Expanding the Peace Building Dinner Table

From the narrow corridors of Tarrytown, which hosted ‘the Safe Conflict Summit’ to the streets of New York, everyone holds the view that Peacebuilding spaces should be expanded beyond the traditional peace builders. The argument is that we need more seats at the Peace Building Dinner Table and preferably more chefs too. From a practical point of view, we need new thoughts, new ideas, resources and these cannot come from within, they must come from without. People who do not think like us or understand our language. People of ‘un-like-minds’.

This blog is the beginning of a series of personal reflections inspired by word on the streets of Tarrytown, all the way to Manhattan – NYC. Today, I will seek to dispel the myth of ‘like-mindedness’. Do not judge me. Just read! In forthcoming blogs, I will dive deeper into the dangers that come to the fore when we decide to expand the dinner table and introduce new seats and chefs. This will also touch on fundraising for preventive action – an area that I have passion for.

LIKE MINDS: We use the term – ‘like minds’ a lot. We assume that there is an inbuilt understanding of what it means and we carry the assumption further by not trying to domesticate the term or ground it with meaning. The question is: Are we like minded because we all work in the same field? Like minded because you share the same values? Like minded because we share or were born in the same family? What is this like-mindedness that comes up in every platform or discussion? I do not have an answer and will not try to define it, because I do not share the view that ‘like minds’ exist. What I think exists is that, out there are people driven by a common cause and who want to see a certain change. All these people ‘act’ differently and contribute towards this cause in varying degrees and using varying strategies. The Peacebuilding field is a good exemplification of this diversity.

ASSUMPTIONS: A key assumption made in the field of peacebuilding and which is also the case on the streets of NYC is that those working in this field are like-minded. Because of this, there is increased demand on the ‘like-minded’ group to create extra spaces at the dinner table and accommodate ‘unlike minded’ groups. My argument is that, we already have a high level of ‘un-like-minds’ around the Peacebuilding Table and what we need is to invest time in consolidating our approaches and probably identifying the bridges that link our work together, instead of assuming that we are such a homogenous group needing more ‘energy’ from the outside. The best way to describe the Peacebuilding Table is as a ‘multi-denominational’ platform, but without spiritual leader or binding holy book in the traditional sense (I am not advocating that we need one). Towards the end of last year, I attended a seminar where during an informal lunch discussion, I overheard a participant stating that, “we do not do it that way in conflict management”. As if that was not enough, the other participant went ahead to describe how ‘it’ (assuming Peacebuilding) is approached from the conflict transformation denomination. Conflict transformers apparently seek to ensure behavior change and this transformation begins with the Peacebuilder himself. Transforming behavior patterns is therefore at the core of the transformation doctrine. The protagonists of the conflict management school on the other hand perceive conflicts, as being terminal and all effort should focus on managing their chronic symptoms, than preventing their occurrence. Their central argument is that conflicts will happen anyway. Then you have those who approach peace building from the ‘resolution’ angle. From their perspective, conflicts ought or need to be resolved. Full stop! What is interesting is that each denomination while seeking a common good, is guided by different text drown from different holy books and spiritual heads. So, while pursuing the same goal, they each employ multiple strategies and tactics – with very limited common bridges to link towards this massive target – named Peace.

My personal contestation (subjective view) with the discussions on expanding the dinner table has nothing to do with the food or the number of seats. In fact, I do think that there is so much than we can chew and swallow. What I take issue with is the assumption that peacebuilders are of like minds and that there is need for ‘unlike minds’ on the table. Far from it, as the peacebuilding field is awash with ‘unlike minds’ and what we need to do is listen in a functional manner and get out of our denominational comfort zones. This will give us the eyes to start identifying the common bridges capable of enabling us to cross the high waters in this field. Up and until we do that, we shall never be able to identify what we need.

I do think that around the peacebuilding dinner table, are people driven by a common goal, but pursuing it through multiple different strategies. The multiplicity or heterogeneity of this group is not defined by the goal that drives their existence, rather by the tactics and strategies they employ to meet those specific goals. If like-minds exist, then the ones around the Peacebuilding Dinner Table are not they. Before seeking to bring in un-like-minds, let us first try to understand those who share the table with us and in doing so, we shall probably find that what we need are bridges that provide a common link for an inter-denominational congregation, rather than the multi-denominational which deceives us into thinking we are of like minds.