Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obama and Realpolitik- A Peacemaker's Perspective

The challenge we face in being outside the confidential circle of President Obama is that it seems difficult to discern what is happening privately and quietly and what is for public consumption. Middle East historian Mark Levine seems to suggest that we measure the effect of the Nobel Peace Prize on President Obama's observable actions and policies. I think Obama will be smarter and more nuanced in his approach. I doubt we will see huge policy shifts overnight as Levine suggests would be consistent with the Peace Prize and inconsistent with American domestic and foreign policy. Instead, over the months and years of the Obama administration, I suspect we will subtle changes, adjustments, and policies that can influence and steer rather than dictate and control. Obama will face his ethical dilemmas of being a Nobel Peace Laureate and being president of the United States. Those dilemmas will be challenging, and I suspect he will manage them quietly and deftly. Mostly, we will not know about them or how they are resolved. I think historians will have a lot more to say in ten years than they can say today.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tips for Peaceful Holidays

I want to pass on some tips about maintaining peace and tranquility in your families during this holiday season. Call this a quick guide to everyday peacemaking. These tips are really way to replace your habits of conflict with habits of peacemaking. The reason we tolerate so much conflict around us is because we have allowed conflict to be habitual. Consequently, its just easier to let the conflict escalate than to engage people as a peacemaker. If you want to try the new habits of peace, check out these tips.

The most glorious gift you can give your family is your ability to listen without judgment to what is said around you. This gift costs nothing, but confers wonderful feelings on all those who receive it. When a family member is speaking to you, stop what you are doing and listen. What is this person feeling right now? What is this person hoping for? You can even ask, “Oh, so you were feeling frustrated and hoping that the store clerk would spend some time with you?” Even if you don’t guess at feelings and hopes, you can simply summarize, in a short-hand sort of way, what you heard. “Sounds like you ran into a store clerk who wasn’t paying attention to you.” The gift of listening others into existence is a powerful and wonderful way of creating connections to those you care for.

Take responsibility for your own behavior. If you make a mistake, apologize and make amends. If someone around you makes a mistake, be quick to forgive and forget. We let a lot of little things unnecessarily annoy us. Although we react preconsciously to most of what goes on around us, we can choose not to be reactive to what we are feeling. Be aware of how you are feeling moment to moment. Know when you are tired or anxious or under pressure to get something done right away because these are times you are likely to snap back at someone. Be vigilant about your own feelings so that you can respect the feelings of others. Conflict often arises because we are not paying attention to how we are reacting and why. We lash out without thought, which only escalates the dispute. Be self-aware.

If you feel angry or upset, leave the situation for a few moments. Remember that anger is generally triggered by a cascade of events, not just one event. You must break the chain of events to stop your emotional reactions. That’s why stepping out on the balcony and counting to 20 is so often recommended.

In the presence of angry or upset people, acknowledge their anger. “Gee, Aunt Martha. I can see that you are really upset. Boy, I’d be upset too if that happened to me. What can we do to make things right?” People usually become angry and upset because they feel disrespected or unacknowledged. Simply acknowledging the angry feelings of a family member will work miracles in restoring peace.

If Uncle Charlie and Cousin Sam are fighting or arguing, intervene quickly. Take one of them away and “caucus” with them. “Hey, Uncle Charlie, come outside for a minute. I’d like a word with you.” Once outside, listen to Charlie, acknowledge his feelings, and find out what’s upsetting him. Offer to talk to Cousin Sam on behalf of Charlie. Then have a quick talk with Sam. You will see the problem. Bring them together for a quick peacemaking session. Have them exchange stories one at a time without interruption. Have them explain what injustices they feel. Then ask them both for ideas on how to make things right. In five minutes, you can completely reverse the situation.

Now maybe this argument has disrupted a really fun get together and you are pretty angry yourself. You can express yourself, but do so by telling Charlie how you experienced the situation. “Charlie, I am really upset that this happened. Listening to you and Sam shout at each other frustrated me because I was hoping for a really fun family dinner. And I guess I felt mad because all of my plans for a wonderful time seemed to go down the drain.” The important point here is not to accuse Charlie of mucking things up. You are much better off explaining how you feel than blaming Charlie for his behavior.

All of this sounds so common-sensical. Yet we fail to act this way year after year. The reason, I think, is that we have become habituated to reactive behavior patterns. We have habits of conflict that we carry with us. What we really need are some habits of peace. These quick tips are some of the habits of an everyday peacemaker. Like any other skill, they will be awkward at first. With a little practice, you will gain confidence that these tips work. Even more importantly, as you experience the amazing results of watching peace unfold from conflict, you will rewarded with an inner serenity that cannot be described. Then you will have your habits of peace.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Radio Shows on Peacemaking

If you haven't been listening to Fix Your Conflicts! in November and December, I have had some great guests, including Bill Saa, a peacebuilder in war-torn Liberia, Gladis Benavides on cross-cultural conflict, the Resolutionary himself Stewart Levine, Barbara Raye, executive director of the Victim Offender Mediation Association, Michael Maloney on common sense and communication, Max Factor III, Esq. on social justice and mediation, and Mark Tombach on teaching values to teenagers. These have been great conversations--even the network engineer didn't want the shows to end!

This Monday its Nan Burnett's turn to talk about staying centered as a mediator and about her new book. Nan is a high conflict mediator in Denver and hosts the annual Rocky Mountain Retreat around mediation, inner work, and spirituality.

You can access and download the archived shows at http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001eUYSOg60wv0ltMKfVT7fYeDQTc7RUcFagoyyEADxRFkWeUR9PsC9QoUHaY1TAedjt5HDZm4WWOYR2UMNrozmkHDDsmqBpp493mA8MEiy8GOHbQvAeuFMTYn0e3mopQswa6SPHnYsrq4= and listen live on Mondays 11 am Pacific at worldtalkradio.com. Check it out!

Another Radio Show!

I was approached by another network to do another radio show and, after listening to the pitch, decided what the heck! On Thursday December 6, 2007, I debuted on wsradio.com on The Doug Noll Show. Unlike Fix Your Conflicts!, The Doug Noll Show will be pure call-in. I am inviting guests for the next month or so as we ramp up, but by mid-January, its all advice, all the time. The Doug Noll Show airs Thursday evenings 8 pm Pacific at wsradio.com. The shows will also be archived at http://www.lawyertopeacemaker.com/radio-archives.html so you can pick them up there as MP3 files for your iPOD.

My goal is to spread the word about how mediation and peacemaking can transform our everyday lives. Thanks for making this goal come true by listening in and supporting the shows.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

LIve Free or Die Hard--The Myth of Redemptive Violence is alive and well

A friend of mine told me that she had just seen the new Bruce Willis movie, Live Free or Die Hard also known as Die Hard 4. She said she really enjoyed it as a fast-paced, action movie. I told her that the Die Hard movies were perfect example of the Myth of Redemptive Violence, a social theory developed by theologian Walter Wink.
The synopsis, from the movie website reads as follows:
Live Free or Die Hard is the ultimate summer action ride. In a season overflowing with CGI fantasy, Live Free or Die Hard gets real -- with real action, real humor and a relatable Everyman hero: John McClane. On the July 4 holiday, an attack on the vulnerable United States infrastructure begins to shut down the entire nation. The mysterious figure behind the scheme has figured out every modern angle -- but he never figured out an old-school "analog" fly in the "digital"ointment. Bruce Willis is John McClane. No mask. No cape. No problem.
The Myth of Redemptive Violence arises from the Babylonian myth of creation. In that myth, a young god Marduk slays the mother goddess Tiamat by ripping out her entrails and spreading them across the sky. The myth portrays the universe as a constant battle of good versus evil in which redemption is found through violence. As Wink points out, this creation story is radically different from the creation myth of the Bible. In Genesis, a good God creates a good universe, and evil is seen as a rip to be repaired. Violence is not necessary for redemption. However, we live in a Babylonian society not a Judeo-Christian society. The Myth of Redemptive Violence is alive and well.
Take the old cartoon Popeye the Sailor as an example. In every episode, Popeye is escorting his girlfriend Olive Oyl when they are accosted by Bluto. Popeye is beaten to a pulp and Olive Oyl is kidnapped by Bluto. In extremis, Popeye manages to pop open a magical can of spinach from a shirtsleeve and eat it. Infused with new powers, Popeye violently brutalizes Bluto, rescues Olive Oyl, and walks off into the sunset. We are all satisfied wirh the result.
Bluto cannot be redeemed except through violence. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for Bluto to be transformed to a peaceful person. Olive Oyl portrays a disempowered female with no ability to protect herself from rape, kidnapping, or violence. Popeye never has the good sense to eat the spinach before meeting Bluto nor to engage Bluto in a nonviolent way.
The Die Hard movies follow the same formula. Bruce Willis becomes aware of an evil force, is beaten to a pulp, finds some way to violently defeat the evil force, and rides off into the sunset. Along the way, hundreds of people are injured, hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage occurs, and chaos reigns. We are satisfied. However, we really don't think about the consequences of violence as a redemptive force. Who will be the politicians and leaders that will clean up after John McClane? What insurance companies will have to pay out damages for the chaos and injury? How much will this violence cost us as taxpayers? Why is extreme violence necessary to counter the evil-doer?
The secret to action movies and even children's cartoons is that we have a deep sense of satisfaction when the armed redeemer rides into town, shoots it out with the bad guys, and rides off into the sunset leaving the resulting mess to be cleaned up by the townsfolk and the politicians. There is no room for negotiation, no room for transformation, no room for mediation or peacemaking. Only violence can meet violence. The myth repeats itself week after week and in fact is necessary as the basic plot of any good cartoon or action movie.
If you become aware of the Myth of Redemptive Violence as an organizing norm of our society, you will see it everywhere. You will begin to understand why peacemaking and peaceful ways of dealing with difficult problems are often shunned. Peace is simply not as satisfying as violence for dealing with evil. And, of course, this assumes the Babylonian view of the universe: that evil must be combated with violence or it will overtake civilization.
When I explained this all to my friend, she was schocked. She had never understood why she was satisfied by a violent action movie even when she was a professed person of deep peace.
I did not mean to spoil her summer fun, but I do think that being consciously aware of the Myth of Redemptive Violence and its influence on all of us will help us to be better peacemakers.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

First post

Welcome to my blog, Arataxix: Solutions for Peace in Your Life. I stumble across the word "arataxix" when looking for something other than peacemaking. Although I am a peacemaker professionally, I have encountered resistance to the word. People either confuse it with the old Colt .45 hand gun or get off on a religious track. Anyways, arataxis is what occurs when peace is found and means stress-free or no stress. Its a Greek-derived word and is unususal enough that I thought I could adopt it for my purposes here.

This blog is about helping you find peace in everyday situations. As an experienced trial lawyer and 2nd degree black belt, I have seen conflict from just about every perspective. I left the practice of law (although I am still an active member of the bar), to devote my time to turning conflict into peace. It wasn't some great religious conversion, but a sense that I could serve people better in peace rather than in conflict. I'll share more of my journey in later posts.

I won't give specific advice to those of you who comment, but I will give general observations about conflicts you write about. I have learned that conflict is all about people, so even the most intractable international conflicts still can be understood, if not solved, by analytic peacemaking tools. In the same way, your conflicts with your spouse, your neighbors, your boss, or even the guy that just swerved in front of you can be understood and transformed by you simply, gracefully, and beautifully into peaceful moments.

Enough for now. If you are intrigued, posts are always welcome.

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