Deep Listening, Trust, and Serendipity

January 23rd, 2012 |

Carl Stauffer (center), practicing the art

We were stunned to silence as a hushed whisper fell over the meeting hall. Representatives of the “enemy” village had just walked in unexpectedly, interrupting a community peace meeting we were facilitating. Vusi, my South African colleague and I had been toiling for months on a peacebuilding process in Majola, a rural region of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa, consisting of 32 villages dotting the mountain side. Vusi and I had been invited by community leaders to accompany the Majola region in a quest for peace after the shooting death of two high school girls in January of 2001. These young girls, in school uniform and unarmed were caught in cross-fire while walking to school. This was more than the community could bear and a call to end this decadal violence was sounded.

In the 1960s this “enemy” village started a cycle of violence when they assassinated a chief from another village. In retaliation, the offended village raided the offending village and stole all their cattle (stock-theft). The revenge cycle of stock-theft continued with other villages being drawn in and an increasing number of killings occurring among the cattle thieves on both sides. In December of 1998, after decades of raids and violence, a gun battle broke out in the community leaving 16 persons dead in its wake. The national army was called in to stop the killing and restore “order.”

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Unveiling embedded power, shaping a positive peace

January 4th, 2012 |

David Anderson Hooker, instructor at SPI 2012

After teaching at EMU during the regular terms and at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) for a number of years, this past September I began a PhD program at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, where my general area of study is Social Construction. This summer I will be teaching again at SPI, facilitating Multi-party Conflict Resolution as well as a training session for STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience.

My social constructionist perspective impacts the way I frame multi-party conflict because in my estimation there is not one “reality” that we are helping people to see, but rather the process of multiparty mediation and consensus-building is to create a shared meaning and an agreement about how to collaborate and “perform the meaning” that is made.

STAR workshops combine aspects of psychosocial trauma, restorative Justice, conflict transformation, community peacebuilding, and spirituality toward the development of healthy individuals, communities, and societies. In STAR it is interesting to consider that all of those fields, even spirituality, can be thought of as metaphorical frames in a process of assisting individuals and communities in establishing positive peace. Negative peace is simply the absence of war; whereas Galtung and others describe ‘positive peace’ as a circumstance in which structural violence and the impediments to a high quality of life are also removed at the interpersonal, intrapersonal, societal, and global/environmental level.

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Cultivating heroes of hope

January 3rd, 2012 |

Roy Hange, instructor of "Faith-based Peacebuilding" at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute

Over the years of teaching faith-based peacebuilding I have met students who are heroes of hope. Among them were:

  • A nurse trainer who educates student nurses from three religious backgrounds to work with patients from the same three religious backgrounds. This nurse came with a vision to incorporate peacebuilding into the education of nurses.
  • A professor of peacebuilding who has worked with former militants from religiously oriented conflicts and instilled in them a vision for peacebuilding. This student came with the vision of a better future for his country and faith community.
  • A woman peacebuilder who returned to her war-torn country with a new vision for how the work of faith-based peacebuilding can bring hope. This student came with the vision for an end to war in her country.
  • A producer of children’s television programming with a vision of integrating peacebuilding with the dominant faith of her home country. This student came with the vision that the next generation in her country would not face the challenges she did.

I have also seen fascinating things happen when these heroes of hope become friends in joining their visions and experiences in classroom discussions that spill over into lunch time conversations.

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The ROI of RJ: Rehumanization

November 22nd, 2011 |

Photo by Jeff Frost via Flickr

In an impassioned op-ed piece over at NationofChange, Christopher Petrella paints a troubling picture of the state of corrections in the United States and the paths which brought us here. Particularly troubling is what Petrella calls “the circuitous pathways between race, citizenship, containment, and profitability.”

Not only is the phenomenon of for-profit prisons becoming more common, in the midst of state budget crises across the nation, California is even suggesting that inmates pay for the services of the correctional facilities to which they’re being sent. How inmates from predominantly impoverished backgrounds would actually be able to pay for those services (they couldn’t) is part of the scheme. Even after leaving facilities, ex-offenders would then be financially indebted to the facilities, effectively shifting their “incarceration” to another form, economic. As Petrella point out, these people cease to be “criminals” in the eyes of the system and now become “consumers.”

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The occupation of policing social movements

November 1st, 2011 |

Negotiating at Occupy Chicago; (Photo by Michael Kappel via Flickr)

James Cavanaugh, a retired ATF executive, offers a good picture of the role of police in the #occupy movement in this op-ed piece posted to Tickle the Wire, a site focused on federal law enforcement.

Most notably, he encourages the “greatly underutilized” resources of police negotiators to form relationships and build trust with #occupy movement leaders, and to coordinate plans on a day-to-day basis. As Cavanaugh states, “It does not mean that the police will do everything that the protesters want, but it insurers that police will not act without first building trust and communication.”

This to me seems right on. Part of the problem I’ve seen in citizen coverage of police presence in the #occupy movement is the militarized/SWAT stance. Granted, there is also a problem with how many in the movement view and antagonize police (including in said citizen coverage), so it’s not like protesters are beyond implication. Less emphasis should placed on militarized police forces and more placed on building collaborative relationships with protesters, and a segment of protesters/citizen journalists should stop demonizing the police. Such moves could encourage an already mostly-nonviolent movement to stay that way, and keep them on course toward substantive change.

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Reconciliation: Re-Weaving a Social Fabric that Heals

October 21st, 2011 |

Carl Stauffer, PhD

In the marketplace of ideas, the concepts and language of reconciliation have become quite popularized and at the same time diluted. Coming out of the turmoil of the South African political transition of the 1990s, it became abundantly clear to me that the term reconciliation was easily hijacked to serve the particular interests of any number of sociopolitical groupings.

For some, reconciliation was used to describe the political process of power-sharing. For others it referred to new political and legal democratic reforms that allowed former enemies to live together without killing each other. Still others would have used the term to describe a “good working relationship” with persons of another culture or race. While all of these notions have linkages to genuine reconciliation, they are only parts of the whole.

Authentic reconciliation requires us to move beyond mere social tolerance or political coexistence. It is concerned with repairing harmony in the life of a community or nation. By harmony, I mean the restoring of meaningful relationships—relationships of dignity, trust and collaboration. Harmony also infers a collective concern for the common good and a shared future view that gives hope and motivation to the idea of unity.1

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On the social media wave of the Nobel Peace Prize

October 11th, 2011 |

Leymah Gbowee (MA '07), 2011 Nobel Peace laureate

On Friday of last week, I had the most fun day at work ever. I had the fortune of being the web & social media nerd for the alma mater of a Nobel Peace Prize winner! Liberian nonviolent peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, was one of three women to win the 2011 prize. She is also a 2007 alumna of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), where I have been studying and working for the past three years. Leymah has been back on campus a time or two since I arrived in 2008, and I even got to hang around behind the camera while one of my teacher-colleagues, Paulette Moore, filmed this short interview with Leymah about her time at EMU. She is truly an amazing person and commands a powerful presence when you’re around her.

In my 10+ years as a professional web nerd, I’ve never been involved in anything that’s “gone viral,” until Friday. We weren’t caught completely off-guard at CJP, as we’d been hearing rumors of Leymah’s being considered for the prize for months. But that still didn’t prepare for me for riding the social media tidal wave on Friday morning, when the winners were announced. It was the quickest 5.5 hours of my professional life, keeping track of the activity on Facebook and Twitter, watching with amazement when at one point on Friday morning, “Leymah Gbowee” was one of the top-trending phrases in the U.S. on Twitter. When the digital dust settled by Monday morning and I checked stats, I saw that the EMU website as a whole doubled its traffic on Friday alone, not to mention the thousands of “likes” on the EMU News article which announced her winning.

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Six Things to Grieve on 9/11 Anniversary

September 14th, 2011 |

In Six Things to Grieve on 9/11 Anniversary (EMU News), Lisa Schirch lists the following six items to grieve on the recent 10th anniversary of 9/11:

  1. The U.S. response to 9/11 has cost thousands more people their lives
  2. The global economic crisis is in part due to the U.S. response to 9/11
  3. The U.S. is still on a path of “Domination” not “Partnership” in the family of nations
  4. Americans lost their freedom to ask the legitimate question, “Why Do They Hate Us?”
  5. The U.S.’s Global War on Terror has made the world less safe, more hostile
  6. The U.S. is still not investing in a realistic security strategy

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(This post also appeared on the Huffington Post on Sept. 12th.)

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Dekha Ibrahim Abdi: Peacebuilder, Colleague, Friend

September 13th, 2011 |

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (left) at the Women, War and Peace forum at EMU in June

In July of this year, Africa lost one of its premier peacebuilders in a tragic car accident in Kenya. While Dekha Ibrahim Abdi’s passing is a loss to peace efforts in Africa and around the globe, it’s also a loss to me. I lost a friend and mentor.

Where do I begin to write about how Dekha has shaped my peacebuilding and my life? So many good memories, so much learning, and so many things yet unlearned.

Others will write of her brilliant mind, her analytical skills, her ability to see connections, her incredible teaching and facilitation skills. I’ve learned much from her in all of these areas and will miss them. And yet during these last weeks as I’ve remembered Dekha and the very deep lessons I’ve learned from her, it’s her personal qualities that stand out. I want to share a few stories that illustrate this.

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Assessing our early responses to 9/11

September 7th, 2011 |

Bonnie Price Lofton, MA '04

Sometimes one wishes that our experts in peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) had called it wrong. One wishes that they had been mistaken in believing that a large-scale U.S.-initiated military response to the tragedy of September 11, 2011, would have serious global repercussions, worsening the destructive impact of the 9/11 attack rather than easing it.

But if you go back and read their post-9/11 essays, you will see that EMU’s conflict transformation professors— Jayne Seminare Docherty, Ron Kraybill, Howard Zehr, Barry Hart, John Paul Lederach, David Brubaker, Nancy Good, and Lisa Schirch, along with others — offered well-reasoned pleas to take a deep breath and to choose a truly restorative path after this tragedy.

They asked their fellow citizens and national leaders to step away from the natural, but ultimately destructive, instinct to strike back at the perpetrators. These professors of peacebuilding explained that such a reaction would feed the cycle of vengeance, cost us friends around the world, result in exponentially more deaths than those killed in the attacks, and actually play into the hands of the terrorists.

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