Quotes and Reflections of a Peaceworker

Late December just before the holiday I had the opportunity to take part in a truly wonderful and inspiring programme with some wonderful, dedicated people from around the world – as part of the creation and development of IAHV (International Association of Human Values) new Peacebuilding unit. I was the trainer in the programme and co-worker with the participants and am a peace advisor to IAHV Peacebuilding. One of the participants took down a number of ‘quotes’ during the programme and sent them later to me and the other participants. This morning I had the chance to read over them, fixed a few to the exact wording used in the training, and added some further thoughts and context that had been brought out in the training but didn’t always make it into each ‘quote’. I’ve been encouraged to share them more broadly and hope they may be of interest. They are offered humbly and with commitment. Warmly, Kai 

Creating IAHV Peacebuilding

“Our words and how we behave as peaceworkers are the equivalent in our field to a surgeon’s hand when doing a surgery.” Continues: “Just as the slightest shake or mistake in surgery can cause harm, we also need to be intimately aware of how our words and behaviour are understood and perceived, and to ourselves model and manifest the values and practice we’re promoting.”

“Peacebuilders undertake to have nuanced understanding of the perspectives of all sides [of a conflict]”.

The Third Way (instead of Third Party) – referencing 1. that it’s not only about 2 parties, usually there are many; and also 2. that there are aways beyond (1) I’m right or (2) you’re right – hence a (3) third way: working to transform conflicts constructively and meet the legitimate interests and needs of all parties involved and work for (sarvodaya) well-being for all

“How can you improve any process/method/tool that you are using?” – promoting the idea of conscious and empowered practitioners – that every tool, method, model, approach has been developed at some time, and every tool, method, model, approach can be improved. Also: that they always need to be customised – ‘fit to purpose’ – for your needs and context, taking into consideration (in particular) culture, language, and people’s sensibilities, what has meaning, value, sense for them, and perceptions.

UBUNTU : Ubuntu (/uːˈbʊntuː/ oo-buun-too; Zulu/Xhosa pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼú]) is a Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to “human kindness.” It is an idea from the Southern African region which means literally “human-ness,” and is often translated as “humanity toward others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[2]

UBUNTU+: the way it is often described by people in South Africa and by Nelson Mandela during his life and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is “I am who I am because of you. We are who we are because of each other.”

“Empathy does not mean you support a situation or one side, but rather asks you to have the courage to engage with why and in what way it has meaning and significance for that person – why it’s important to them – and to be able to recognise, understand and respect that.” And yes – from that – asks how you can engage authentically with that, with that person’s needs and lived experience, to address needs, transform conflicts, and engage them in peacebuilding.

“[Solutions emerge from] the cumulative impact of our Pb efforts over time.” with the important caveat: solutions and ‘results’ do not always emerge. In fact: very, very, very often they don’t – because, while people wanting to do peacebuilding and wanting to engage to help are often well meaning and well intentioned, they often do not engage with the integrity, authenticity and honesty needed – ie. to learn how to actually do peacebuilding and to really make a difference. I would suggest conservatively that 90% + of ‘peacebuilding’ interventions or what is done under that name or claiming to contribute to peace: 1. make little or not contribution at all / in any way to actually transforming conflict dynamics (other than perhaps for a few individuals) and 2. have little or no (positive) strategic impact on the conflict and on real peacebuilding. The concept of ‘cumulative impact’ is that efforts at many levels 1. are required and 2. ‘add up’ – however: most ‘peacebuilding’ today is done so badly, with little strategy, poorly planned, poorly implemented, not ‘joined-up’/linked/connected. While it gives people engagement, uses money, and makes people feel they’re doing things that matter, the truth is that it very, very rarely does. That’s not because ‘peacebuilding’ can’t or doesn’t work, it’s because the people doing it don’t do it with the integrity, dedication, authenticity, honesty or responsibility needed. It’s not that they’re not well meaning. Many of course are; and many are very committed and work hard. It’s that:

1. we haven’t developed the culture of authentic professionalism and capability. ‘Professionalism’ doesn’t have to mean with ‘budgets’, donors, etc. Professionalism means craft(!), skill(!), capability(!) – knowing what types of interventions and activities done in what ways i. have a chance of working and/or ii. definitely will not. People will say ‘peacebuilding is not an exact science’ and that ‘we often don’t have the resources or scale we need to really make an impact’. However: well over 90% of what doesn’t work in the field isn’t because we don’t know what to do; it’s because we haven’t bothered to learn it – or to learn past lessons from similar efforts and attempts, and what worked, what didn’t work, etc.;
2. we maintain that ‘hope’, ‘good will’ and ‘intention’ are enough. Would we accept that in any other field? Would you go into a multi-story building if it was built by someone who ‘hoped’ they knew what they were doing – or would you want people who love what they’re doing enough that they’ve dedicated their efforts to understanding how buildings stand, how they resist shock, how to design and build them to ensure safety and well being; and to have safety standards and verification that they’re followed. Would you go into open heart surgery with someone who ‘loves you’ and ‘means well’ but hasn’t loved you enough to train and learn the skills of a surgeon?

If we are truly serious about peacebuilding, if we really want to make a difference, it is important today to recognise: there is a  massive amount of extraordinary, relevant, practical and concrete knowledge, expertise and experience that has been developed. This is empowering! Just as we can learn to be doctors, architects, and many other fields of activity – if people are truly serious, truly dedicated, truly committed to making a difference – we can learn how to do that effectively. That doesn’t mean we will succeed. It also takes skill and the will and determination to do it – and the ability to plan, organise, and work well with others, often in challenging and difficult circumstances. It is incredibly empowering and exciting though to know that: yes – today – we can learn how to transform conflicts and prevent violence effectively. [That said: over 90% of our graduate programmes in the field today do not effectively/competently address or teach this because the faculty involved have themselves never been involved, trained or exposed to doing peacebuilding. This is an important issue/challenge our field needs to address to improve the training, preparation and ‘education’ of people in the field’]

“What is extraordinary about Gandhi, is that he was an ORDINARY human being, just as Mandela was, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Malcolm X, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Martin Luther King, the ‘tank man’. They shit just like you do, they get tired just like you do. For some of them they’ve seen and lived through things no human being ever should have to. They have inspired us with the courage and dedication of their actions and lives, and they could all be bastards at moments as well. Gandhi and others are extraordinary not because they were ‘saints’ or perfect, but because they were ordinary people who found it within themselves to do extraordinary things. They were human! Alive! Just like you and I.” In the context of: we do a disservice to these people and to understanding how change occurs if we ‘glorify’ them or raise them as ‘saints’. That makes us believe that it takes ‘exceptional’ people. Unfortunately there are also some in the field who try to present themselves as ‘geniuses’, ‘creators’, the ‘sources’ of the field – often in ways very disempowering making people ‘excited and inspired’ by what ‘they’ can do but believing that only ‘geniuses’ and ‘gurus’ can do it. What would help: a field that respects, admires and empowers that which is within each of us – the wonderful as well as the terrible and the huge mundane and beautiful spectrum in between – and helps us (and where we help each other) to learn and see how, as beautiful, ordinary people, we too can engage and make a difference.

“Try breathing only in for 10 minutes”. In the context of: there are many people who say ‘you have to start from within’ and others who say you have to address what’s out there in the world. The reality is: the world is at its most fundamental levels relationship and interaction. Ideas of ‘starting from within’ to make yourself ‘perfectly peaceful’ or only working to address what’s without without also working on what’s within, are both disconnected and often deeply unhealthy. People do not need to be ‘perfect’ to make a difference. Of course it’s wonderful if people work to have healthy, balanced lives and inner peace, integrity and well-being, but one of the best mediators I know is someone who is a borderline managing alcoholic, who’s had suicidal tendencies, who’s divorced and had trouble relations with his children. This man, who’s had an exceptional, difficult life, is an artist and genius when he’s brought in the room with conflicting parties. His ability to bring them together is…exceptional. I’m not in my arrogance and self-righteousness going to deny his gift or ability and say ‘no(!), you should be a perfect model of peace’. You don’t need to have a happy life to know how to design an early warning system. You don’t need to be peaceful in all moments to be a tactical or strategic genius in nonviolence – as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and hundreds of others themselves prove! This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for inner balance, well-being, and to be models of integrity. It does suggest, however, that:

1. we should perhaps be less self-righteous/judgemental of others and not hold people to standards we impose, but be able to honour, respect, admire, learn from what they do and, if we feel more should be done or done better, engage to do that and bring that contribution ourselves;

2. we live in the world; we are part of a sensual, breathtaking, beautiful, and at times hurt, violent world. We carry much of this within us. Our environment and context matter – just as for plants, just as for all living things. If human beings grow up in environments/contexts where they are safe, respected, encouraged, that is a tremendous difference than if they grow up brutalised, raped, disempowered, without opportunity to go to school, without proper nutrition, etc. Neither context is ‘iron bound’ dictating the lives people will lead – but they do significantly shape and create conditions and opportunities. They idea of ‘try breathing in’ for only 10 minutes is that: as human beings we exist in our relationship and interaction with the world. Many teachings say that ‘the body is the lowest form’ and the ‘spirit is the highest’. I personally believe: the body, our sensual world, are extraordinary, beautiful, amazing. It does not and may not necessarily need to be ‘either’ ‘or’. We don’t need to value and praise one by demeaning and denigrating the other. That itself may be a reflection of a…contradiction, conflict within ourselves. Perhaps being able to intimately celebrate and value the beauty of body, mind and spirit, of physical, emoltional and intellectual, of the wonderful world within and without…and seeing how intricately, intimately and beautifully they are interwoven and connected…could be…healthy.

“How you walk through life, how you live your life, will enable you to reach higher levels.”  In the context of a discussion on meditation – that meditation should not only be an ‘act’, a moment ‘separate’ from our busy lives – a sanctuary of ‘peace’ which enables us to survive/handle a busy, turbulent world, but that we should endeavour to make our being and every moment ‘meditative’; also reflecting the interesting connection between breathing as central to the practice of meditation and…central to life; and the point that ‘achieving higher goals’ for ourselves is not only about doing that in ‘set contexts’ (ashrams, yoga studios, etc) but how we are in our every moment, in our lives, how we rise and respond, engage with, the actual world around us – ie. do we speak about peace, harmony, beauty, while remaining silent about drones, violations of human rights, massive wealth inequalities, etc? Do we find the peace of the fortunate, middle class and comfortable to care for the luxury of my own happiness, or do I choose to be a human being in the world and work for well being within and without? Is my mediation a casket or escape for myself from a world I find difficult and challenging, or empowerment for me to manifest and engage in that world to be the change I want to see

“’Meditators’ can find an inner well being, and then ignore the world around them. This actually is doing violence. It is enabling those with the opportunity and luxury to ‘retreat’ to their personal harmony; while sacrificing those without that opportunity to violence and injustice. Violence happens, violence can exist, not only because of those who do it, or the structures and institutions which embody it, but because of those who do pilates and meditation. What I mean isn’t that pilates and meditation are themselves violent. They shouldn’t be. The opposite: they can be deeply healthy. But in reality, how we often do them is to create a ‘sanctuary’ for ‘I’, for myself from the world without. At times this can be absolutely healthy and necessary; but when it becomes a ‘path’ of praise and celebration for my own virtue and well-being while I can turn my eye blindly to what happens to the world and to others, then it is the gun shot which kills soldiers and civilians, it is the lever or button that floods gas into the gas chamber, it is the firing button on the drone.”

“By doing service you are not being Self-less…..  you are fulfilling and defining Who You Are…. and Self realising. You are making a choice about who you want to be in the world and the world you want to live in. This isn’t negative. This is incredibly fulfilling and beautiful.”

“This idea of “perfect” is actually, I believe, deeply violent and ugly. It is degrading. It makes people feel ‘less than’.  Think of the magazines that show women how ‘women’ should look? How does that make you feel? Often deeply unhappy and bad about ourselves. This is a major factor in many people’s unhappiness and, in many cases, in suicide: imposing the idea of what is ‘normal’, perfect or good and calling everyone, everything else ‘abnormal’. Here’s what I say: you are gorgeous. In all our flaws, all our foolishness, all our kindness and faults – you, who you are, all of us, are beautiful. We are…an amazingly funky, absurd and wonderful species, and we would go a long way if we recognise and celebrate that, and don’t impose ‘models’, ideas of ‘perfect’.”

“When I practice, I watch videos of my best shots, and try to reproduce those best practices.” a quote by Tiger Woods

Kai Brand-Jacobsen
Director, Department of Peace Operations – (DPO)
Co-Leader and Head of Peace Operations & Integral Development, Global Peace Institute Hacettepe University International MA in Peace Studies
Skype: kai_jacobsen
Telephone: +40752295555

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s