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The hard path to peace


While scrolling through old notes this week, I came across a handful I made after Anthony Bourdain’s death from various show episodes and writings. One that stuck out came from the dinner he shared with President Obama in Vietnam (video). Obama said to Bourdain, “We make peace with our enemies. Not our friends.”

We are in a period of tumult in our country and planet. Wars with words and weapons are being waged. From where each of us sits, its natural to feel we are receiving a disproportionate amount of the ranker but all sides are playing significant roles in today’s climate.

Peace indeed is made with enemies, not friends. The notion of peace is something that rings strong for most but as I weigh this comment from the President, it reminds me peace may be harder for some than war. If we want peace, we need to be open enough to engage in the hard task of getting to know "the others". As Brené Brown says of our culture and defense mechanisms, “There is no courage without vulnerability but we’re all taught to be brave and yet we’re warned against being vulnerable”.

Its easy to say we want a more peaceful place to call home and a country that gets along but we must realize the tendency to wish for it on our terms. As I have reflected on how we arrive at peace, I see two paths:

  1. The complete dehumanization and suppression/elimination of the opposition or

  2. Perhaps the even harder road - compromise.

We can either strip those who stand in our way of their rights and humanity or we must lean in and work with them to find a middle ground forward. This requires stepping back from any number of narratives such as, “Trump supporters are idiots”, “liberal elites are out of touch”, “immigrants are mooching off the system” and “white people are entitled and privileged”. All of these are great ways to shut people down and miss the chance to have the hard conversations. Peace and prosperity will prove elusive as long as we continue to go into every conversation with our armor on and responses/interruptions prepared in advance rather than listening. Or as Harriet Lerner said, "listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard."

How do we put this into play in the real world? Two thoughts.

First, consider Krista Tippett who says, “I can disagree with your opinion but I cannot disagree with your experience.” What can you learn from someone about why they believe what they do and try hard to listen and reflect on it. Be curious. Probe deeper to discover what they experienced, saw or heard to cause them to feel the way they do.

Second, in the book Our Towns, the authors concluded from their 100,000 mile journey across the country that people who might disagree with one another politically worked together well when they focused on local issues that evoked shared goals and beliefs rather than entrenched national issues.

Something tells me history will not remember the best name caller but rather the one who dared to cease and get to know the person they are so sure they hate.

Go Forth Boldly

“People are hard to hate up close. Move in”, Brené Brown


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