25th Anniversary of Peacemaking: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management

Jun 21, 2013

The year 2013 was the 25th anniversary of my first book, Peacemaking: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management. Since publication, I have learned many things about this work. First, I learned peacebuilding does not pay well and I would have to find a real job. Then, inside the federal government, I realized that what I wrote about the technology, psychology and theory of peace-seeking dialogs is relevant in any setting in any location and at any time.

From the facilitator perspective, bringing people together on opposite sides of a conflict requires a clear design for the dialog, an understanding of the key issues and genine respect for all participants. Debates and bombs do not solve problems; face-to-face dialog is the only pathway to shared solutons.

The psychology of peacemaking considers individual, group and cultural dynamics. The group dynamic was always the fascination for me. Within the psychological dynamics of the group-as-a-whole, I found my theory of peacemaking: People joined together in face-to face dialogue tap patterns of balance and rhythms of harmony across multiple levels of awareness.

To see the theory in action, to find the patterns of balance, shift your observations from the part to the whole -- from looking at John in the group to listening to the group-as-a-whole. We step back to find the group dynamic, the larger patterns – aggression, blaming, attitudes towards authority, splitting into sub-groups, support, healing and peacemaking.

My 1970s research looked at the basic building blocks of group dynamics. Istudied categories of words spoken in face-to-face groups: “hate” would go in the “Anger” catgory and “understand”” in the “Support” category. My interpretation of the data: ANGER attracts ANALYSISPAIN attracts SUPPORT, STRESS attracts ACTION. I also found that after about 6 hours of dialog, I and ME are less frequent and WE is used more frequently.

My conclusion: The basic building blocks of group dynamics are paired clusters each with the potential for balance. A good facilitator knows this. When someone in the group voices anger, another will ask “what is the anger really about?” When someone shares personal pain, a good facilitator waits for the group to respond with support. After acknowledging the stress of continued conflict, the group finds the actions that provide solutions.

There was more. I had moved west in the early 1980s, drawn to the intellectual climate in Berkeley, California and promptly got lost in quantum physics land. My writing about patterns of balance found the language of fields in nature. People joined together in face-to-face dialog generate a field of energy. As the content of the conversation moves along, beneath the surface, group patterns constantly emerge, connect and dissolve into a shared field.

At the same time, along with the words and patterns of group dynamics, in conversation, we both assert our unique views and identify with the group. We find our individual voice and relate to the group-as-a-whole. This rhythm of separating and belonging unifies individual and group identity. Here is the theory of peacemaking:  people joined together in face-to face dialogue tap patterns of balance and rhythms of harmony across multiple levels of awareness.The patterns and rhythms of group dynamics drive those transformational moments that can only happen in face-to-face discussion. When people listen closely to each other, a participant may have a change of heart, a new awakening, a personal decision to forgive and work together on a sahred solution.

In the past 25 years, I have learned about a larger context that Ambasador John McDonald calls Multi-Track Diplomacy. In any conflict, there is always simultaneous activity on many tracks working to reduce violence and resolve that situation. Government officials, non-profits, community leaders, peace activists, businesses, the faith community, music, the arts, education and others will always work to reduce violence and resolve conflict. The challenge is for the tracks to work together.

My most important realization since 1988 is to distinguish between the activities of peacebuilding and the psychological dynamics of peacemaking.  Peacebuilding is active – a ceasefire, a gang truce, a framework for peace, a mentor for a teenager who just got arrested for the first time. These are the activities of peacebuilding.

Peacemaking is psychological; it’s internal. Peacemaking is embedded in the face-to-face dialog that goes with the activities of peacebuilding. It happens with deep listening. It’s a personal transformation, a change of heart, forgiveness, a decision not to hate. In New York City, it’s when people on probation decide to give back to the community they have harmed.

As an alumni of the reinventing government efforts of the 1990s, I now believe that 21st century governance includes the activities of peacebuilding, the psychological dynamics of peacemaking and a renewed effort to fix government. New York City demonstrates this beautifully – violence, crime, re-arrests and incarceration are going down. Local peace and local justice are stronger with government understanding and very effective programs to serve local communities.

Those patterns of balance and rhythms of harmony have followed me through the decades.  My best advice today: have faith in the depth and wisdom of face-to-face dialog.