Practical Peacemaking

 Douglas E. Noll

Home Page

 February, 1999

In the past few years, I've been making the rounds of the service clubs talking about lawyers. Initially, my talk was Myths about Lawyers. Although my message was well-received, I had not convinced many that lawyers and the legal system were beneficial to our society.

 Why is it that lawyers and the legal system are held in such disregard in a society than prides itself on individualism and protection of rights? Part of the answer, I think, is that we ask too much of our lawyers and legal system. We have lost the ability, as a society and a community, to resolve conflicts peacefully. The legal system has never been designed as a peaceful means of conflict resolution. In fact, the legal system is designed to be conflictual, not peaceful. Lawyers are trained in an adversary process, not peace making. The litigation system is designed as an adversarial battle between parties, where justice hopefully comes out of the fray. I do not mean this to be a criticism of the legal system, but simply a description of the way it is. Even alternative dispute resolution is based on a competitive, adversarial model.

 The system has served us well at protecting individual rights against oppression for two centuries. Today, however, we bring all conflicts to the legal system, not just problems for which the legal system is appropriately designed to resolve. We expect that peace will be restored after the parties have expended financial, emotional, and spiritual resources they can ill afford to reach a result they are generally unhappy with. We wonder why there is such unhappiness with the legal system.

I think there's a better way. Simply stated, we must reintroduce the social knowledge of how to resolve conflicts back into our community. Let me propose a more radical idea: that lawyers be trained as peace makers; that we train our children in the social knowledge regarding making things right and reconciling interests; that we learn how to apply the ancient principles of confession, apology, and atonement to everyday business life.

 This is not as far-fetched or as difficult as it sounds. Teaching the lawyers is really the easy part. Without exception, every lawyer that I have talked to about peace making is interested and intrigued. With my colleagues at San Joaquin College of Law, I hope to develop a peace making curriculum for law students and a comprehensive continuing legal education program for lawyers. The goal is not replace the adversary system. Instead, the goal is to provide new tools and orientations to human conflict. This will be a multi disciplinary curriculum, drawing on social psychology, law, human conflict theory, and religion.

 Teaching the children is also easy. The problem here is convincing the schools to introduce peace making as an expected an everyday occurrence on the campus. This effort has already been initiated by the Center For Peace Making and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University. We just need to expand and support its effort.

 Finally, reaching out to the business community should not be difficult. The social knowledge necessary for effective conflict resolution is simple to teach and easy to learn. It's like riding a bicycle: Once you learn, you never forget. The difficulty is in convincing people that peace making is good for business, good for people, and good for the bottom line.

 In the months ahead, I will explore human conflict, its causes, its cycles, its benefits, and its injuries. I also look at various orientations to peace making, including theoretical concepts and practical techniques you can experiment with immediately.

 I propose nothing new. I simply have the somewhat unusual perspective of a trial lawyer and a peace maker. I hope you will benefit from my insights, opinions, and explanations. If you like my ideas, the credit goes to my professors at Fresno Pacific. If you dislike them, its my responsibility. Either way, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and suggestions.

Douglas E. Noll, Esq. is a lawyer specializing in peacemaking and mediation of difficult and intractable conflicts throughout California. His firm, Douglas E. Noll and Associates is based in Central California. He may be reached through his website and email at

© 1999, Douglas E. Noll

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