Mediators and peacemakers work with individuals and groups experiencing conflict. The role of a mediator is to be an impartial, third-party facilitator who helps individuals and / or groups achieve resolution to a conflict. A “conflict sherpa,” the mediator is trained to move parties through a resolution process while ensuring the parties maintain complete control over the outcome. The process for arriving at resolution belongs to the mediator. The resolution of the dispute belongs to the parties, which means a resolution may or may not occur. Relationships may or may not be restored. The pain associated with the conflict may or may not be healed. Forgiveness may or may not be desired and / or achieved. The role of a peacemaker and peace-builder goes far beyond that.
The role of a peacemaker or peace builder is to help individuals and parties restore peace. Peace is an elusive term that requires definition in order to ensure clarity of the intended understanding. Sustainable peace requires justice and equality so that people may experience lives of dignity free of fear. Peace is human security. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather a state of navigating conflict nonviolently while respecting the human dignity of all people.
A breach in peace occurs at an individual level and at a collective level any time the dignity of another person is violated and the ability of another person to experience justice and equality is violated. A breach in peace occurs in large and small ways. It occurs in relationships between friends, lovers, family members, coworkers, communities, nations, tribes, etc.
A breach in peace may last minutes, days, months, years or it may occur over the course of many lifetimes. There are people who live in chronic conflict who have no living memory of peace and countries that have never experienced peace.
When there is a lack of peace, there is always a need for forgiveness. The person or persons who created the harm must go through a process of forgiveness in order to restore peace. The person or persons who experienced harm is inextricably linked to the offending party and must join that party in a process of forgiveness in order for peace to be restored. This is not to say that cohabitation or co-existence is not possible without forgiveness. But peace — restoring human dignity, justice, equality and human security — requires forgiveness. Which of course, begs the question: What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a three-pronged process that includes:
- The releasing of another’s guilt and restoring that person or persons to innocence
- The willingness to respect the human dignity of the person or persons who created harm
- The willingness to understand that the person or persons who did harm are separate from their actions.
When we release a person of his or her guilt and restore that person to innocence, we are acknowledging that what unites us as humans is our natural state of innocence. Innocence is a manifestation of love, which is the thread that weaves the interconnected structure of our human experience. Guilt — as a state of being — is a false perception. Guilt is related to the actions of a person and not the essence of the person. Restoring a person to innocence is a shift in perception from guilt to love.
Respecting the human dignity of the person who created harm is to apply context to his or her actions. It requires the willingness and courage to look beyond the surface of his actions to explore the pain, wrong-mindedness and illusions that served as a guide for the harmful behavior. It is recognizing that because the person is human, he or she is worthy of being treated with respect.
Separating a person’s actions from his or her personhood is acknowledging that no person is the sum of his or her worst action. It is acknowledging that people can change. Separating a person from his or her actions conveys a belief in hope for a better future and a belief in its possibility.
This definition of forgiveness is as applicable to interpersonal relationships and professional relationships as it is communities and nations in conflict. While it is likely not a stretch to see how one might apply this definition to interpersonal relationships — loved ones, siblings, family members — it can be far more complex to apply it to the work environment and communities and nations that have experienced chronic conflict over the course of decades.
Whether working with individuals seeking to restore peace in their personal and / or professional relationships; individuals seeking to restore peace with the individuals and communities they have harmed; or representatives of nations seeking to restore peace with specific citizen populations; forgiveness plays an intrinsic role in peace building.
If you are experiencing chronic conflict with a friend, family member or co-worker, engaging a third-party peace-building trainer can help you transform your relationships and experience peace together.
Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.