12. That of God, Not of Ego

In this episode, Dr. Catherine Barnes talks about designing and facilitating deliberative dialogue processes, as well as current events including the military coup in Myanmar.

Dr. Barnes has worked for conflict transformation and social change for more than 30 years in many countries. She has worked with civil society, activists, diplomats and politicians, and armed groups to build their capacities for preventing violence and using conflict as an opportunity for addressing the systems giving rise to oppression and grievance.

The conversation begins with a deep dive into deliberative dialogue: what it is, when it’s useful, and what it has the power to do for a community struggling with conflict.

“The dialogue is very much about setting the conversation in this connection point – at a human level – between those who are involved and the perspectives that they have to bring. So that particularly if there’s been tension, conflict, or even indeed oppression, that you have this humanization of relationships,” Barnes explains. 

One of the early experiences that led Barnes towards this field of work was growing up in the Quaker Universalist tradition, in which congregants gather in silence “and seek the light of God moving within,” she said. They “have … this understanding that often in those spaces, there may be someone who feels moved to share something.”

Barnes went on to earn her doctorate in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University alongside Jayne Docherty, Barry Hart, and Lisa Schirch. She’s done conflict transformation work all over the world – including training deliberative dialogue process designers and facilitators in Myanmar. 

About the current violence in the country, Barnes said she feels “so heartbroken. I feel scared, scared for people who I have come to know and respect and, indeed, to love … I think it really does reveal in many ways how the zero sum nature of a power paradigm based on unilateral control and coercion is so hard to shift.”

“Are there resilience tools that you think are within the community that might help carry them through this?” Kamau asks.

“I always, always have hope,” Barnes replied. “I often will say that it’s actually, it’s within movements that you almost need these skills even more to try to think about, ‘how do we generate something that will be different in nature, different in kind than the old system that had been oppressive?'”


Guest(s)

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Dr. Catherine Barnes


Dr. Catherine Barnes has worked for conflict transformation and social change for more than thirty years in many countries. She has worked with civil society activists, diplomats and politicians, and armed groups to build their capacities for preventing violence and using conflict as an opportunity for addressing the systems giving rise to oppression and grievance.

Catherine is increasingly focused on designing whole-of-system deliberative dialogue processes aimed at systemic transformation and in training other practitioners in these methods. She has facilitated processes in locations ranging from the UN General Assembly Hall to village gathering places. She is now an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding here at Eastern Mennonite University and a freelance practitioner and researcher. 

Dr. Barnes lives in Staunton Virginia with her husband and son, with whom she loves to garden, to cook and to retreat into the wilds.


Transcript

Catherine:
How are people coming together? How were they convened? How do their voices first come into the room? How do they start to engage? What are the communication agreements? Perhaps, the guiding principles that are used to help generate that conversation. What are the experiential exercises that are put into place that may enable certain concepts or ways of conversing come into the place? In many, many, many different ways that you could do this, but having that intentionality about it and having a sense –from a theories of practice– “if we do this, then this is more likely to happen,” are those, what I would think of as the design principles, underpinning dialogue deliberation and decision-making.

Theme music:
[Theme music begins and fades into back ground]

patience:
Hi, everyone, happy Wednesday to you!
Welcome back to peacebuilder, a conflict transformation podcast by The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
Our guest this fine episode is:

Catherine:
Catherine Barnes, affiliate faculty with The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

patience:
Dr. Catherine Barnes has worked for conflict transformation and social change for more than thirty years in many countries. She has worked with civil society activists, diplomats and politicians, and armed groups to build their capacities for preventing violence and using conflict as an opportunity for addressing the systems giving rise to oppression and grievance. Catherine is increasingly focused on designing whole-of-system deliberative dialogue processes aimed at systemic transformation and in training other practitioners in these methods. She has facilitated processes in locations ranging from the UN General Assembly Hall to village gathering places. She is now an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding here at Eastern Mennonite University and a freelance practitioner and researcher. Dr. Barnes lives in Staunton, Virginia with her husband and son, with whom she loves to garden, to cook and to retreat into the wilds.

Theme music:
[Theme music resumes normal volume and plays till end]

patience:
All right, so we are here mostly to talk about how you have increasingly focused on designing whole-of-system deliberative dialogue processes, but before we do that, what was your path to CJP?

Catherine:
Hm, path to CJP! Well, I think CJP was, um, as a Virginian, as somebody who actually grew up in the mountains just out an hour and 15 minutes Southwest of CJP, of EMU, um, it’s a place that I’ve of course known about since I was a teenager or, or…not CJP, but EMU. And when I was doing my graduate studies at George Mason university in the early 90s, was when CJP was first getting started, and I remember actually coming to one of the workshops that John Paul Lederach did on “Elicitive Peacebuilding” gosh, before…maybe I can’t quite remember [Laughs], and then I was uh, cohort, in the cohort with Lisa Schirch and Jayne Docherty, and Barry Hart, this just a few years before me in the in the program at George Mason. So I had been aware of CJP for quite some time, but I think it was when I was working, um, as an advisor with the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, which led to, uh, a big UN conference on civil society’s roles in peacebuilding that Lisa Schirch and I reconnected, and we talked a lot and she was, um, she was very encouraging of, of sort of getting more involved. Um, and I think she connected with the Summer Peacebuilding Institute folks, and so I first taught at CJP…must have been 2006 or something…probably around then, um, “War to Peace Transitions” class and then just sort of opened up from there. And, um, and so for me, it’s, it was a way of, of coming back home to the mountains, um, bringing my family back with, and doing the work I love and felt incredibly, incredibly fortunate to, to connect with this community of practice that has had such a key role in the peacebuilding field, in my home place, and so I think those are some of those connections [laughs].

patience:
Wonderful! Where were you bringing your family back from?

Catherine:
Well, um, we had been living in Myanmar and before that, my husband’s a Londoner, we’d been living in East London, in Hackney and had a young son and, um, and in a way coming back to the mountains felt very, especially tempting to kind of raise a family. It’s just like more space and more ability to go out into the wilds, which was so much a part of my child and um, so yeah…quite a change though [laughs].

patience:
All right, wonderful, so, um, what is deliberative dialogue process?

Catherine:
Hmm, that’s a really good question. Um, so I think when I’m talking about deliberative dialogue, I’m talking about a bunch of different kinds of things. It’s, um, a way in which you have a fuller set of those who are involved in…whatever setting it is that, that is being mobilized, that is facing, um, some challenge that are wanting to address and do so by being able to draw out, uh, the really diverse and divergent perspectives and ideas and come into a kind of creative space where something new can be born. And so the dialogue is very much about this, um, setting the conversation in this, um, connection point between…at a human level, between those who are involved and the perspectives that they have to bring, so that…particularly if there’s been tension, conflict, um, or even indeed oppression, that you have this humanization of relationships and increasing the capacity to understand, analytically, perspectives that others have to bring and generating respect. And the deliberation being much more of an analytic process of more clearly understanding what is at stake, what is going on and generating ideas for how to address it, criteria for how to address this kind of, in a way using the best thinking that exists within the group for figuring out a path forward. Um, so we can talk a little bit more about how those, the processes that are involved in helping to cultivate those distinctive ways of being together can, can be quite slight…different, but often for addressing our most complex challenges, you need both that dialogic…the dialogic that has the…deeply rooted in deep dialogue, as well as this kind of generative creative, tough thinking, um, together about what to do.

patience:
At its crux, is it just helping people communicate better, and understand each other better, and see each other better? Is that what it comes down to?

Catherine:
Well, I think for sure the communication function is there, absolutely. And I think it’s also drawing people into a different way of relating with each other and perhaps, um, at its best, opening people up into a sort of dynamic engagement with each other that draws out their most generous, creative, dynamic, uh, thinking and creating together. I’d say it is…and once again we can talk about things that, you know, it’s quite different when you’ve had, um, protracted conflict or in situations where there’s been, you know, systemic oppression –what’s involved in that is a bit different than, than say in a case we have a, um, a community or an organization or some sort of group that’s trying to, um, you know, do strategic planning or creating vision [laughs], I mean, those two can overlap, but the context will be different. So communication for sure. And I think it’s something additional too, in addition to like the people involved, uh, in a way are challenged to, um, move outside of their habitual ways of being and thinking together, as well as how they communicate with each other. So the communication is like the, um, the medium, the sources, I think sometimes are…exist at other levels as well as the communication.

patience:
Yeah. As you said that I was thinking, I mean, how to actually get people to step out of their, for lack of a better word, may be mechanical responses, or maybe hearing what they want to hear, or maybe hearing what they’re capable of hearing [chuckles] so, designing things that can help make those boundaries porous or actually bring them down altogether, is probably what the goal of such a deliberate process would be…

Catherine:
Yeah, I think so. I think it can be, I think it kind of challenges people once again, to get out of their habitual ways of thinking, um, and in, in that sense it’s very creative and can be quite hard, can be quite surprising.

patience:
Can you say more about that?

Catherine:
Well, um, okay. So on one hand, let’s, let’s take, uh, uh, the ordinary course of something. Let’s say a group that’s trying to do strategic visioning and maybe they have tensions between each other, but there’s nothing, no, no, no like really big, big divide that’s between them, but they’re just kind of, you know, often locked into the thinking that they have had as they have been together along the course of things, and sometimes one of the things that, as a process designer, that’s quite important is to help people instead of, um, continuing along the way that they usually are together to, um, to come into a deeper connection with their human selves and all of their creativity, all their, their generativeness, perhaps risk a little, um, outside of their regular roles that they usually are to bring something more of themselves into the engagement, and um, instead of kind of dismissing things that seem outside of what’s typical, to kind of get together in a more creative generative way of thinking about things. And often people don’t really want to do that –it’s risky. It also, I think, um, you know, it’s like Dilbert cartoons in many U.S. newspapers where it was like, “Oh, is this just another, you know, management speak” kind of thing, or is this something that’s, that’s real that we can do something, something new, and some groups love it. Some people love it, others are resistant. Then of course, if you have a lot of harm that has been done within the group, the challenge is at another order of magnitude altogether, um, in terms of what is needed to, to help create a container in which people can indeed understand each other differently, understand perhaps themselves differently, understand what is motivating them, who they are, why they are, in this context. Uhm, yeah.

Transition music:
[Transition music plays]

patience:
What motivates you? What has caused you to focus on this more and more as you go? If I remember one time in class and it was the first class of facilitation, and you talked about it having a very spiritual element for you, would you be willing to talk a bit about that?

Catherine:
Yeah, I mean, there are…so I come out of a tradition…was raised in the Quaker Universalist tradition, and one of the things that is, um, very foundational to Quaker, there’re lots of different kinds of Quakers, lots of different traditions, but one of the things I think is very foundational in the tradition that I came up in, is this notion that we gather together in silence and –silent meeting for worship– and seek the light of God moving within and have, as a part of this, this understanding that often in those spaces, there may be someone who feels moved to share something. And sometimes that which is being shared kind of “speaks to my condition”, and it’s like, you, you, someone else speaks it, and when you hear it land in you, and that shifts things. Um, and sometimes I feel that that is present in, especially in deep dialogue where it’s like, uh, out of someone’s speaking from, from their truths, it resonates and feels like that of God that is, is moving amongst us. Um, and part of the, um, the, the tradition as well is that it is this discernment of the light of God within you. That is where guidance of truth is of how you move forward. And yet [chuckles] there’s also, sometimes it’s hard to know what, what is that of God…the light of God, the light moving within, and what is that of ego [laughs], how do you differentiate? So this notion of kind of a collective discernment that, that if this is sort of something that emerges in these spaces where we come together in a sacred, in a sacred space for listening, for engaging, and I have definitely experienced, um, not all the time, but I have definitely experienced being a part of processes where it does feel like that of God is moving, um, within us and through us, and sometimes there’s that experience of very deep shifts happening. Um, so…

patience:
…that’s what you’re calling “collective discernment”?

Catherine:
Well, yes, I, for me, that’s that connection, especially in this sort of deep…when you’re in the midst of deep dialogue. And I, you know, when people who are involved in circle process, I think often, you know, that is also very much part of this holding a space, creating a space in which that is also invited in. And so I, I think, you know, many cultural traditions, many spiritual traditions, many religious practices may have that as their base, but it’s not authority that is on high and external to the group. It is something that’s generated through that collective discernment.

patience:
Do you have an, an example, a story that comes to mind for you, of when this happened?

Catherine:
Mm…

patience:
Take us there with you.

Catherine:
Um, it was something that had divided a whole, a very large institutional community for really, I guess, generations and was finally being brought forward as something that needed to be addressed in a very explicit way. And it was interesting because the divide that was present was between, in this group, uh, representatives of these two different groups who were kind of locked into competing truth claims, lived truth claims in contrast with each other. And it was very powerful because at some point about halfway through the multi-day dialogue, people who were slightly to the margins because of their identity to the central issues began…who had also experienced, um, systemic oppression, um, began to speak out of their experience, which was once again to the side of the central issue that was, was contested, spoke with such power in clarity and humility that it shook everyone to their core, and you could just feel the weight and the power and really the awe of that, that encounter. And, um, this happened in an evening and fortunately we were able to come back the next day and it was like, okay, well, let’s hold this now and pause. And we came back the next morning and we were at a completely different level in the conversation and people who had been very, um, formal in holding their position and their roles and their authority, um, in relation to this particular issue began to, to speak from their personal life’s experience and many, um, broke down in tears. And it was to say…it’s also maybe even more significant because many of them were men who were breaking down in tears, um, and when we came back to deliberations over the issue at hand afterwards, we were in a completely different place. And I think we reached agreements that perhaps no one had thought were going to be possible when we kind of entered into that, that space together. And it was, it was very moving…

patience:
And to, to get to that level, because obviously it sounds like there was a shift from where, from a place people didn’t necessarily feel that they trusted that they could bring these deeper, deeper parts of themselves forth, to where they could.

Catherine:
Mm-hm, mm-hm, yeah, I think so.

patience:
What do you think caused that change? I think you said it was people in the margins who shared their stories; who had to take that first step?

Catherine:
I think it had been building also, I mean, what was interesting is that as a group, we had a task to accomplish, and instead of getting straight to that task, I must confess, I think slightly to the alarm of maybe a third of the people who were part of the group, I was [laughs] taking through a longer slower process of doing some work around, you know, kind of a historic timeline of what had happened in the past and deliberation around that storytelling. Um, we’d done a lot of building the container of “how do we want to be together?” And I must say that in that process, trust was very explicitly on the issue…on the table as was power…

patience:
…for building the container?

Catherine:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, there’s a sense of like, look, “we don’t trust each other,” or well, some people “we don’t have any trust…we don’t have any trust, necessarily, that this process is going to get us anywhere, and trust has to be earned.” And that was explicitly on the table, as were the institutional power asymmetries that also existed in this context. And so I had designed the process of…fairly protracted process of engagement and dialogue around things and including, um, a chance for storytelling around what had happened in the past kind of collect…I mean, in terms of the history of what had gone on in this institution over a very long period of time. And I think that those that, that walking through of history together had helped already, to set people up for understanding the complexities of how things had gotten to the place that they were at that moment, how the situation…where things were at in the situation, some stories had been hidden stories…or are not necessarily…had been suppressed stories, I should say, that had not really had a chance to be, uh, named and told in a fuller way until, you know, coming together at that time. So I think already, the people had been a bit shaken out of what they, especially those in more, um, institutional power positions, had been shaken out of their conventional narrative of what had gone on in the past. So I think that there was already this, uh, we say, you know, social psychologists would say, you know, there was some cognitive dissonance that was going on, right? Unsettling is an important role…unsettling the conventional ways of thinking and believing, which unsettles also a sense of, of assurance about the rightness of one’s views. Um, and I, and so I think that there was, you know, I think that being already laid a bit and then, like I say, you know, and, and I think that this is one of the places where having a dialogue approach to this engagement where people could then come in a more spacious way and share, what it was that they were feeling at that point in time. Because when this, when this kind of what I saw as a very pivotal moment in the process occurred, we were at that point in time in circle, we were in a reflective space, and this is when one person spoke of realization that the certainties that she had long held about a situation she could no longer be so certain about, and how it reminded her of her people’s, um, oppression in the past, and that then just unlocked a huge amount. I think the deliberative dialogue process design was developmental in intention, right? That’s, that’s where we get the process design principles, which give you a sense of, “okay, what, what might put certain conditions in play that will allow people to engage with each other in ways in which they don’t usually engage?” And then what comes out obviously is in retrospect, and even at the moment, I think I felt this, like, “these are the moments of grace that cannot be predicted.” And if we are more skillful, as, um, as practitioners, we may be able to cultivate spaces in which those things may…where there’s, there’s enough room and space and movement, that things are shaken up enough, that new things can then…including that of God, instead of that, of ego [laughs].

patience:
That of God, instead of that, of ego!

Transition music:
[Transition music plays]

patience:
A number of times you’ve mentioned, um, “design principles,” what are they, uh, what are some of these that you can talk about?

Catherine:
So when I’ve been teaching about this, I mean, the luxury of a classroom is that you can talk about things like “theories,” um, in a way that you don’t tend to do when you’re actually a practitioner. But this is, I think in a way where we, where we see the kind of, um, connections between theories of, our “theories of change” and our “theories of practice.” Um, so our “theories of change” are going to be suggesting why you might have dialogue, in the first place, or deliberation, in the first place. What, what, what, “why would you bring people together in these, in these cases, at sometimes tremendous difficulty, sometimes tremendous expense?” Um, you know, it’s, “why would you do that?” So there’s whole sets of things about that. Then you have “theories of practice,” which are, “how would you know what you do when people are together?” “What are the kinds of conditions that you’re putting into play that will help people have different kinds of experiences?” So when talking about dialogue, one of the things that we can often refer to is “how to create a ‘container’,” and I like to think about this notion of “container,” I mean, this is a metaphor that’s fairly widely used. And I tend to think of it as being like the alchemists of old, who had, you know, very carefully chose a vessel in which to put the different elements in, and to add some heat, to kind of have the transformative chemical reactions happening. So a lot of times when you think about this as a process designer, you ask “what are some of those principles?” “What does the space look like?” “How are people coming together?” “How were they convened?” “How do their voices first come into their room?” “How did they start to engage?” Um, “what are the communication agreements?” Perhaps there’re guiding principles that are used, um, to help generate that conversation. “What are the experiential exercises that are put into place that may enable certain kinds of ways of conversing come to the place?” In many, many, many different ways that you could do this, but having that intentionality about it and having a sense –from a theories of practice– “if we do this, then this is more likely to happen,” are those…what I would think of as the “design principles,” underpinning dialogue, deliberation and decision-making. And so there is no hard…you know, this is not, um, this is…

patience:
…is not a formula?

Catherine:
It’s not a formula. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And you still, you know, the more that you become attuned and continually reflect upon and question, “why did that seem to have this effect?”…then you begin to understand certain patterns over time, um, that help us interact, because if systems are maintained by habitual patterns of interaction, how do you shift those patterns of interaction? By putting new patterns in so that people kind of engage with each other in a different way.

patience:
In a different way, right! What have you found…okay, so it’s not a formula; what is it that you’ve experienced when you’ve reflected and wondered? Why did that have that specific effect that you did not expect, that was a surprise to you, that you have carried on doing, and has it continued to have the same effect?

Catherine:
Right, right, right. Well, I can, I’ll give it, I mean, maybe I’ll give an example that I often use very early on, like always in the first, first class I teach, um [laughs], and this may help to unpack it. It’s a very small one, that I think it may illustrate um, so often do this in class, but I’ve also done this in groups where we’re going to be meeting…when we’re going to be together for say a number of days, or as group we’ll be engaging with each other for a period of time –it doesn’t work in a short period of time because it takes some time to do it. But I will invite people in a circle facing each other, having some, this kind of egalitarianism, um, physical patterning, to share something about their intentions for why we’re together and also to share a story of their name. And I’ll usually begin by sharing a story of my name, in the circle, and so, oh, there’s often there’s so, people feel like a little bit nervous, but sometimes you hear people’s stories…you just suddenly get this, like this warmth of connection for them. Somehow people reveal much of themselves just by sharing that story. And we go around and always, and I usually feel that there’s some, um, some human connection that’s begun to…

patience:
…to formulate?

Catherine:
Yeah! It’s kind of starting to really like, “Oh, I see, I see you,” right? “I see you as a human.” I will say, I’ll tell a story about how once I was in a group, so this was, this is like a, a “theory of practice.” My theory is that at the very beginning of a group, forming, if people are invited to share something of themselves, it serves a number of functions that are humanizing, it also helps people to, to have their voice come into the group, for the first time. One of the things that we often see is the longer it takes for you to find your voice in a group, the harder it is to begin to…

patience:
…to engage…

Catherine:
…to engage with the group, right? It’s like the barrier just gets more and more and more intense. And those who are pretty confident with jumping in, their voices will get louder and louder and louder and take up more and more bandwidth, and so you see that in the group dynamics, starting off. But I find that this way, of going in a circle, sharing the story of the name is very…helps to break that barrier. It’s one that is not super risky –you can judge how poignant that story is, how revealing, how intimate that story is, you can make that judgment yourself, but it’s surprising. It’s a surprising prompt. So that’s a kind of a theory of practice about why you would do something like that. I share that in contrast, one of the reasons why I first started thinking about it was that I was in, in, uh, you know, a workshop some years ago, and, uh, the facilitators had us setup so that we broke into pairs and told each other our story of our name, and then the partner told the story back in the group…

patience:
…oh, their partner’s story?

Catherine:
Yeah, and my partner got the story, got my story wrong [both laugh]. And I felt so like, I don’t know, like misrepresented in the group –it was like my voice had been stolen. You know, that was the way it felt. And that’s really a small thing of somebody else telling your story versus you telling your story, it makes a difference, right? Massive difference. So that’s what I mean, like uh, you know, it’s this, what are your priorities, “why would you use it and under what conditions?” But then I also had an experience once because I’ve been doing this for years and years and years with policymakers, oh my goodness, diplomats when asked to tell such a, such an engagement, they get very uncomfortable because they’re like not just their role, right? It’s like their humanness has to come to the fore. That is very helpful, right? Very, very helpful exercise with the shaking, shaking that loose a bit. Once I did it…the first time I was in Myanmar and working with a group of mostly really senior leaders in the ethnic armed organizations, and um, we went around –and this fell completely flat because many of them had taken on, uh, Burma ethnic majority names, that was the names that they were known by– and their cultural tradition names have to do with the day of the week! “So what is your name?” “I’m so-and-so because I was born on Wednesday,” you know, next person, “I’m so-and-so because I was born on Saturday.” And I was like “oh my goodness!”

patience:
[laughing] What did you do?

Catherine:
It just like, I just felt like a fool! Like “what on earth is she asking us to do?”

patience:
Ooh, culture awareness!

Catherine:
Culture, always, always, always matters. I tell you what, I’ve never done that again in Myanmar and I’ve also never done an exercise without having someone, who knows culture well [laughs], to check things out and say, “how’s that likely to go down?”

patience:
Yeah, yeah.

Catherine:
So culture always, always affects the validity of our theories of practice. Um, so, another design rule [laughs], um, but these teeny tiny things can make a difference in terms of what kind of space is created and how people begin to engage and feel in that space with each other.

patience:
Speaking of Myanmar two weeks ago today, a military coup happened. What are your thoughts? What, what goes through your mind, given the context in which we’re speaking, uh, and your work there?

Catherine:
Yeah. Oh, I just feel so heartbroken. I feel so heartbroken. And I feel scared, scared for people who I have come to know and respect and indeed to love. Um, and I think, you know, I mean, there’s all, I mean, I won’t put my political analysis hat on because I think that’s not necessarily the focus of our conversation today. Um, but I think it really does reveal in many ways how the zero sum nature of, uh, of a power paradigm based on unilateral control, um, and coercion is so hard to shift. It’s so hard to shift and indeed I, I really feel in some ways like the ruling, um, NLD and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, um…

patience:
…NLD? What does that mean?

Catherine:
National League of Democracy that was the democratically elected government and the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the president and Nobel peace prize winner, who in turn really had, um, a lot of the, uh, top-down authoritarian traditions of…that are cultural, and were, were rewarded in a lot of the political, um, culture of the society. But also as someone has, um, more than a decade working with people in the country, many ethnic nationality groups, but also uhm, of the majority community –you see the legacies of authoritarianism come into a leadership model, which, um, is really the antithesis of what we’re talking about in terms of deliberative dialogue, in terms of this…that actually, there’s a lot of wisdom in the collective, if you can draw it out, um, that you know, is very, very hard. Um, there’s just such a temptation to the power of coercion, um, in that, that is the legacy of authoritarianism. And I think that those are the deep cultural and practical and societal shifts that many people in the country right now are wrestling with and trying to, to address, and will be, you know, some of the first to acknowledge that, you know, a culture of dialogue would be very helpful in terms of transforming the system that continues to reward and lock in authoritarianism. And I think this coup, I don’t have a good feeling about it and I, you know, and as the crackdown is already starting and I, I there’s, um, there was nothing in Myanmar’s past that, um, that leads me to think that that this time will be much different and how much this may set back the people as a whole. And I just, people are so brave and courageous and creative right now and their, their, their willingness to stand up I’m in such admiration for, um, and I think that they are motivated by this sense of having had the taste of something different beginning, having the potential to, to begin to unfold, having that settled. And again, um, it’s motivating them to take risks that they know are very, very severe, so can pray for them and stand by in solidarity of anything that I can do. If you’re listening out there, please, please, please, don’t hesitate to reach out.

patience:
Yeah, yeah. It’s quite shocking what’s happened there.

Catherine:
Yeah. Yeah. CJP has many graduates from there, and I, I think with…to the extent that they’re, CJP folks, you know, the more that…know that we love you, we care about you, we’re thinking of you. Um, and as, as a community, let us know what we can do to support you. That’s my call out.

patience:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you have hope in, I know they’re going against very, very, I don’t know, powerful forces, but are there resilient tools that you think are within the community that might help them…might help carry them through this?

Catherine:
I always, I always have hope [hopeful laugh]. This is the time when there will be the challenge of thinking together about how to do that communication, like having the complexity of people who are differently situated, um, from different parts of society, um, each of whom may have different resources, different angles, different perspectives, both to survive, and also to create the basis for a new kind of politics. This is a time when, in a way, those deliberative dialogue approaches become very powerful. I mean, I, I often will say that it’s actually, it’s within, um, movements that you almost need these skills even more, to try to think about “how do we, how do we generate something that will be different in nature, different in kind than the old system that had been oppressive?” And so, you know, the deliberative dialogue approaches are not only for those across the conflict divides, but they’re also from within movements for thinking how to create a more pluralist, more open, more democratic, more accountable, um, and responsive politics in the future, in society, in the future. And so to the extent that, um, some of the democracy movement that was born out of 1988 when Aung San Suu Kyi was very much the face of that movement, arguably, um –I’m not saying this across the board– but arguably there was still quite a strong top-down authoritarian nature to that. And there wasn’t…other than, um, and once again, I’m saying this with very broad brushes — I know that there were people who, who did have a different kind of vision– but I think a lot of it was an opposition to the military regime and perhaps often less focus beyond a kind of rhetorical commitment to democracy and freedom, um, to what were the grounds for that? What would that actually really look like? How do we cultivate this in how we engage with each other today, in the present? And we look at sometimes, um, you know, very, uh, movements around the world that have been very effective in overturning authoritarian regimes; the energy and, and indeed of colonialism in previous generations had such a focus on what we are opposed to, and, and less in what is our vision for the future that we want to create together, what are the principles that we want? What, what is it that we’re working towards as well as what we are working against? And sometimes it’s those periods of time, um, when in exile, when in the margins that there’s, there’s this space that, that the space that’s been cultivating that, um, patience, you know, we had this from, from years ago in South Africa and the, um, the Freedom Charter process of the…

patience:
[Chuckles] I was just thinking of that!

Catherine:
Yes, yes, yes. One of the, you know, very innovative mass deliberative dialogue processes that led to the Freedom Charter process and really in many ways, shaped the movement and resistance…the liberation movement and resistance to apartheid for a generation, was born out of a focus on what is it that we want, what is the, what is the South Africa that we dream to create? And uh, maybe I can just share a little bit about the story about how that process unfolded…

patience:
Please do!

Catherine:
There was, it was the very early beginnings of the African National Congress and the leadership that, that formed it. Um, it began with as a, really, as an organizing…very powerful in my view, um, organizing process of sending out animators into communities, workplaces…face, um, face, uh, uh, communities across the country, um, inviting people to have conversations locally about, um, the future that they wanted to create. And they had a question that to my mind was also always a very powerful question, very open-ended. And if I remember rightly it was “what would need to change in South Africa, for you to live a full and abundant life in terms of individual, of community, and of country?” And we look at the architecture of that question is, “what would need to change” –very specific, very outcomes oriented, very practical in some ways.

patience:
Right.

Catherine:
And then we have this phrase: “to live a full and abundant life.” [Laughs] Okay, I don’t know about you, but if someone were to ask you right now, “what would you need to live a full and abundant life?” Oh, wow, um, wow –how do I answer that? You know it’s very like…

patience:
I would take a week to come back with my answer.

Catherine:
Exactly! It really just opens things up, and it does not have an easy answer to it, right? It is a very richly textured answer. And then: ‘in terms of individual’, which kind of revealed that even as a member of community, we are not the same. We are not monolithic. We are…our individuality matters. And I think that can create that space for intersectionality to open up. It wasn’t called that at the time, but it is. Um, and then “as community’, because we are members of community, and I think in this thing that very specific, um, uh, sort of ethnic cultural, racial community as well as perhaps in some cases, geographic community, and then ‘as country,’ because we are also together as a whole. So this many layered, um, question and people were to, uh, to talk about that and then to choose someone who they felt could best represent their views in coming to this Freedom Charter, uh, Congress. And they had to raise the money to send people and people traveled at great hardship um, the police were already starting to crack down, to a dusty field outside of Johannesburg, and um, surrounded by a police cordon, you know, not conducive, no hotel conference center –to deliberate this, and out of it came the Freedom Charter that, uh, many years later was incorporated into the preamble of the, the new constitution…

patience:
Constitution.

Catherine:
South African constitution, yeah, yeah. And it held that vision, uh, together for regeneration.

patience:
It makes me teary eyed just thinking about it. That’s, yeah, quite amazing.

Catherine:
What happens in South Africa today; we still are not talking about paradise, but we are talking about something really meaningfully different than was during apartheid.

patience:
Yeah, yeah. And these things take time. I don’t know, it’s…you build upon something that a previous generation built and then others come and build upon it. And it’s a long arduous process.

Catherine:
This is one of the, one of the, uh, in the process design for conflict transformation class we’re having right now, which is this , um, this real paradox between, yeah…looking back on the historicity of how change happens over time and how, in a way these deliberative dialogue processes, um, may have served a really powerful turning point, whether say Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland’s Women’s Coalition, I would think the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you know, many places that we can look to –yet the price of time against the fierce, what I can only think of as, like the fierce urgency of now! Being oppressed, abused now, and how to make that change and I…that managing that time conundrum, that is really hard. I think it’s one of those really, really difficult, difficult, um, in terms of like, we need, we need to, to, to shift the structures now, yet can those structures shift without this shifting that happens from the transformation.

patience:
It makes me think of the concept of attachment in Buddhism…

Catherine:
Mmm…

patience:
…and bringing it together with, um, with a proverb, an African proverb, that has to do with planting trees upon, under which…under whose shade you will not sit, it’ll be future generations that sit…um, and that tension being in the here and now, hopefully for us who feel driven or called upon to do things, to do them with the confidence that we are doing the right thing, but to not be attached to them in a way that will break us; but to do it and knowing that it may not benefit me now, it may not benefit me or the people that I love tomorrow. But I think, I am convinced, that this will benefit people who live a hundred generations from now –having that long view is probably…to me, it’s sustaining.

Catherine:
Yeah! Isn’t that a radical shift in mindset from what is our dominant cultural norm? And it’s…and I think sometimes, you know, talking about the, within the Buddhism, it’s like the samskaras [the habitual physical, mental and emotional patterning/habits] as our attachments to things that want. The haste that can sometimes, um, cause us to make mistakes that have tremendous opportunity costs of, you know, we just impose our will now, and not having that…creating the backlash that has the opportunity cost. Um, and yeah, so it’s like we need to be as efficient as possible or as efficacious as possible, strategic as possible in the now, and also realizing that we are probably talking about generational changes. So if we have that vision for the generational change that is needed, then maybe the moves that we make in the present can help lead us there.

patience:
Yes.

Catherine:
Which is I think the, the wisdom you are, kind of taking us back into our, our, um, our theories of change, you know, the time horizons that, um, Elise Boulding talked about and John Paul Lederach captured in his like Time Horizons for Change –awareness of the past, that lies before us…

patience:
[Both laugh] …yes, walking into the future backwards…

Catherine:
…walking into the future backwards, and then to be able to imagine that which we have never seen before and to begin planting those, those seeds in the present, for the future, yeah.

patience:
Right, yeah, yeah.

Transition music:
[Transition music plays]

patience:
What do you think about all that given what happened here in this country and what happened in Myanmar two weeks ago, but what happened in this country…five weeks ago now? On January 6th? What have been your thoughts about how we should be dialoguing here within ourselves, within the country? Because, we are severely fractured.

Catherine:
We’re so severely fractured! And in a way, you know, it is, uh, we are in the midst of such profound cultural revolution, and I think we’re in the midst of the backlash to that cultural revolution. Um, and so it’s, it’s not surprising in, especially in the midst of this, um, in the midst of the pressure cooker of the pandemic. Um, I mean, cause this is a global phenomena, as you, as you’ve mentioned, this rise of authoritarianism, and I think the fact that we are in the midst of this historic period of time, in which the old power structures of white supremacy and patriarchy that had been, so hegemonically present, that they were almost invisible in their great weight…um, I mean they were not invisible to those who were suffering under them, excuse me, I should, I should make that completely clear; but the power of them to maintain them and replicate themselves was in that hegemonic power that was happening and I think, um, you know, the, the, you know, decolonization movements, the, um, many waves of, of, uh, feminist and womanist thought, and now the, you know, the, the, the gender revolution, I think the struggle, which is, um, which I think has, has gained really tremendous momentum in very, historically, you know, generationally speaking, it’s really coming to a crux, right. I think right now that that backlash of those who feel everything that has changed –those who had been beneficiaries of that system– who feel everything has changed and then pulled out amongst them, and they fear the certainty of their identity that had been based on that construction that’s being left behind, I think in some ways it is in that void. I’m not saying this to justify or to, to, to express sympathy, but I’m just saying it from an analytic empathy point of view that we need to understand. I think that there’s something of recognizing we have to kind of hold on in the midst of this and to see what kind of future can be built in which those…like for instance, those I grew up with, in the mountains, in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, which is, you know, surrounding us here in, you know, to the west of us, in the Shenandoah Valley, almost everybody –when I went to school in Bath County, there were two thousand people in the school system, it’s down to 450 now because people who had had jobs, and jobs that could support families, almost…many have lost them.

patience:
Are gone.

Catherine:
Absolutely. Absolutely. And, um, and then you just don’t know where to turn anymore and you know, and now when I go to my home place in Bath County, I have never seen so many Confederate flags flying, ever, and it’s scary. It’s frightening. Um, and I know that there’s, that there is a way in which it’s what [sighs], oh, it’s so hard to unpack this and this would be like a whole ‘nother conversation, I fear, to be able to unpack it.

patience:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Catherine:
Um, so I’m not sure whether we want to go there or not. Yeah. Well, I mean, I just, I just think we don’t have time. It’s like, how, how do those folks feel that there’s a place and a future for them that looks different than what the old ones had to do. And there’s certain things like being able to have access to guns are really big part of it, and lot of…everybody, I know were always hunters, and for some reason it gets transposed as like your hunting rifle is going to be stolen from you, which is just absurd. And yet it hits at some identity strand that is very powerful. And I don’t, I don’t, it’s very hard for me cause I have been trying to figure out how to have those kinds of deliberative dialogue conversations here in my community, in Staunton. We’ve been trying to do this for about five years and pretty much from the standpoint of local African-American leadership, wanting to have dialogues for racial justice and racial healing and trying to figure out what is the basis of having folks with those views, who are a part of this conversation. We have not yet been able to figure out how to gain purchase and have those conversations. And I, I wish I really wish I knew, um, we’re working with it, we are trying, we are trying to figure out the way forward. And of course it’s not just about the deliberative dialogue, right? It’s the political purchase that is gained by politicians who mobilize around that. So it has to be a political strategy and organizing and mobilizing strategy that is alongside this as well. And of course, as long as that’s happening, it escalates the conflict further, which is, but that, in a way it’s almost like this needs to happen right now, right? You know, the, the, the organizing the mobilizing. Um, but somehow if that politics can be one of realizing that part of the inclusiveness also needs to somehow be a way of figuring out how to…these other folks be able to get included. I, I, I’m wrestling.

patience:
It’s very difficult, yeah.

Catherine:
I’m wrestling.

patience:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, hopefully –as we wrestle– we’ll figure something out. Hopefully, we’ll keep our hope alive.

Catherine:
One of the things is that there’s, and I think, you know, that one of the projects that I’ve been working on now, just in my writing and thinking for a number of years is, um, is around how to shift out of conflict habituated systems by ending our addiction to coercion. And I think you can have, uh, organizing or mobilizing that is around the principles of justice that must be, it must be advanced without having a language of discourse, of framing in which it’s, it’s reliant on unilateral victory over the other.

patience:
Over the other –a zero sum mentality…

Catherine:
That, zero sum mentality –and I think that that is in a way, what we as a field, whether from the restorative justice peacebuilding standpoint, have always had that as our foundation…

patience:
…in terms of transformation?

Catherine:
Yeah, of continuing to recognize the humanity in the fundamental, um, uh, dignity of all, which means that also those who we see as the problem needing to be a part of the solution. And so once again, this is, I think, going to take time, it’s going to be played out over some time, but I think the foundational principles that guide us as in our approach really do have something to speak into that process of the politics that we create in response to this time.

patience:
The politics that we create, huh? [Both laugh] I’m afraid, at least the time that we’re living in, there’s so much to be gained by, um, making people angry and making people feel victimized, uh…

Catherine:
Mm-hm, yes.

patience:
…and a lot of people are raising a lot of money by driving those narratives and they have no incentive to stop, is what I am afraid…

Catherine:
Yes. And I think it’s that, how do we shift those incentive structures? How do we shift those incentives, right? And I think, I mean, if anything, I think that that is the place where, um, the deliberative function that we’re talking about, of bringing people across the aisle, you know, the strategic, the strategic folks who are not necessarily as…who, who have a broader vision for the society and for the world that we need to be working towards, to think together about “how do we get out of this trap, given the incentive structure of our, of our politics and our economy right now?” And “how do we think anew about how we organize things?” Sometimes, as you know from systems thinking, it’s, it’s small shifts that can have tremendous results in terms of shifting things. And so just as, you know, in a way it’s the, um, the communications revolution that was enabled with smartphone technology, has enabled these new kind of politics of mass movements of various kinds and also extremism, which has had a tremendous, tremendous boost by just enabling people to communicate outside the established communication lines…has, you know, enabled that. And I mean, who would have ever thought that this small device that I can hold that is slightly larger than my palm would have within it a power to connect anyone simultaneously around the planet? Um, you know, what are some other kinds of analogies and are, um, the ways in which we communicate that can shift things? Um, that’s a deliberation question because the thinking that has gotten us into this situation, as Einstein would counsel us, is not going to be the thinking that gets us out of it.

patience:
[Laughing] So not doing the same thing and expecting different results?

Catherine:
[Laughs] Precisely!

patience:
Drop the insanity? [Both laugh].

Catherine:
Precisely.

patience:
Um, Catherine, how do you think, uh, designing deliberative processes that work is helped by, uh, interweaving or intermingling different, um, you know, like trauma, having some kind of knowledge around trauma so that…because everyone has a form of trauma –which we can’t compare one person’s trauma to the next; how it affects them is what matters. And they bring those parts of themselves to any deliberative dialogue process. How do you think we weave such specialties that are within the peacebuilding field to actually make deliberative processes successful?

Catherine:
Yeah! Oh, patience, that’s such a good question. Um, and I must admit, I feel, I feel one of the things that’s so wonderful about having this relationship within CJP is that, you know, if…so I’m going to back up just a little bit with that, because I think it’s an interesting one in terms of like cutting-edge in the thinking about this. One of the things that’s wonderful about CJP is that there’s all these folks who do this, uh, kind of deliberative processes that come out of the organizational development field working for, I don’t know, fortune 500 companies and may draw on these ideas in, but not, you know, it’s not the forefront necessarily. And then there’s folks in the public, um, you know, public consultation, public participation inside the field, and then there’s restorative justice. And I think that within CJP we can draw on this and I think especially this marriage of restorative justice, the best of peacebuilding approaches to dialogue, organizational development, um, innovativeness, and I think it’s the trauma informed that ends up having the potential to really shift things at a very deep level. And I think we’re, we, we, I certainly have learned a lot from colleagues at CJP about thinking about how to, um, enable more trauma informed spaces, and I think it’s something, um, this is what…like a shout out to colleagues and friends in the STAR community of like, wouldn’t it be cool to collaborate more in thinking about that together and how we can really develop that, especially when we start talking about processes that are starting to move more, to scale more people, um, in them, how do we do that? Because you’re right, people are bringing that in with them and if, if processes are not, are not in a way healing in how they are created, um, as well as at a minimum being trauma-informed –that deep level work that we were talking about earlier, I think it’s going to be really hard to happen. It’s going to be really…because people holding themselves so tight, so as to protect themselves –whether they are aware of it or not– that it is very hard to shift and change together.

patience:
Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you.
Um, as we head toward closing here, what is the story of your name?

Catherine:
[Laughs] My full name is Mary Catherine Barnes and, um, my, my parents, um, always said, I just really loved the sound of Mary Catherine, and the funny thing is, is that my mother’s name was Mary and her mother’s name was Mary and her mother’s name was Mary, and I have an aunt Mary, and they always insist that being Mary Catherine had nothing to do with it being a family name [laughs]. They decided to call me Cathy, when I was little, because they didn’t want, my mother didn’t want to have happen to me, what happened to her, that when she was a little girl, she was “little Mary” and her mother was “big Mary.” And yet her mother was this very petite five-foot-two woman and my mother –who was a very beautiful woman– but had the kind of growth spurt that often happens with girls when she was reaching about 11 and soon was five-two, five-four, five-six, and, um, became five-nine and felt like she was this huge hulking, um, person next to her petite mother. And, and she always thought it was especially cruel being called “little Mary” in that context and so decided to avoid that altogether by calling me “Cathy.” And then when I left school, I was…the high school, I, I wanted to be seriously and I thought, “no one’s ever gonna take someone named ‘Cathy’ seriously,” and so I shifted it to Catherine, which sounded altogether more dignified [both laugh], I don’t think of that much now but sometimes I look back at that young adult person and think it is pretty funny.

patience:
Did you feel taken seriously after you…?

Catherine:
Oh, no [both laughs].

patience:
[Laughter continues] Maybe it’s yet to happen, don’t lose hope…

Catherine:
One of the beautiful things about getting older, at least for me is that, that no longer matters so much [laughs].

patience:
Yeah, getting older makes these things become less as important.

Catherine:
Yeah.

patience:
All right, well, great. Is there anything else you would like to mention before we finish that we didn’t cover?

Catherine:
Just extreme appreciation for you and for all that you’re doing patience, you bring such a wonderful gift to this whole, this whole endeavor.

patience:
Well, thank you. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for taking the time and for sharing your thoughts.

Catherine:
Mm, my pleasure. My pleasure. It’s…ahh, none of this is easy…

patience:
…no it’s not.

Catherine:
Yet it just feels, so uh, it feels some ways like it’s one of the, one of the only hopes of the way forward; I really do genuinely believe is shifting our conventions and how we come together to deal with our most complex, difficult and divisive challenges. And I do really feel that this is one of those, those keys is through this way of being together and through deliberative dialogue. And so for me, it’s uhm yeah, firm commitment to keeping on working.

patience:
It’s becoming your life’s work?

Catherine:
I hope so. I hope.

patience:
Yeah, yup. Inshallah!

Catherine:
Inshallah!

patience:
Thank you so much.

Catherine:
Thank you, patience. Take care.

patience:
You too! Bye-bye.

Catherine:
Bye-bye.

patience:
Dr. Barnes has written widely on peace processes, civil society roles in peacebuilding, and on issues related to state building, conflict prevention, genocide and minority rights. She is especially known for the groundbreaking Conciliation Resources Accord Publication Owning the Process: Public Participation in Peacemaking in 2002, as well as for her role in the 2005 Global Conference at the UN on Civil Society Roles in Conflict Prevention and for documenting these roles in the publication People Building Peace II.

Outro Music:
[Outro music begins and fades into background]

patience:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by the one and only, Luke Mullet, our audio mixing engineer extraordinary, is Stephen Angello. And, I am the podcast executive producer, audio recording engineer, editor and host patience kamau. As you are able, please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so that other peacebuilders may find it. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks. Thanks so much for listening and join us again, next time.

Outro Music:
[Music resumes normal volume and plays till end]

2 comments on “12. That of God, Not of Ego”

  1. Elena Huegel says:

    I just finished listening to That of God, Not of Ego and again I really enjoyed it. I appreciated the question about the fullness of life from the South African context. The Maya in Chiapas have a similar visión of the world captured in the term Lekil Kuxlejal. I wrote this about the term:

    A few months ago, those of us in the area of Theology and Spirituality of the Institute for Intercultural Study and Research here in Chiapas were discussing the vision with which we live our individual and collective lives. jPetul (Peter in the Tseltal Mayan language) explained the Mayan concept of "lekil kuxlejal," which literally means the good life, but on a deeper level it means to be well and at peace with oneself, one's family and community and with mother earth. To have "lekil kuxlejal" one must have a heart that has been healed and strengthened. Our work at the Institute is to provide a safe space to explore how "lekil kuxlejal" looks today with all the social, cultural, political, and religious challenges the people of Chiapas, including the Mayan people, face on a daily basis.

    How do we bring the ecological, wholeness and healing, creative, justice, dignity, and liberating values of "lekil kuxlejal" into the daily lives of women and children on the margins of the margins? My tocaya, Elena, explains the vision this way: Lekil kuxlejal is an invitation to walk, it is the path and it is the destination. It is the starting point, the way of getting there and the dream to be reached. We invite our people to remember what our grandmothers and grandfathers have known about how to live a good life and what life-destroying actions need to be named personally, locally and systemically. We explore and practice small steps, and then larger and firmer ones, to care for ourselves, others and the earth. We live into the dream of harmony and peace while sustaining justice, truth and mercy. Our true nature, our healing path, is lekil kuxlejal.

    Thanks to you and Dr. Barnes for the introduction to deliberative dialogue!

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