Create Positive Peace by Recognizing Others

March, 2000

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© 2000, Douglas E. Noll

Last month, I wrote about the difference between positive and negative peace. Here are some more thoughts on positive peace.

To develop positive peace, we have to understand the difference between excluding and embracing. In my view, positive peace occurs when we have the ability to see the total person. When we can do this, we are embracing that person and creating positive peace even when we are angry and frustrated. When we limit ourselves to recognizing only one or two identities of a person, we are excluding the person.

Our identities are layered like geological strata. We define ourselves through our gender, age, and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family relations, faith tradition, friendships, nationality, education, work experience, profession, hobbies, and a myriad of other criteria. We each see ourselves as unique and complex. But do we expend the effort to see the same complexity in others? Usually, no.

We avoid the hard work of sorting through the layers and complexities of another person's identities. Instead, we focus on one or two parts of a person's identities. As an example, when we view a person for the first time, we form an impression on only a few criteria without understanding or knowing all the different identities that the person before us represents. We do this because it’s expedient. We do it even though we know we may be drawing wrong assumptions and conclusions.

Notice that I use the plural "identities," rather than the singular "identity," in describing who we are. This helps me break down my tendency to categorize a person based on one or two identities. If I can think of people as a composite of many identities, I can begin to see their wholeness.

Excluding identities is very common in conflict because identities become definitional. In Northern Ireland, for example, antagonists are defined as Protestant or Catholic; loyalist, unionist, or republican. Completely ignored are the other identities of father, mother, dairyman, son, sister, artisan, friend, artist, shipyard worker, fiddle player, Guinness drinker or any of the other identities that make up the Irish persona. Of course, if we looked at all of the Irish identities, we would find more in common than not.

Different conflicts may emphasize different identities. In conflict, we tend focus on one or two salient identities to the exclusion of all others. As an example, during the course of a day, a person might be seen as aggressive and over-bearing at work, but withdrawn and uncaring at home At work, the identity of an aggressive professional is triggered in conflict. In home conflicts, the identity of an insensitive spouse comes forward. Two different identities are brought forward in the context of two different conflicts. Yet, we are talking about the same person. Conflict behavior therefore often rejects the majority of a person’s identities. This insult or injustice is particularly strong when it goes to a core sense of being.

To see the total person, especially when embroiled in conflict, requires us to pause. The employee who errs or the child who fails to do a chore is much more than a human being that has made a mistake. These are people, like us, possessing a layered and complex set of identities. Yet we focus on the mistake and attribute one or two negative identities to the person. The employee is lazy or incompetent; the child is stupid or uncaring. To create positive peace around us, we must learn to pause. Yes, the situation was frustrating. Yes, the person was wrong. Yes, the mistake was costly or dangerous, or insensitive. Still, we must embrace the total person. This means taking a moment to consider all of the identities that make up that person, even when you feel like strangling him. If we can embrace all of the offender’s identities, our response is more likely to be measured and appropriate. Our anger will be supported by respect when we embrace and recognize the other’s identities. This is one essence of positive peace.

So try this out next time you are in conflict: As soon as you feel yourself "narrowing down" (you know what I mean—that feeling like you are in a tunnel as you become more upset or angry), take a deep breath. Imagine you can see all of the identities of the other person clustered around like balloons. If one identity comes forward, find four others to go with it. This may be a struggle at first. With practice, however, you will start to see people in their wholeness. Once you are able to see, you will be able to embrace, and then you will be creating positive peace around you.

The Way of the Peaccemaker: Embrace all of the identities of each person around you.

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

© 2000, Douglas E. Noll тут пансионаты Абхазии.