I don't know why I've been thinking about Anwar Sadat so much lately, but I have. I can't help but wonder where the leaders are, where are those who can "dream of things that never were?"
I was too young at the time to fully appreciate what Anwar Sadat did. I do remember the television images of him emerging from a plane on Israeli soil. Sadat was Egyptian President from 1970 to 1981. In 1973, he led Egypt into war with Israel. But he also heralded the beginning of the peace process in the Middle East with his historic visit to Jerusalem in November, 1977. He and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin negotiated the Camp David Accords, and shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
By walking off that plane, Sadat changed the game. He did something unexpected. He unlocked a door that until that moment had been impossible to open. He dreamed of things, in fact believed in things, that most thought impossible. We desperately need that kind of vision now. We all have a responsibility -- to ourselves and to our children and grandchildren -- to do more than we are doing in this world to resolve conflicts in a way that is constructive rather than destructive. No more critical legacy challenge faces us than how we can learn to live together and deal constructively with what can far too easily become violence that leads to more violence too horrible to even dare to imagine.
Our planet has been around for billions of years. It was only about forty years ago though that we saw Earth as a whole, photographed for the first time from space by the Mercury astronauts. It was a tiny globe surrounded by darkness. The photographs emphasized just how small this planet is. Today, there are six billion human beings walking its surface. As our world becomes increasingly interdependent, it is becoming even smaller. More and more people bump into each other more and more often. In centuries past, if you didn't like what was happening in one corner of the globe, you could pack up, move to a large uninhabited area, and start a new country. No more. There are few large, uninhabited areas left. And we are all interconnected in ways we have never been before in history.
From an anthropological perspective, the human beings alive today are descended from the same small group of people, our common grandmothers and grandfathers, who lived several hundred thousand years ago. At the same time, anthropologists have identified more than fifteen thousand distinct ethnic groups on the planet. Our challenge is to recognize our common humanity while making allowances for these differences.
In keeping with the holiday season's spirit of peace, this is an ideal time to explore how we might make the hope for peace a reality. I offer you an assorted variety of comments for thought and discussion...
Violence, War, Terrorism
Did you know that the atomic bomb was being manufactured before the first automatic washing machine?
In addition to the "war on terrorism," there are at least two dozen major wars in progress in the world at this moment. All are being fought over truth claims of one kind or another. Despite unprecedented advances in science and culture, brutal dictatorships, acts of horrific violence, medieval forms of torture, and genocide persist. Ideals of tolerance and forgiveness are quickly pushed aside in the face of divisive "lists" of membership, beliefs, boundaries, and rules.
In the famous words of General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1880, "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror."
Have generations to come listened? World War I killed at least 10 million people in battle, most of them young or very young men. Millions more died from war-related causes. World War II killed 50 million, of whom fewer than half were servicemen in uniform. The proportion of war victims who are civilians has leaped dramatically from 5% to over 90% in recent decades. In the words of an old French Legionnaire, a veteran of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, "There is no such thing as a war crime. War itself is a crime."
How can we communicate the lessons of generations past to new generations so that the messages are not only heard but deeply understood to inspire new ways of addressing old problems? Andrew Carroll is the editor of a fascinating new book War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars. It contains 200 letters published in their entirety for the first time from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Bosnia. Says Carroll:
I was three years old when US troops pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, and no one in my immediate family has ever served in the armed forces. War had always been a remote, almost abstract concept to me. Even the fighting in the Persian Gulf, which I vividly recall watching live on television, seemed distant and unreal. When it was over, far from sobering me to the realities of warfare, Desert Storm only convinced me -- at the time -- that wars were won quickly, easily, bloodlessly.... While a self-imposed humility prevents many veterans from recounting their war days, there is another reason for their reticence: What they saw, what they lost, and what they endured was horrific beyond words. A tempest of painful memories rages behind many gruff exteriors, and the only way for them to bear this anguish is not to discuss it. I began to understand this silence once I started focusing on the war letters themselves.
Carroll's collection of letters reveals all the complexities of war, from the sweeping horrors to the humanity of everyday fears, yearnings, and hopes. Television can sanitize and distance us from violence and war so that it almost becomes unreal. So many people commented as they watched the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11 that it was "like watching a movie." It was difficult to comprehend, just as it is difficult to comprehend what is happening in Afghanistan and other parts of the world at this very moment. But comprehend it we must in order to be responsible for our actions and reactions.
Many have compared the September 11 attacks to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Others have pointed out that there are also comparisons to be made with the dropping of the atomic bomb. The September 11 attacks crossed a moral line, one that had never been crossed before. Some argue that the dropping of the atomic bomb also crossed a line. On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" was detonated over Hiroshima. No one knows exactly how many people were killed in the blast -- many were vaporized instantly and left no trace -- but most estimates range from 70,000 to 100,000. On August 9, 1945, a second bomb -- "Fat Man" -- was detonated over Nagasaki killing approximately 60,000 people.
In a letter reprinted in War Letters, fireman Keith Lynch describes to his parents the "Dead City" of Nagasaki, Japan:
Now I can see what they mean when they say Dead City. A city with no buildings, no trees, no facilities, and no people. All you see from the top of the hill is a ground covered with bricks, burned wood, twisted and pushed over steel frames of buildings for several miles in each direction. There is nothing for the people of this Dead City to do but walk around and think, "What manner of people would do such a thing to us, who are a peaceful, courteous, and civilized people?" I wondered what they thought when they looked at us as we were driving along. "Are these the barbarians who did such a thing to us? What can we expect now that we are at their mercy?
I remember a New York firefighter being interviewed on television. He commented that it looked like an "atomic bomb had been dropped" on the World Trade Center.
While formal wars between nations bring with them more than enough horrors, terrorism is even more complicated. It's a term usually applied to organized acts or threats of violence designed to intimidate opponents or to publicize grievances. Civilians are often primary targets rather than accidental casualties. Especially with respect to the September 11 attacks, there is no clearly defined "enemy" or territory. Terrorist cells are scattered throughout the world. And, in contrast to wars -- where soldiers fight as part of armies, taking orders from a chain of command, and may have varying degrees of commitment to the "cause" -- in terrorism there is a strong personal and intergenerational component. Identity-based anger and perceptions are passed down from one generation to the next, validated through historical events and personal experiences of exclusion. Terrorists are generally motivated by high ideals, a passionate sense of the wrongs done to their people, and a longing to right those wrongs. They are also motivated by a fury against those they see as preventing the righting of wrongs. To the outside observer, there may seem to be little connection between perceived wrongs and the tactics used to right them. But to the terrorist, the connections are clear and they are willing to die for their people and their beliefs.
A Brief Historical and Cultural Context
How did militaristic violence -- whether through wars or terrorism -- become the norm for resolving conflicts on this planet?
As societies have changed, so have the level, complexity, number, and nature of wars. For example, prior to the evolution of agricultural societies (more than 6,000 years ago), the use of large-scale weapons was limited, and war was often highly ritualized with special ceremonies. You made yourself known and visible to the enemy. The idea was not simply to win, but to win honor. There were rules about who could do what when. Deaths from battles were relatively few.
As nations developed, they were able to command and maintain large armies. Still, most wars were disputes between land-owning nobles and kings, with conflicts waged primarily between small warrior groups. Not until the French Revolution in the late 18th century did modern warfare, and its organized, bureaucratic methods, come into its own. Under Napoleon, promotion in the military came to be based on merit (achievement), formal military education programs were developed, and a complex division of labor was instituted. Men became "skilled" in the use of military strategy and logistics.
The Industrial Revolution and the rise of modern nation-states further transformed warfare. Industrialization led to the mass production of weapons and ammunition. Taxation and the conscription of citizens became part of national life, providing the money for weapons and the soldiers to fight. Short-range muskets were replaced with long-range rifles, ironclad ships were constructed, and soldiers started using hand grenades in combat. The US Civil War -- the first example of this sort of industrialized warfare, or "total war" -- resulted in massive casualties.
After World War II, governments, particularly in the US and the former Soviet Union, created a permanent war-production industry, setting aside billions of dollars annually to manufacture weapons and support a permanent army. Militarism -- the ideology of constant war preparedness combined with close relationships among government, industry, and the military -- became a part of the culture.
Warfare in the last century saw the falling away of restraints. Less and less value was placed on ritual process, and more and more emphasis on surprise and massive force. Rifles gave birth to machine guns. Explosives began to be dropped from the air. Armies let loose poisonous gases. Scientists developed deadly bacteria that could be spilled out to cause public plague. Soldiers were no longer the only targets of war. Bombing of specific military targets gave way to "saturation" bombing and fire-bombing, which destroyed with no discrimination and were so massively destructive that they made it seem like a small and "logical" step to the atomic bomb. We went beyond the thought of triumph in war to the enemy's total annihilation.
Still, modern wars have followed some guidelines of acceptable behavior. There are some moral lines over which you can't step. While the United Nations may stand behind (although not agree with) certain national acts of war, they condemn other acts as being "outside the rules." The United Nations has said that the September 11 attacks were more than acts of "terrorism," they were "crimes against humanity." The term "terrorism" dates from the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) during the French Revolution. But it has taken on additional meaning in the last century. Political terrorism may be part of a government campaign to eliminate the opposition or it may be part of a revolutionary effort to overthrow a regime. Terrorism by radicals and by nationalists became widespread after World War II. A "crime against humanity" though steps outside even the indistinct bounds of terrorism.
Groups fight for many reasons -- often related to political power, economic interests, personal and political honor, tribal and national pride, and religious beliefs. In any instance of aggression, the interplay of these factors is complicated and dynamic. The entire fate of Earth is now in human hands in more ways than one.
Is Violence Inevitable?
Our utter shock when we hear of terrorist acts is an indicator of how strong our subconscious expectations of peaceful interaction really are. Given our regular media diet of wars, street violence, strikes, lawsuits, and political battles, the conscious "story" we've constructed of human beings as "naturally" prone to violence is understandable. But it overlooks a fundamental fact: most of the time, most people do get along. And at some level, we expect them to. Although we may not give it much thought or attention, it's true. Despite differing temperaments, habits, values, and beliefs, most families, neighborhoods, and nations work together most of the time. This is not to say that violence and the way in which war has evolved are not extremely serious problems. It's just to point out that peace is also a reality, and a prevalent one at that. And there have been major steps of progress in world conflicts: the Berlin Wall coming down, the end of the Cold War, reductions in violence in Northern Ireland, the end of apartheid in South Africa.
A book I would highly recommend you read (and I'm going to recommend it more than once in this kit because I know not everyone reads every section -- although I can hope!) is Getting to Peace by William Ury, who is part of the internationally-recognized Harvard Negotiation Project. The book is intelligent, accessible, realistic yet hopeful, and brings issues down to the level of answering, "What can I do?"
Points out Ury:
Archaeologists have found little evidence of organized violence during the first ninety-nine percent of human history. We have been maligning our ancestors. They weren't cavemen looking to bash every stranger over the head. Rather, they worked hard at coexisting. They sought to get along with each other and their neighbors.... Our image of the first ninety-nine percent of human history should be neither of killer apes, nor of naturally peaceful folk, but of human beings prone to conflict and struggling to coexist amid their differences.... If all four million years of human evolution were to be telescoped into a single twenty-four-hour day, the period of coexistence would last through the night, the morning, the afternoon, the evening, all the way, in fact, until just before midnight. The period we call history, filled with violence and domination, wars and empires, would last barely one minute.
The argument that people are biologically or genetically programmed for war was soundly rejected by a group of prominent biologists and social scientists participating in a meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression in 1986. The meeting adopted a widely circulated document known as the Seville Statement on Violence. It has been endorsed by many organizations, including Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the American Psychological Association, and the American Anthropological Association. Among its conclusions:
It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.... Warfare is a peculiarly human phenomenon and does not occur in other animals. The fact that warfare has changed so radically over time indicates that it is a product of culture.... War is biologically possible, but it is not inevitable.... There are cultures which have not engaged in war for centuries, and there are cultures which have engaged in war frequently at some times and not at others. It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature.... It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behavior more than for other kinds of behavior.... Violence is neither in our evolutionary legacy nor in our genes.... Just as "wars begin in the minds of men," peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us.
Getting Underneath Violence
Violence is not automatic or natural. It can be inflamed or tamed by the power of social forces. It begins with the group or society, as well as the individual. It challenges us to think about the limitations of human freedom and the power of social forces to shape individual behavior. It also touches the lives of individuals. When groups fight, individual soldiers leave their homes and risk their lives in battles. Innocent civilians are often injured and killed as well.
Underneath violence are complicated economic and political issues. For example, the United States has about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In a world in which the vast majority of babies are born into debt-ridden countries that cannot feed themselves, how can the US and other countries in the Western world not be the object of envy and resentment? Perceptions of unfairness, injustice, and lack of basic resources tend to provoke violence, which in turns tends to escalate into more violence.
Underneath violence are complicated notions of identity. Broadly speaking, notions of identity in the West have been largely individualistic; people are taught to feel that they are born into the world, and that they must establish and maintain boundaries between themselves and others. Seeing the self in this way had created on the one hand tremendous developments in economics and industry, but on the other to significant levels of alienation, anxiety, and social division. In the East, again broadly speaking, traditionally cultures have taught their members that the collective is paramount, and that the individual is important only to the extent that they are part of a web of socially meaningful relationships. People are more apt to feel that they come out of the world and are part of a broader web of life. This worldview results in strong (but traditional) families and low crime rates, but there is little tolerance for individual creativity, difference, or dissent.
Underneath violence are complicated issues of power. Power can come from many sources: physical force, threats, coercion, the law, religion, money, emotions, information, collective force, social and moral force. Military force and physical violence have tended to be the main sources of power. Force is often used to start conflicts, to energize them, and to end them. There is big power like bombs and the military. There is also interruptive power, like blowing up a bridge to cause disruption. The power to interrupt will always be greater than the power to prevent it from happening. This is why terrorist movements have an advantage in terms of action. The key point is whether this action can achieve anything.
Humans go from peace to war in inevitable stages. Conflict does not emerge from a peaceful context. There are a series of events that lead up to it -- events which could be stopped before they escalate, if we have the will to stop them. The management of conflict has to begin with individual behaviors and perceptions before it can be expected to occur in groups and nations. Violence will always leave bloodshed and death which will never be forgotten, legacies of hurt, bitterness, vengefulness, and destruction. The real tragedy in terrorism is often that the middle ground where negotiation can take place may have been ignored for so long that the mutual learning needed to achieve a shift to nonviolent interaction is extremely difficult.
But what if the other side is "crazy?" Serb militants fighting in Bosnia were said to be beyond reason, driven by anger and revenge. Saddam Hussein's reasoning was described as "something out of Disneyland." Those who perpetrated the September 11 attacks have been called "evil." Name-calling encourages the perception that the other side is stupid, deranged, or wicked. While ill will may be an explanation, stupidity or insanity are rarely what causes a conflict. When we look back on decisions made by "madmen," we see there's a certain logic to them. We may not like what we see, we may not share their values and priorities, but their actions make a certain kind of sense within the context of their perceptual framework, the story of the world they have created for themselves. But to say their conduct is irrational excuses our own behavior -- the actions we have taken or should have taken -- much too easily.
History's greatest horrors have been committed in the name of morality. Wars have been waged, injustices of every sort justified by moral imperative. Might has traditionally made right, and those with the might have often considered it their right to do whatever it takes to ensure their perception of truth prevails. The danger of intolerance grows as we become even more assured that our viewpoint is the one true answer.
When social and moral perceptions collide, each side considers its own position to be so vital, and that of the adversary to be so dangerous, that neither seems mindful of the costs of the battle. Each side is compelled by its highest and best motives to act in ways that are repugnant to the other. Tremendous passion, energy, and material resources are exhausted in fruitless and redundant battles. The problem is all the more complicated because suppressing moral conflict can be just as damaging as fighting it out. When important moral differences are left unexpressed, points of view and perspectives on the world go unheard, and the interests of entire groups become marginalized in the process. The challenge lies in making the world a safe place for differences -- in managing moral disputes in a way that allows expression without violent, disrespectful, and demeaning outcomes. The type of communication I'm talking about here isn't something simple or nice. It is highly complex, demands great creativity, and most importantly, an open mind.
In managing conflicts of values, it's important to remember that values and beliefs are deeply felt, personal, self-identification experiences that are not easily or quickly changed. Values are tied to education and the ability to adopt new thinking skills. They are not directly changed through forceful argument, logic, or persuasion.
To really get underneath violence, we have to look at "them" AND we have to look at us. One educator wrote about an airplane flight she was on which also had several Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. They were dressed in long, flowing attire, and all the women were veiled. The flight started and the attendant walked down the aisles handing out headsets for the movie. The educator chose not to watch the movie. But she occasionally glanced up at the screen from the book she was reading to see the all too familiar images of guns, shooting, people and buildings being blown up. She then noticed several Muslim mothers and fathers speaking to each other with concerned expressions. They seemed upset and were pointing at the movie screen. They then began making makeshift blindfolds out of anything they could find to put over their children's eyes. The children remained blindfolded for the rest of the movie, at least another hour. The educator had many strong, simultaneous reactions: How could they do that to their children? But then again, what does it say about us? How could we do that to our children? Is it morally acceptable to show any level of violence on a public screen in an airplane where passengers have little choice other than to watch? These are tough questions.
It is not easy to face the tough questions raised by human differences. Writes William Ury in Getting to Peace:
It takes courage to look into the mirror when finding fault rather than gazing into the telescope.... The peace we can aspire to is not a harmonious peace of the grave, nor a submissive peace of the slave, but a hardworking peace of the brave.
Conflict As Positive
Pioneers in the field of conflict resolution say that the biggest obstacle to dealing constructively with conflict is that we have no imagination. We must be able to "dream of things that never were."
A major first step is the way we view conflict. Conflict is a frontier. It can be the point at which we weaken and divide. It can also be a point at which we are strengthened, brought together, and transformed. One of the extraordinary things about tragedy is the way it can bring out the best in people. Victims of bad fortune or horrible events often rise to the occasion with amazing strength and courage. Can we mobilize that positive energy? It is our choice. Will we choose to allow conflicts to provoke cruelty, competition, and revenge OR compassion, collaboration, and reconciliation?
Conflicts are an opportunity to learn. Most people think of conflicts simply as disagreements based on differences. But there can be other, richer ways to look at conflict. Conflict can represent a lack of awareness of the imminence of death or sudden catastrophe. As you become more aware of a bigger life picture, conflicts can become less important. Conflict can be a way of getting attention, acknowledgement, or support. Conflict can represent a lack of skills or experience. Conflict may be the result of pursuing unfounded or unrealistic expectations. Conflict may be the result of secrets, confusion, and opposing messages. Conflict may be a symbol of the problems in a system. Conflict may be the result of fear or feelings of powerlessness. Conflict may be the result of our inability to learn from mistakes. We learn from conflict when we uncover what's underneath it.
Arun Gandhi is the grandson of political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi. He walks in his grandfather's footsteps when he says, "The greatest challenge in promoting nonviolence is the English language and its limitations. The next is our perception, rooted for centuries, that violence is the only way we can resolve our problems."
The development of a peace culture is not easy when violent conflict has developed a long history and become part of the culture. The true test of the maturity of individuals or nations is the ability to rise above their history.
Creating a world of security, justice, and peace is hard work. Contrary to popular thought, peace is not a passive process, but an active process of creating new systems and ways of thinking and communicating, as well as being strategic by preventing, resolving, and containing conflict. Peace is a positive concept that implies much more than just an absence of war. It implies human beings working together to resolve conflicts, respect standards of justice, satisfy basic needs, and honor human rights.
The words we use largely determine what we pay attention to and how we pay attention to it. The available vocabulary is a challenge when it comes to talking about peace. We seem to have a good vocabulary for talking about war, but not about peace. Talk about peace is at best obscure. We think of war as an activity in which people can purposefully engage. It's something soldiers can learn how to do. Peace is not thought of as something we can do. We tend to think of it as a kind of condition or state that's achieved or simply occurs. We also seem unclear about what peace is or how to promote it. This results in the word "peace" being used in a wide variety of ways connected with diverse assumptions and practices. It may have a moral meaning, a religious one, a scientific meaning. The most common definition is that peace is the absence of war or conflict. This "negative" definition leaves us with an empty feeling. We could define peace more actively as, perhaps, an ongoing activity of cultivating agreements. People participating in this reality of peace would act as cooperative participants seeking solutions rather than as combative opponents seeking victory.
Mary Parker Follett, a pioneer in the field of mediation, describes peace in this way:
We have thought of peace as passive and war as the active way of living. The opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life. It is a kind of rest cure compared to the task of reconciling our differences. From War to Peace is not from the strenuous to the easy existence. It is from the futile to the effective, from the stagnant to the active, from the destructive to the creative way of life... The world will be regenerated by the people who rise above these passive ways and heroically seek by whatever hardship, by whatever toil the methods by which people can agree.
So peace is a way of living, of doing things. We need to develop systems and keep working at them. "Peace" will never be achieved once and for all. Life and history are very much a tension between light and dark, and this fundamental tension may never be eradicated. Instead, we will have ways to deal with it that lead us in constructive rather than destructive directions.
In Getting to Peace, William Ury argues that what prevents us from getting to peace perhaps more than anything else is the lack of a perceived alternative to force when conflict turns serious:
That our ancestors were quite capable of violence, that indeed they had the ability all along to make war, and that they undoubtedly had many conflicts makes their feat of coexisting all the more remarkable. They had to work hard and courageously to prevent conflicts from arising, to resolve difficult issues, and to contain violent fights. One of the keys to their success, I am persuaded, was a vigilant and active community -- a powerful third side. Their peace was not a peace of the weak but a peace of the brave.
We need to develop what Ury calls the "third side" -- a surrounding community that serves as a container for any escalating conflict:
A good analogy for the third side is the body's immune system. When a cell is attacked by a virus, it sends out a chemical alarm awakening the dendritic cells that lie dormant in every tissue of the body. The dendritic cells, in turn, mobilize the T-cells, which come to the rescue. If the T-cells correspond roughly to the police and peacekeepers of the world, the dendritic cells correspond to the surrounding community that must be aroused in order to stop destructive conflict. The third side thus serves as a kind of social immune system preventing the spread of the virus of violence.
Another way to understand the concept of the third side is to compare the messages in the movies High Noon and Witness. In High Noon, Gary Cooper's pacifist Quaker wife, played by Grace Kelly, puts aside her deeply felt opposition to violence, grabs a gun, and in the movie's climactic scene shoots the last of the bad guys before he can shoot her husband. The message is that sometimes you have to go against your beliefs to keep the bad guys from winning. Sometimes violence is justified. You need to do evil to fight evil and prevent more evil from happening. Sound familiar? But in Witness, something a little different happens. In the climactic scene, a young boy knows where Harrison Ford's gun is hidden. But he does not go for it. Instead, he runs to ring the town bell to summon all the farmers from the surrounding area. The hundred unarmed men stare down the bad guys, sending the message, "We will not permit evil in our midst." There is the moral force of an entire community at play. It is a force to be reckoned with. Never underestimate the power of the many. Moral force is one of the most practical and powerful types of force in conflict. It ranges from the condemnation of a United Nations resolution to the persuasive pressure of friends.
Some cultures have developed highly skilled methods of combating superior physical force by means of skill. Such methods such as judo or aikido tend to use the force of the assailant to defeat the assailant. In terms of group force, we have never designed anything remotely comparable. The nearest we might get is by means of bodies like the United Nations where the complaints of the small, bullied nation might bring down the censure of all other nations on the aggressor. We need to put more energy in that direction.
Community-building is therefore important to peace. Community involves mutual benefit, trust, and visions of a better world. There must be a balance between serving the interests of the individual and the goals of the larger community. No matter how well informed, or how highly motivated, we need to work with others. There are many groups and organizations working for peace. We need to take advantage of all the creative ideas, and to become aware of the hundreds and thousands, perhaps millions, who are working for similar goals.
We have freedom in community as long as we can keep the conversation going. When we cease to talk, we break the fragile web that is community and make it virtually impossible to learn from each other. Without communication, both a sense of tradition and the need for change may go unnoticed. Without communication, ignorance leads to misunderstanding, and misunderstanding leads to faulty conclusions. And the ultimate faulty conclusion is war.
Much has been written about the need for new patterns of communication in our society. There's deep dissatisfaction with the traditional ways of dealing with conflict, from argument to debate to lawsuits to violence. There's a growing feeling that there has to be a better way. Part of that better way involves using the words and skills of constructive conflict resolution, including mediation and facilitation. The goal isn't to eliminate vigorous dissent, but to make dissent possible -- by replacing violence and avoidance with rich relationships that can tolerate productive disagreement. There are numerous complexities in trying to engage in open dialogue, including who gets to participate and what effect existing power and status relations have on the resulting communication. Whenever people communicate with each other, there is much at stake. We may need another model of communication in order to get where we want to go. A number of researchers have shown how principles of jazz improvisation can provide promising models for relationships. While remaining attentive to and respectful of some basic rules of music, jazz players constantly challenge themselves to innovate without alienating the others. Well-worn riffs are called "comps," which is short for "competency traps," and a player who chooses them is seen as weak. Unlike the usual pattern in relationships, jazz musicians "fail" when they stay with what's safe and known.
Education is a big part of communication. Peace will not happen if you sit in your living room chair and wait for Tom Brokaw to tell you it's arrived. It's what you do and believe on a daily basis, and the risks you're willing to take in your own communication. Individuals need to understand the facts and issues behind conflict, and they cannot do that if they are not educated and exposed to multiple perspectives.
Peace is also related to how connected we feel -- about each other, the past, and the future. If we have as our story "looking out for number one" then the primary motivation becomes "us versus them" and maintaining power and control. This viewpoint is grounded in perceptions and images of limited resources and uncertain futures. If people believe there are no choices, they won't see the choices that may be there. As more people become convinced that a peaceful future is possible, a positive, self-fulfilling cycle can be initiated. The more people believe in peace, the more likely peace will exist.
There exist two perspectives in folklore. One is that too many cooks spoil the broth. The other is that it takes four people to make a salad: a spendthrift to pour the oil; a miser to pour the vinegar; a wise elder to season it; and a lunatic to toss it. We need to come together. Every culture and society can learn how to improve its conflict resolution techniques from other societies. Every society and culture draws on its own traditions in resolving its internal problems. While none have eliminated conflict, many have developed creative ways of minimizing or resolving it. For example, in one African tribal community, it's common for people to laugh at conflicts as a way to minimize their importance and power to disrupt the community. Among Native American groups, it's common to use ritual and ceremony as a way to resolve conflict. In China, with over a billion people, there are only four to five thousand lawyers, but nearly a million mediators. Mediators are elected from neighborhoods, workplaces, farms, and schools, with neighborhood mediation committees resolving disputes. And salam, peace, is at the very core of Islam. It places great emphasis on democracy, compassion, justice, tolerance, and the sanctity of the family. Everyone can bring their talents, perspectives, and ideas to the world table.
So, Now What?
Do we have the courage to honestly ask ourselves, from a perspective of actively pursuing long-term peace, what should be done in the wake of the September 11 attacks?
Conflict resolution experts have weighed in with many differing opinions. One message is consistent though: throughout history -- in Ireland, the Basque region, Sri Lanka, Angola, Haiti, Colombia, Algeria, Croatia, Macedonia, Lebanon, the Israeli occupied territories -- efforts have been made to halt terrorism through military force, with the primary result that terrorism is hardened, deepened, and multiplied. There may be small apparent successes, but they are short-lived and do little to resolve the bigger problems.
Even those who lost loved ones in the attacks of September 11 are not unanimous in supporting military force. Judy Keane, who lost her husband Richard, says, "Bombing Afghanistan is just going to create more widows, more homeless, fatherless children." Jill Gartenberg, whose husband Jim was killed, feels that "we don't win by killing other people." Amber Amundson lost her husband, Craig, in the Pentagon. She has stated, "If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband." Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez's son Greg was among those who died at the World Trade Center. "Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purposes. Let us grieve. Let us reflect and pray. Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world."
Are there times when we must use force? Perhaps. But it must be force that encourages resolution, learning, collaboration, and transformation. No one should use force lightly, without realizing the brutality inherent in the choice and its inevitable, terrible costs. The danger in using force is that humanity and integrity will be defeated by hatred and expediency, and that values will be compromised in the name of victory. Before proceeding any further, we must be very clear on our goals. There must be an understanding that our real opponent in every battle is ultimately ourselves. This is true both literally and figuratively right now. The enemy isn't located in a specific territory as in wars past, but is among us. Is it civilians in Afghanistan who contributed to the attacks of September 11 or the flight school in Florida? Do we bomb Florida? Of course not.
A large part of the history of the world can be written as the pursuit of revenge and retribution. The desire for revenge is ancient and universal. The main difficulty with the "eye for an eye" philosophy was addressed by Socrates: if we concede that the central purpose of justice is to improve society, we must ask whether a dog is improved by beating it, whether a plow is improved by twisting it, or a person by punishing him. Revenge promises relief from anger and anguish. It promises to make the perpetrator suffer what the victim has suffered. But revenge ultimately brings little satisfaction. It transforms the victim into a perpetrator, no different than the one against whom the victim seeks revenge. It is a confession of powerlessness, even when it is powerful. Like all violence, it is easily overdone, ignoring the humanity of both the victim and the perpetrator. It is inhuman and impersonal when accomplished by nations. It supports and sustains a culture of violence. It creates a ripple of justification over future generations. It refuses to acknowledge the prior victimization of the perpetrator or focus on the system that presented, encouraged, or created it. It focuses on the past and punishing the perpetrator, rather than putting attention and energy into the future, change, and solving the problem.
Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged people to work for the goal of freedom from oppression as he exhorted his followers to be nonviolent and to forgive those who behaved violently toward them: "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start."
There can be no lasting peace without justice. Obviously, those behind the attacks of September 11 must be brought to justice, which is easier said than done. How we determine our actions and what we perceive to be justice depends on our understanding of history, and how we understand and prioritize our interests, values, emotions, and identities. We need to get to the root causes of the violence, how they evolved, and the fundamental conflict in beliefs and values between the Western world and the Islamic world. It's important to learn more about Western policies and actions in the Islamic world, as well as the perspective of Muslims. There are fears throughout the world that Western culture with its political and economic power, as well as the materialistic appeal of its lifestyle, will swallow up other cultures. With the spread of Western culture and products all over the world, people in less developed countries feel overwhelmed by a wave that threatens to destroy their culture, their religion, and their way of life. It's important to remember that the rest of the world has as much right to self-determination as we do. To win over peace-minded Muslims, it is important to show understanding if not sympathy for their concerns -- many of which deserve legitimacy.
Which is the greater issue: bin Laden and a small group of radicals, or differences between the Western and Islamic perspectives? Locating and hunting down a single "guilty" party will not in itself stop future violence because there are terrorist cells established around the world. It will not stop future conflict because the root causes will not have been addressed. And there are those who argue that a "war" between the US and the Islamic worlds is precisely what Osama bin Laden wanted -- because it will prompt otherwise moderate Muslims to become militant. What is needed is not to focus on a single person but the system behind the person and all actions that helped to create that system. What is needed is a dedication to eradicating the conditions that created the system. Responsibility extends not simply to those who acted and should not have, but to those who did not act and should have. There is a history leading up to every single human atrocity.
Do we allow the cycle to continue, or do we choose to break it? Breaking it requires the most courage. Taking either path will probably result in losses, but in the end the losses and the overall result may be more positive if we choose to try to create a new way. The terrorists found simple ways to use our systems to undo them. Our greatest challenge is to find equally creative and simple tools to undo their system. Just as Anwar Sadat did when he stepped off the plane in Israel, we need to change the game. This may mean many things. It could mean traveling to areas with large Muslim populations to listen to their concerns. It could mean owning up to some of the things we have done to make the situation worse. It could mean bringing American Islamic citizens to visible posts in the administration and be willing to listen to their perspective. It could mean energetically pursuing a sustainable peace process in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Any of these paths takes away one of the key strengths of the terrorists: the seeds of generational conflict perceived as injustice and used to justify and perpetuate hatred and recruitment. Retaliation reinforces the story that they have been told -- that of the powerful against the weak, of the immoral system that wishes to destroy them, their way of life, and their people.
Every single human being creates a story about the world around them. That's how the human mind makes sense of reality. Each of us creates our stories based on socialization and education, and we interpret every action within the context of the stories we have created. Conflict is perpetuated by the stories we create, the different perceptions and interpretations of reality. What stories do we choose to tell ourselves? What labels do we choose to use for others? Are they labels that blind us or encourage creativity? By calling others names, we lose our capacity to come to understand how they have constructed their stories and why. We have to change the game, because right now we are playing the game they want us to play. To change it, we have to do something completely unexpected. They expect us to retaliate, and it serves their story. There is a logic to what they do and why they do it. There have been a string of events that reinforces their story and has led to their actions. They have constructed a story of heroic struggle against evil -- the kind of archetypal story we humans can easily fall prey to, as is proven by every Hollywood movie which became a hit based on the premise of good versus evil.
A response to September 11 must succeed in both practical and moral terms. There is no perfect solution. All conflicts may not be able to be settled without force, nor is the world always a rational place. But in most cases the difficulty lies not in a lack of potential substantive options but in the failure to design, negotiate, and pursue a process that moves us forward constructively from where we are to where we would like to be.
From World Peace to Family Peace
There is a tie between our own families and the greater family of humanity. But turning our back on the one, we turn our back on the other. Wrote Anwar Sadat:
I could never turn against or show the least lack of loyalty to my family, since this is in sharp contradiction with the family values I was brought up on -- the values that continue to sustain my lifeblood and determine my mental life more effectively that anything else. Indeed, the faith I have in these values deepens day after day, so much that I have come to believe that only adherence to such values can save society -- that there can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family and not as many separate ones.
We can start building peace in the world by building peace within ourselves and our own families. While there are big questions to be answered in the wake of September 11, and we have a responsibility to the community to actively participate in making choices, we also have a responsibility within our own families. It all starts small. The view of the world as shaped in childhood and adolescence to a large part determines adult perspectives. This is true of the children of terrorists, and it is just as true of our children. Do we have the courage to pass on to them a legacy of a world view that encourages peace building?
What do you think you should think about war and violence? I'm asking you to step out of your emotions for a moment and really think about the messages we want to be sending our children. Among adult friends and co-workers you might discuss your reactions to September 11 in rather blunt and brutal terms: "We should kick butt" or "We should just bomb 'em until they're wiped off the map." But is this really the message we want to give our children? Think carefully before you answer. The next generation of leaders, our children, should be educated about the real nature of war and understand that "enemies" are not straightforward.
Understanding is key. We seldom lose our temper when we're focused on trying to understand a situation or another person's perspective. Children who are taught to try to understand why things happen and why people act the way they do will become calmer and more in control. Children need calmness. It gives them a kind of security. Peace and the control of temper is a powerful and important value that is largely a product of love and of the atmosphere created in a home.
In families, we know how to break up. But who teaches us to make up? Part of the reason we don't teach people how to make up is that there's a feeling out there that "good families don't fight." Of course they do! It's essential to have conflict for good health in a family. It gets things out into the open. It allows for the surfacing of occasional discord, unhappy feelings, anger, sadness, disappointment, and frustration. The important thing is to do it constructively and to know how to put things right at the end. Healthy families recognize negotiation as a fundamental human activity. No one ever wants to do things the way we do, and so we go through life on a daily basis negotiating -- who gets the bathroom first in the morning, who gets which section of the newspaper, who gets to watch which TV program. Healthy families also develop certain rituals over time that signal the right time and right way to resolve conflicts. The right time is one in which there is enough time to discuss the issue passionately, rationally, and completely -- and enough time to reconcile.
It is in families and through intergenerational interaction that we can be motivated toward peace. A parent or grandparent looks at their first child or grandchild and realizes that they have a responsibility to create a safe world for this tiny being. The young can also loosen the entrenched perspectives that may develop with age. When you're a teenager, you're willing to question everything, to challenge the beliefs you were brought up with, and to entertain even the most radical points of view. But that changes as you get settled into a position. Then, if you're not careful, the intractability can set in. Most of us tend to hold on to our moral positions because we're afraid (they play a major role in who we are) and we don't see or understand the bigger picture. This bigger picture is important because we forget that our moral positions go beyond our own experience, and they significantly affect the lives of those around us and those who follow us.
Peace and Aging
In many ways, as we get older, we are in a better position to work toward an inner peace, which leads to family peace, which then leads to peace with friends and community, and continues to ripple outward.
In terms of what some older people see as priorities for peace, one 84-year-old woman told me her priority was more knowledge. She said others may want action, but "I've had enough action. I need time for reflection." We all need knowledge -- not just information -- to understand the complexities of world problems and politics. There is one thing that is certain: in the words of a 75-year-old retired political science professor commenting on reporting after September 11, "Nothing is as simple as what the news reports would lead you to believe."
When I asked a group of older adults what they've done to work toward peace, a 100-year-old woman commented, "If you want peace, you can't always have your own way. When something comes up, I try to see it from the other person's point of view." Said another man, "Peace and reconciliation do not always work. But I know from my own lifetime that hostility and war do not work either."
Since older adults are a growing segment of the population, and there is strength in numbers, they might well be a strong force in peace building. For that to happen, their wisdom, insight, and energy must be encouraged and focused. They need to be shown the opportunities -- and perhaps their responsibility. There are some programs across the country making use of older adults as mediators. These programs reach into retirement communities and nursing homes to recruit and train seniors to work as mediators with other older adults, as well as young people.
Through working as mediators, older adults can gain a sense of contribution, participation, and ongoing, active involvement in something that benefits society. They have a number of strengths as mediators. They can draw on a wealth of life and professional experience, which can lend expertise and credibility to their role as a mediator. This is one situation in which they can take advantage of their perceived "wisdom" to make others feel comfortable and listened to. They can often communicate more effectively and gain the trust of their peers more readily than can younger mediators. They often have a more flexible schedule to be available to mediate. They can combine the proper blend of authority, compassion, and knowledge by having had forty to fifty years of adult experience. They have a reduced concern to conform. They also tend to have an awareness of the value of life and the limited years available to achieve goals.
This is the time of year for miracles. And we -- young and old -- have it in us to create them.
In Andrew Carroll's book War Letters, he reprints a letter from Sgt. Richard Leonard, stationed in Japan. Leonard explains to his friend Arlene Bahr why, despite all that has happened, he does not hate the Japanese:
The Japs are being as polite as they can be and are treating us like kings. They bow, salute, and felicitate us into extreme egotism and you just can't hate them for hate's sake. The average Jap doesn't give a damn about "ruling the world" anymore than you or I do. He's just an ordinary joker who went to war because he was told to, and he did the job the way he was told. War is all phoney in the first place -- I know that now. It's just the vested economic, political, and military leaders of the world fighting for personal prestige and fortunes at the expense of their citizens. I believe that common people the world over share the same dreams of peace and security.... It would have been easy for me to hate blindly. I hated their guts when they killed my brother a year ago, but hate leads only to more hate and it's only if we can get together -- work and live together -- and develop confidence in each other that there is any hope of a better tomorrow.
What if ordinary people everywhere decided to take extraordinary action? What if the powers that be called for a war, and no one came to fight? It's not as much a fantasy as you might think. Respected historian Stanley Weintraub has written a book Silent Night: The Story of World War I's Christmas Truce. This is the fascinating, true story about an informal truce that began with small, individual acts during the first Christmas of what was then called the Great War.
A few days before Christmas, 1914, hundreds of thousands of cold, trench-bound combatants put aside their arms and, in defiance of their orders, tacitly agreed to stop killing in honor of the holiday. Weintraub shares many moving accounts from letters, diaries, and a variety of other sources from British and French soldiers who experienced encounters with the Germans. At first they were wary, but their common humanity drew them closer. The informal truce began with small acts here and there: opposing Scottish and German troops would toss newspapers, ration tins, and friendly remarks across the lines; ambulance parties, clearing the dead from the barbwire hell of no man's land, would stop to share cigarettes and handshakes. Soon it spread, so that by Christmas Eve the armies of France, England, and Germany were serenading each other with Christmas Carols and denouncing the conflict.
Unfortunately, the truce ended with a few stray bullets that escalated into war. But what would have happened if soldiers on both sides had refused to take up arms again? What if...?
Your Next Steps This Holiday
I am hopeful. This hope is grounded in the fact that we have made unbelievable advances in technology. Who would have thought even a few years ago that the Internet would bring people all over the world together in ways we never dreamt possible? New technologies offer proof of humankind's intellectual capacity. I won't believe that we are incapable of putting that same intelligence to work to resolve the great problems the world faces.
In the spirit of legacy, I feel we owe more to those who have come before us, those who have given of themselves and their lives. Said Mahatma Gandhi, "We should train for nonviolence with the fullest faith in its limitless possibilities." Said Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1967, "I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious implementation in every field of human conflict, and by no means excluding the relations between nations." Says Yaël Dayan: "What we have to do is just follow in the footsteps of Anwar Sadat, of my late father, Moshe Dayan, and of Yitzhak Rabin. Those who were assassinated, those who devoted their lives to the one peace possible, believed in a homeland for all peoples and the equality and dignity of human beings, not the expression of false weapons and power. It is possible."
If you personally are not being terrorized, harassed, imprisoned, or abused, it is easy to settle into a comfortable little life. But after September 11, we all feel less "safe" than before. If you believe conflict can be positive, this may be our opportunity to learn.
A friend of mine has a very bright, twenty-year-old daughter who has come to the conclusion that an advanced education just isn't necessary in today's world. She filled her backpack and traveled around the world for a year, sipping coffee in cafes across the world and bouncing from youth hostel to youth hostel. While travel provides an education of sorts, I don't think I'm convinced that in and of itself it affords the kind of intellectual development necessary to deal with the problems facing our world. An advanced education gives us the ability to analyze complex situations, understand other perspectives, and try to work toward new and creative solutions. We have a responsibility to learn and understand all we can so that we create a meaningful legacy. An accident of birth -- being born in a richer country that affords us more opportunities -- does not absolve us of that responsibility. In fact, it may make the responsibility all the greater.
I hope you start with this kit. Make a commitment to leaving a legacy of peace. Change your personal story. We have fatalistic beliefs that "this is the way it has to be." It is time to refute that story. Just read what's on these pages. Discuss it with someone else. Read some of the books and visit some of the websites I've suggested in the resources section at the end of this kit. Develop your own problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Start practicing in your own home, school, neighborhood, and workplace. And support the wider community in whatever way you can, in whatever you do.
From Holiday Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2003