Saturday, May 17, 2008

Learning about Peace

(the introductory session to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute)

May 15, 2008. Day 1

Abdi is a 61 year old man from Somalia whom I have been able to speak Arabic with. Well, he’s not really sure if he‘s 61. One of my classmates in my reconciliation class at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, we were sharing our life stories with each other. After commenting that he hopes to have 12 children and that he presently has 6, he suddenly asked me how old I was. “I am 22” I told him. “I am 61 years old” he replied. “But I am not really sure. One day I asked my mother how old I was and she told me that I was 19. 5 years later I asked her again and she told me I was 19. How could I be 19 five years later? All we know is that I was born the same year that two of our goats died, we don’t know what year that was.” I suggested that that is what he should put on his passport for his birth date “the year our two goats died.”

My mind is swirling with ideas, thoughts, and theories. After one class session with Abdi I feel like I have enough thoughts to process to last me a week. What I am learning is that peacemaking is a whole academic discipline and field with a full range of theories, concepts, and terminology. This field is often called Conflict Transformation.

I am learning is that one of the greatest sadnesses of out time is that the majority of our resources world wide and in the U.S. are devoted to the least effective means of solving conflict: force (most often taking the shape of violence). Military science is an extremely specialized and developed field where we send our best and brightest students. This is also the means of conflict resolution (if it can be called that) that receives the greatest glory and prestige in our societies. Look at the respect, for example, that generals command. Mediation and reconciliation, however, are relatively, in some respects, new academic fields with few resources devoted to them. There is even less glory and prestige attached to them. They, however, are our only hopes for establishing true and lasting peace in our societies. What they seek to do is to not merely suppress conflict by dealing with the “problems,” but they seek to go behind the conflict to its’ sources. Unless the roots of a conflict are addressed, another one will spring up in its place farther down the road and true peace will not be established.

Why do we so often recourse to violence as a means to solve our problems? For one, it is the easiest method, especially if one is more powerful than the opponent. Through violence one can force the other party to comply to my demands, without me having to take their interests into consideration.

A helpful chart that has been given to us is the following one. It de
scribes the various means of handling conflict and it moves from the most unilateral means (and thus least effective) on the right to the most mutually enriching and participatory (and thus effective).

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