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If you’d lost a loved one in the terrorist attacks of 2001, how would you have responded? We found that some victims family members channeled their grief into a work for peace by joining a group called September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Among the group members we spoke to in 2007 was Anne Mulberry whose son Stephen was trapped in a conference room in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and died that day.
Mulberry: As far as enemies and who we view as the cause of our troubles, I’ll tell this little story because it was one of the first instances of my being brave enough to speak my mind after my son’s death and I spoke my mind to a truly treasured person who came to me and said, “What they have done to your son is so terrible and I know they are in hell.” And I love this person who said those words to me and I knew it was an attempt to comfort me. It was a desire to comfort me and I said to him, “All I can say is that my darling son Stephen has gotten to another world in the company of the people who did this and all I can see is him saying to them as I heard him say to his brothers on the basketball court; ‘What did you do that for?’ when somebody had done something they shouldn’t have done.”
I don’t know how to explain my faith. That is the case, but I do believe that we all share in the guilt of the violent solutions that are affected in our lifetime and I believe we can all share in the healing and peace if we will struggle. As Martin Luther King said, and that’s the name of our group, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” If you think you can make a peaceful tomorrow with a war, you’re a foolish person.
Mairead McGuire was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Betty Williams in 1976 for their work for peace in Northern Ireland. She spoke with Peace Talks Radio in 2006.
McGuire: We need to work so that we don’t have terrorism in the world, but the best way in which to do that is to uphold human rights and international laws, but to deal with the root causes of violence.
It’s very important to ask the question; why do young people use violence? I lived in Northern Ireland. I’ve seen young people within my own community taking up guns for the arms struggle in Ireland and I had to try to understand what possess a young person to take a gun or to go on hunger strikes to the death or to be a suicide bomber.
What I came to realize is that we’re each born with an innate sense of justice and human dignity and when that justice is abused by states or governments and that human dignity is denied when our basic civil rights to food or home, right to our own country, when those things are taken away from us, then we get very, very angry and what do we do with that anger? We must, in all consciousness protest injustice. You cannot sit back and say it doesn’t matter, I’m doing nothing.
When you see it injustice, be it poverty, be it human rights, be it an invasion and occupation of your country, you must resist, but we have to learn the ways of non-violence resistance because violence is always wrong. Armed suicide bombing, that’s wrong, but if we don’t try to tackle the root causes of why people go this extreme, it’s a call of despair. It’s a call of despair. I’m afraid we are not going to be able to solve these problems.
Peace Talks Radio spotlighted the work of a summer peace camp in Northern New Mexico that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth to learn empathy for each other’s struggles. Friendships often develop as it did between Israeli Jew May Freed and Palestinian from Gaza Jwana Ghaleb who speaks first here with our host Carol Boss about trying to get through an Israeli checkpoint after being ordered to turn back arbitrarily it seemed to her.
Ghaleb: All the people in the car, they were in fear like Juana, don’t talk to the solider. He will arrest you or he will hit you or shoot you or something. My dad was so afraid because I wouldn’t stop talking to him, but even then, I talked to him. The soldier didn’t speak Arabic and I don’t speak Hebrew. We talked in English and I tried to communicate with him because I know at the end, even if he told me this is the army and there is no humanity, at some point, he’s a person, he’s a human and he will think about it.
Boss: So beyond the face, beyond his eyes, you were able at that point to see a human being beyond the soldier who may have had a gun that he was holding.
Ghaleb: Yes because I know that every person like has a human being inside his heart, but the situation made him be bad or think in this way. So I tried to talk to him about human beings because I knew that when he would think about it, he would think of humanity or remember that there is something called “humanity.” That’s what I learned also from Creativity for Peace.
Boss: So I want to ask both of you; do you think, for example, learning how to listen and how to speak and being able to see the humanity in the other is a pathway to peace ?
Freed: Absolutely. When you learn to speak your truth, people are listening. When you try to speak people’s truth or like nation’s truth and everybody has his own truth and it just causes antagonism, but when you speak your own truth, people can notice that you’re a human being and nobody can ignore that for the long-term because everybody has this human being inside of them. So when you show that you are a human being, it’s much, much easier to listen to you as a human and to treat you better and I think that that’s a little secret many people don’t know. They try to talk as if they’re like representing a group or an idea instead of just representing themselves.
Rick Steves, who hosts popular public TV and radio programs about travel, talked with Suzanne Kryder of Peace Talks Radio about how international travel can promote peacemaking.
Steves: I was in Iran a year ago and a lot of people said, “Oh, you’re going to Iran? That must be so scary.” Yeah, I was a little scared. In fact, we came within just inches of deciding to leave our big expensive TV camera in Athens and flying in with our little penny sneak camera thinking if people knew we were in the American film industry in the streets of Teheran, they’re going to be throwing stones at us.
We got there, thank goodness we kept our big camera, and I’ve never been received so warmly. I was stuck in a traffic jam in Tehran and the next car motioned to my driver to roll down his window. He handed over a bouquet of flowers and he said, “Give this to the foreigner in your backseat and apologize for our traffic.” There were no grounds for fear for individual walking the streets of Iran and me, this big proponent of “don’t be afraid,” I was afraid. It’s just a normal inclination when you go to places that you’ve read about from I think bad media, you develop fears. A cool think about travel is you overcome those fears.
Kryder: How do you do that?
Steves: Well, by meeting people. I mean I met those people in Iran. A woman walked across the street to me and she pounded her finger on my chest and she said, “I want you to go home and tell the truth; we’re strong, we’re united, and we don’t want our children to be raised like Britney Spears. “Oh,” I thought, she’s motivated by fear and love just like a lot of Americans. She’s afraid if American values crept into their society, she would lose her child; that her child would become a boy toy or a sex addict or a drug addict or a materialist and she’s got her own family values that she’s afraid of.
Later on I was in another traffic jam in Tehran. In a city of 14 million people, there’s a lot of traffic jams. We were stuck in this traffic jam and suddenly my driver just blurted out; “Death to traffic!” And here I am under a sign that says, “Death to Americans,” and the driver is saying “Death to traffic!” I asked him, “What’s going on? I thought it was ‘death to American’ or ‘death to Israel.’” He said, “No, in Iran, whenever something frustrating to us or just out of our control, we say, “Death to …” so death to traffic. Right he’s probably saying “Death to election fraud,” or “Death to Ahmadinejad.” So we can take these things in bumper sticker kind of intelligence and think; oh, they all want to kill Americans or we can realize that they’re frustrated. The way they say “damn” is by saying “death to …” We say damn this and damn that; “Damn those teenagers,” “Damn those construction people.” Well, what are you saying? Do you want them to die and burn in hell for eternity? No! “It’s just after midnight, turn the music down. Damn those teenagers.” So they say; “death to …” If that’s all you know about Iran is that they say, “Death to America,” you are a sorry excuse for a political analyst. It’s much more complicated than that and unfortunately most Americans don’t know much about Iran that they didn’t learn from Ted Koppel and consequently we have 70 million people that we’re dealing with here in quite an interesting struggle.
Eboo Patel talked with Suzanne Kryder in 2007 about his Interfaith Youth Core project in Chicago which promotes understanding and cooperation between faiths to foster peace.
Patel: There are wonderful stories and wonderful scripture in all religious traditions about the importance of doing more than tolerating somebody from a different background; actually building a relationship with them, actually serving them, actually cooperating with them to serve others.
So in the Holy Qur’an, one of my favorite lines comes from Surah 49, that God made us different nations and tribes that we may come to know one another.
Kryder: David Little is a scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and he outlines three possible levels of looking at tolerance; we can be indifferent, we can endure, or we can learn. And in your work at the Interfaith Youth Core, you really promote that third level of tolerance. You promote learning something from different beliefs. But wouldn’t indifference be good enough? Would it just be great if we didn’t kill each other?
Patel: At the Interfaith Youth Core, we don’t use the term “tolerance.” We use the term “pluralism,” and I think pluralism is both more important and less controversial than how David Little describes tolerance and I’ll tell you why: because pluralism is a pragmatic situation on earth. It does not describe how we view the other person’s theology, it describes the type of sociology we want to build together. It doesn’t describe whether we think the other person’s version of heaven or salvation is correct. It describes how we want to build a city or a campus or a community with one another.
At the Interfaith Youth Core, we talk of pluralism in the terms of how people from different backgrounds can live together in ways characterized by understanding and cooperation.
So when I sit with a Hindu or a Buddhist, I might have dramatic disagreements with his or her theology. In fact, they might with the way that a lot of Muslims interpret their tradition, but my question isn’t do I agree with your theology, my question is can we live in some sort of mutual trust and loyalty together number one as citizens and number two, are there actually ways that we can find common ground within the social action dimensions of our tradition so that we can actually serve others together. And you might have a very different idea of salvation than me, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to reduce homelessness in our city together and I think that that’s the future. The future isn’t arguments over theology or arguments over salvation. The future is common action towards the common good.
Pico lyer wrote a book called “The Open Road,” documenting the history of, and his own travels with the Fourteenth Dali Lama, one of the world’s foremost advocates for peace and compassion. He talked with us in 2009.
Kryder: Pico lyer one thing that seems to confuse people I think about the Dali Lama is that he’s so happy in public despite all the suffering of the people of Tibet, despite all the suffering in the world. It’s almost like there’s not enough outrage. How do you explain that?
lyer: I was traveling with him in Japan. We were riding in the bullet train and by good fortune, a journalist came into our carriage and asked that very question. He said, “Your Holiness, you’ve seen 1.2 million of your people killed. You’ve been in exile for 50 years. Really all you’ve witnessed is suffering and yet you’re most famous for your smile. How is that?”
Instantly, without hesitation, the Dali Lama said; “My profession.” I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that. There are many, many ways of taking it, but I think it may have partly to do with that monasticism, with his sense, unbreakable, that, in the long-term, things will work out for the better. For all the three steps backwards and the zigzags along the path, ultimately each human is slowly moving towards a clearer understanding of reality.
Whenever I asked him about the Tibetan situation, he always says, “Short term, no hope. Long-term, definitely there will be a resolution.” I think, by thinking in terms of centuries, he’s not prey to the moment-by-moment convulsions that are more and more our masters because I think the world has accelerated and we’re living in the midst of this 24/7 news cycle and so we’re almost permanently riding a rollercoaster. He’s like a monk sitting next to the rollercoaster seeing things against a much wider horizon and in a much larger context.
Of course, as your question implies, it’s difficult for his people, the Buddhists, to see things in terms of centuries and they do say, “We understand that that’s how a Dali Lama thinks of things, but we want a better life for our children.” He has to say, “That’s not guaranteed, but in the long-run, what you do in the short-term has consequences. So please be careful what you do every day of your life and finally the world as a whole and the human family will reap the benefits of that.”
UCLAs Dr. Dan Siegel is director of the Mind Sight Institute and author of a book called “The Mindful Brain. ” He was asked by Suzanne Kryder in 2009 to comment on comments made by The 14th Dalai Lama recorded by Peace Talks Radio at a conference in Seattle, Washington.
Dalai Lama: Usually I make the distinction that compassion, there are two kinds; one biased and limited. One unbiased, unlimited. Now biological factor. That compassion is limited, biased. That I think is common with other animals. Now we have a special brain. This intelligence. Now with help of intelligence, with help of right view. As a social animal, we here. We are not isolated from the rest of the six billion human beings. So that love or kindness now, infinite, unbiased. The first part of the compassion cannot extend towards your enemy. The second part of infinite compassion, compassion with wisdom, that can extend towards your enemy through training now, through utilizing the intelligence...
Kryder: So the Dali Lama said there are two kinds of compassion; biological limited compassion and an intelligent unlimited compassion. I’m wondering if the research supports the concept of unlimited compassion. Dr. Siegel, can we really overcome this primal response we have of fight or flight when we feel threated?
Siegel: I think there is evidence now that loving relationships can create that first biological, limited, biased form of compassion. That’s something that every child on this planet should be given the opportunity to have that supportive relationships generate that kind of compassion we have for those near to us.
But then the Dali Lama said, as you pointed out, with mind training for example, in mindfulness practice, you can move beyond your biological tendencies. You can actually begin to stop being imprisoned by the natural biological reflexes we have that, when we’re threated, we shut off our circuits of compassion and that we don’t see from another person’s point of view at those moments of being threatened.
So with mind training, with mindfulness training, you can in fact uncouple automatic reactions. You can awaken the mind and stop being on automatic pilot. Now what this suggests is that we have a responsibility to bring this kind of mindfulness practice, this reflective skill into the world of education and into the world even of adults who can continue to learn across a lifespan so that we have a reflective science, reflective skills we can teach based on science that actually widens our circles of compassion and dissolves what Albert Einstein called the optical delusion of our separateness and we come to realize in fact we’re all a part of one human family.
Kryder: The practices come from the Buddhist tradition. Is there any resistance that people are afraid they’re being program or that researchers are proselytizing to them?
Siegel: There is absolutely nothing religious about it. This is a form of brain hygiene. It’s just a matter of people taking the time and having the intention to create a time of the day where, even if it’s just for five minutes, you have a practice that we call a mindful awareness practice that involves focusing, let’s say on your breathing, and having an awareness of where your awareness is focused.
Kryder: But this sounds kind of tiring; I have to be aware that I’m aware.
Siegel: Hearing the phrase “aware of awareness” may be tiring because it’s a little complicated, but it’s actually quite simple and energizing. Instead of it taking time, it actually expands time for you where the time you do have, not just in your practice, but during the day, is made richer and more interesting and so it feels like you’ve had a fuller day. It’s been more rewarding rather than actually taking more time.
In 2012, Harvard scholar Donna Hicks talked with us about her book; Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Conflict Resolution.
Hicks: We have to fight that temptation to lash back and all of these things that we’ve just been describing and here’s the thing about dignity.
Even though we’re all born inherently valuable and worthy, the fact is we have to learn how to act like it. What does come naturally is our inherent worth, but what doesn’t come naturally is our understanding of how to treat people as if they’re worthy and so I think my message to people would be there are ten ways in which you can clearly get good results when you’re in a conflict with someone and if you can rise above it, if you can get your “me” to calm down and you can get this other part of yourself that has the capacity that’s stronger than the “me” because you have to really fight that temptation to lash out, but if you can develop that muscle and learn how to actually honor people’s dignity, here is the key. When you honor someone’s dignity, you’re strengthening your own.
In our series, we’ve done a couple of episodes that consider the pursuit of better civility in our political discourse. Suzanne Kryder hosted the first of those programs in 2004.
Kryder: Would each of you, I hate to say it, share a sound bite about what you feel is the most important piece to remember about improving political dialogue and we’ll start with Kate Nelson, Managing Editor of the Albuquerque Tribune.
Nelson: Pay attention.
Kryder: Dr. Guy Burgess, Co-Director of the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado.
Kryder: Dr. Gil St. Clair, a lecturer in political science at the University of New Mexico.
St. Clair: Well I don’t think I can improve on what Guy has just said in terms of trying to persuade others that you mean well and accepting the fact that they may mean well as well even though their views are different.
Then in 2012 we tackled the political civility challenge again with former Republican Congresswoman from Maryland Connie Morella.
Morella: You can disagree, but you can be friends. Disagreement is healthy and if you can respect your colleagues and if you know your colleagues, you’ve got a good chance of respecting the colleagues, then you can work out the differences. I submit that more needs to be done to get members to know each other, to respect each other and then I think they’ll be able to work better together.
George Washington, when he was 16 years of age, he wrote down rules of civility and one of them is one that I think is particularly appropriate. He said, “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present.”
I think that because if you want to look at what it means, it’s that we should respect each other. If we respect each other, there’s an opportunity for trust and then there’s an opportunity for working together, working out differences if we respect each other then civility is part of it and I think we can get more done.
Coleman McCarthy is a former Washington Post columnist and also for 25 years, a teacher of peace study courses in Washington, D.C. area high schools and colleges. He told us in 2007 that he feels the classroom is the place to assure a more peaceful society.
McCarthy: I’m all for anti-war marches, but the marches don’t do it. You go in the classrooms and systematically educate people, I think that’s the best way to go about it and the most effective way and the most moral way.
It’s much easier to teach a child to be peaceful than to repair a violent adult. I think education is the way to do it. Give people information about how to solve their conflicts. That’s what the peace movement needs to be.
Obviously there are violent adults in our society. Once heinous crimes are committed, what to do? Incarceration? Execution? Rehabilitation? The death penalty still exist in about two-thirds of the United States and are supported as punishment for murder by about 60% of U.S. citizens in polls.
New Mexico’s Jane Davis fronts an organization called Hope Howse that offers support for at-risk youth and death row inmates. It offers them at least someone to talk with.
Jane Davis has been fascinated with how to respond to criminal cases since her grandparents were attacked in their New York apartment home when Jane was just a teen.
Davis: There was blood all over the walls, paintings were slashed, my grandfather was unrecognizable. The man took bites out of all over his body. They had fought. The man got away. I traced the blood and I ran into Central Park and I’m standing in the middle of the park where the blood dribbled into the grass in Central Park. And I’m standing there looking at this vastness and it was like, he’s gone. I was thinking; who was this? How could one person do this to another human being? It didn’t make sense. This man had to have some good. He needs help and if we don’t help him, then I don’t want this to ever happen to anybody else…what happened to my family.
It compelled me even more to go meet these monsters that everyone seemed to know were out there. So I went and traveled around to death rows in prisons around the country, even internationally. To this day, I still have not met that monster. I have met human beings who were sociopaths, which is a very profound mental illness and so how we could have any expectation of someone with a mental illness to behave in a way that we find acceptable. It’s not going to happen.
I have sat with men on death row and in prisons, and women, who have done unconscionable heinous crimes towards others. And yet there is always that spark of light and humanity. And I would say they don’t need your judgment, they need your help and when you are so judgmental, you cut off the ability for anyone to change and grow. And by our harsh words, we cut off the ability to create peace with another.
James Alexander served 28 years in prison on a second degree murder charge. He participated in a different program called Alternatives to Violence and talked with Peace Talks Radio in 2011.
Alexander: I could not believe that people actually cared about people in prison.
When you find someone to treat you like a human being, not like you are just someone to be throw away, it has an impact on you Carol, and it had a great impact on me.
Boss: What would you say was one of the most valuable skills that you learned and were able to use?
Alexander: I would actually say assertive communication.
Boss: Can you explain that?
Alexander: Well, being able to stand or sit across from an individual, look them in the eye and understand that they are not your superior as far as being better than you just because they may have more money in their bank account. They may have a better suit and tie. They may know how to shoot a basketball like Michael Jordon or say a speech like President Obama. It doesn’t mean that they are a better human being than you are.
So if you start from the place that you are equal with the person you’re talking to and you are valued just as they are valued, you are loved just as they are loved by their family and friends, if you enter into a conversation from that perspective, it’s difficult to be angry, to be violent, or not to hear that as person.
On one Peace Talks program, our host Carol Boss talked with former prison inmates who grew up in substance abusing families. One, Alisha Wright, began using at the age of 11 and progressed from alcohol to marijuana to cocaine, to meth. At 21 she was convicted of attempted first degree murder and served five years of a prison sentence.
Now Alisha is out rearranging her life. She has two young daughters who live with grandparents out of state. On our show, she recalled some of the prison programs that helped her deal non-violently with the conflicts in her life.
Wright: I took a corrective thinking course and it really blatantly broke down our barriers to playing the victim role and blaming others. And it just really made me take a look at how corrupt my thought process was just by people showing me and me seeing that there’s a different way. There’s a better way. And then having people believe in me, like push me a little bit. Like come on, you can do it. Just try it once. Me being humble enough to accept their advice instead of just thinking I know everything, just tearing down those walls; self-righteousness and all the ego and all that stuff. And being humble and listening to people’s advice and trying new things. I’m all right today. Today I’m doing okay and there hasn’t been very many days whenever I could say that from my past. But today, I’m all right.
What really changed for me…was when I got my GED. That was a big day for me because I never had accomplished anything in my life, anything that I could be proud of, you know? Just to see – my teacher was so proud of me and it was something I could show to my family because…just to be a good influence. I’m the oldest of six and my brothers and sisters. They mean the world to me and just to be a good influence on them. [tears up] I’m sorry.
Boss: It’s okay.
Wright: It just really means a lot to me to be able to do that.
Boss: Do you need a moment?
Wright: No, I’m fine, thank you.
Boss: Well, why don’t you talk about some of the advice that you got that was really important to you, that really helped you?
Wright: Just to remain open and willing and patient. To give of myself freely. To be humble. To listen and not talk all the time. To be grateful. I learned a lot through being grateful and just setting goals in my life. I never had goals. I didn’t even know what goals were. Goals were like in soccer games. I didn’t really have goals.
It’s good now because I’m starting to see my life coming back. Not fast, but I see little things like my family is back in my life. And I saw my papa for the first time in eight years last month and he was here for three days and it was good to see him. My sister is here with me and my nephew. I haven’t seen him for years. And all through all the stuff that I put them through, they’ve always loved me and I’ve never been able to give love back proper. So now I’m able to genuinely love people and care about them sincerely rather than just being something that’s said.
Frank Tollardo and Phil Perea and Frank Tollardo of Taos, New Mexico share an unusual bond. In July, 2003, Frank Tollardo’s 22 year old son Eric and two others were shot to death. Phil Perea’s son Jason, 26 years old, was convicted of the murders and sentenced to 41 years in prison. Instead of polarizing themselves, the two fathers, Perea and Tollardo began to work together to help Taos youth out of the cycle of violence by promoting a trade school to offer an alternative to gangs. Phil Perea, father of the convicted son, is heard first here in a 2004 interview with Suzanne Kryder.
Perea: I got a call from my pastor in Taos and he told me that Frank wanted to meet with me. At the time I got that phone call I was in the office of my son’s lawyer. The lawyer said, “Don’t go.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Your son just finished killing his son. They’re going to set you up and they’re going to kill you. I don’t care what you think, but I’ve seen it so many times. They’re setting you up.” When I got out of there, the first thing my wife told me is that; “You’re going aren’t you?” I said, “Yeah, I know Frank. I know part of his family and I want to meet with him. I want to see what this man’s got to say.”
When I showed up, we showed up at the church - Calvary Chapel in Taos. Frank showed up a little bit late and then came in. And the first thing that came out of Frank’s mouth was; “You tell Jason that I forgive him.” He said at the time, “I’m a little shaky and I’m a little nervous, but what I want to know is can you help me?” I said, “Sure. What is it you want?” He said, “I want to start a program for the youth.”
Kryder: I want to go back to the courage it took you to go to that meeting. You must have been a little bit worried if people were telling you he might retaliate. How did you overcome that fear?
You know, right after, I got a peace, I said, “Lord, I hand everything all to you; my son, the whole situation. I put the guns away. I don’t need them. Every morning I’ll wake up and I’ll say - what a beautiful day to die. If it was my turn, it would be right there, and then I would say thank you. Why? You’d be sending me home a little sooner, that’s all. I’m not worried about death.”
Kryder: So it’s okay. You’re really at peace.
Kryder: Well Frank, talk about the possibility of retaliation because it does seem like that’s part of our culture. People would expect you to retaliate for your son.
Tollardo: Well, the thing about it is, I knew Eric really good. I knew that he wouldn’t retaliate in that way. He wouldn’t want me to and I wouldn’t want him to do it if it was me that was dead. I told Eric’s friends at the funeral, at the burial, because I heard a lot of kids saying “retaliation” and Eric was well loved by a lot of friends. And I told him no retaliation. I don’t want no blood on my son’s hands and that’s the way I’ve always felt about myself too. I never wanted any blood on my hands. If somebody comes up to me with a gun, I’m going to let them shoot me. I’m not going to try and shoot them back. I’ll let them take me out. That’s just the way I grew up and those are my beliefs.
Kryder: I’m really impressed with your religious beliefs that each of you have. Is that really a requirement for people to forgive and for people to just trust without carrying guns? What do you think Frank?
Tollardo: No, it’s not a requirement. Anybody could forgive non-Christians, Christians, whoever they are, they should learn to forgive. If everybody could forgive or learn to forgive, just think how this world would be.
Kryder: What do you think Phil?
Perea: Forgiveness is a healing process. Without forgiveness, you could ruin within yourself. There’s a lot of fly-by-night, so-called Christians. You don’t know their true colors until something like this occasion happens. If you really feel that you’re backed up against the wall and say; “Lord help me,” he will. If you believe in any respect that it will be resolved without violence, it will happen. And it will start with peace of mind, peace within yourself, and saying “I’ve got to work at it,” but just to say, “I forgive you,” but turnaround and be bitter, hate and everything. That won’t work.
Soldiers returning from combat often face the challenge of both forgiving themselves for the carnage they may have caused in war and forgiving their adversaries once the hostilities are far behind in history.
A program to help called “Soldier’s Heart” has set up trips back to Vietnam for Veterans of that war. A Vietnam vet Al Plapp talked with Carol Boss about his healing journey back to Vietnam in 2011 on Peace Talks Radio.
Plapp: Well there is always just a little bit of anxiety because the last thing you recalled were rockets still going off and people shooting. So when I went back, intellectually I was find, but emotionally the imprint was always there. When I stepped on the ground, I was able to see smiles and to see the graciousness of those people that I had experienced a long time before that. In a sense, it felt like I knew those people like family.
Boss: Were you meeting with the Vietcong vets, the North Vietnamese vets and if so, what kinds of things did you talk about?
Plapp: Well our first encounter was going down to the Mekong Delta at the Tom Tien’s place and Tom Tien was a Vietcong. He was the former enemy. He greeted us with a big smile and hugs. You kind of go wow and he wants to hear your story. He told us his story. We shot him, left him for dead. He was treated for like nine months, as I remember, but he held no grudge. He really wanted to meet the person that shot him to say that he held no grudge, that he forgave him.
Poet Samantha Scalimaro shared her poem called “Piano Jazz” with us on a peace poetry episode of our series. It was inspired by her encounter with troops heading to Iraq at an airport.
I’m hiding behind a column so he doesn’t notice that I’m staring.
One of our episodes looked at the possibilities of amicable divorce. There are high conflict divorces of course that sometimes put the children in the middle. New Mexico therapist Sam Roll offered his take on how to minimize the hurt for kids and adults.
Roll: It’s not that children are sometimes hurt by divorce. Children are always hurt by divorce. But it doesn’t mean that they’re hurt more by divorce than by a bad marriage, but they are always hurt by divorce. And children recover, but they only recover to the degree that two things happen. There’s frequent, predictable contact with both parents and there’s reduced hostility.
Once they realize that by not reducing their hostility and resolving their conflicts that will harm what they love the most in the world, their children, they sometimes then become determined to work things out.
Sometimes they don’t care if they hurt the children. They are so angry. They are so angry that they’re willing to destroy what they love most in the world, to hurt what they love most in the world in order to win, in order to hit back, in order to express their bitterness.
Ingles: So how do you work on those competitive elements?
Roll: Well, at the rational level, you help them see concretely how it is that they’re hurting the children. That is a wakeup call for most people and you help them see. You help people see or you help them discover how it is that, by not giving up their old anger and hurt, they are continuing to hurt and they’re tying themselves together in a shackle of animosity and hatred.
It’s not as simple as telling them this story, but I think that one of the stories that the Dali Lama told, I think contained it. He tells a story of two monks who were going to a shrine to clean it up and keep it looking nice so that the people who meditated there could be at peace. It was high in the mountains and so anytime it rained, any little creek became a river.
When they were on their way, they met a woman who was sitting by a river, a creek that had become a river. And she was sitting with a basket of food and she was crying and one of the monks said to her; “What’s the matter?” She said, “Well, I crossed the river to buy food for my children for the week and then it rained. If I try to cross the river, the river may take my food and my children won’t eat this week or the river may take me and they won’t have a mother.”
One of the monks said to her; “Listen, my brother is big and strong. You give him the basket and he will hold it on his head and he will cross and your children will eat.” He said, “I am even stronger. You will sit on my shoulders and I will carry you across and you will be safe and your children will have a mother.” When they got to the other side of the expanded creek, she gave them a little token, a little money to take to the shrine in honor of their loving kindness.
An hour later, one monk turns to the other and says; “You know, when we became monks we vowed that we would never touch a woman, even the hem of her garment. And now you’ve had the softest part of a woman’s anatomy on your neck.” His brother said; “You’re right, but you know, I put her down an hour ago. Bbut you’re still carrying her.”
Even more tragic than a high conflict divorce are relationships that go sour and wind up in domestic violence or even murder. Incidents such as these led us to ask; “Where are the programs that help young people learn more about relationships earlier on in their lives so such dreadful tales will be more rare in the future?” We found a few programs in the United States, one called “Start Strong Bronx.” More was going on in Canada where scholar David Wolf at the University of Toronto had developed a program called “The Fourth ‘R’” standing for “Relationships”. That program was being tested there to help reduce scenes like this.
Wolf: The test that we had was at randomized schools. We had 20 schools in our school district that we randomized. And we delivered the program in the grade 9 health class in those schools that received the program. There were I think 35 or 40 classes in all. And then we compared them to the schools that didn’t get the program and followed those kids for two and a half years until the end of grade 11 to see if they had reduced their dating violence and substance use and were having safer sex and so forth.
Ingles: David Wolf, in the context of our program today which initiates from my experience with a friend being lost to a relationship homicide, make your case for how the work that you’re doing and the programs that you’ve developed can really have an impact on reducing the number of horrible tragedies that we see all too often in our news.
Wolf: That’s an easy case for me to make because we’re talking about a public health issue now. We’re talking about roughly 30% of children are estimated to be abused in their lifetime. That’s based on adult samples retrospectively as well as current samples of youth. That means a lot of people out there aren’t really exposed to as good of models as they could be and may make a lot of mistakes in their relationships.
So from a public health perspective, it’s like fluoride in the water. Everyone needs to get a bit of dose of healthy relationships, alternatives to what they expect in a relationship to make some shifts in how they learn respect and such. If we don’t teach it in the school, it’s haphazard, very haphazard. And they may make many errors in their relationships before they might learn their lesson.
I don’t know what effect in the long-term it would have on homicidal violence. We have to keep in mind that with any prevention, the biggest challenge is that there will still be some tragedies and that doesn’t mean that we give up the prevention. It means that we try even harder.
Sometimes, to come up with a show topic, we just ask; “Where in life do we often experience conflict and who has some ideas about reducing conflict there?”
Such was the case when our host Suzanne Kryder was wondering about the conflict in the workplace and talked with noted psychologist and author William Ury whose book “Getting to Peace” had just been re-released under the title “The Third Side.”
Kryder: Most of our listeners go to work or they’ve had jobs in the past. Talk about one or two of the “resolve roles” and how people can use those in the workplace to prevent conflict.
Ury: One of the roles is the role of the mediator. Everyone in the workplace, you don’t have to be a professional mediator, but everyone in the workplace is a third party. They hear, they see two people or two departments getting into a conflict and there are informal ways in which we can play the role of a mediator which is to listen to each side, to hear them out, to try and communicate each to the other what the other one is saying, to bring them together to encourage them to work it out. We can play that role of a mediator and every manager, whether they think about it or not, is a mediator of sorts. They have to mediate among their staff, they have to mediate among their bosses sometimes, they have to mediate among their colleagues. Everyone, in fact, in the workplace can play that role of the “third sider.”
But one of the roles also is the role of “the healer” which is that there’s an emotional dimension to a lot of conflicts. As human beings, we all have emotions and so often times those feelings, the relationship needs to be healed. It’s not just enough to resolve the conflict as the bushman teaches. You have to bring the people back into a relationship so that they can continue to work together because after all, that’s what you’re doing in the workplace.
Kryder: Do you see the possibility that workplaces might even want to talk more openly about third side roles or are there a lot of mediation programs already in workplaces?
Ury: Well, it’s beginning. There’s been a huge shift in the last 30 years that I’ve been involved and watching. For example, labor management conflicts. One hundred years ago, there used to be a lot of violence. Even when I worked in labor management in the coal mines back in the ‘70s, there were bomb threats and people were packing guns.
Nowadays people are learning to talk things out. They’re learning to negotiate. There are negotiation courses, there are mediators involved. There’s been a lot more sophistication now in the workplace about how to deal with differences and the work has just begun. We have a ways to go, but I do see a lot of progress in the last generation.
Well, what if the conflict is between you as a customer service rep and an irate customer? Suzanne Kryder told a story on herself losing patience in a shoe repair store one time to customer service expert Mary Cooley.
Kryder: I was screaming at the top of my voice at people and actually, the last thing I remember is somebody behind me in line saying, “I think we should call the police.”
Cooley: Oh no!
Kryder: Yeah! I mean I just totally lost it! So he was being accurate, but I was completely misunderstanding. So what does a customer service rep do when they encounter somebody like me who has just lost it?
Cooley: Well, I think the worst thing people do is embattle that customer; “Lady, that’s not what you said!” or “I fixed the heel, what more do you want?” I think we’ve all been in those situations.
I really do like the acronym that we use in training which is HEAT. First, when a customer is irate, “H,” hear them out. Don’t engage, don’t have non-verbal’s with your arms crossed in front of you that say; “I’m tuned out. I’m not listening.” So just hear them out. Let that person voice however they have to voice their concerns.
The next one is “E,” just empathize with them. If that were happening to me, how would I feel?
Third, and I don’t think this happens nearly enough today is “A,” (apologize) say; “We’re sorry.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry this occurred to you.” Again, be sincere about the situation.
And “T,” the last one is okay, so what? Where do we go from here? Take responsibility for what occurred. “I can tell by what transpired here that you’re clearly not happy with the shoes. It’s important that I get this right. Here’s what I am able to do. Here’s what I’m willing to do.” Take responsibility and ownership for it to get it fixed.
Suzanne also led a panel on the role of the media in peacemaking in 2004 or the media’s role in promoting violence as media reform advocate Bob McCannon argued in a conversation that also included Leanne Potts who, at the time, was a features writer for the Albuquerque Journal.
McCannon: The irony is that the media never tell parents to what extent the research shows the level that watching violence makes kids more aggressive and more importantly, desensitizes them to the pain and suffering of others. The research on that is just mind-boggling. And it’s important to recognize that the Hollywood PR machine criticizes this on the basis of saying; “Well, it’s just correlations.” The bottom line is that that information is not getting out there. Kids are learning to resolve conflict through violence. And I believe it carries over to citizens who are thinking in this country that the way to resolve national conflicts is through huge military budgets and through sending those troops off to fight wars where video game kind of weapons are used in combat and they see it on TV.
Kryder: Leanne, what’s your sense about how media impacts people’s ability to resolve conflict?
Potts: I think you learn conflict resolution skills from many sources, media is one. It’s a powerful one. I think, if you’re not making the human connections in your lives to learn some of this, the fault is with you. There are other ways to learn your conflict resolution than from what Rupert Murdoch tells you or what a newspaper headline writer tells you or what Dan Rather tells you. I mean, come on. The world is a lot bigger than that.
Kryder: What motivates people to learn those skills though on their own?
Potts: Caring about who they are and what their impact is on the world. Caring. Caring. If you just want to be entertained and you just want to sit and watch then no, you’re not going to do any better. But if you care about making the world a better place, if you want things to be different, that’s what’s going to motivate you.
If you want to continue to be a very violent nation, and I might add that we’ve been a violent nation long before there was television, radio and video games. We were a violent nation and we have it written in our Constitution our right to bear guns. We take our weapons real seriously in this culture. I would argue that maybe this culture has never been real good at conflict resolution. It’s a skill we have yet to master.
In one episode in our series, we met Mark Johnson, the music recording engineer behind the viral video smash “Stand by Me” which brought together dozens of musicians from around the world all adding their parts, often on the streets of their hometowns, to a single recording of the soul music classic. Johnson’s efforts spawned a CD, a DVD and a live tour under the banner “Peace Through Music.” All proceeds from these remarkable performances were going to help build music schools in impoverished communities around the globe. Mark Johnson was interviewed for Peace Talks Radio by Carol Boss.
Boss: Have you ever met up with any skeptics of any sort who might say; “Yeah, you know, this is all really nice, but what can it really do to connect us to bring peace?”
Johnson: I have of course. I’ve definitely run into skeptics, but I think at the end of the day, in my personal opinion, this is the root of what we need as a planet to come together because there’s no other thing that intrinsically will connect us. So religion and politics, they can be beautiful, but they guarantee division. Music can guarantee connection if that’s the intention. Although there’s plenty of other ways to go about trying to unite people, music is, in my opinion, the best way.
Boss: Why don’t you share with us some of your favorite tracks and perhaps some stories about recording them.
Johnson: So after we started “Stand by Me,” we wanted to have a similar song with a similar aesthetic and a similar unifying quality so we chose Bob Marley’s “One Love.” As we were recording that song, we started it with a steel guitar from New Orleans and the thing about it was that it was after hurricane Katrina so the feeling in the city was rather sorrowful. You can see that the steel guitar opens up with a feeling of more of blues/gospel feel.
Then when we went down to South Africa to record Sinamuva, which is a choir, a Zulu choir in Umlazi, South Africa. We went up to a little mountaintop, put headphones on them and they started to sing in Zulu! I think we had thought that they were going to sing in English.
So when we heard them singing in Zulu, it opened up this whole new world for us where we don’t have to try to take these songs and turn them into how they were traditionally written. We can expand and try to get people to contribute their own style and make them their own. That sort of was an amazing experience for us.
So that song became an amazing track for me just because of the journey and seeing everybody saying; “Let’s get together and feel all right.”
We spotlighted peacemaking messages in music there and peacemaking messages in a popular television franchise was the topic of another Peace Talks Radio episode.
Just for fun, we explored a bunch of Star Trek episodes from the original 1960s era TV series. We found the writers musing on the war and peace issues of those times as the U.S. was locked in the midst of the Cold War with the then Soviet Union.
Star Trek episode writer and fan David Gerald helped us analyze one episode called “A Taste of Armageddon,” which concludes with a speech by Captain James T. Kirk played by William Shatner of course, trying to convince a planet’s leaders to avoid war with a rival planet.
[Star Trek Episode]
Kirk: You realize what you’ve done?
Eminiar Councilman: Yes I do. I’ve given you back the horrors of war.
Kirk: Vendikar will now assume that you’ve broken your agreement and that you’re preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They’ll want to do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than just count out numbers on a computer. They’ll destroy your cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I’d start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it, make peace.
Councilman: There can be no peace. Don’t you see? We’ve admitted to ourselves we are a killer species! It’s instinctive! It’s the same with you!
Kirk: All right, it’s instinctive. Well, the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it! We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes; knowing that we’re not going to kill today! Contact Vendikar. I think you’ll find that they’re just as terrified and appalled and horrified as you are. That they’ll do anything to avoid the alternative I’ve given you; peace or utter destruction. It’s up to you.
Ingles: David Gerald, you write that this “Taste of Armageddon” episode was one of the better ones you saw. What do you like about this in the context of our conversation today?
Gerald: Well what I like about “A Taste of Armageddon” is that great speech that Kirk gives at the end. I mean it’s become a personal mantra.
Okay, yes, I’m descended from killer apes, but today I’m not going to kill. I think what that speech represents is the rationality of a self-aware, self-actualized beings taking responsibility for their evolutionary heritage. We all have these little reptilian cortexes at the base of our skull (that make) our hands curl up into fists and we just want to punch that person in the face for being such a terrible person in our judgment.
But Kirk is saying no, we don’t do that because we respect rationality. We respect. We understand that people have different views, different opinions and it’s time that we learn to respect each other and listen to each other and learn from each other. We don’t have to fight and he says it all in two sentences.
I don’t know who wrote that exact speech, but whoever it was, that was the reason they were put here on this earth. Billions of people have seen that episode now and have heard that line and if it has impacted even a small percentage of them, that’s still millions and millions of people who think; “Today I’m not going to kill.” This is good news!
Although on Peace Talks Radio, we look at the work going on to address all the all too prevalent existing conflicts in our world. It was of some relief to hear the take of Harvard scholar Steven Pinker whose book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” suggests that, over time, much progress has been made towards peace and that now may be the most peaceful era in the history of the planet and that we are learning what works in making this a more peaceful world.
Pinker: Studies that try to identify what has driven rates of war down have identified some pretty good candidates including UN peacekeeping forces and other peacekeeping missions and the overall pacifying effects of trade and commerce. And the spread of humanitarian ideals, that is, valuing the individual over the state or the ethnic group.
If you look at all the risk factors for war, both major war between great powers, which does the most damage, and smaller wars among weaker countries in the developing world, the indicators are all positive. That is, to the best that you can predict, and admittedly that’s a dicey proposition, the prediction would be that the risk of war will continue to go down.