John Paul Lederach 2016 PPRC Key Note Remarks

John Paul Lederach, a highly respected and knowledgeable leader in peacebuilding, shared his experience of reconciliation with participants via Skype at the 2016 Peace Practitioners Research Conference on November 26.

The following is notes from his key note address on November 26:

John Paul Lederach

The importance of working in local context, which requires deep patience

Along with deep patience a focus is needed on ‘making meaning’ because it defines perspective and reality. How people perceive things matters. Perceptions are how people make sense of delicate situations.

The window into this is language, the words are windows into how a persons meaning is being made. Pay attention to the language people use.

‘Making meaning’ is related to the big questions. Who am I? Who are you? Which reflect the underlying issues, which are the context of the relationships?

Meaning making and relationships define the modes of inclusion and exclusion, shaping in-group and out-group distinctions. Inclusion and exclusion are key especially in relation to decisions which affect their lives.

This is why it is also important to also pay attention to the quality of the relationships, this helps to make decisions in situations of power and interdependence.

The changing of terminology between conflict resolution and conflict transformation is more than a changing of terms it represents a fundamental shift towards a way of thinking and acting which strategically embraces the multiplicity of roles and paths needed to be engaged with to build peace, this is transformation as strategic change.

The nexus between perception, relationships and real change are fundamental to reconciliation.

We can learn a lot from people who ask honest questions about meaning of what we teach. If by resolution you mean you come here to solve problems then we have too much of that already.

We can be involved in solving problems but not actually change anything

  1. Language and perceptions
  2. Quality of relationships
  3. Strategic change (transformation not problem solving)

Sustainable development (1990s thinking) language did not have a language on reconciliation.

Perception, relationships, real change = fundamental to reconciliation

Reconciliation is about the quality of relationships we want to have

What kind of relationships do we want to build if want to have healthy community and global situation.

Reconciliation is simultaneously the aspiration and the horizon, what we know and what we cannot, where we are and the mystery into where we are going. When you talk about a horizon, it’s something you are capable of seeing but you never really reach it.

Reconciliation is about the kind of relationships we bring.

Working in reconciliation is a living paradox, a point of synergy, which is the momentum of the journey. And like a journey it is a process.

When you wake up it calls you, beckons you

That is the paradox of reconciliation

You must take up a journey towards it

Not a one time discussion or dialogue

Continues process of improvement

Under the presence of great difference and threat

The pathway of healing involves some form of encounter

Reconciliation has to do with “encounter”

Three types of encounter – a meeting, an engagement,

In a journey these encounters have a continuity to them, a sustained process, a sustained encounter.

Encounters between estranged people who find a way to engage

Perhaps, the most important is the encounter with the self, to come from a place of self-understanding and courage.

For a person to find a way to move in a direction with someone who has caused you harm is about the internal structure of a person.

Do u have the courage, are u betraying yourself, your family or your community.

Often expressed in the form of the communal, of the collective.

Move out of the safety of your inner group, engage someone who is not only an enemy but may be perceived as beyond human.

This internal work is needed/essential and is often not given enough attention or is not taken seriously.

These subtle contact skills in the moment of the encounter of a conflict episode.

This also brings the question of how we accompany this process?

This is not a skill based approach but a spiritual one, quality of awareness.

This allows us the capacity to rehumanize the other and reclaim our own humanness.

Moving in the direction of the other. How do we accompany this? Adam Curle – ‘conciliation’ – refers to the slow but sure psychological preparation

Psychological accompaniment and preparation for encouragement

How we are seen and how see others

Reconciliation is to rehumanize the other

Helping us to reimagine each other as the unique created beings we are.

I need to be able to see the other even when the other has done me harm.

To see something of myself in the other even if the other has caused me harm. This is deeply spiritual

Reconciliation has a spiritual element to it

They stand in the place of great difference and threat and touch the healing heart of the encounter.

  • Meeting
  • Engaging
  • Journey

These three are all essential to the sustained process of bringing together the estranged.

Columbia, renegotiating the agreement. It the effort to end a 52 year old war

Working in communities which have hardest hit by violence

Talking about a community in Colombia refusing to engage in violence, choosing not to take weapons.

‘We know each other and live together…we are not about to accept these weapons…we don’t need weapons we need seeds, access to markets. We’re not taking these weapons, today we are choosing to think for ourselves’.

This community setup an organisation to work for peace. Their founding principles:

– The ‘membership fee’ of this community was a commitment not to kill anyone.

‘We chose to die if they chose to kill, we will not kill anymore’

-We have no enemies – we will talk with everyone

-We will seek to understand those who do not understand us

(The Colombia story is included in Lederach’s book, The Moral Imagination)

What happens when a community has the power to shift the dynamics of the cycle of violence

  1. Ability envisage themselves as a web of relationships which includes your enemy. My grandchildrens quality of life will be connected to the quality of life of my enemies grandchildren
  2. Ability to be curious
  3. Creativity, belief in the creative act, our great challenge, ability to imagine

“Violence is the ultimate act of arrogance. I have the ability to take your life because I know something more than you”.

‘The ethos of the human family. Seeing myself in the other even if they did me wrong… spiritual over rational thinking”


Questions from the Audience: 

Question: In the midst of the peace process in the Philippines how do we go about reconciliation?

Answer: I think it starts with you. The community you live in. In the Philippines one thing I noticed over the years is this. Those who speak of reconciliation nationally often speak in more abstract terms. But those who talk about this locally rarely used the word reconciliation. They would have concern for very concrete, more immediate things like the opening of a market