Communications skills are essential to transforming conflict. Reframing is the ability to distill charged, perhaps negative and loaded statements and see the essential needs of the speaker. For example:
“I hate her…she doesn’t respect me.”
As a listener, you might reframe that exclamation as:
“You have a need to be respected by her. What does respect look like if she were to give you the respect you need?”
Simple and basic stuff but I often find it challenging to get past the raw emotion to the core need. Yet when I do use reframing, I almost always immediately find the core need. In this case the need to be heard, to have ones voice matter in a conversation or dialogue.
Getting to needs and then helping each other meet those needs is essential to peace. Disregarding the needs of others is the surest way to start the little and big wars that plague our world today. Stay with me here as I make the leap of logic . . . true Human Security might just start with listening for the needs of others!
4. Creating Reality
I have been intrigued by the question of how much of our world we create in our own minds. This question was made really clear on the streets of Kabul and rural north of Afghanistan. This journal entry from: 24 Oct 2012…posted to a student on the topic of culture on the Etown Blackboard Discussion Board…
This past weekend I experienced the hospitality of the people of northern Afghanistan. I felt safe, cared for and the warm welcome of a people who have an ancient culture. Yet just at arm’s length away were the vehicles of war from my own nation, on edge for fear of being shot at. They were at war. How can our two realities exist within the same space-time continuum? What is the difference between me in my host’s Toyota Corolla enjoying the beauty of rural Afghanistan and my compatriots in their Armored Personnel Carrier who see danger behind every rock?
Could it be that the language we use helps create reality? If you have not done so already, check out the Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum* that was recently written by Lisa Schirch and co-published by Alliance for Peacebuilding, Kroc Institute and Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). On page 146 is a chart comparing and contrasting State and Human security terminology. On the one hand the ‘other’ is an enemy, criminal or perpetrator. On the other hand the ‘other’ is a more neutral term; stakeholder. A stakeholder is someone to engage, hear a story from and who has an interest in what happens. Stakeholders, being such a generic term, begs questions about who, what, when, where, why and how. The other 3 terms, enemy, criminal and perpetrator denote a precast, prejudged role with no room for story or depth.
*Schirch, Lisa. Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum. The Hague, The Netherlands: Alliance for Peacebuilding, GPPAC, Kroc Institute, March 2016. P. 146
- Interlude to the Present
I am currently in northern Thailand giving a series of talks on peacebuilding and human security at the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace (IRCP) at Payap University. I experienced a wonderful example of the positive/creative language I have been blogging about when Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee, IRCP faculty, invited me to the local mosque for Friday prayers. The message, brought by a student, urged the faithful to “resist retaliation and embrace forgiveness because forgiveness is central to life.” He implored “when someone does evil to you and you retaliate, the evil they have done comes to you. But if you don’t return evil for evil then the evil stays with them.” With those simple yet profound words the Islamic community in Chiang Mai reinforces the tradition of neighborliness and unity which has characterized interfaith relations here.
Chiang Mai Thailand is a place where the major religions have a long history of natural co-existence. As I chatted with the leaders of the mosque, however, I became aware that the historical mutual respect these leaders have toward each other, is under stress from global attitudes and realities. Many times in our conversation the term ‘Islamophobia’ came up.
It strikes me that the normative impulse for humans to get along with their neighbors can be understood as a kind of passive co-existence. The globalization of division, hate and exclusivism is challenging the interfaith sphere in Chiang Mail to become active co-creators of harmonious living. Can we imagine communities where we more than tolerate each other but embrace the notion of thriving together in our diversity? The mosque in Chiang Mai can!
- Alternative Language (cont.)
In my last few posts I suggested that we dispense with fighting enemies and focus on creating the world of peace and security we want. I pondered if the place to start was transforming our English Language idioms that are shot full war-like language. …How many of you caught that I just used one of those violence oriented saying …”shot full of…” ?
I challenged the readers in the last post to shift language to more organic and peaceful language. How about instead of “shot full of…” that I used the word “peppered, salted or spiced?” Our English Language is peppered with war-like language.
Have you thought of alternatives to the use of “bullet points?” How about “pearl points?”
I posed this challenge to a class at Elizabethtown College and they artfully came up with this substitute. Instead of “targeting that idea for a campaign” they suggested, “planted that seeds for future growth.”
I propose using earth-based, organic language to orient us away from war-like language and toward a nurturing, sustaining language that reconnects us to Mother Earth. The effect might be increased awareness for our biological, finite nature which in turn could increase respect for this little blue ball spinning around the sun we call home.
(Picture is of earth (the small blue dot) from the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn)
- Alternate language
Have you ever pondered if and how our very use of language keeps us focused on the fight with enemies? For example, what do we call the dots in front of a series of items on a page? Bullet points? Have you ever noticed how soaked the English Language is with war making? Take these examples:
- ideas shot down
- attack a problem
- more ammunition for the argument
- magic bullets
- combat illness
- campaigns and crusades for issues
- aim your sights higher
- in the trenches
- doing battle with my kids
- charge into a situation
- armed with the facts
- taking flack for some decision
- fight for justice
- saying ‘shoot’ when I goof up
- drawing the battle lines
- ambush journalism
And if that were not enough we are constantly urged by advertisers to “arm ourselves against” ignorance, insurance fraud, termites ….” We declare war, endless wars on drugs, poverty, corruption, crime, cancer, rust, toilet bowl rings.
I am tired of war. I want something different and I believe the place to start is my own thinking which directly impacts my language.
I challenge you, until the next posting in a few days, to find alternative, more organic ways to say the things listed above without the aggressive, warmongering language.
- Human Security Goal
Since taking on an advisory role for the Alliance for Peacebuilding I have been pondering the meaning of security in light of the stream of violence and fear that wash through our news each day.
I contend that the opposite of violence is not peace. It is imagination and creation. To put energy into these enterprises will bring about a human centered security that truly fits the UN definition . . . freedom from want, freedom from fear and a life lived with dignity.
Focusing on fighting the enemy, is I believe, a distraction from nurturing the deep roots of security and inner peace. I can imagine a day when the human race will no longer waste so much energy on fighting the enemy and will instead focus on satisfying our most pressing needs as well as imagining and creating the things that fill our deepest desires and those of others. In the coming few blog posts I will be contemplating true human-centered security in light of one of the grand visions I am working toward; the end of the enemy paradigm. I will ponder a few ideas and skills that will suggest how to create this new human space where genuine security can thrive for the earth and ALL her inhabitants.
A simple coffee bean bringing world peace. Sound outrageous? Well that is the grand plan if the PeaceBuilders Community Incorporated (PBCI) in Davao City, Mindanao has its way. Beginning only ten years ago as a presence among parties in the long running wars in the southern Philippines, they currently have Peace and Reconciliation Communities spread throughout the Philippines. Even if this was all that visionary Dann Pantoja and the team at PBCI would have accomplished this would have been admirable.
However, connecting the values of justice and peace to a fair trade coffee business has made this venture down right remarkable. In ten short years Coffee for Peace (the entrepreneurial arm of the vision) has vastly increased what rural coffee farmers receive for their beans while encouraging the producer communities in a whole range of integrated skills. From tending coffee plants, to reforestation, to financial management skills to training baristas, the business acumen of Joji Pantoja has made this the social impact enterprise to watch. Indeed this merger of peace and coffee has attracted much attention earning Coffee for Peace numerous awards and notoriety from the United Nations, Price-Waterhouse Cooper, The Asian Development Bank and more.
With so much doom and gloom the world, I am inspired and humbled to have seen this story close up from the beginning as PBCI and Coffee for Peace make the world just a little more harmonious . . . one cup at a time.
Outside the University is a Daabshiil Money Exchange. I am continually struck by how this bank is more like an ordinary block house with doors and windows wide open to the busy street in front of the university main gate. I once had to cash a check there and two guys, feet propped up on the counter, were lazily texting. Approaching them, I greeting in Somali language and they gave the obligatory laugh to the foreigner who uses broken and rusty vernacular. Cashing the check was as easy as countersigning it. They pulled open a drawer piled full of currency. Somali Shillings, USD and maybe other currencies from the Middle East and Euros. Having gotten my money, then walking away, I turned and noticed them back in standard repose. I am told that some of the money changers downtown just cover up their stacks of money and go to the mosque to pray when it is time. Security is that lax.
What kind of confidence does this place have that a bank or money changer can be so relaxed about security? Nowhere on earth do I know of another place like this. Could it be guns? There are plenty of old Kalashnikovs around Hargeisa from the days of war in the 80’s. But if it were guns that make for security the US would have NO crime. So it can’t be guns. Could it be prosperity? No it can’t be prosperity. Again, the US would be pretty secure and Somaliland would be the world of Mad Max. I think it has something to do with an intact social fabric that is eloquent and nuanced through an oral tradition. Somalilanders have a long history of clan interaction, recitation of connection through ancestry and an oral tradition as a conflict resolution mechanism.
At this time of stress over racial injustice, political insecurity, international terrorism, domestic shootings in the US, might we take a lesson from Somalilanders? Next time we are tempted to become overwhelmed with all our nation’s problems, ask a simple question of ‘who is my neighbor’ and how are our lives connected and intertwined?” Then respond accordingly as we are so good at doing. We know how to do this people!
My colleagues at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute suggest there are at least three views of things that are metaphoric for seeking solutions to violent conflict. The view from a helicopter, Land Rover and walking. Viewing problems from a helicopter presents a flattened and panoramic field of vision where only major features of the terrain are visible. A helicopter leaps to the ‘destination’ without the inconvenience and snarls of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
The view from the Land Rover is a more nuanced, giving a ground level understanding of the bumps and twists in the road. The temptation is to drive at high speeds through villages to get to a destination some distance ahead. From behind the tinted glass, the rider gets a detached perspective never having to come face to face with real people. That is unless the vehicle stops and the rider alights.
It’s only in walking that one grasps, viscerally, the difficulty of traversing the road. Through the five senses the heat of the sun, the smells and sounds of the journey becomes intimately familiar to the walker. Might the solutions that emerge from struggling on the journey together, walking shoulder to shoulder, be the most sustainable even though they are the ‘slowest’? What will it take to get us out of our helicopters and Land Rovers and get a bit of road dust on our feet?
As I travel back into Somaliland for the sixth time since I began coming here in March 2013 I am taking stock in what, if anything, I have actually contributed toward the greater common good here. Is it only me as a trainer who walks away from an intense 4 days of grappling with the tough issues and interventions of conflict, wondering if he/she has contributed anything?
Yet I keep reminding myself that peacebuilding is fundamentally about relationships. Restoring broken ones, building capacity in others to resist injustice and networking so as create new initiatives. People also have relationships with social groupings and/or organizations. So learning how to relate to others, be they people or structures is also a key part of the relationships of peacebuilding.
Institutions are notoriously NOT fond of funding relational initiatives. I think this is in part because relationships are hard to measure. I have been thinking about doing justice to measuring relationships and wondering what metrics might be helpful. I have toyed around with a ‘relational resilience matrix’ and associated benefits. I need to research who else has been thinking along these lines.