Reconciliation Ingredients

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

January, 2021

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This video reviews the steps or "ingredients" or reconciliation and discusses how the timing and amount of each ingredient differs in every case.  So reconciliation involves a balancing act between many different and sometimes competing goals.

Full Transcript:

Slide 1. Hi!  This is Heidi Burgess. Today I want to finish up a series of three videos on what Guy and I think about when we think about reconciliation.

Slide 2. In the first video, I showed this bell curve, which is typically shown when theorists are talking about the stages that conflict typically goes through. But I observed that when you're talking about highly-escalated intractable conflicts,

Slide 3. …a diagram like this actually makes more sense. That’s because a conflict doesn't simply go up, reach a hurting stalemate, and go down to reconciliation.  Rather, it tends to get caught in a cycle and go round and round.  It is very hard to escape that cycle into peace or reconciliation, but I likened how one escapes the cycle to the process of a rocket escaping the earth. A rocket has to reach a particular speed and height in order to escape the atmosphere, and you can also think of similar process needing to happen to escape the intractability cycle.

Slide 4. I continued that metaphor in the first video, suggesting that just as a rocket has stages, so too does reconciliation. But then I went on to explain that the rocket metaphor had a problem, actually, because conflicts are not predictable, determinate systems, as are rockets, but rather they are complex adaptive systems that are indeterminate and not predictable (though they do tend to follow patterns that can be observed).

Slide 5. Another metaphor is baking.  Even this isn’t really a complex process—you follow the recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and they come out wonderful every time.  But the reason I like this metaphor better is that you can alter the ingredients, change the amounts, put them together in different ways, and they’ll come out differently.  You can get cookies, or muffins, or bread, or pancakes, soft, crunchy…there are lots of options.

Slide 6.  There are two ways to apply the baking metaphor.  One is to define the steps that I had in the rocket metaphor as ingredients.  So setting the stage with peacemaking and peacekeeping is one ingredient, prospective reconciliation is another ingredient, retrospective reconciliation is a third ingredient. The fourth ingredient is implementing the vision at the interpersonal and intergroup level with attitudinal and transactional changes, while the fifth ingredient is implementing the vision at the societal level, with structural and transactional changes.  Unlike stages that necessarily come in a particular order, if you use the recipe metaphor, you might start reconciliation before peacemaking and peacekeeping occurs, or it might be simultaneously.  You might to prospective reconciliation first, or retrospective, or you might do them at the same time.  The same is true with implementation—you might do small scale first, large scale second.  Or you might do the reverse—or do them simultaneously.  The key idea is that you have flexibility, and there isn’t one right answer for every situation.

Slide 7. The other way to apply the baking metaphor is to consider Lederach’s “Meeting Place.” Here, you get the notion that the ingredients are peace, justice, truth, and mercy, and the outcome is a reconciliation “cookie.”  But, unlike a real cookie recipe, in which the relative quantities of each ingredient are about the same, given that conflicts are complex, you need to alter both the ingredients themselves and the amount you’ll use depending on the situation. Sometimes you want lots of truth and mercy, but you decide to skip retributive justice. Alternatively, you might go for retributive justice, and skip mercy.

You also will likely need to alter the order in which you add each ingredient.  Sometimes, you’ll need to explore truth first, then justice, then mercy, and then peace. Sometimes, the need for peace will take precedence—you just want to attain what is called “negative peace”—stopping the shooting—and then you can begin to add the other ingredients.

Slide 8. Guy has long argued that reconciliation needs a fifth ingredient:  hope.  Although there wasn’t any metaphorical meaning to the attachment I gave to the other ingredients and the concepts, I did intentionally assign hope to baking powder.  Because baking powder makes cookies rise.  Guy would agree, I’m sure, that hope allows reconciliation to “rise” – without hope for a livable, even a desirable, future, people are very unlikely to be willing to explore or pursue reconciliation.

Slide 9. That’s why I put prospective reconciliation before retrospective reconciliation in the rocket metaphor.  Prospective reconciliation is the process of developing an image of the future that everyone can live with—or even look forward to.  That gives hope.

Slide 10. In the last video I talked about Ebrahim Rasool, a former ambassador to the united States from South Africa.  He gave a talk at the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s meeting last December, in which he said “The process of struggle needs to incorporate the solution... You cannot call for the end of racism and mobilize [on the basis of] race.  You cannot want a peaceful society and be wantonly violent in your conduct towards it.  You cannot speak of unity and polarize society in the conduct of your struggle."

Slide 11. He went on to suggest seven steps (yes, steps) that allowed South Africa to reconcile after apartheid. (He did point out that this reconciliation is far from complete—it is an ongoing process.  But it is far better for everyone, he asserted, than what they might have had had they not had the TRC and started down the reconciliation road.)

The first step was recognizing that “the other” is here to stay. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

The second step was to “start with the end.”  "The ANC vision was that South Africa belongs to everyone who lives there, Black and White. That not only [was] a statement of vision, it [was] an extension of friendship.  It [was] an act of generosity." Even as Whites continued to dis-empower (and often kill) Blacks in South Africa, the Blacks had the "supreme humanity to say that South Africa even belong[ed] to [the White oppressors as well as the Blacks]. That disrupt[ed] the little pictures [the Whites had] constructed in [their] minds [of the animalistic Blacks]" and allowed people to open themselves up to new ideas. 

Slide 12. Now, let’s go back to Rasool’s step one (or I might say ingredient 1):  recognizing “the other” is here to stay.  Very often, people in deep-rooted, intractable conflicts, use what Guy and I call “into-the-sea” framing.  Guy invented the term "into the sea framing," based on former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat's vow to "push Israel into the sea.“ This kind of framing (i.e., thinking) is being used anytime someone thinks about a desired conflict outcome as one in which their opponent or "enemy" somehow disappears.  How this disappearance might occur is sometimes evident, but often it is not. In family conflicts, the answer is often a divorce. In a business setting, someone might get fired, might quit, or the business might break up. 

In the community or nation state settings, such splits become much more difficult.  The Whites were not going “home” in South Africa.  By the time Apartheid ended, most of them did not have another home.  Most of the “Dreamers” in the united States –children of illegal immigrants who were brought in by their parents—do not have another home to return to.  Palestinian—and Israeli Jews—do not have another home.  Republicans and Democrats don’t have another home. 

Slide 13. After realizing that “the other” is here to stay, people in conflict have to decide how they want to live together.  They can continue to “fight the good fight,” but intractable conflicts are one in which that “good fight” cannot be won if it is framed as one side defeating the other.  These conflicts have reached what Bill Zartman calls “a hurting stalemate,” (the top of the bell curve I showed earlier), and they are stuck, unable to prevail, at least not for long, before the other side comes roaring back.

Zartman describes hurting stalemates as actually being a “moment of ripeness,” when people are more likely to be willing to consider reconciliation (he said “settlement” or “resolution,” not making Burton’s distinction between those two) than they are when one side is overtly winning. 

But often those moments of ripeness are missed…people further escalate the fight, and it continues on, destroying more and more lives, for months or years. (This is, essentially, saying they miss that blue “escape” arrow, and fall back into the vicious cycle.

Slide 14.That raises the question of what can we do to make that blue arrow bigger? To make it easier to catch?  It seems to me that we need to give people a sense that reconciliation would offer a better future than they have in the present.  That can happen through changes in the environment, for instance, making continuing the conflict more difficult or more costly by restricting the opponent’s access to weapons or financial or human support, while increasing one’s own such access.  But that latter option just fuels an arms race, so limiting the other side’s capabilities is preferable. But in addition to changing the rational calculations about the ability to win, we need to factor in emotional responses.

Slide 15. We all know that conflict behavior isn’t rational—it’s very emotional.  It is driven, largely, by fear—fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of the future.  People who are afraid often do not think or act rationally.  Avoiding what one is afraid of, or vanquishing what one is afraid of, is a very human response—the “fight or flight” instinct that is deeply ingrained in human psyche. And neither approach solves conflict.  What does? Replacing the fear with hope.

Slide 16. We all know that conflict behavior isn’t rational—it’s very emotional.  It is driven, largely, by fear—fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of the future.  People who are afraid often do not think or act rationally.  Avoiding what one is afraid of, or vanquishing what one is afraid of, is a very human response—the “fight or flight” instinct that is deeply ingrained in human psyche. And neither approach solves conflict.  What does? Replacing the fear with hope.

Slide 17. Joe Biden’s victory speech when he said that he was going to be a president not for Red America, or Blue America, but for all America was trying to be a conciliatory gesture.  So far, it hasn’t been reciprocated…but it may be in the coming months, particularly if Democratic policies continue to make room for former Trump supporters, instead of squashing their values and disrespecting them all, and creating a world that is hostile to people with their beliefs. (I do not mean to imply here that one needs to accept racism, misogyny, and homophobia as “okay,” but one needs, I believe, to bring people who espouse those things around through love, not hate, by proving, as Sadat did, that the “other” is actually human, and indeed, a likable, equally-valuable human.)

I know in the united States in the current situation, such a suggestion is, for many, very hard to imagine.  It may not be the proper choice, but it is important to think about.  What’s going to happen if everyone who worked for, or even voted for, Trump is held accountable for Trump’s crimes? (Progressives are, essentially, doing that when they write off all Trump supporters as “racists” who need to be educated about the racist history of the united States.) Is that going to de-escalate our conflict? Is it going to allow for reconciliation? Is it even going to lead to a meaningful change in Republican worldviews—or is it going to lead to further pushback against the Progressive agenda?

Slide 18. A related aspect of prospective reconciliation is distributive and procedural justice.  Distributive justice is the fair distribution of goods, bads, and services. (“Bads” in this context are harms—undesirable land uses such as dumps, and noisy or polluting industrial facilities, for example, that, more often than not, are located in minority areas.) In addition to deciding how to compensate for harms done in the past (which is retrospective reconciliation), prospective reconciliation needs to decide how benefits should be distributed in the present and future—who gets access to jobs, to higher education, to good housing, etc. and how such decisions are made.  The “how decisions are made” spills over into procedural justice—the notion that decision making procedures (both of the government and of private entities) needs to be fair.  People need to know the basis on which decisions are made, the decision- making criteria need to be fair, the processes need to be transparent and follow established guidelines.

Slide 19. In addition to prospective reconciliation, however, we also need retrospective reconciliation – learning the truth of what happened (looking with open eyes at the actions of all sides, not just one), and deciding on how the wrongs committed might be remedied.  Here, again, there are decisions to be made about type and amount of ingredients.  How deeply should one dig for the truth?  Should the actions of leaders be examined carefully, but their followers less so? Or should everyone’s attitudes and behaviors be examined? If you answer the latter, how does this jive with our notion of free speech and freedom of religion?

Should violent crimes be prosecuted with retributive justice mechanisms (such as regular trials or war crime tribunals) or should more restorative processes be used, in which the offenders and victims meet and talk about the reason for the offense, the harms done, and how the relationship between the people could be healed? (Examples are victim-offender reconciliation used in this country, Rwandas Gacaca courts, and Native American healing circles.) 

Slide 20. Typically, restorative justice is only used when the offender is willing to admit guilt and apologize.  What can and should be done when the person labelled as “offender” does not admit guilt, and will not apologize? (I raise this now as something to think about…we’ll talk about it more later.)

Slide 21. Going back to the “steps” as ingredients, the fourth ingredient is small scale implementation of the vision, which usually involves changing attitudes and relationships, and interpersonal and intergroup transactions. In other words, altering the way people see each other and work together. This is the bread-and-butter of the peacebuilding field and it's typically done through dialogues and problem-solving workshops and other face-to-face processes that get people together, generally around a table or sometimes outside under a tree. But it is small scale, where people actually talk to, listen to, and make amends with others directly.  While it is very effective when measured at the level of individual participants over a short period of time, there is less indication that it is easily scaled up to societal change or changes that last over time, as participants tend to revert to earlier attitudes and behaviors once they return to their regular environments and routinely interact with people whose attitudes and behaviors are still fearful and consequently distrustful or even aggressive towards “the other.”  We’ll consider how to maximize the effectiveness of such processes later on.

Slide 22. Step or ingredient 5, arge-scale implementation involves changing social structures and transaction and changing both how the society and the government treats individuals, and how individuals treat and view the government and society. The picture on the left was taken earlier in when riots broke out in Portland following the death of George Floyd. Portland became particularly violent, and the Portland police as well as federal officers and militias all came in and were very abusive towards the protesters. So there was a very negative relationship between citizens and the government both at the local and federal levels that remains in need of reconciliation–the government (especially the Federal government) didn’t trust or support the citizens’ right to protest peacefully, and the citizens were expressing their outrage at the government–particularly at the police and the wider criminal justice system.

The picture on the right is a picture of a Republican lobbyist named Grover Norquist who was famous for saying “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” While this attitude has been characteristic of Republicans for a long time, it became a more central driver of Republican behavior since 1985, when Norquist formed his group Americans for Tax Reform–which advocated cutting government programs as much as possible, in order to lower taxes. In many cases, the result of the tax cuts were inferior government services, which led to distrust and dislike of the government, which added support to those who advocated cutting government funding even more in a positive-feedback system.

Slide 23. And I couldn't help but put in this slide that points out that one of the ways in which people not trusting the government and government not trusting people is the whole dispute over whether or not facemasks should be required to be worn in public. Facemasks ,of course, are generally thought to help other people as much, or even more than they help the wearer. Although there are a lot of contradictory studies, it is very clear that wearing a facemask does help prevent the spread of  COVID to other people. But there are lots of people in the united States who don’t believe experts and don’t trust the government.  So they maintain that  they shouldn’t  be ordered to wear facemasks and that such orders are a violation of their freedom of speech, since wearing or not wearing a mask became a political statement.  This kind of distrust of the government and disregard for the well being of one’s fellow citizens is the sort of thing that has to change if were going to have a reconciled society—in fact, if we are going to have a functioning society at all!

Slide 24. A last note is that I started making this video shortly after the end of the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Dece,ber 2020 meeting. The very last session was a session of police, sheriff and police overseers and citizens talking about what can be done about police violence against civilians.  One of the participants on the panel was Sheriff Leon Lott, who is the longtime sheriff of Richland County in South Carolina. He said that police need to work in collaboration with their communities to attain the best outcomes for all. He described their Sheriff's advisory board, which advises on policy and hiring and all of the decisions they make. It is has a high proportion of citizen members–more citizen members that law enforcement members. He also said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that the primary job of law enforcement is not law enforcement.  It's relationship building. So this is an example of what needs to be done to change structures so that the government and the citizenry have a new reconciled relationship. It's what's referred to in Simon Keyes’s article which I referenced in the first reconciliation video as vertical reconciliation, whereas reconciliation between the left and the right is horizontal reconciliation.

Slide 25. So finally, in order to break out of the circle of conflict, you need to implement all five “stages” or “ingredients” of reconciliation, which, if you are successful, will allow you to follow that blue arrow out to the right to the place called reconciliation, or what Rob Ricigliano calls “peace writ large.”


Slide 7: John Paul Lederach."The Meeting Place" Chapter 4 in The Journey Toward Reconciliation. Herald Press. 1999.

Slides 10-12: Heidi Burgess "Ebrahim Rasool on What America Might Learn From South Africa's 300+ Years of Struggle" in Beyond Intractability.

Slide 12 also: by Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess. "Into-the-Sea Framing" in Beyond Intractability and   " Into-the-Sea Framing in 2020 USA" also in Beyond Intractability.

Slide 17:

Slide 18: The Justice Collaboratory “Four Pillars of Procedural Justice”

Slide 20: Michelle Maiese. "Restorative Justice." In Beyond Intractability

Slide 24. Police to Peace: An Open Discussion on Police Use of Deadly Force in America.  PeaceCon2020. Wed. Dec. 9. 

Photo Credits:

Slides 4 and 9:  Saturn rocket pic:  Source: Attribution:  Jim Evans. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Slides 5, 6, 7 and 8: 

Slide 10: Public domain

Slide 16: Government Press Office (Israel), CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Slide 17:

Slide 18: The Justice Collaboratory “Four Pillars of Procedural Justice”

Slide 21: Photo from unsplash:  Public domain.

Slide 22:  Grover Norquist: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Slide 23:   Sign: pixabay open source. People: Public domain.

Slide 24:  From PeaceCon2020 Agenda.

Slide 25: Public domain