Finding a Path

This summer we visited Colorado where we were born and a place we call home. The time away provided a welcome breather from the barrage of news. Hiking in the mountains, spending time together, put life in a different perspective.

In an increasingly complex world, we get confused. Why is there so much turmoil? Is there room for everyone? How can we all coexist peacefully when people believe such divergent things? What causes people to hate?

Some think that learning to tolerate each other holds promise. Tolerance is a low bar, but maybe it is a place to start. We all have different perspectives based on our families, our communities, our experiences, and our cultures. One is not better than the other, just different. That is what many people learned growing up. When we read the news, it is clear that was something some of us forgot along the way.

Still, we can remember. We can begin with one person and be kinder, more accepting, and at the very least be tolerant. It may mean we don’t try to get people to believe the same as we do. It may mean we have to set aside stereotypes. It may mean we have to just accept everyone as other humans on this planet. It is a start.

Martin Luther King said, “If we don’t learn to live together as brothers, we will perish together as fools.” That is what we learned when we were growing up. It would serve us well now.


We belong


Enjoying the beauty available during this time of year, it is hard not to recognize how everything is connected. We have so much to appreciate about the sun, the sky, the flowers, the animals, and the plants.  Sometimes, we do not see all of the connections.  It is easier to see the beauty of the outdoors, but not the beauty each person brings to us each day. Sometimes we even go further. We characterize someone as "the other" or "the enemy." It is then we forget that we are the same, a part of a larger natural order.  

Mother Teresa once said that "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." 

Enjoying nature is incredible and important all year long. Bringing peace means we also must remember that we can find the beauty in each other as well.


In the Zulu culture, "Ubuntu" roughly means that a person is a person because of other people, "I am because we are." From the rich, African philosophy we can learn the value of community. 

A class I was teaching this semester, the Psychology of Mediation, found this word to have special meaning today. The students learned that it is through our appreciation of our  interdependence, we can be better people and create a better world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that we are inextricably connected. What one of us does, impacts us all. 

“Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Watching the students, from a variety of backgrounds, look at the concept of "Ubuntu" confirmed my confidence in our shared future.  These young future leaders understood the responsibility of being global citizens and the importance of respecting each other. I was humbled and proud of them.

It is important for any of us hoping for peace to learn the responsibility we have not just for ourselves and our own actions, but for each other.



We all encounter them. We think we are going along fine, and something comes up to stop us, to cause us to turn around, to find another direction. With physical roadblocks, we know the road will be repaired, the tree cleared, the problem moved out of the way.  It is even more disconcerting when the roadblock is with people.  Maybe it is another person's making, or maybe, if we really look closely, something we helped to create.

Unfortunately, it happens more often than we want.  We have to reconsider what happened to create it and then begin the process of deciding if it is something to be overcome or a new direction needs to be developed. Most often, we need to work through what occurred or we risk encountering a similar roadblock. 

Stephen Covey indicacates that in any conflict we need to "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  There is wisdom in helping to understand the issue before we express our concern over the roadblock.  Once we can hear the other perspective, we are most likely to be able to respect the conflict from another perspective. It might not even be important to express our full frustration and self-interest. 

We don't have to fume or fret or rehearse how we will tell someone what bothers us. We could take time to hear the other perspective. Sometimes, roadblocks can offer us ways to better understand each other and ourselves. Roadblocks ultimately might be an opportunity for a better relationship, if we are only open to it.




Point of View

Albert Einstein once said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Habitual thought and communication patterns are often at the root of many disputes.  We as peacemakers need to help people see the way we can get stuck in one point of view. All of us are guilty of jumping to the conclusion that we know exactly what people are going to say when they begin to speak. As a result, we tune out and do not really listen to what people are saying. Usually, we are busy forming our own response to what we believe will be said and the cycle continues....

In mediation and other peace work, it is often necessary to encourage the people in conflict to try out a different viewpoint. Sometimes it means seeing the conflict from the perspective of the other person, by "stepping into their shoes." It may involve looking at potential outcomes, should the conflict continue.  What is the best alternative or the worst outcome of the conflict? By looking at these options, it may move the individuals out of their habitual patterns. It may even help them move to a place where problems can be resolved. It can also allow people to be respected and valued.  A different point of view means taking a step back to see the bigger picture.  


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On a recent moonless night, I stepped outside into a world of silence. Snowfall and cold temperatures caused people to stay inside, and the only sound was a faint rattling of the few remaining dry leaves in the overhanging branches. The quiet was serene and noticeable. So few times in our modern lives are we immersed in quiet and have the opportunity for our minds to focus. Despite the cold, I lingered, relishing the silence. Opportunities to connect with our true selves are enhanced in such moments of silence

Lao Tzu reminds us that “silence is a source of great strength.” In our work as mediators and trainers, one of the lessons we need to remember is that silence is a valuable tool. Often, if just afforded the space, one of the participants will say just what is needed to move the process forward. The wisdom is in the room and it is not solely the property of the mediator or trainer. It is easy to fill the void and, often the expectation is that the “expert” should "keep it moving." However, filling the void in that way might discourage a participant from suggesting the very idea that allows for transformation in the relationship or a resolution of a conflict. Sometimes, the answer is in the silence.


Facing our issues

We live in a world that provides endless ways of being distracted.  We can circumvent direct communication through using texts, photos, and messages. We can prevent connecting by being consumed by our electronic devices. We can keep ourselves busy by immersing ourselves in social media. It is easy to escape being known and easier to avoid knowing ourselves.

A background in psychology led to a deeper respect for self awareness.  It was probably the years of training, supervision, as well as therapy that helped me to understand the importance of making peace with myself.  However, for me at least, it has been a journey, not a destination.  It is a continual journey of looking at issues that were only partially resolved. Each realization leads to greater humility, acceptance, and peace. 

It is from this perspective, that we see the importance of self-knowledge in the mediation process. Being aware of "self" allows us  to see how our issues are impacting other people. It also helps us in developing compassion.  By learning to forgive ourselves, we can easier forgive other people. But, it means being willing to avoid the distractions and being willing to take time to look at our fallibilities. 




Freedom or Safety?

If we had to choose, what would we prefer, freedom or safety?  It is a difficult choice. Most of us want both. However, our answer might depend on our experiences and our history. If we have had to fight for our rights, freedom is most dear. Safety might be more important if we have experienced injury or alternatively, enjoyed many privileges.  In either case, freedom might be less important than being safe.  

A noted psychologist, Abraham Maslow indicated that safety is critical before we can develop into more self-actualized beings.  However, he may not have understood the world view of individuals who have been enslaved, either physically or figuratively.  Freedom is so important for refugees, that many compromise safety for liberty and independence.  It is also possible that individuals want to protect what they have and will sacrifice core  freedoms such as freedom of  speech, freedom of the  press, freedom to assemble, freedom of religious thought, or freedom to petition the government when aggrieved.   

It creates an interesting challenge for individuals who are in conflict. Sometimes, the distance between people seems insurmountable.  For progress to be made, it is critical for us to understand the context of our perceptions.  With that knowledge, we can begin to build respect for differences.  We can also help people come together to resolve conflict and find peace.  However, often it takes time, willingness to listen, and courage to face our fears of what could be lost.  


Where do "our" people come from?

Recently, my granddaughter asked me the question listed above and I had to pause before answering.  She wanted to know about her heritage and place in this world.  At some level, we all want to know where we come from and where we belong.

My response was different today than it would have been even six months earlier. Having received a gift of one of the genetic testing services, I know things my parents never told me.  The report offered information, that they too may not have known. 

Growing up, I had heard that my family was from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany. There was some thought that there might be Native American ancestry also, but it wasn't ever definite. 

When it came back that our ancestors were from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany I wasn't surprised.  However, I could tell my granddaughter that we also had ancestors from Greece, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Africa, Malaysia, and India. We come from all over the globe.  Any one of these places could be our home.

Interesting.  Hopefully, all future generations know that "our people" include a wide spectrum of the individuals inhabiting this planet. We are more alike than different and have the potential to connect and work together as family, if given the opportunity.  

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