As I mentioned last month, I am excited to see the Masteries used more and more worldwide and in very different contexts. This month I’d like to share with you how my husband Michael and I, together with a multi-national team of coaches, are planning to use them as a resource for communities facing violent conflicts and political or religious tensions. We look forward to witnessing the empowerment that is possible for these communities through the use and application of the Masteries.
Up until now, resolving major national or international conflicts has been a task for political leaders. They could negotiate with “the enemy” and expect that, by and large, people would accept that a conflict was over if they, the leaders, considered that people’s needs and terms had been met.
However, over the last 30-40 years, it has become apparent that the nature of conflict has changed radically. Now, leaders might decide to sign a peace agreement saying that a conflict is resolved, but any number of people might disagree. Peace negotiations between leaders don’t resolve the underlying bitterness and anger that are created by conflicts.
Today that anger is often expressed in dangerous ways, causing serious wounding and loss of life. Street protests, assassinations and suicide bombings are just a few examples. Peace agreements that take months or years to negotiate can fall apart in a matter of days. In fact, the risk of breakdown is now so high that many leaders are reluctant even to attempt to reach an agreement, knowing that street-level opposition and actions might soon make them look out-of-touch and impotent.
It seems that a new way forward is required to enable conflict resolution to be successful and to repair this dangerous pattern. We need to find ways to address the anger, bitterness and disagreement on the street, to pave the way for peace before political leaders try to reach a conclusion. Our idea is to facilitate face-to-face communication between ordinary people on opposing sides, using a variety of methods and models including coaching skills and the Masteries. It is only practical to facilitate meetings between small numbers, but we will test the effectiveness of broadcasting these sessions to allow a larger group to comment and vote—influencing public opinion by making the process interactive.
We hope to help people see that the actions of violent militants are not helping to achieve worthwhile goals. Participants will be encouraged to focus on what is right versus what is wrong, and on what they really want. They will be encouraged to identify and share their own needs and feelings (Mastery #4).
By acknowledging their own thoughts and the needs which shape their feelings, they will see how they can liberate themselves from cultural conditioning (Mastery #2). As they hear each other’s needs and feelings, and as they empathise with each other (Mastery #3), stress can be magically defused. The more we hear others, the more we are able to recognize our common humanity. This is important because violence comes from the belief that others cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment. When we judge others we contribute to violence.
Clarity can be gained by examining questions such as: How long has bombing been a main instrument of policy and what has it achieved (Mastery #6)? Possibility can be created by asking: What might work better? Can we create a way forward together, taking all our needs into consideration (Mastery #8)?
One useful step might be to invite both sides to visualise an outcome that would seem ideal to them several years into the future (Masteries #4, #8 and #9) and to design the final steps needed to put it in place, instead of talking about concessions that might have to be made tomorrow.
Building bridges between peoples and looking back from a vision of the future to see how it can be reached and initiated now (Mastery #9) is much more inspiring than starting with concessions to the demands of a sworn enemy. In fact, one wonders how peace negotiations which start with immediate concessions and which don’t deal with fear, anger and bitterness can ever hope to work.
Another key element conflict resolution is to explore and develop the identity of people who feel overwhelmed by conflict. Many start to see revenge, land ownership or another point of principle as vital and central to their identity. People who can be assisted to see themselves as valid and strong and worthy in their own right (Mastery #2) are more likely to be able to separate themselves from their attachments to the outcome of a conflict.
The concepts outlined here are excerpts from a new approach to the resolution of violent disputes called Out of Conflict. If you have a special interest in finding a solution to a current major conflict, and feel you have valuable skills or resources to offer, you are invited to outline your interest in an email to OutofConflict@gmail.com. Please do not expect an early response because those involved are committed to their immediate task and goals, but would be pleased to hear from people who might help towards those goals.
This article originally appeared in VOICE, the newsletter of the International Association of Coaching (www.certifiedcoach.org), and is reposted with permission.