Lederach argues that dealing with contemporary armed conflict requires new approaches in addition to traditional diplomacy. A global overview of conflict shows that contemporary armed conflicts are primarily internal conflicts, occurring between different identity groups within a state. These conflicts tend to arise within poor, developing nations. Lederach argues that contemporary armed conflicts are more similar to communal and intercommunal conflicts than they are to international or interstate conflicts. Such conflicts are fueled more by psychological or cultural factors than by substantive issues.
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And we hear his stories this hour, which you have never heard in the news — from places like Colombia, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Northern Ireland. We learn what really happens when people transcend violence while living in it — and so find the moral imagination to live beyond it.
John Paul Lederach says, for example, that the key to enduring change is not mass numbers of people but a quality of relationship between unlikely people. And I think those are the challenges that we really have. For over three decades, John Paul Lederach has spent four to five months a year on the road, mediating crises of life and death in over 25 countries and five continents.
I spoke with him in He comes from a long line of Mennonites, Protestant reformers who took on the biblical command for Christians to be peacemakers with a special passion. Wherever there is war in the world, Mennonites can be found — as mediators and medics, firefighters and mental health caregivers. As John Paul Lederach was entering adulthood, new countries were being born out of colonialism by revolution.
And there he encountered a global mix that has characterized his work ever since. It was for me probably my real introduction to world politics in a lot of ways. Certainly an education around issues that I felt passionately about that they felt equally passionately about, which was particularly how do you create change.
And most of them were very much in favor of violent revolution, coming out of the countries that they were in. So it was a great opportunity to test the ideas at an early age. And I think peace is one of those. I mean, I want to draw you out on that. I think this was in a conflict resolution publication. So you do talk about the art and soul of peace-building and moral imagination. Tell me what that really connotes for you. Well, on the latter, the moral imagination, what I was after was a combination of things based on experiences that I had had very directly in a number of locations and indirectly, that is, through colleagues.
In each of the stories, there was an element of something very unexpected. But there was also, I found, sort of four qualities that I made reference to then from there on out as the moral imagination.
What they sustained was, by my view, a form of curiosity. Middle East can go back centuries. TIPPETT: And have you been in situations where that beautiful idea, which can sound abstract, especially when there are generations of violence, where people have transcended that, where people have come to see that? This is now 20, maybe 23 years later.
That we will seek out every armed group in our region and we will talk to them about what we are asking and what we want respect for in our areas. I mean, these powerless people who are in danger by them clearly have a stake. Now, this organization has existed for the past 24 years.
But the movement itself has endured. And it is an extraordinary thing. You are looking at a way in which they shifted the view and approach to enmity.
They changed it. He shifts the language and lens of Western approaches to problem-solving and crisis management. In the process, he begins to clarify some of the reasons that a real end to entrenched conflicts, both local and global, is so often elusive.
So is this something that you saw early on or is this a realization that has emerged for you through experience? I mean, early on, especially when I got very serious about the studies and early training and formally in mediation and conciliation work, there was a technical side of that.
And the technical side in some ways is a bit mesmerizing when you first come into it. You learn approaches and skills that accompany those approaches and how you might use those. Mediation in particular I think has been a big growth area in a lot of places, but the same would be true of negotiation and even certainly peace-building. One of the shifts that came for me earlier was to move from an understanding that what I was involved in as being defined as conflict resolution in a narrow sense, that is, finding a solution to a problem, to talking about and visualizing it as conflict transformation that included resolution approaches but that went beyond that because it went to the core questions of what are we trying to change and what kind of changes are needed.
And those may or may not be well suited by simply solving a problem. You can solve a problem and not change anything. That happens all the time. TIPPETT: So give me an example of, you know, tell me a place or a situation that comes to mind when you think about this distinction between solving a problem and where this creativity kicks in.
Now, this is mostly at a local level, although both of the organizations are large. One has about 8 million members and one about 2 million members. There were about people. They were seated in different groups. There was a landless group that had been displaced from the war.
There was a bonded laborer group, that is, a group that had come out of bonded slavery … MS. There was a group of people involved with the forest conservation group, one of the groups that I work with. There was a district forest office. So at one level in the photo, what you see is a conflict resolution process.
But at a second and third level, and here is where I think transformation and some of the creativity starts to come in, there were two that were standing up front who looked to be the most visible facilitators. There was a young woman. And standing beside her was a young man about 24 years old who was a former slave, bonded laborer, just recently released.
The young man is actually the enemy group of the young woman. Around that circle there are eight more of them, a subset of the people in conflict. And the tension that came up was, am I an activist for my bonded laborers or am I facilitator?
And so the metaphor that they came up was with this notion of kwati soup. Of nine beans, every bean retains its flavor.
That is, every bean is linked to a group and still is very much a spokesperson, an advocate, and connected to the understanding of that group. So there have to be some of us that also think about the good of the whole, of the community. One is that the community is not dependant on somebody bigger and stronger to decide for them, but they have a greater capacity to do it themselves. They begin to shift their understandings of who they are as a community and how they can work at local levels at these kinds of issues.
So the whole way they framed in that photo — I want to go back to that image — it took them two meetings to arrive at the way that they would establish what they were doing, which essentially was how do we conserve the forest and make sure that people have a livelihood and lifehood around us?
Now, I thought that was a brilliant framing. TIPPETT: I think, you know, just something you just said that feels so important is not only are they framing a new way of being into the future, but that the old ways of dealing become less possible.
I mean, that really is change, right? So this brings me to another point you make. This story you just told, and a lot of the stories you tell, are about change that starts small. More important to the impact that they can ultimately have. And very little space for disagreement among us. But also very little capacity to be in significant and quality relationships with people who think very differently. My guest is John Paul Lederach. He is a professor at Notre Dame and a lifelong Mennonite — an icon of this tradition of a lived commitment to peace-building.
Her work has primarily been in West Africa, with communities devastated by the phenomenon of child soldiers. The process of bringing these children home is also controversial and traumatic. How fluffy. I think very much so. And a lot of it by having been very close to people who have suffered not just a single event of violence, which is already horrific in itself, but have lived through repeated cycles of that kind of violence and displacement.
Here are the stages, or here are the phases. And what we were discovering at several levels was that many of the things that were most important to healing and reconciliation are in the realm not only of the unspeakable, but are often in the realm of things that are not linear.
That is, that they are circular. They may be repetitious, they may be ritualistic in form, because people have a capacity to experience and feel something for which they cannot give good, clear, or fully explainable words. It may be about deepening. We understand that the purpose that it has is to create a space that permits you to get back in touch. That words often move things to a head level, explaining … MS. Or the s, how Pete Seeger got people singing, right? That place where we try to put words around things and that level of blood and bone where we are inhabiting the experience.
Well, this was in part — music, among other things, is based very much on sound, and sound is based on vibration. And music, sound, smell — there are several of our senses — are among the things that permit us to move and transport us in time, actually. You can hear a song and it will take you back to a moment. And this notion of transportability, we think, is a window into several places in which reconciliation and healing would do well to give more consideration to.
It leaves people feeling numb. They are dealing with acts that were unspeakable and they are moving into the arena of the ineffable. And in that I think what music does is it permits people to touch again, to feel touched by, and to even maybe touch their own sense of personhood and voice.
And so you have an identity of being a victim, but you also are brought into a fighting force where you become a part of something that requires you to do violence for survival, so you become a perpetrator.
The Art of Peace
Summary of "Building Peace"
Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies