5. When the center does not hold

This fifth episode features Dr. David Brubaker, dean of the school of social sciences and professions at Eastern Mennonite University, which includes the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP). In it Brubaker talks about the environmental and generational changes that organizations now face, the tension between focusing on international versus domestic conflict, and global trends of income inequality.

Brubaker came to CJP in 2004, when it was known as the Conflict Transformation Program. At the time, he taught organizational studies; he now teaches organizational behavior, development, and leadership. He’s also worked as a consultant with over 100 organizations, from non-profit to for-profit to governmental, in 12 different countries.
“There are just some really classic issues that tend to produce stress and conflict in organizations, no matter what part of the world they’re in or even what sector they’re in,” Brubaker says. Two major challenges that all organizations are now facing, Brubaker explains, are changes in the environment and the generational shift away from baby boomer values to those of Generation X and millennials.“ Generational research has found  that millennials, for example, have a much higher priority on work-life balance,” Brubaker says. “People aren’t willing to just sign over their lives to organizations, as happened with my parents’ generation and with mine as well.”

In his consulting practice, Brubaker has relied on all three academic pillars of CJP: conflict transformation, restorative justice, and trauma awareness and resilience, which he says are unique to be housed within one program.

As to what CJP could be doing better, Brubaker says that many practitioners have been attracted by the “siren song” of international work, “often at the cost of paying attention to growing economic and social polarization in our own country.” At the same time, though, the trends we see in the U.S. are happening on a global scale, he says. “As the gap between the rich and the poor has grown around the world, we are seeing the rise of populism and nationalism because that’s how people give voice to their grievances,” says Brubaker. This feeds directly into his vision for CJP 25 years from now. He hopes by then the program will better address the intersection of politics and economics, by supporting those on the front lines of those conflicts.“ Those who are closest to the problem or the challenge are the ones best able to figure out how to beat it,” Brubaker says.


Guest

Profile image

dr. david brubaker

Dr. David Brubaker is dean of the school of social sciences and professions, to which the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding belongs, here at EMU. He has trained or consulted with over 100 organizations all over the world: in Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America, North America, and Europe. He hold a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona, specialized in the study of change and conflict in religious organizations.


Transcript

David Brubaker:Yeah. Organizational Behavior simply looks at how do organizations tick as organic systems, and we basically review the structure, the culture, the leadership, the environment of an organization –organizational basics. In Organizational Development, we ask, uh, how can we help organizations to change in adaptive, strategic ways? Organizational Leadership, we could take a decade to explore and I typically do that in a Summer Peacebuilding Institute course.

[Theme music begins and fades into background]

patience kamau:
Hey-hey everybody! Happy Wednesday to you and welcome back to Peacebuilder: a conflict transformation podcast by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
With us this episode.

David Brubaker:
Uh, David Brubaker. I’m currently the Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professions at Eastern Mennonite university (EMU), having taught the last 15 years at EMU.

patience kamau:
Dr. David Brubaker is Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professions to which the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding belongs, here at EMU. He has trained or consulted with over 100 organizations all over the world in Africa, Asia, Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. He holds a PhD from the university of Arizona, specialized in the study of change and conflict in religious organizations. Just a quick reminder though before we begin registration for our ultimate weekend gathering is now open. Join us on June 5, 6 and 7; seriously guys, you do not want to miss out on this. For details about events and activities, go to emu.edu/cjp/anniversary.

[Theme music fades back in and ends]

patience kamau:
Hi Dave?

David Brubaker:
Hi.

patience kamau:
How are you today?

David Brubaker:
Lovely. I enjoy this weather –had lunch outside, it was beautiful.

patience kamau:
All right.
Being dean is just a recent occurrence –how did that happen?

David Brubaker:
We went to a 3-school model after having two schools –undergraduate and graduate– and it made more sense to have integration across that division, so now we have a Natural Sciences School, a Social Sciences School, and a Humanities and Seminary School. So I have two colleagues as well.

patience kamau:
All right. And CJP is part of the…

David Brubaker:
…School of Social Sciences. Yes.

patience kamau:
What was your journey –what brought you to EMU, CTP/CJP?

David Brubaker:
Yes, when I came, it was CTP — the “Conflict Transformation Program” and I came in 2004, I had just finished my graduate work at the University of Arizona and was “ABD,” had not finished my dissertation, but came in 2004 and asked to teach organizational studies, which at that time was a new part of CJP. That same year, fall of 2004 was the name change to the Center for Justice and Peacebbuilding and the 10th anniversary.

patience kamau:
Right, that’s right! So you’ve been here for…

David Brubaker:
…15 years.

patience kamau:
15 Years now! Your expertise is in organizational…

David Brubaker:
Yeah, I would say organizational studies in general and I teach courses in organizational behavior and organizational development, which is a fancy way of saying organizational change as well as organizational leadership –those three areas.

patience kamau:
What’s unique about each one? Can you tell us a little bit about each one?

David Brubaker:
Yeah. Organizational Behavior simply looks at how do organizations tick as organic systems and we basically review the structure, the culture, the leadership, the environment of an organization –organizational basics. In Organizational Development, we ask, uh, how can we help organizations to change in adaptive, strategic ways, and I have students work on a specific project with an organization during that semester to at least have the experience of walking with organizational change. Organizational Leadership –we could take a decade to explore, and I typically do that in a Summer Peacebuilding Institute course, so we do what we can to look at various models of leadership. Uh, this year Carolyn staffer will be teaching that course and she brings a lot of resource to that area of Organizational Leadership.

patience kamau:
And you’ve done consultancy work, you do that, at least on…

David Brubaker:
…mm-hm, done that for 30 years and currently working with a client and typically you will work with one or two clients each year, and that’s about what I can manage with a full-time job here.

patience kamau:
What has been surprising, the most, about your work consulting with organizations?

David Brubaker:
Well, I would say two things. The first that has surprised me is uh, how common some of the issues are, because I’ve worked with over a hundred organizations in nonprofit, for-profit and governmental sectors. I’ve worked in 12 different countries with international NGOs as well as domestically, and there are just some really classic issues that tend to produce stress and conflict in organizations no matter what part of the world they’re in or even what sector they’re in. So that kinda surprised me. The second thing that surprised me is the degree to which right now, and this has been building the last five years, almost every organization seems to be undergoing some profound transformational change. Not necessarily because they want to, but because how the environment is changing so rapidly. So some of the changes that EMU has experienced are classic right now for many other smaller private colleges and universities. Uh, the, the large publics have a different set of challenges, but the environment is changing much more rapidly at a, at a faster pace than it was certainly 20 or 30 years ago.

patience kamau:
What do you think is causing that change?

David Brubaker:
Part of it is technological have picked up such a rapid pace so that we could install new software systems every year and not keep up with how fast that field is changing. Uh, part of it is globalization and so change in one part of the world, rebounds to another part of the world in a way that would not have happened even 50 years ago. And I think part of it is generational. The uh, the transition from the baby boom generation now to millennials, well, gen Xers, millennials, there’s a desire to see a different kind of engagement with the environment and with different identities. And some of that is very positive, but it is producing –much of it is very positive– but it’s producing stress and change as organizations feel that tension and adapt to it.

patience kamau:
Could one aspect of that tension be how people define how they see “work” and what actually counts as “productivity” or the culture of what work is supposed to be?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, so research, generational research has found that millennials for example, have a much higher priority on work-life balance than baby boomers did, uh thank God –so that, that’s bringing a new set of expectations on organizations that people aren’t willing to just sign over their lives to organizations as happened with my parents’ generation and I think with mine as well, being a baby boomer, and I think part of it is a much greater respect for each individual, the identity that he or she brings into the workplace and how we create space for those diverse identities, instead of assuming people assimilate into a dominant organizational culture as would have been the expectation not that long ago.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm, mm-hm, so there’s push back to create boundaries…

David Brubaker:
…to create boundaries and to create more inclusive organizational cultures, than would have been the case 20, 30 years ago.

patience kamau:
Okay. Does that open up spaces for people to bring more of who they are within the work spaces?

David Brubaker:
Oh yes, this is what’s so positive about it, but does it also create stress as dominant culture pushes against that? Yes.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm, wow –how do you navigate that when you are helping organizations in your consultancy work?

David Brubaker:
Well, what I always start by saying is “we can’t change what we won’t name.” So let’s name that these changes are happening, these generational shifts and uh, let’s have an honest conversation about what it is that people really want in their organizational context. I’ve seen organizational culture change, but it changes slowly and it’s typically a three to five year process and it requires a team of really dedicated people. So I say if we, if we want successful change, there are three T’s that we have to bring to it. And the first is “team,” we were just talking about the team that you’re working with. Uh, the second is “time” to not expect that it’s going to happen in three to six months because that kind of change won’t. And the third is “tone,” and having a, a positive tone, i. e. we’re working towards inclusion and equity, is normally more effective than a tone that people might experience negatively, even though people are often experiencing the organizational barriers and dysfunctions very negatively, to name a positive vision for what we’re trying to move towards –now, this was Martin Luther King’s genius. The, the ability to, to frame, uh, this new community, new beloved community that all of God’s children would be part of. That is usually also key to successful change.

patience kamau:
Mm yeah, I think I remember you once saying that he’s not remembered so for saying…he’s remembered for saying, “I have a dream,” not “I don’t have a dream” or how did you put that? [Laughter]

David Brubaker:
[Laughter continues] That we don’t remember Martin Luther King for his, “I have a grievance speech.”

patience kamau:
That’s right.

David Brubaker:
Even though he had very significant grievances, but he could articulate those and then shift to –and here’s what I see in the future, where little black boys and girls and little white boys and girls will play together in…uh, Alabama.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm, mm-hm, yes. The content of their character.

David Brubaker:
Yes.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
So at this time, at this milestone for CJP at 25 what do you think, from your experience that we should be celebrating about the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, there’s much to celebrate. I think the three academic pillars of CJP have been really significant and that is bringing together “conflict, transformation,” “restorative justice” and “trauma awareness and resilience.” Those, those three pillars are unique, there’s no other program that I’m aware of in the country or around the world, that brings together those three pillars in the same way. And I know in my my own consulting practice, I often need to rely on all three of those and I sometimes have to bring in people with more expertise than I have in say, restorative justice or trauma awareness because my background is conflict transformation. But I’ve often seen how all three are needed, particularly when harm has been done in an organizational context. So that that for me is one. The other I think is the emphasis that CJP has had, not just on academics but on practice and uh, not just on classroom teaching but on scholarship. So the ability to produce The Little Books series, one of Howard Zehr’s, visions that makes a really solid scholarship and practice available broadly in 80 to 90 pages rather than academic tomes that no one’s going to read. I think making, yeah, making that kind of learnings from the field accessible, emphasizing practice rather than just scholarship, has been an important gift of CJP.

patience kamau:
What do you think we could have done better in the last 25 years?

David Brubaker:
I think we were attracted by the siren song of international work, and that started with John Paul Lederach who had a very deserved reputation for his ability to work interculturally, but many of us were caught up in it. So I first went to Mozambique in ’93 just as the war was ending and I found it very exciting to work there. And as I mentioned earlier, had the opportunity to work in 12 other international contexts. But I think it was often at the cost of paying attention to the growing economic and social polarization in our own country. So now we’re, now that all of us have to pay attention to those realities here in the U.S. because we can no longer ignore them. I’m wondering if, if we shouldn’t have started that 25 years ago rather than just in the last 5 to 10 years, I think there’s been a renewed emphasis on domestic issues.

patience kamau:
Why do you think we can no longer ignore it?

David Brubaker:
[Chuckles] Well, there…I’ll just speak as a sociologist. The, um, the income gap in this country has been growing for 38 years since, uh, since 1981. And it’s, it’s been a factor of several things, including significant tax cuts. So now the wealthiest Americans actually pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than the poorest Americans, so we clearly got very much out of whack. As the income gap –income stratification– has increased, polarization has increased! And the reason that happens is millions of people are falling out of the middle class and they’re upset about that, they’re angry, they’re wondering why they can’t afford a home, why they can’t afford to send their children to college. They were promised “the American dream,” now it’s gone, and so the voices of those, either on the right or the left, who can articulate a grievance, a reason for why this is happening to you and identify scapegoats for that, that has, that has become very significant in the last 5, 10 years, and particularly, obviously, with the 2016 election and Donald Trump’s ascendancy. So to be able to, to blame, uh, immigrants or Muslims or, uh, China for all the problems we’re experiencing –for some, that’s an attractive argument and it’s a false one, completely false. But unfortunately, when people are feeling that marginalized, they respond to grievance narratives. So what we have to do is offer a counter narrative that is hopefully even more compelling than the grievance narratives, and I don’t think we’ve yet quite constructed it, um, as say, Martin Luther King had with the “beloved community” in the 1950s and ’60s. We need to have something similar now in our generation that reaches people with a unified message rather than a polarizing message.

patience kamau:
Do you see CJP –how do you see CJP stepping into that gap?

David Brubaker:
Well, I think there’s always been attention in the 15 years that I’ve walked with CJP, between the, um, those who see peacebuilding as primarily “conciliation process” and those who see peacebuilding as primarily an “advocacy process.”

patience kamau:
What’s the difference?

David Brubaker:
[Chuckles] I think you know the answer to that, but I’ll give my answer. So those who believe that, um, through dialogue and other ways of bringing people together, that’s how we can best address the challenges in our society. And those who believe that by challenging unjust structures, uh, we can best change this dysfunctional dynamic that we now have. And of course both are true and both are necessary. It just that in reality some people seem more drawn to one piece of that, the “conciliation” piece and others more to the “advocacy” piece. So I, I think CJP can best address that by embracing that paradox and not creating yet another “either/or” binary in our culture, which we already have way too many of, that it’s not, you know, “are we going to do advocacy” or “are we going to work at reconciliation,” but how do we respect each other and the various callings that people have and find ways to integrate, à la “the Curle model,” the, the necessary efforts at confronting structures and systems and uh, raising voice for those who have been dispossessed so that there can be genuine possibility for conciliation and reconciliation.

patience kamau:
Mm, you mentioned the “Curle model,” can you define that?

David Brubaker:
So when there is a significant power imbalance, which obviously we have many of them in our society and within the world, um, in order for there to be the possibility of a fair negotiation and genuine conciliation, those who are at the bottom end of the power imbalance usually have to find some way to, to find voice and have the possibility of uh, face-to-face and uh, equitable conversations. So that’s why Curle, Adam Curle –a Quaker– recommends that initially the stage is to, the first stage is to raise the tension and to have a group that has been disempowered, find their own voice and find their power. We can often walk with individuals and groups like that, but we can never “do for” because that’s just more disempowering. So I think the other thing we need to be keenly aware of is what’s the proper role of an advocate –it’s not to “take voice,” it’s to “help support voice.”

patience kamau:
Mm, it’s not “to speak for,”…

David Brubaker:
…it’s not “to speak for,” sometimes “to speak with,” but only at the invitation of the group that is doing the primary activism.

patience kamau:
How do we call forth such virtues from CJP to encourage this ability to invite people to “engage with,” to “speak with” and not “for” –how would you envision that developing?

David Brubaker:
Well, I think the first thing we need to do is to model it in our own conversations with each other, whether it’s in the classroom or colleague-to-colleague in the hallway. What does it mean to respect the diversity of voices that there are, and how do we try to ensure that those who maybe, have traditionally spoken less in our cultural context have the opportunity to speak more. I think that’s where “circle process” as simple as it is, is often a very effective mechanism. And I’ll use it in classes, not every week that we meet, but particularly if I notice that not hearing from some voices, um, breakout sessions where people who won’t speak with a group of 25 or 30 might be very comfortable speaking with three or four. I mean, there’s so many different ways that, that we do teach and practice that, uh, at least allow for the possibility of greater voice in our own organizational context. I think we’re still struggling to find that at a societal level. There’s no question that voice is inequitable.

patience kamau:
You mentioned how CJP probably at the beginning, toward…I mean the first 25 years looked internationally and now we’re probably…circumstances are causing us to look more internally –are some of these problems that we’re seeing internally within the United States also echoed internationally? They seem like they are, uh, in some ways. So how do you –how would you see that working out with, with CJP having worked previously internationally and now looking locally? How do both…how can we do “both and”?

David Brubaker:
So yes, we have globalized a lot of the trends that we were talking about here in the States are taking place in many other parts of the world. So the country with the greatest income inequality in the world, this won’t surprise you, is South Africa. They may have eliminated apartheid as a legal structure, but that unfortunately did not dismantle the economic forms of apartheid that were there. So they also have extreme political polarization. Brazil, number 10 in economic inequality, also has great political polarization. So as the gap between the rich and the poor has grown around the world, we are seeing the rise of populism and nationalism because that’s how people give voice to their grievances. And South Africa driving out, uh, migrants from other of Southern Africa, for example, seeing them as the scapegoat for unemployment and other things, that is a global phenomenon. We’re seeing it in Europe as well.

patience kamau:
Right, “Brexit.”

David Brubaker:
Yes…[chuckles].

patience kamau:
…and it’s interesting that you mentioned Brazil. You’ve lived in Brazil, right?

David Brubaker:
Mm-hm…

patience kamau:
Um, tell us a little bit about that. When did you live there and what were you doing there?

David Brubaker:
Probably before you were born? Um, ’82 to ’85.

patience kamau:
Oh, I was born! [Laughter].

David Brubaker:
[Laughter continues] Oh, okay. So we were there for three years and um, we were living two of the three years in a favela, which would be like a shanty town on the edge of the city of Recife, city of about 2 million. And it was during their, “crise economica” the economic crisis that Brazil was experiencing, they’re back in it now, but this was an earlier round of hyperinflation and uh very high crime. It was a, it was an intense three years, but also a wonderful experience because we were placed with a Catholic lay community in the neighborhood of Nova Descoberta, and we were fully invited into the life of that community, and part of the reason that Catholic spirituality matters a lot to me because we experienced it for those three years.

patience kamau:
How does it matter to you –“Catholic spirituality”?

David Brubaker:
[Chuckles] Uh, it’s much more contemplative and reflective than the spirituality that I was raised with, so…

patience kamau:
…which is Mennonite background?

David Brubaker:
Yes, raised in the Brethren in Christ Church, but that’s an offshoot of Mennonite and a wonderful emphasis on being an active presence in the world and much less emphasis on spiritual direction and contemplation. Recently there’s been a movement among many Mennonites to embrace that, but they often end up at Jesuit retreat centers learning the skills to do that.

patience kamau:
Were you, the Catholicism that you were exposed to when you were in Brazil, was that Jesuit?

David Brubaker:
No, uh, the priest in our parish was a fellow from Detroit. American priest who had gone to Brazil, learned Portuguese and served that parish. There was, uh, an American nun from the Bronx who also worked there and another four Brazilian sisters who were very active, but they, they themselves had a wonderful supportive community. And then there were lay folks like us who were involved in the parish.

patience kamau:
Uh, I’m fascinated by, you mentioned that the, the crisis was there when you were there and that they are back to it –so that means that there wasn’t for a while there. What do you think caused it to end and what has caused it to return?

David Brubaker:
Right, well, that’s a great question!

patience kamau:
What are your reflections on that?

David Brubaker:
So you remember when they were talking, I don’t know, 10 or so years ago about the BRIC countries?

patience kamau:
Mm-hm…

David Brubaker:
It was Brazil and Russia and India and China, and Brazil was part of that economic miracle. Things were taking off in the 2000s and then the economic crisis in 2008, that was a global crisis seemed to really impact Brazil and just sustain, they’ve not been able to pull out of it in part because of a political crisis. And in part because of political polarization, shifting from a far left president to a far right president now, and not having the kind of political stability that helps a country to recover economically.

patience kamau:
Far left — was that Dilma Rousseff?

David Brubaker:
Uh, and particularly Lula and you know, there’s much about his policies that I really admired including the “Bolsa Familia,” just offering every family a, not necessarily a living wage, but enough to educate their children with, um, but he was seen as too far left by many in Brazil, and so the reaction was to elect Bolsinaro after Dilma and he has swung pretty much to the right.

patience kamau:
Yeah. It’ll be interesting to our listeners in Brazil. [Chuckles]

David Brubaker:
Oh, that’s right. Well I am not an expert on Brazilian economics or politics.

patience kamau:
Right, right, I imagine that they’ll, hopefully they’ll send us some, some of their own reflections on what they think…

David Brubaker:
…I would welcome that.

patience kamau:
You also spent some time in Mozambique, you said, how long were you there and what were you doing?

David Brubaker:
Initially, just for three weeks in 1993 on a UNICEF consultancy. And they had put together an amazing group of artists from around the country and included, um, theater artists, musical artists, dance visual artists, and they called it “circo da paz,” which meant, um, a “circus of peace.” And it was designed really as kind of a trauma-resiliency model for children and youth because they went to every province in the country and they would engage children and young people in all of these various methodologies, as a way of expressing what they had experienced during the war. And, uh, it was a two year project –I did some initial training in conflict resolution, conflict transformation skills and then they, they had other experts from Mozambique and um, Brazil come in to do additional training in the methodologies. But the really gifted folks were the artists themselves from Mozambique, they were amazing to watch!

patience kamau:
Yeah –why is that?

David Brubaker:
Their ability to transform some of the concepts that we were talking about into, um, messages that resonated with children because we were able to watch them do it in one kind of pilot project that we did outside of Maputo. And it was, it was remarkable how the children engaged it and were able to express some of the harms that they had experienced, but in ways that were transformative, in ways that were life-giving, ultimately.

patience kamau:
Are you particularly thinking of any specific example that you can tell us?

David Brubaker:
Well, this was 1993 so it’s been 26 years. Um, I just remember a, a circle of children doing a traditional dance that also incorporated some of the, the trauma, some of the soldiers coming into their community, that the actors were, were acting out and how they, how that split the circle, how that, how that shattered the circle and the children actually scattered. And then what was bringing them back together where some of their traditional songs and spirituality and elders from the community. It was really powerful to, to see both the shattering and the, and the regathering.

patience kamau:
Okay. Wow. That does sound powerful.
Um, and you returned not too long ago, were you there in 20…?

David Brubaker:
…’12.

patience kamau:
Okay, yeah.

David Brubaker:
Great memory! Yeah. I went back to interview 10 religious leaders, including three Muslim leaders about their work to end the war. And, uh, particularly the, the San Egidio community in Rome that brought the warring factions together, but they were only able to do that because of the work on the ground of religious leaders going back and forth between the government and the bush, between Frelimo and Renamo, to get an agreement to meet outside the country. So I, I wanted to interview them about that process and a number of them risked their own lives, they certainly risk their reputations, by going out and meeting with Renamo leaders who are considered at that point to be “enemies of the government” and yet trying to find a way to connect the two sides.

patience kamau:
Hmm, what did you do with your work with those interviews?

David Brubaker:
I produced two chapters on Mozambican and Angola cause I also spent some time in Angola –was unable to turn it into a book project, so I transformed it into a book project instead on polarization, which was just published, and it includes a story from a Bishop Sengulane in Maputo but only a story. I’m still hoping to do more with the broader story.

patience kamau:
Where would people be able to access what you put together?

David Brubaker:
The, uh, the book is available for sale, uh, at, um, Amazon, but it’s published by Fortress Press.

patience kamau:
What’s the title of the book?

David Brubaker:
It’s called “When the Center Does Not Hold: Leading in an age of polarization.”

patience kamau:
Okay. All right, great. Thank you!

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
What would your vision be, particularly now that you are a Dean of the school that CJP belongs to –what would your vision be for CJP at 50? So in the next 25 years, what do you hope we do and how will you lead in that direction?

David Brubaker:
Well, you probably heard me say that I’m a firm believer in the principle of subsidiarity, which is from Catholic social teaching, and it simply means that those who are closest to the problem or the challenge are the ones best able to figure out how to beat it. So my first response would be, I would be most inclined to trust CJP folks, in conversation with the many partners that CJP has, to figure out “what is the vision for the next 25 years?” Since you are asking about mine, I’m willing to offer it.

patience kamau:
Yes indeed, please do!

David Brubaker:
I’m personally convinced that we have to pay more attention to political economy; to the intersection of politics and economics. And that’s because in my own research on polarization, I came to realize that around the world as income inequality has risen, political polarization has, has also grown. And that that’s, I mean, we could mediate 20 cases a day for the next 25 years and that wouldn’t address growing income inequality, which is really driving a lot of the polarization that we’re seeing. So I think we, we at CJP need to figure out how to maybe bring in additional folks with expertise in economics and political structures and think very clearly about what is needed to change, what has become a destructive and dysfunctional economic and political system in this country, and in fact, in much of the world. And I don’t think the answer is just to burn down one system and create another, but I do think we have to have an honest conversation about what would it take for uh, say, the American economy to work for all members of this country, not just for some, and it’s working really well for 1%, arguably maybe even 10% of the country, but it’s not working well for 90% or more. And that’s why there’s increasing alienation and increasing despair, and people just basically saying, “I’ll vote for anybody if, as long as (usually he), can promise to change my reality.”

patience kamau:
And when you say not burn one economic system for another, it’s, it brings to mind that people are constantly saying, “let’s get rid of capitalism” or “this is socialism,” and there are those corners that people just go to. Um, so are the ideas to maybe have a…not necessarily go to either one, but maybe have a kind of mixed economy, mixed economic system?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, we already have a mixed economic system –we don’t have anything resembling pure capitalism, pure Adam Smith capitalism, we haven’t had that for probably well more than a hundred years.

patience kamau:
Say more about that.

David Brubaker:
Once um, large corporations are able to form and control a segment of their, of the economy, then uh, capitalism as we traditionally understood it, which was a multitude of producers offering their products to a multitude of consumers, that no longer exists. We still have a multitude of consumers, but we have two or three very large corporations controlling virtually everything…

patience kamau:
…monopolies!

David Brubaker:
…and often subsidized by the government. So in fact, it already is a mixture of socialism and capitalism, it just happens to be “corporate socialism” and that clearly is not working. It’s part of the reason we run $1 trillion deficit every year in this country, and it’s also part of the reason that say, a few drug companies can continue to market and sell products that they know are killing people –such as opioids– and takes years for the government to actually intervene, and in fact, it wasn’t the Federal government, it was States that started to say, “you can’t do this anymore.” So because of the fact that corporations are so embedded with those who are making laws and the revolving door between Congress and corporations, we have nothing resembling pure capitalism. It’s “predatory capitalism,” unfortunately, that has been bought and paid for by a few lobbyists representing large corporate interests. So I’m actually a fan of capitalism as it was originally designed, but one would have to be almost insane to believe that what we have now is the best model.

patience kamau:
Mm. I like the term “predatory capitalism” because that’s, that’s probably been what’s driven a lot of the conflicts around the world because it’s this extractive mindset…

David Brubaker:
Exactly!

patience kamau:
…going in and stripping a country of their resources to enrich another…

David Brubaker:
…yeah, extractive/predatory capitalism. And then not only do many people suffer, but obviously the creation itself, the environment is suffering.

patience kamau:
The way you articulated the vision for what CJP could do in the next 25 years –um, so are there “economic peacebuilders”?

David Brubaker:
Yes!

patience kamau:
Is that, uh, would that be a term that maybe that’s where we should be, we should be training toward that, maybe bring in minds that think that way?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, I mean when I mentioned earlier the three pillars of CJP, which I think has served the organization very well the last 25 years. So “conflict transformation,” “restorative justice,” trauma healing” –those are wonderful bodies of knowledge and skills, practice skills that are very effective at the personal level, I would say also at the community level, the organizational level, they’re not necessarily as effective at the societal level. So if, if we can employ additional kind of “macro analysis tools” and looking at macro economic and the larger political analyses, I think that’s what will be necessary in the next decade.

patience kamau:
Wow, I hope we can do that! Do people come to mind that we…are there…?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, Tim Seidel would be an example of someone who has very carefully studied political economy and writes about it, teaches courses at the undergraduate level that graduate students can also take. My son who’s a senior here, Emerson has taken two courses with Tim and comes home talking nonstop about the insights from, from those courses. So I think many of the young people in this millennial generation realize that if we’re going to make it another 50 years, we’re going to have to radically change how we now do things because this extractive model is killing the earth. And when the Amazon is burning, when rainforests in Indonesia are disappearing, we know that it’s a matter of time until that course is irreversible. So there’s a real desire, I think now to look at what are other ways of relating to each other politically and economically that are less extractive and less destructive.

patience kamau:
And hopefully adopt some practices that actually begin to mend…

David Brubaker:
…yeah…

patience kamau:
…the mistakes that we’ve made…

David Brubaker:
…that are restorative.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm.

David Brubaker:
So the principles of conflict, transformation, and peacebuilding, the principles of restorative justice and the principles of trauma healing and resilience are all very relevant at the macro level. But we’ve employed them almost exclusively at the intra-personal, inter-personal, community, organizational level. I think we need to learn, what will that look like at the macro level, at the societal level?

patience kamau:
Have you given that thought? How do you think it would look, in your mind?

David Brubaker:
[Laughs] Um, I’ve given enough thought to realize we need to do it, but I think it would require a lot of wise people talking together about it, um, so I’m, I’m not prepared to give an answer alone.

patience kamau:
Right, okay. I respect that. We should have a sit down with Tim Seidel and any other people like that.

David Brubaker:
Yeah.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
So within CJP, what academic changes have happened in your time here? What have you seen that has changed?

David Brubaker:
Well, there have been a couple of significant rounds of curriculum redesign and it’s probably easiest for me to speak about the academic side since I came as an instructor. I’ve also seen two major reorganizations structurally, in terms of forming a practice Institute and then not having a practice Institute. But academically, the uh, the most significant change was four or five years ago when Jayne led a process to move to foundations I and foundations II…

patience kamau:
…this is Jayne Docherty.

David Brubaker:
Thank you. And then to have specialized courses, seminar courses available for 2nd-year students and to really strengthen the core and have it more integrated. When I came there was a theory course, a practice course an analysis course and a research course and there’s been more integration of those. And I think a clear distinction between “here’s how things work at that micro level, micro and mezzo level” that we were talking about earlier and “how these things might work at the macro level.” So students who have come through in the last four or five years I think have benefited from those changes. I’d be interested to hear what they say, but I, I think they’ve benefited…

patience kamau:
…you think they’ve benefited –in what ways do you think they’ve benefited?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, so um, I remember assisting Nancy Good one semester with the practice course, very focused on practice skills and assisting Sam Rizick one year with the theory course, was very focused on “here are all the theories.” There’s been a real emphasis on integrating theory and practice and analysis in a single course –all be it for six credit hours— rather than three, instead of having those two quite distinct.

patience kamau:
You talked about other structural changes, the introduction of a practice Institute and then not, can you talk a little bit more about that?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, and I think the practice Institute was one of the best ideas that CJP had evolved over the last 20 years and certainly served a very important function, getting STAR launched after 9-11 and funding was available for that. I would have loved it if there had been other practice models that we continue to develop and spin-off, and there were some, but ultimately there just wasn’t the funding to support full-time staff for a practice Institute, as projects came and projects went because you know, the grant cycle, sometimes there’s money there and sometimes there’s not. So what we have now are two very solid programs with a strong practice emphasis –the STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) and SPI (Summer Peacebuilding Institute) and other ideas that continue to emerge such as the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program. But then when funding is not available, those programs can, can dry up. So I’m hopeful that this new emphasis on “professional development education” that we’ve been talking about, that a couple of CJP folks are part of, will look at other models that might be more sustainable in a tight financial environment.

patience kamau:
That makes me think of, um, because of the three parts of CJP that you said, uh, STAR, SPI and now the Zehr Institute, which is newer –it started in 2012, but isn’t structured in the same way as the other two. There’s tremendous demand out there for what restorative…for what the Zehr Institute can offer, but they, it’s limited by capacity…

David Brubaker:
Yes.

patience kamau:
What are your thoughts on how practice within the Zehr Institute can be grown so that there are independent income streams that support that? Do you have any thoughts on that?

David Brubaker:
Well, I think you’ve analyzed the adaptive challenge correctly, and I’ve talked with Kirby about this and she said the same thing, that the primary adaptive challenge for the Zehr Institute right now seems to be growing and significant demand and very limited capacity. And when an organization is facing that conundrum, it’s usually because what they’re offering is what the world needs –people really want it, but we haven’t yet figured out a way to commodify it, i.e. to price it in a way that that works. Uh, and the reality is in order to be sustainable, we have to have, um, not only products that people want, but that people are willing to pay for. So webinars are a great way to build buzz and to get information out there, but they’re not self-financing. And so I think we, we have to think about what are the possible ways to meet this growing demand for wonderful products and services, particularly now with restorative justice in education, uh, well beyond restorative justice in the criminal justice sector, which we’ve been familiar with, and expanding restorative processes and practices now in many organizations, particularly larger corporations and universities, uh, how do we take the Zehr Institute resource and make it available at a fair price for those institutions that can afford to pay for it so that we can continue to offer it for little to no charge to those organizations and individuals that can’t. So we are going to have to figure out how to price.

patience kamau:
It’s a challenge we need to face.

David Brubaker:
Yeah.

patience kamau:
But do you think it’s normal that that’s a struggle for, for, for Zehr Institute being so young? Is it, is it a growing pain? Is it a normal growing pain? It seems like it is….

David Brubaker:
Yeah, I think it is absolutely normal and you know, there’s a wonderful name attached to it in terms of Howard Zehr and his legacy. There are wonderful people connected with it in terms of yourself and Carl and Johonna and others in the network that you’re pulling in and all of those people are really busy and have day jobs, and so is it possible that there could be someone in the broader network, uh, that has some consulting experience and is willing to be more available around the country and around the world, than some of you who have commitments here are.

patience kamau:
Mm-hm, mm-hm, you mentioned Kirby. I want to clarify that that’s Kirby Broadnax. Um, what, what is she doing with this, with this process?

David Brubaker:
So she’s enrolled in a course, I’m teaching this semester called “leading organizational change” and that’s the organizational development course I mentioned earlier where students need to accompany an organization through a change process, which these days –you accompany any organization, it’s probably going to be in a change process. But since the Zehr Institute recently went through strategic planning and is now thinking about how to implement some of those pieces, that was her interest in working with the Zehr Institute, and as you know, she’s extremely capable and…

patience kamau:
…yes, she is a very talented person and student.

David Brubaker:
Lucky to have her!

patience kamau:
Yeah.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
Outside of CJP or in your new role as Dean, what…and, or consultancy -what do you do that is life-giving to you, that you enjoy doing?

David Brubaker:
Oh well, that’s easy…

patience kamau:
…yeah?

David Brubaker:
Because I had a grandchild born in January and we spend every Sunday afternoon with him and that has been very life-giving –brings back lots of memories of when my boys were that size. Um, I love to go biking out in the countryside around Dayton, Virginia where we live. I really enjoy working with organizations if I can do it over a 6 to 9-month period, not just a real short term consultancy, but the possibility of working with a reference team through the information gathering, and through the analysis, and through the recommendations and implementation, that where I’ve actually seen genuine transformation occur –that is life-giving. And I love teaching –so administration, I’m willing to do it, somebody has to, but it doesn’t necessarily make my heart sing.

patience kamau:
How much teaching are you able to do in your new role now?

David Brubaker:
Just one course per semester.

patience kamau:
How many were you teaching at your peak?

David Brubaker:
Three. I had a three-three load when I was a full-time instructor, and that’s fairly typical here at the graduate level. Then when I was department chair, I had a two-two load and a one course release to be department chair.

patience kamau:
What’s most optimistic about your role with the new structure of the university?

David Brubaker:
I really respect my colleagues –the other deans that are here, both the two academic deans and our new Dean of Students, Shannon Dycus, who is very impressive, and when I found in previous organizations, when I respect the people that I work with and trust them, life is beautiful and when I don’t, it can be really tough. So right now that’s what I’m feeling best about. That. And the eight program directors who are in this school, including Jayne Docherty, are all very capable, and so when we’re together, uh, either with the deans or with program directors, department chairs, I have the sense I’m with people that are really good at what they do and I can trust them and we can work together as a team.

[Transition music plays]

patience kamau:
Returning to peacebuilding –um, what have been the most significant changes that you’ve seen in the field? Uh, in the last 15 or…how long have you been in peacebuilding?

David Brubaker:
33 years.

patience kamau:
33 years. So how long, what are the significant changes you’ve seen in that time?

David Brubaker:
Oh my, there’ve been so many from when I first started with Mennonite Conciliation Service in 1986, we would not have used technology for anything other than typing up a report at the end of working with a client, and we would have done so on word processors back then. So, but that was technology and now it’s used in so many different ways, uh, including as methods of data gathering, uh, using survey monkey and other ways of analyzing information we get from people that those tools just weren’t available 30 years ago. But some things, some things don’t change –I still think we have our best conversations when we’re face-to-face as we are now, and although I use zoom, I’ll be using it tomorrow morning working with a client, but most of the participants will be around the table –one person’s in North Carolina– and so we’ll zoom her in, and that’s okay because people are used to that and it works. But it would be even better if she were here, and it’s just not realistic for a three hour meeting.

patience kamau:
So we are almost done. But just, um, do you have a pet now? You lost Latte, didn’t you?

David Brubaker:
Yeah, well we have a Jane Ellen’s dog Tucker, next door.

patience kamau:
Yeah, Jane Ellen is your neighbor?

David Brubaker:
Right, and so I will –about every other day– I walk him because I need it and he needs it. And Jane Ellen and Mert, my spouse, often the three of us will walk together with Tucker. So, but I, I do miss Latte, you know we have two beloved pets buried in our backyard. [Sad chuckle]

patience kamau:
Did you come with Latte from Arizona?

David Brubaker:
We came with Jakeli from Arizona, a golden retriever who died at 15. He helped us raise our boys as did Latte.

patience kamau:
How old was Latte when he died?

David Brubaker:
She was only 12.

patience kamau:
She! Oh, she was young.

David Brubaker:
Yeah,

patience kamau:
…but a lab.

David Brubaker:
Yeah, chocolate lab, and they tend to not go much past 12 or 13.

patience kamau:
Okay. Okay. Um, is there anything else you’d like to add to this conversation that we might not have covered?

David Brubaker:
How long have you been at CJP?

patience kamau:
Uh, this is my fifth year, I believe. Yeah, January, 2015.

David Brubaker:
What’s the most significant change that you’ve seen in 5 years?

patience kamau:
[laughter] You are turning this around?

David Brubaker:
Well, I am really interested [laughter]

patience kamau:
[Continued laughter] Um, wow. Um, I hadn’t thought about that –in the last five years. Um, it’s been interesting to, to watch the growth of a new program because when I came, when I joined CJP, I believe the Zehr Institute was pretty young…

David Brubaker:
…very new!

patience kamau:
It was just new-ish, and it’s been, it’s been fascinating to sort of watch the growing pains that I referred to earlier because there’s so much potential, but how to meet that potential –and it’s global –there are people calling from Brazil and saying, we want to have this done, and others from Columbia…and others within the United States. And so that’s fascinating to me to sort of watch –I’ve never seen any, an organization, um, from its infancy and growing into what it could be and struggling to get there, but with so much potential ahead. So that’s an interesting thing to witness.

David Brubaker:
And you’ve seen significant turnover in leadership?

patience kamau:
This is true. Well, um…

David Brubaker:
In five years?

patience kamau:
Mm, no, it’s uh, maybe it’s been less. No, it was just, just Daryl who was the executive director…

David Brubaker:
Oh, Lynn Roth wasn’t here when you came?

patience kamau:
No, no, no, no. He was not.

David Brubaker:
Okay.

patience kamau:
I came, I think soon after Daryl started, um, and then he just recently moved on in May and so now we’re on to Jayne –two very different individuals with very different leadership styles and, both have their pros and cons, as any human being does. So yeah…

David Brubaker:
It’s good you’re flexible.

patience kamau:
Well, it would be hard if we’re not –kind of just break if we become that brittle.

David Brubaker:
Mm-hm! So I will add one thing that Ruth Zimmerman said earlier, serving as administrator for CJP, and it was something she said publicly at the 10th anniversary, which is the one that I experienced in my first year here. And she was spot on –she said, our first 10 years as CJP, we were known primarily for our faculty, and our next 10 years, we will be known primarily for our alums. And it was prophetic because it was during that second 10 year period that Leymah Gbowee was granted the Nobel Peace prize, and that increasingly alums around the world, were being recognized for starting peace centers, for doing very significant peacebuilding work in their own context, restorative justice programs started to emerge. And this network of more than 600 CJP alums is an incredible resource! And it’s an incredible resource, not just because of the stars like Leymah herself, but because of the reality that they are scattered around the world in 50 or 60 countries, I’m guessing, and those are just the MA alums in addition to all the STAR and SPI, …

patience kamau:
…right, all the others trained…

David Brubaker:
…and the work that they’re doing in their own communities, including here in the U.S. is by definition far more significant than what we can do here in Harrisonburg, Virginia because it’s global. So CJP, Harrisonburg could disappear tomorrow and the legacy would only continue to grow.

patience kamau:
Ah, that’s, yeah, you’re right. I was just, uh, we’ve been, we’ve had a series of guest bloggers who are alumni who are…each month are blogging about their, their experience here at CJP, and the impact that it’s had on their lives. And we’ve had two that have been published so far and a couple that are lined up and almost all of them are doing incredible work within their areas where they live, and it’s all global and it’s pretty amazing,

David Brubaker:
Including the Kenyan mafia I hear…

patience kamau:
The Kenyan mafia?

David Brubaker:
[Laughter] That’s how Jayne refers to those in East Africa, who are doing amazing work.

patience kamau:
Yeah, there’s quite a huge contingency, that’s right. Um, yeah, and uh, WPLP had at least two cohorts within East Africa, so that’s…the Kenyan mafia –I’d never heard that reference… [Laughter].

David Brubaker:
[Laughter continues] …it’s a very good mafia, but it’s the same kind of idea –it’s a network of people who are doing amazing things working together and there’s no kind of “central control,” it’s just a powerful network.

patience kamau:
It’s a new way of organization where there isn’t necessarily, someone at the top, it’s just things organically developing. There’ve been, what, 12 peace centers that have developed that are modeled to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute?

David Brubaker:
Yeah.

patience kamau:
Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

David Brubaker:
So, and you know, not bad for 25 years to have that worldwide impact in such a short time in human history.

patience kamau:
Yeah, that’s –I like that. It was very uh, prophetic of Ruth Zimmerman…

David Brubaker:
…of Ruth –she nailed it and it’ll be interesting to see what, what the next 10 years are primarily going to be about, but I don’t think it will be primarily about the faculty –as wonderful as they are– and not even necessarily just about the current students, but about what students and alums and faculty and staff are doing together for societal change throughout the world.

patience kamau:
May God go with us in the next 10, 15, 25 years!

David Brubaker:
Amen!

patience kamau:
Yes.

David Brubaker:
It does require a faith in the middle of our current realities.

patience kamau:
It does, quite a bit, quite a bit! Looking beyond, we have to dream and keep our faith.

David Brubaker:
Mm-hm…

patience kamau:
Yeah. All right –that’s all I have.

David Brubaker:
Well, thank you –that’s all I have.

patience kamau:
Thank you very much Dave!

patience kamau:
Dr. Brubaker is the author of The Little Book of Healthy Organizations published in 2009, he is also author of When the Center Does Not Hold published in 2019.

[Outro music begins to play and fades into background]

patience kamau:
All the music you hear on this podcast has been composed by: the one and only Luke Mullet. Our audio mixing engineer extraordinaire is: Stephen Angello. Audio editing support was generously provided by: Michaela Mast. 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! Thank you so much for listening and join us again next time!

[Outro music swells and plays till end].

4 comments on “5. When the center does not hold”

  1. Elena M Huegel says:

    Hello from social isolation in Chiapas! I listened today while doing some book binding… I really appreciated the part on the Curle Diagram which I use as a link between trauma healing, resilience development, restorative processes and conflict transformation. Simple but profound and with local and broad implications… Thanks again for this podcast! I am on to my long "to do" list!!

    1. patience says:

      thanks as always, elena, for taking the time to listen. an investment of time isn't something to be taken lightly, and i truly appreciate yours! wishing you joy and health through these strange times of isolation.

  2. Kirby B. says:

    Hi there! I've really been enjoying this podcast series ~ thanks for the work you've put into it Patience! And to the interviewees, thanks for sharing your experiences.
    What a surprise to hear my name mentioned! I feel honored :)

    Dave ~ I appreciated hearing you describe capitalism in a more nuanced way. I remember we talked (very briefly) about capitalism and competition in class one day ~ I don't remember the question that you asked that day, but I remember expressing an unfavorable opinion of capitalism — which I do still stand by when it comes to the extractive/predatory version; admittedly the only form that I'm familiar with. Hearing you speak on this in the episode makes me curious to hear more about Adam Smith's version of capitalism and how it differs from the version I know. I especially wonder how/if Smith's idea of capitalism is more supportive of human & planetary well being.

    If anyone else has thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them also!

  3. David Blair says:

    I listened to Dr. Brubaker's podcast today. I particularly resonate with his statement about the siren song of overseas work. I have experienced that through my work with the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding. It was exciting, meaningful and we hope impactful – and so much needs to be done here.

    I attach a very short passage on inequality that I find excellent.

    David Blair

    George Parker, Foreign Affairs

    Inequality creates a lopsided economy, which leaves the rich with so much money that they can binge on speculation, and leaves the middle class without enough money to buy the things they think they deserve.

    Inequality makes it harder to imagine the lives of others – which is one reason why the fate of over 14 million more or less of permanently unemployed Americans leaves so little impression in the country's political and media capitals.

    Inequality corrodes trust among fellow citizens, making it seem as if the game is rigged.

    Inequality provokes a generalized anger that finds targets where it can – immigrants, foreign countries, American elites, government in all forms – and it rewards demagogues while discrediting reformers.

    Inequality saps the will to conceive of ambitious solutions to large collective problems, because those problems no longer seem very collective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.