From “Conflict Resolution” to “Conflict Transformation”
Krista Tippett, host
John Paul Lederach is one of the most esteemed names in conflict mediation in the world today. He is also Mennonite, an icon of this tradition that passionately embraces the biblical command to “be peacemakers.” John Paul Lederach insists on calling his work “conflict transformation” rather than the more commonly used term, “conflict resolution.” Across three decades, in over 25 countries on five continents, he has sought to help people transform their relationships with their enemies.
You can solve a problem without resolving a conflict, he points out. And you can resolve a conflict without setting real change in motion, without creating justice that will make the renewal of conflict less likely in the future. This, he says, is the true challenge of peacebuilding, one that always takes generations to accomplish. It is as much the work of creativity and “moral imagination” as of dialogue and commitment.
Much in John Paul Lederach’s vocabulary and toolkit is counter-cultural, from an American perspective, with our ignorance of history and fondness for quick fixes. These days, he tries only to take on projects where the participants are committed to ten-year efforts rather than those lasting one to two years. This, he says, makes the difference between a community that’s learning to be crisis-responsive rather than crisis-driven — where ingrained adversarial patterns of interaction become impossible to fall back on. That, of course, in an individual or collective life, is the mark of true change, and we all know from life that it takes time.
In Kanchanpur, Nepal, two facilitators take part in a community process to work on a conflict between Forest User Groups (young woman standing) and several groups of “encroachers” including a landless group and a Kamaiya (young man standing), or bonded laborers. (photo: Chup Thapa)
And, in our show “The Art of Peace” (audio above), he tells us remarkable stories from across the globe. These are stories that live below the radar of mainstream international news, and yet they offer powerful and empowering examples of real, systemic change in individual lives and in societies. He takes us inside a photograph of a dialogue, which you see above, between former enemies in Nepal. The participants range from ex-slaves to landless “untouchables,” to conservationists, to agencies regulating the use of forests. Their conflicts are the shape of the 21st century — a complex and perilous balancing act between the distribution of natural resources for a particular group’s survival and the greater good of preservation. Around the world, such conflicts are increasingly devolving into war. By contrast, in year seven of a ten-year process, these Nepalis are finding very creative and sustaining ways to honor their competing needs while nourishing a new common life.
Even as John Paul Lederach describes situations worlds away, his stories hold wisdom for all of us. Change, he asserts, always begins with a handful of people in relationship. In his writing, he makes a helpful distinction that while large-scale movements — including peace movements — can forge turning points, they tend to form around what they are opposing and do not necessarily carry the seeds of new, positive forms to shape the future. He is more interested in finding what he calls “critical yeast” rather than “critical mass.” To put it another way, in John Paul Lederach’s experience, enduring change is seeded not by large numbers of like-minded people, but by a quality of relationship between unlikely combinations of people.
This creativity and courage of relationship is evident in the Nepalis to whom he introduces us. It is there, likewise, in a remarkable organization of peasants in Colombia who have forged improbable relationships with warring militias, in whose conflicts they had previously been caught as victims and pawns. One of the principles of this group that has endured for over two decades is that “we will seek to understand those who do not understand us.” On the basis of formulating and living such an idea, they have created a heretofore unimaginably peaceful space for their children and grandchildren.
This is not, however, an abstract or sentimental conversation that denies the hardness of the tasks at hand. That same “successful” group in Colombia lost its founders to assassination, yet survived. In West Africa, where John Paul Lederach’s daughter Angie has followed in her father’s footsteps, the trauma of the horrific phenomenon of child soldiers goes far beyond anything that will be “resolved” in this lifetime. These young people have not only been brutalized, they have been forced to commit unspeakable violence against members of their own families and communities. We hear what John Paul and Angie Lederach have learned in a context like this about the non-linear and non-verbal nature of healing. He helps us understand why, even in the course of trauma in ordinary life, music and poetry can help us re-inhabit places in ourselves at the level of blood and bone, where violation has marked us and words cannot initially reach.
In my conversation with John Paul Lederach, we end in an unexpected place where his life and imagination have led him — a fascination with the ancient art of haiku as a way to capture what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “the simplicity on the other side of complexity” that emerges again and again as human beings navigate the overlapping territories between violence, trauma, healing, and hope. These haiku honor the difficulty of peace as much as its promise. He took this haiku, for example, from a candid conversation he had with a colleague in Northern Ireland, years after the Good Friday Agreement accords had been signed:
“Maybe,” he says, “This
is as good as it will get:
This conversation with John Paul Lederach is one of those redemptive experiences I get to have and share in this line of work — of discovering someone who is nourishing the world, though rarely making headlines. He emboldens the rest of us not to be overwhelmed by the unremitting images of violence and despair that come at us from every direction. He urges us to remember the importance of the immediacy of human relationships, especially the unlikely ones, and the worth of investing our imagination, courage, and time in them. This, too, is peace.
Peacebuilding in Pictures
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
John Paul Lederach is a peacebuilder who has worked on five continents and in over 25 countries. He travels four to five months a year, but he carved out a couple hours to visit with Krista. His interview is featured in “The Art of Peace” this week.
While traveling in Europe and in between flights, he forwarded a handful of photographs of his peacebuilding efforts in Ghana, Nepal, and the Philippines. His daughter Angie, who worked with former child soldiers in West Africa, provided several more images, including the one above of war-affected girls from a skills building program in Sierra Leone. We thought we’d share some of them with you:
(photo: Chup Thapa from the Federation of Community Forest Users)
In the image above, a community process takes place in Kanchanpur, Nepal to deal with conflicts over land and natural resources use between several opposing groups including former slaves, landless “untouchables,” conservationists, and government officials. John Paul Lederach describes this process in detail to Krista and says this photograph represents seven years of patient peacebuilding. People from all sides of the conflict participated and they used the metaphor of a Nepali soup called kwati to frame their work together. Kwati is made from nine different beans and, as Lederach explains, “every bean retains its flavor … but when they’re brought together the nine beans create a flavor that’s good for the whole. So there have to be some of us that also think about the good of the whole of the community.”
First Time Flying a Kite
Trent Gilliss, online editor
The footage spliced together in the video above comes directly from the home library of Adele Diamond and her husband, Don. During her interview, she told Krista the following story:
So I think mysteries are just wonderful. It’s very interesting because when I made this book for the Dalai Lama, I put a lot of love and time and effort into it. And my husband said, who came with me to Dharamsala said, ‘If you’re going to give him a present, I want to give him a present too.’ So he wanted to give him a kite because he didn’t think the Dalai Lama got to spend enough time playing. …
And so then he found online that he could get a package of 10 plain undecorated kites very inexpensively. So he asked me if I could find classes of school children to decorate them. So I contacted a colleague, Kim Schonert-Reichl, and she helped me find a class of children with developmental disorders, many of them ADHD, who were either not on medication or on reduced medication because they were doing mindfulness. So they had heard of the Dalai Lama, and they were very excited to be decorating these kites. And there were two children per kite. So on one side, they did self portraits, so it looked like a Picasso because half of the kite is one child’s face and half of the kite is the other child’s face. Anyway, so my husband brings all these to Dharamsala and we get a private audience with His Holiness and we had the wisdom not to bring all the kites with us to the audience because the Dalai Lama said thank you but it was very clear he wasn’t going to fly any kites; he’s was going to put them in a drawer.
So after that we went to visit Matthieu Ricard at Katmandu, where he has a Tibetan monastery. And he has many humanitarian projects in connection with that and one of them are schools for poor children. Any background, doesn’t matter, religious or ethnic. They call it bamboo schools because the buildings are all made out of bamboo. So we went to these bamboo schools and we brought the rest of the kites and we gave it to the children there. They had never flown kites before, and they were so happy to be flying these kites. And Matthieu was so happy to see the children so happy. And we took photos and videos and I brought them back to the class in Vancouver to the children who had been studying mindfulness and I showed them the pictures and they were so happy to see how happy they had made the other children.
And one of them said, ‘You know, we’re on the other side of the world but we’re all connected.’”
As if Diamond’s descriptions of the Dalai Lama, Nepal, bamboo schools, and children painting kites weren’t enticing enough, we wanted to visualize the scene of those children flying kites. What strikes me is an immense amount of joy — the children playing and Adele and Don watching their gift come to life. I hope you enjoy these few minutes of seeing the world through an act of simplicity — flying and entangling a kite in a tree.