Monday, August 27, 2012


I took a negotiations course a few years ago, and sitting in the course, both the book and the instructors made negotiations seem as if it was a type of science that you follow. If you do these 6 steps and remember to emphasise these 3 goals and always look for this one 1 concept, you will almost always be able to reach a successful negotiation that makes both sides happy. So the obvious question arises in me, and someone always inevitably asks,

“If these methods are so good, how come you don’t use it in the Israeli-Arab conflict and bring peace to the Middle East?”

Then the facilitators (and authors of negotiations books) have to dial down expectations and explain that it is not full proof. Rather it increases the likelihood that you will reach an agreement suitable to both parties. But the question still nags at me. How does one bring peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict? How does one bring peace to any recurring conflict between large people-groups and nation-states? Is it possible?

Looking at all of the conflict going on in the world today, I’m still amazed at our human inability to wipe it out from the face of the earth and future history. It always comes back. New people are born, new challenges arise, and new conflicts brew (or old ones reawaken). Peace, though a solution, is still a mysterious quality that is more of a question than a solution these days. I’m reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey through the possibilities of peace.

When MLK was looking for a method that could wipe out social evil, he “despaired of the power of love to solve social problems. The turn-the-other-cheek and the love-your-enemies philosophies are valid. . . only when individuals are in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations are in conflict, a more realistic approach is necessary.” It was only after studying the life and teachings of Gandhi that he realized the true power of satyagraha—truth-force or love-force. King then saw the ability of love through nonviolence as a potent tool in the struggle for freedom. However that was between groups of people and a government. What about nation to nation?

King realized the need for the method of nonviolence in international relations, but has it ever been done successfully and well? He believed in war as a negative good but then thought that humanity’s powerful technology ruled out war ever being a negative good—the potential destruction is just too great. He thought the choice was between nonviolence or nonexistence. So my question to you today is this: Is it possible to do the turn-the-other-cheek method as one nation to another? How does it work? Would any nation be prepared to take the risk and the hurt?

I do mean risk. Sometimes people think turn-the-other-cheek or love-your-enemies doesn’t involve getting burned. No, love always involves getting vulnerable and sometimes burned. Many people suffered and died during nonviolent resistance movements with Gandhi, King, and Mandela. If you turn your other cheek, it could be slapped. It’s ok if I want to love my enemies as an individual person because I am willing entering myself into a risky situation, but how can a prime minister of a country decide that for an entire country—not just to eschew fighting back but actively love in the face of violence? Is it possible? Is it practical? Is it right?

This question has been on my mind because of Syria’s current plight, the raging civil war there. I tried to consider what would be the equivalent of loving-your-enemies as a nation. What would that look like? I then wondered if it would be something akin to three hundred million Americans flying to Syria and putting themselves on the front lines and saying to the government or the rebels “in order to kill the other, you must kill me.” Of course, this might not stop either side. But after awhile, after killing thousands of Americans to get to the other, you realize what you’ve become. You come face-to-face with what you are doing, and you stop. However, in the process you have lost thousands of people. The hard part about love-your-enemy as a nation, is that you have to have the entire nation “on board,” giving their heart to the cause, just as you. I don’t think it can be forced.

Now it’s a silly example and easily derided by any reader, but the question is what does it look like to do it as a nation? What does it like when your nation has just been attacked by terrorists? What does it look like when your nation has been attacked by domestic terrorists? Is such a nation-wide love possible? Does it exist? Have you seen it work and bring about peace? I don’t know. But I welcome your responses.

No comments: