Working towards peace and reconciliation means ongoing efforts—daily, weekly, monthly, annually—on many fronts—political, social, economic, cultural, psychological, behavioral, and more. Jen Fullerton has extensive experience in Human Resource Development and has seen the concept of “Emotional Intelligence” grow in popularity in the corporate field as organizations make efforts to develop more effective communication among employees and help them resolve conflicts and tensions in constructive, sustainable ways. She writes about her frustrations when the benefits of training too often disappeared without follow-up. “A consultant conducted a workshop in an organization where I formerly worked. The workshop was excellent. However, it proved to be more of a temporary bonding experience than a real or deep learning experience because the communication tools were quickly forgotten after the workshop. Employees in the division resumed their old habits and little of substance changed.”
Fullerton draws an example about workplace conflicts from Deborah Tannen’s (1998) The Argument Culture: “Women at work frequently express puzzlement at how men can argue with each other and then continue as if nothing happened. In a parallel way, men at work are often surprised when women are deeply upset by a verbal attack—taking personally what the men feel is simply part of getting the job done” (195-196).
Assess your own experiences with workshops or training in conflict resolution, reconciliation, communication, or other aspects of peacemaking. Consider what kinds of follow up would have ensured greater success.
We can also learn much about peace and reconciliation from the study of leaders, both national and community. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes in detail his life in South Africa, from his boyhood to his active resistance to racial apartheid, the 27 years he spent in prison on Robbin Island, and his leadership in the movement toward democracy that eventually led to his election as President. Yet, Mandela has always been clear about the ongoing challenges that everyone must rise to meet if we are to leave our worlds better than how we found them. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended” (625). Shifting our focus from meeting conflicts with anger, defensiveness and force, we take that longer perspective, build on progress from the past and keep moving forward.
Take a moment to list several examples of peace and reconciliation that you have seen in your lifetime, whether personal, national, or international. Note what underlies them, what connects them. Identify your role and/or reaction to each. Now look off to the future and identify those challenges that await us all and what paths lay ahead. What will be your role? What actions will you take to address the conflicts in your future?
Bill Timpson has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years and a member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club where his focus on sustainable peacebuilding in Burundi, East Africa, has been supported by two Global Grants. What follows is adapted from his 2009 book, 147 Tips for Teaching Peace and Reconciliation, co-authored with an international group of peace scholars that included Ed Brantmeier, Nat Kees, Tom Cavanagh, Claire McGlynn and Elavie Ndura (Madison, WI: Atwood). If you have questions or ideas, contact Bill: firstname.lastname@example.org