Peacemaking and conflict-resolution—whether between individuals, groups, communities, or nations—require a transformation of consciousness to overcome conflict. This transformation will require a shift of awareness so that shared needs and commonalities are realised and honoured as well as differences; historic events are reframed from a fuller perspective; and limiting beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes about the relationship are released. Often a third party will be required to facilitate, mediate, or support the process, although it is possible for peace to be made without a third party—if there is sufficient will and the appropriate skills and strategies are used.
What Causes Conflict?
Conflict is based on differences of needs, values, ideas, interests, and perceptions, but is essentially caused by strong emotional reactivity, poor communication, misunderstanding, narrow self-interest, and an incomplete understanding of the conflict, its cause, and the available options to create a win-win situation. Ultimately, conflict is created when we are in an unresourceful state in which we lack mindfulness, are not present in our centre, and lose our sense of commonality and shared identity. The art of peacemaking is the ability to develop a resolution with a whole perspective that unites the conflicting parties by valuing and integrating difference, with a cooperative spirit born of shared needs, commonality, and shared identity.
Peacemaking and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of consciously directing our attention to our inner and outer experience in the present moment, without reactivity or distraction. It is of benefit if peacemakers and parties to a conflict are able to develop the practice of mindfulness during the peacemaking process to assist the transformation of consciousness, and to bring into play the magic ingredients of authenticity, compassion, and gratitude.
- Authenticity ensures that we are responding to our authentic needs rather than the reactivity of attachment or aversion. Within the context of peacemaking, authenticity means that we are centred in our authentic self and are embracing and addressing our authentic needs—which include the needs for inner peace and growth, supportive relationships, and wholeness.
- Compassion awakens our empathy and our desire to relieve suffering in ourselves and others. Within the context of peacemaking, this means that we become aware of the suffering within all parties that causes conflict and is the result of conflict, and that we act on the desire to relieve it.
- Gratitude awakens us to the blessings before us that may otherwise be shrouded by the mind’s distraction and distortions of perception. Within the context of peacemaking, these blessings include the opportunities for growth, cooperation, and healing presented by the peacemaking process.
Mindfulness helps us to free ourselves from the reactive mind that can prevent peacemaking by locking us into judgement, resentment, and conflict. Mindfulness also helps us to become fully present to our authentic self and to the other person, which improves communication and understanding. It enables us to perceive things more fully and inclusively, within the context of a greater whole, and so integrates rather than divides. If practised deeply enough, mindfulness can open us up to experience the most powerful healing force in peacemaking: our sense of shared identity or interbeing with the other person.
In my post The Skill of Mindful Relating I wrote about why conflict occurs in relationships, and how we can use mindfulness to resolve it by being sufficiently clear and present to experience the humanity of the other person, and to open to the sense of shared being. Mindful relating essentially means that we do not identify our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, judgements, and reactive feelings with the person before us, but see them instead as they truly are: a pure centre of being. Mindfulness gives us greater choice about how to respond to conflict.
The Art of Peacemaking
The art of peacemaking that I teach incorporates the traditional strategies of conflict-resolution with the practice of mindfulness and a reference to the authentic self. Without an element of mindfulness, peace talks or reconciliation can be hampered, even when mediators are present. This is because reactivity can preserve or strengthen our resistance to the other party, even if we believe peace or conflict-resolution is a good idea and are willing to talk peace. Peace talks or reconciliation can also be hampered because mindfulness is required for greater awareness and for exorcising the demons or negative thinking that can sabotage peace. This is why parties can reluctantly agree to a peace plan, only to later go back on their word: inner forces were at work to sabotage the peace agreement.
Here are 9 steps for effective peacemaking:
- Use mediation and peace sponsorship when needed. Sometimes the conflicting parties are not currently able to access all the required skills or resources to succeed in peacemaking. They may be too immersed in reactivity such as resentment and defensiveness to soften enough to allow peace to happen. Many people are not skilled in effective communication, let alone peacemaking. Therefore, support and mediation can be provided by a neutral party who is skilled in promoting engagement, dialogue, effective communication, understanding, negotiation, and mindfulness to further peace.
- Ensure that the boundaries of all parties are honoured. Honouring boundaries means that each party honours the needs, values, interests, and self-determination of the other party, without trying to change the other party for their own benefit. All parties should agree to this as a ground rule. Ensuring that the boundaries of the conflicting parties are honoured also applies to any party external to the conflict. Sometimes external parties foment and escalate tensions and conflict in order to destabilise relations and impose “solutions” that further their agendas and causes. This is often seen politically where the conflict is between sectarian groups and countries and an external party is interested in profiting from the conflict or establishing a regime change as a result of the conflict.
- Make a joint commitment to conflict-resolution and peace. Commitment to peace is essential for peacemaking to begin. Can all parties agree that peace is necessary and that it should be prioritised as a shared need? Can all parties agree on cooperating to remove the obstructions to peace? The commitment that all parties make to peace requires determination and patience to keep seeking peace even in the face of resistances and setbacks. It also requires that parties trust that a solution is available and will emerge given the right conditions. One of these conditions is the understanding that the conflict is jointly created, and is not caused by people but by unresourceful states.
- Begin dialogue that is supported by effective communication. The dialogue starts by addressing each party’s needs and frustrations, and what they think the conflict is about. Effective communication is essential in peacemaking for parties to understand each other’s needs and grievances, with the skills of active listening, emotional awareness, genuineness, non-verbal communication, and mindfulness. It is important—particularly in the delicate situation of conflict-resolution—for each party to speak respectfully to each other, without criticism or accusation, and that each party takes responsibility for their experience, instead of blaming it on the other party or personalising problems. This is the reason for Step 2. Communication should focus on specifics to increase clarity, and be as free of generalisations and vagueness as possible. During communication, all parties should ensure that they have been heard and are hearing each other correctly: restating, paraphrasing, and summarising what has been said are important skills for this. I describe the elements of effective communication in my post How to Communicate Effectively.
- Appraisal of the situation. Here is the opportunity for parties to reflect on what has been said and to understand the combined role of each other’s motives, interests, perceptions, values, and needs in the conflict, as well as each other’s frustrations and hurts. This step requires humility and honesty by both parties to accept that neither party is free of responsibility for the conflict, and that change is required by both parties—however risky—to resolve the conflict. This step should be concluded with all parties agreeing on a summary of what the conflict is about, even if the deeper understanding of the conflict and the potential for its resolution has not yet been realised.
- Practise being in centre and embodying the authentic self. This step is the key to establishing genuine, deeper peace between parties, rather than reluctant agreements. Using mindfulness or meditation, each party can take a few moments to let go of their thoughts and emotions and to connect with their authentic self or centre of being that exists beneath these thoughts and emotions. The inner peace that can emerge at this stage can reduce stress and reactivity and pave the way for outer peace, especially as compassion and gratitude are awakened as natural states of being. As each party becomes more centred and reactive defences are dropped, things can be seen more clearly and positively, and problems between parties turn into opportunities for growth.
- Deepen self-inquiry. Deepening self-enquiry enables each party to look inwards to develop a deeper understanding of the conflict and the potential for peace. Each party can consider of themselves: What are my authentic needs, and what are merely my reactive desires? What ego-based attachments masquerade as my needs? What are my shadow projections? How is my reactive mind sabotaging the resolution of conflict? Historical cultural traditions and identifications running along the lines of ethnicity, religion, and political ideology, as well as character backgrounds and personalities, can often cloud or distort perception and become the scapegoats of conflict when the reactive mind is at work. Self-inquiry can bring to conscious awareness the psychological patterns that get in the way of authentic relating, as well as narrow self-interest and irrational expectations. With deeper self-inquiry, the realisation of shared needs can emerge—one of which will be peace.
- Develop a whole picture of the self and the situation. In this step each party can build upon Step 6 to move beyond the narrow self-interest of the ego and open to a wider self-interest in which the authentic needs of one party are honoured with the authentic needs of the other party. It is important for each party to find a way to respect and welcome difference as useful and enriching to the relationship between both parties, and to allow awareness of a common identity and humanity to emerge as a uniting force between parties. In this step each party realises that there is a wider context or whole—a bigger picture—that incorporates and is enriched by the diversity of each individual party. Both parties realise that they are part of the same whole, and are part of the solution, rather than the problem.
- Establish a way forward—a common vision and agreement—that clears obstacles and meets shared needs. Here problem-solving skills are used cooperatively, and options are discussed that meet each party’s differing needs and shared needs to create a win-win situation. Attachments to old perspectives are released as fuller, more inclusive perspectives are developed. Old anachronistic ways of relating—based on old contracts, promises, agreements, policies, and assumptions make way for new ways of relating—even if this means that a couple decide to separate, one religion accepts another religion, or two countries pull down the wall between them. When a common vision and agreement is reached, it is embodied clearly in a peace plan or peace treaty. In this peace plan or treaty, parties list the support that is required and define the boundaries of each party that are to be respected. A commitment to continued dialogue, understanding, respect, and mindful relating is made.
Peacemaking is a rewarding process. It increases awareness, relieves suffering, leads to greater growth and self-development, and heals relationships. Peacemaking can be practised in relationships, families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Peacemaking can be practised nationally and internationally. Peacemaking makes the world a better place to live in. What can you do to make peace with others today?
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