groups. Of course there are more than three, because there is a whole group of people who are mixed and don't identify with one another. It was very tense because it was the first time in years that people had talked to someone from the other side in a friendly way and not at the end of a gun. There was a lot of feeling, passion and pain. There was a really archetypal moment. There was an older Bosniac, Muslim woman who kind of archetypically was every mother who had ever sent a son to war, every woman who had ever lost a husband to war. A kind of earth mother suffering, grieving, and saying, "What have you done to the men in my life?" There was also a young Serbian soldier who insisted upon us calling him an ex-soldier, because he said he had to fight, he didn't want to. He was at heart a poet, and he was very young and very slight. They started our three, four, or five day workshop quite at odds with each other. She was quite angry with him. All she saw when she saw him was a Serbian soldier. She knew what those fellows had done with her family and her people.
There was a certain moment in the workshop when we were doing some exercise where he refused to take part. He went off in the corner and he sat by himself and he came back and joined the group and said, "I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to recreate the war, talk about the war, instead I wanted to write a poem." So he read a poem, and I don't even remember what was in the poem but it was very heart felt about the pain of the war on all sides and so much suffering unnecessarily, and this melted this woman's heart. Something changed for her in that moment, and they became fast friends. They spent the rest of the workshop with their arms around each other. You would never see one without the other. We went back to Bosnia after three months and then again six months later, and we asked people who had been in that workshop, "What stands out for you, what do you remember?" 95% of them said that they would never forget that woman and that man, and the statement of reconciliation that had happened between them. It was personal for the two of them, but for every one else in the room and at a larger level it was totally symbolic of the archetype of the soldier who really didn't want to kill people and the mother who suffered, the victims of war. Women and children are primarily the victims in war, especially in Bosnia, and that they could touch each other's hearts... It was very beautiful.
Q: Let us go on to another story, and then I will go back and ask you questions about that one.
A: Another story has to do with the work that we did in Cyprus, which is on quite a different scale. We actually helped catalyze a citizen peace building movement there. We started with twenty people, with ten from each side. There had been some bi-communal work before we started working on the island. It was not like we were starting from total ground zero, but what had happened had been isolated and hadn't really followed through very much. When we got there it was virtually impossible for anyone to cross the green line between the two communities. There was no phone communication. If someone did manage to contact someone on the other side they would probably see their names in the headlines the next day, "So-and-so is a traitor, they met with the enemy."
We started and we worked separately for two years with each community, and then we brought them together in a group that we took off the island. There were two highlights. There are many beautiful stories from that, but there are two that I wanted to share. One is when those twenty people came back from their week in England with us, it was a powerful transformational experience for those individuals; it really turned their world upside down. There were some very powerful people in the group, the son of the president on one side, the daughter of the president on the other and other people who had quite a bit of influence. When the Greek Cypriots stepped off the plane they were surprised by being confronted with the right wing media in their circles who attacked them very venomously as traitors as having treated with the enemy, and negotiated behind the back of the government -- every vile thing that they could think of. Untrue things. "You sold us down the river! How could you do such a thing?"
The Greek Cypriot team was so taken aback, they weren't expecting this they weren't totally prepared for it, thought we tried to do some re-entry work to prepare people for the responses that they might get. They were getting threatening phone calls, "We know where your children are." "Don't expect to have a job tomorrow." They couldn't walk out of their house without some television camera there waiting to waylay them. The public was angry, the public got the message that the media was trying to put out and held them in contempt, and attacked them. They got some real negative threats. They kind of recouped, they caught their breath, they said, "It doesn't have to be this way. What did we learn in the workshop, how can we step into this and tell the truth of this experience. Meet the energy and turn this around?"
They contacted the media. They said, "We want to be interviewed. Please interview us. We will be on panels, we will do one on one interviews." They made themselves a presence on the public airwaves, and said, "Here is what we did, which is not what you have said. Here is what we really did, here is what we really said, what we really learned. We didn't give away the shop. We didn't change what we believe but here is what we broadened our experience to include." A very strange thing started to happen. Instead of people coming up to them while they were walking down the street saying, "How dare you." They got strangers coming up to them saying, "Did you really talk to those people? I didn't know you could do that. Could I do it to?" From that question they started making waiting lists, they started putting names down. They had so many people who wanted to be involved that we had to go in and train ultimately fifty trainers to run local citizen dialogue groups that were cross-border dialogue groups. That grew the movement. I am convinced it was because they had the courage to step in front of the camera and say, "Let us tell you the truth of our experience." It took courage because they were getting death threats. That was one very powerful moment.
I will give you a couple of stages of the result of that moment because that was in 1993. Let me start by saying that we began our work in 1991, and we always said that we would know when we are successful when they try to shut us down.
We were so successful in 1993 with that group and other events like it, that the US government in the shape of the US ambassador on the island at the time and the UN decided to make this kind of bi-communal work their foreign policy for Cyprus. They wrote it up in the UN secretary general report and they wrote it up in the reports back to Washington and the State Department, they made it possible. It is American foreign policy to organize and support this kind of citizen peacebuilding. Other countries followed suit, but first it was only the US or maybe Brits did one or two small things, but suddenly everyone is doing it now. The result is in 1997 in fact the Turkish Cypriot side shut it down because by that time we had people going across the border, they were making friends and writing to each other on e-mail, it was big. There was some occasion about the EU, Turkey not being accepted in the EU and the Turkish Cypriot regime shut down all bi-communal contact and started harassing who wanted to continue this. Some of them found ways to get around the restrictions and the secret police would follow and it was still a challenge but some people continued to meet. The UN at that point said, "Well every year we have a big bi-communal fair for UN celebration day but it looks like this year we can't do it because everything is closed off. The people who had been in the core of this citizen peacebuilding group said we will organize if for you. They did and 10000 people showed up.
I always consider that a bench mark to go from twenty people to 10,000 especially when it wasn't considered politically correct at least from one community to be meeting and when the UN had basically thrown up its hands, and the citizens have gotten together to put together this event. Since then there have been many large-scale events and there is dozens, if not hundreds, of local citizen based non-governmental initiatives, programs, committees, meetings, projects happening. The next benchmark that I want to talk about is what happened last April. Again it emerged from a situation in global politics where the Turkish regime in Ankara said that we have to show some act of good faith, especially in Cyprus if we want to be acceptable for the EU.
Quite by surprise, not only did the Turkish-Cypriot regime re-allow contact, they opened the borders. Suddenly anyone could go back and forth, these borders hadn't been open since 1974, in some cases 1963. People who had been refugees, who had left their homes, were able to go back for the first time in decades and see the reality of what they left, how it stands now, and kind of break some of the myths about going back to the village. More important it established a whole new base line from the one that we started in 1991 when you couldn't even bring the groups together but had to meet separately for two years and now suddenly the base line is we can cross any time we want we can see our friends on the other side, we can make friends on the other side, we can do things together, we can go to the sea shore, we can have each other in our homes. It is a whole other world. Again it was the citizen peacebuilding movement that started back then that is the driving force for so many of the things that are happening now.
That is a great segway into my next question which is in dialogue projects like that personal transformation is important, that seems to be the focus of the dialogue, but the difference between personal transformation and the social transformation that you are talking about, it seems like there are a lot of steps in between that.
A: A lot of that is serendipitous. You can't program it. There is not a formula that says if you do step A, B, C, D you will get this result. We couldn't predict who in our first 2, or 3, or 4 groups would step forward to carry this on ten years later. In some cases the people that did were not people who we would have anticipated at all. We couldn't anticipate the snowball effect with the other countries seeing the success of that work and saying well we want to sponsor some groups too. We couldn't predict the interface of all of that with the desire of Turkey and Cyprus to become part of the EU. When the Turkish Cypriot government applied for membership way back when, they did so in part thinking this will be a leverage, this will open the door to our getting a solution to the Cyprus problem, that hasn't actualized yet but it certainly set some things in motion that had a resonance with some of the peace building work that made it more viable that gave it an environment where it could flourish in a way that no one would have imagined. In part it is good luck, but in part it is also strategic, it was part of our goal in the beginning. It wasn't just our goal at IMTD going in, it was the goal of the first people that we worked with in a steering committee of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Their stated goal was to be agents of change in their society. To not just get a workable agreement, but to change society so that it would be based on a new understanding of peace both on the island, in the region, and around the world. That was there goal, to be change agents and to create societal change. It was strategic in the sense that with that as our goal, we made an effort to contact the key players in the political arena, in the whole multi-track system. We tried to work with the business leaders, the government officials both in Greece and Turkey, the Greek Cypriot government, the Turkish Cypriot government, the media, the youth, and educators. We strategically said who are the leverage points that can change society.
Q: Where those leverage points based on the work that you and Ambassador McDonald had done on the various tracks, Track I through IX?
A: Loosely. We didn't sit down with that model and say, "Whom in each track should we contact," but we were aware. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you want to change society you have got to get to the teachers, the US government figured some of that out. They set the terms, though we had input, but they set the terms for who we worked with because they were paying for it. They said that you have to bring the media into it, we knew that but we didn't have to say it to them because they knew it. It is pretty easy to see what the media does to keep things going. At the same time it was both a strategic and a serendipitous multi-track peace building process that was actually owned by the people involved.
Q: It really sounds like a lot of different elements came together with the regional context, the mood of the people, the will of those initial participants to be agents of change, multipliers in a sense and to take risks. The initial negative attention of the media turned out to be the big positive.
A: The best thing that ever happened. Without that kind of attention I don't know if it would have gotten as big a play as it ultimately did which brought people in.
In the situation with the dialogue in Bosnia how do you begin to convince people to talk about these horrific things that have been happening to them over the past few years with the events so fresh, what is the incentive for them to come together and talk.
A: First of all I am not sure that you do convince people to come and talk about these horrific things. You invite them to come and talk about what ever you need to talk about. You structure the events in such a way that it is possible. For instance shortly after the war there were many people who were eager to rebuild the bridges and that has been my experience in any society, that there are always people who want to build peace locally. If you can find them or just put out the call that it is available they will show up. You start with the people who are ready and want to do it any way and they will let you know you take them down a path that they don't want to go.
We did a big project with youth in Bosnia, 18-28, and we thought it was a leadership program, we thought it was going to give them the opportunity to talk about the war. They were teenagers or young children during the war and guess what, they refused to talk about it in the sessions, in our workshops, they said no we don't want to talk about it, it is too raw, we have suffered enough, we don't want to relive it, we certainly don't want to relive it with those folks in the room. In one on one and in small groups, of course that is what they were talking about it. As they made friends, as they felt safe in their own way, on their own time they were initiating these conversations with others. It was really interesting to me at one point we had this first batch of folks come to US and took them on a wilderness canoe trip in the border waters in the Northern waters of Minnesota.
Here are these groups of Muslim Croat Serbs, young people stuck together in a canoe for three or four days camping out on these islands, with only the food they could carry with them, and they had to talk to each other, they had work together, you have to cooperate, you have to build a fire, cook the food, clean the dishes, set up the tents. They were thrown together in a way that required their cooperation. At one point I was sitting with my group, there were several different groups on different islands at different times, and I was sitting not directly in the group. I heard them start this conversation about the war and about what they experienced and I kind of came forward to see if I could facilitate or help in any way. They kind of looked at me but they started looking at me and talking in the Serb-Croatian language, in the local language. They made it very clear, "This is not about you lady. It is ours." I left, it was true, it is their work and it is their story.
Q: They were able to talk to about it without strangling each other or throwing each other over the canoe?
A: We didn't lose anybody. I don't know what they said and even if I had heard it I couldn't have understood it.
Q: I noticed in the Cyprus group you mentioned the daughter of the president on one side and the son of the president on the other side. Is that the level of people that is most beneficial to go after or try to get to participate in the situation, like a dialogue?
A: Well again it depends on what your goal is. If your long-term goal is to secure a formal political agreement then you need to be talking with people who have great influence in that arena, or as has happened in the Israeli-Palestinian context you need to be convening on going dialogue with people who may not have the highest political influence but they have credibility, intellectuals, political scientists, and academics. If they write a report the cabinet is going to read it--if that is your goal. If your goal is to build a citizen peace building movement then you need to contact people from all walks of life. If your goal is to create a climate of acceptance and tolerance you want people who don't have very high position because it is hard for them to act in their individual capacity. It can really work against you.
For instance, again using Cyprus as an example, we had in our original group a gentleman who was very highly placed informally, he didn't have formal role in the government at that time, he was a business man, but he was very close with the leaders of the regime and had a lot of influence. He was asked to become the right hand man and senior advisor to president of the Turkish Cypriot government. To this day I am convinced that he was asked to do that as a way of co-opting the growing conflict resolution movement. He was a very early active, and positive presence. He was very influential in helping people to get permissions to go back and forth to meet on the green line, he lent his credibility to the movement and then he started working for the president, for this movement was not held in high esteem by that ruling group. He became very negative to that and put a lot of barriers and obstacles in its way. He became one of the biggest challenges to the work.
Q: That is a terribly sad re-conversion.
A: It was. I could tell you very moving stories with him before he made that shift that were extremely powerful. Whatever was going on politically he made the shift. Just because you have people at that level doesn't mean that they are going to work the way you hope they will. On the other hand, the daughter of the president on the Greek Cypriot side became such a verbal champion for the work that she has been able to exert tremendous influence. Her father's political party is not a peace party by any means, and here is the daughter of the president who was a member of parliament in her own right. She was saying, "This is what we need in a peace agreement, and we need to be talking to these people. This is what I learned from them." She stood up for them. She is the one that went in front of the cameras first because she had the credibility, she is the one that everyone stood beside and behind, she led that movement to get it out in the public air waves. What are you going to do, fire the daughter of the president? She has been successful in setting up a bureau in the parliament in her political party, for Reproshman???. This is unheard of. It is counter-intuitive, it just doesn't happen there, but she has been able to do it.
What sort of personal qualities should someone doing this kind of work should exude?
A: I am going to talk about something that doesn't get talked about very often in the field and that is a spiritual centeredness. I have had a lot of spiritual training. I come to the work of peace from two streams. One is the spiritual streams and the other is human behavior and organizational development. My work is with people on every level of social organization; being a therapist for individuals, couples, families, then businesses, organizations, communities, and nations. Inter-group relations is a particular professional specialty of mine. By the way, people come to this field from may different streams, these just happen to be mine. I can't tell you how many experiences that I have had when being able to call on my spiritual training has made a huge difference. When I try and talk to some of my colleagues about this they are not there, they come from more of a rational place. For years we would use the words healing and reconciliation and we would be laughed at. I had an academic whose name you would recognize in the field say to me," Sounds like what you are doing is national therapy." To which I said, "Yes, what else are you trying to do?" You get a signed agreement and that is just the beginning, of course you have to work with the psychology of the people, how they are feeling, thinking, wanting, and how they are interacting.
I would say a quality that people should really bring to this work, whether you call it spiritual, I don't care of what you call it, but the ability to go inside yourself and contact that source of power that is beyond your ego, that is universal. You could even say more about energy, than about process, or substance to keep the heart open, the space open for what ever needs to happen. Keep calling in the highest good, to not get caught in the dynamics. Peacebuilders are not particularly trained in system dynamics so they start acting out the dynamics of the system without realizing that is what is going on. Suddenly some one is very angry at so and so on the other side, "He is an obstructionist." What are they doing? They are acting out the system because they are not aware that it is a normal dynamic in systems. We may get triangulated. It is a game, lets you and him fight; I don't have to fight with my enemy, I will get you to fight with him for me. That happens all the time. We identify a lot of patterns like that.
Q: That is very interesting. No one has talked about that in those terms, lots of people talk about complex adaptive systems of working within the systems and the secondary effects, but not so much drawn into the systemic dynamics.
A: The minute you set foot in that system, you are a part of that system.
Q: Give me some more examples of what that might look like, if you could?
A: I will give you some hypotheticals, and I will use the Middle East as an example, or Cyprus. You have an intractable conflict that is inter-generational and it is cyclical also. You will pardon my informal language but it has a pattern of eating the third party. Whatever third party steps forward to say, "Well I can help." They get sucked in to the helplessness, the get sucked in to the hopelessness, they get sucked in ultimately to the combativeness. Watch the history of the US government's intervention in the Middle East, and it is not just that there is the Jewish lobbying, Israel is a good friend and outpost of democracy and all the stuff that they talk about it is that the US government has been rendered impotent because the system is one that renders third parties impotent. It chews them up and spits them out it is part of the dynamic. You come in and try and help us and then we can eviscerate you so we don't have to fight with these others so much, we will fight with you. There is a lot that they US could have done but couldn't see its way to do because it got caught in the dynamics.
How can you better access what those dynamics are before intervening and then how can you check yourself to see where you are in terms of participating in the system dynamics?
A: You can check yourself by doing what ever kind of historical analysis that you can, by reading whatever to check the patterns; number one. Number two, you can tell what is going on, this is where I say spiritual training really helps, but whatever you call it, "self reflectivity". We are always talking about self-reflective practitioners, can you check in with yourself? Are you getting angry? Are you feeling helpless, like you would like to take somebody's head off? Are you finding ways to evade the respectable ways of going about things, off the slightly shady end of the spectrum because that is how you have to get things done here? Check yourself. Are you being caught in that? If so, you need to ask yourself how much of this is how this system operates that I am just being sucked into and how much of that is me? In any event, if you are being sucked in you have to ask, "Why am I vulnerable to this? What part of me also wants to play this game?" Then be able to detach yourself. This is doesn't get talked about very much.
Q: Not enough.
A: Here is another one in terms of self-reflectivity. People in this field who are working internationally are working in war zones, they are working with traumatized people, they are working with heavily traumatized situations, and they wont talk to each other about how it effects them, especially the men. They perpetuate that culture of denial. You see this in the development world. You have people working in emergencies, who go from Somalia to Rwanda to Bosnia, one trauma to another. We have had people report, "My primary local staff were chopped up and left on the door step of our office. I had to step over them to go to the next emergency." We are not allowed to talk about it, it shows weakness; you have to just move into the next crisis. It is not that bad in the peacebuilding field, but it is still not a general topic of conversation. It is the women that talk about it if any one, I don't know what people are doing with their feelings?
Q: Suppressing them.
A: How helpful is that?
Q: Not at all. I have read stories about relief workers who indeed get traumatized. Some people talk about it. Mohamed Abu-Nimer talks about it. When you go in a situation where there is a deep-rooted conflict and people have such deep seeded hatred for each other that it can be hard on the intervener. He did not have any good solutions about how to deal with that but he said that you had to be careful, that you have to take care of yourself.
A: You do have to take care of yourself and there are ways to do it. First of all have colleagues or friends that you can talk to, and I recommend colleagues to debrief, because when you come back from a war zone. This happened to me to even though ten years ago I wrote that you had to do this, I wrote an article called "Peacemakers in a War Zone". I wrote specifically about this, I laid about a whole scenario about how you could take care of yourself. I didn't do it. I would come home from one place and get ready to go to another place. Again that self-reflection, do you have an inner practice, whether it is a spiritual practice, or an emotional practice, where you can release the pain. Where you can go through the suffering. People ask me all the time, "How can you get up in the morning and go to yet another place where people are killing each other and hating each other with the virulence, the horrendousness of it all?"
My answer is that you have to let your heart break over and over again. If you go and you close your heart to it and say, "I have to close my heart in order to be here." What you have done is you have pushed away the reality. It is like trying to damn up a swiftly flowing river, the damn can only hold so much, and the damn will break or the water will find a way around. I say you have to be fully present, and that means your heart breaks, that means weep, or feel the pain, whether you do it through tears or not, everyone has a different way. Keep your heart open to this suffering, feel the empathy, feel the compassion, and let that open you to greater powers of compassion. The more you close yourself off and say I am not going to deal with that I am not going to relate, you are actually hardening your heart. You are making yourself less available to the people, because guess what? They are in it. If you as a peace builder can't be fully present then you are really not able to help.
What do you find are the greatest obstacles to the work?
A: I would say at the larger level, the greatest obstacle is this work is not valued by the funders, and governments, so it is under funded. That hampers what could be done because virtually every non-governmental organization that I know is spending where more of its time than is even remotely reasonable on trying to get money and then they get money for projects but not for over head so they can't support the staff, and the work can't be done to its fullest because it is not funded. It is not funded because it is not valued.
Q: Operationally, obstacles?
A: There are pretty generally challenges of finding safe venues where people can really meet, not just with us, but on going. It is a funding thing again, but it is more operational. We get something started, and we encourage people, and train them to take it as their own and follow it up, but there is no support for them to do that. They don't have the access to funding, they don't have the knowledge of how to create and run an NGO or that kind of work isn't normative in their culture. It is not just that they don't know how, but it is hard in their culture, in their society. The sustainability is a big one.
Frankly, it is one of the reasons that I pulled back from the international work, because I felt that we had reached a point in the field of international conflict resolution where a lot of the traditional funders where pulling back. Some of the non-traditional funders that we were hoping to activate were not stepping forward, like the business community and individual people of wealth. We had already made an impact in many of the places, or most of the places, where there is deep rooted conflict, we had already developed local capacities of people who could carry it on, and that rather than our going out and trying to raise a hundred thousand dollars for us to go somewhere and some stuff, for thirty thousand dollars the local people can do it with us an occasional back up or council. It seemed to me that the field was changing and there were better ways to do it.
Q: We have been over a lot of these, but are there some lessons learned over the years that come to mind that we haven't talked about yet?
A: This relates to maybe one of your earlier question but I think that there is another thing that we need to look at in the field that we are not looking at and that is the ethical dilemmas that we face as being third parties. Every thing from who do you take money from to who do you talk to. How do people get chosen for participating in the work and how do they get reimbursed for participating, I am talking about local people. The lesson is that we need to be having those conversations more, and building that into the training. Did you take a course in the ethics of international peace building?
Q: Ethics, always seemed to be a chapter in the syllabi, but I don't remember a course specifically dedicated to it.
A: At least it is was in the syllabi, that is good. I just think it is something that we should be paying attention to more.
Q: Does something come to mind where it struck you as unethical, or on the line?
A: Yes. I have personally witnessed situations that people did things that I thought were so outrageously inappropriate, that I was A) embarrassed for them, B) horrified, and C) concerned for the people that it would impact.
Q: Types of things that someone might do second hand without thinking about it?
A: Without thinking about it, and I am thinking about one or two things where people came into the situation where they had never been there before, having maybe read up on it, as if they knew what they were doing, and just started laying things out without talking with the people that had been working there, without building on what had already been done. There was quite a bit of that some years ago, and we talked about it and raised issues about it in various professional forms. Now I think people are better at calling each other, I know a lot of people call me about Cyprus and say, "I know that you have worked here and I am about to go in. I want to make sure this is stepping on some initiative that you have already got into the works that I don't know about it. Here are the people I am working with, I want to make sure that is not taking something from what you are doing or that these are the people, I would like to benefit from your wisdom." To give you an example this is not unethical but it is on the same line, the US government decided to do a high level Track I and a half initiative in Cyprus.
What is Track I and a half?
A: It is semi-official. They brought in Richard Holbrook who was not then ambassador to the UN but had recently left that post. He is a big guy with big guns. He did his homework with us. He convened people who had worked in Cyprus, and said that he didn't know and he wanted us to tell him. The US government decided who he would work without consultation who had done a lot of work there and they chose someone from a very key position that we knew would sabotage it, and did. Had they asked us we would have said, "Wrong choice. Don't even think about it." Not only did they not consult us, when we heard we went to them and said, "You might want to pay attention to some data that we have," and they brushed it off. I don't know if you would put that in the category of unethical, but it had consequences unforeseen by them but we quite foreseen by those of us who knew this situation and had a negative impact on what they were trying to do.
I think that is a great illustration of almost a recommendation on how to go about an assessment, asking people who have been there not only what they know but this is what I am planning to do and are there any reflections on my proposal?
A: Some of that has happened and we have been able to say that it had already been done, and we can propose different ways, or to not do it all.
Q: Well that is great Dr. Diamond. Is there anything else that you would like to add? That is all the questions that I have.
You did mention safety a few times and I thought maybe we could talk about how to create a safe space in a dialogue group, or when you conduct some sort of intervention between parties that are very antagonistic.
A: There are the normal things that you know that are generally spoken of in the field to have credibility when you come in, to have a local sponsor who has credibility on both sides, to make sure that you are funded that doesn't slant you toward one side or the other, that is not a safe space. The obvious things like that, like meeting in a neutral place that is not considered the territory of one group or another, if you have to do that do one day on this side and one on the other. Create an environment in the room where people take responsibility for their own sharing and learning and there is no pressure that you have to speak. Make a safe space that people feel like they can say what they need to say there. I would take it further and again it goes further to the training that I have had for which I am very greatful on how to really hold the energy in a room, how to hold an open space energetically, how to trust that what needs to happen will happen and not be afraid when there is silence or when people get angry, or when things get hot, but to be able to be present to that and know that is part of what is happening, sit through it, let it move to the next place because it will. Also be available to be with people if they are having trouble, one on one.
Q:holding that energy, how do you do that? I know there is not a magic bullet but how do you prepare yourself in your own mind to hold that energy?
A: Well that goes back to the old saying that says, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." When I am able to tap into that deep place of inner peace inside me, it generates a field of energy; it is like sounding a tone, a note. You put that note out into the energy field of the whole group and other people start to entrain with that note or resonate with it. For instance, I can think of several occasions where things got very very hot and potentially dangerous for some body or some group, or me, not to often for me, but danger was present. There is not so much anything I could do or say to avert it, or to manage it reliably, I would just go into that deep place of inner peace, hold my heart open, hold my love and respect for everyone in the room, contact the highest part of their being to invite that forward and the danger would dissolve, it would pass easily, it happened many times.
That sounds, the way you describe it, as a silent action.
Q: Is there a component of that which is more expository?
A: I think it comes from centering yourself but there are tricks of the trade, tools that you can use. One of them that I can say for the purpose of this interview is the "of-course-phenomenon." Of course you are feeling this way. Of course you would like to rip this person to shreds right now, but it doesn't mean you have to do it physically. It is not so much that I use the words of course, but right now you and I sitting together and even as I said that I leaned toward you, I meet you where you are.
Q: I leaned back when you did that.
Q: I don't know.
A: But you're forward now, you came forward again. But you did. The "of-course-phenomenon" is a way of communicating physically and verbally that "where you are is fine." "Let me meet you there and go with you to the next place."
Q: That is great. Thank you. Anything else?