“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words or actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men … and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While listening to news about the latest disasters from wars to terrorist attacks
around the world, I sometimes fantasize about what would happen if, instead of
dropping bombs on civilian populations, mediators by the tens of thousands
were parachuted into war zones to initiate conversations across battle lines; if,
instead of shooting bullets, we organized public dialogues and shot questions at
each side; if, instead of mourning the loss of children’s lives by visiting equal or
greater losses on the children of the enemy, we became surrogate mourners,
turning every lost life into the name of a school, hospital, library, road, or olive
grove, dedicated to those who died because we lacked the skills to get along.
I realize these are wishful fantasies, yet within their whimsy lies a startling truth
that surfaces when we ask: what would we do after parachuting in once we hit
the ground? We can then begin to see that it is possible for us to have an impact,
even on the willingness of embittered, intransigent opponents to avoid war and
terrorism by building people’s capacity to promote alternative ways of
expressing, negotiating, and resolving their differences. I began referring to this
idea as “Mediators Beyond Borders.”
Conflict as a Border or Boundary
All conflicts take place between people; that is, at the borders or boundaries that
separate individuals, cultures, organizations, and nations. Every conflict can
therefore be regarded as creating or reinforcing a border or boundary that divides
us, drawing a line of demarcation that separates us into opposing sides,
antagonistic positions, alien cultures, foreign experiences, and hostile camps,
isolating and alienating us from one another.
Yet every boundary is also a connection, a potentially unifying element, a place
where two sides can come together. As a result, we can therefore regard
resolution as a consensual crossing of the borders and boundaries that separate
us. Non-consensual border crossings are experienced as boundary violations,
and may be vigorously resisted. Consensual border crossings, on the other hand,
are experienced as acts of empathy and friendship, indicators of love and
affection, and precursors to collaboration, problem solving, forgiveness, and
Conflict, in this sense, is a chasm cutting us off from our own commonality. It is a
fault line isolating us from our estranged family, a schism within wholeness. As a
result, conflicts can be prevented, resolved, transformed, and transcended by
identifying the boundaries that separate us, and consensually crossing them; by
communicating across the internal and external borders we have erected to keep
ourselves safe; and by using empathy and compassion to dismantle the sources
of opposition to the Other within the Self, and within the systems we have
created to defend ourselves from others.
There are two principal reasons for doing so: first, to create positive, enjoyable
learning relationships; and second, to solve common problems. While the first is
optional, the second is mandatory. The problems we are increasingly forced to
confront have no borders, threaten our very survival, and cannot be solved except
collaboratively, i.e., by crossing social, economic, political, religious, ethnic,
gender, and cultural borders, and by building relationships as a result that allow
us to transcend and move beyond them. As discussed in Chapter 1, some of the
problems that clearly require us to move beyond borders presently include:
• global warming • exhaustion of the oceans
• species extinction • decreasing bio-diversity
• air and water pollution • deforestation
• resort to warfare • nuclear proliferation
• drug-resistant diseases • global pandemics
• overuse of fertilizers • loss of arable land
• religious intolerance • terrorism
• torture • prejudice and intolerance
• genocide • “ethnic cleansing”
• AIDS and bird flu • sexual trafficking and abuse
• narcotics smuggling • organized crime
What would it take to successfully mediate these conflicts? If time, money, laws,
bureaucracy, expertise, and willingness to participate were not obstacles, what
methods and programs might we employ to reduce the bloodshed and return to
peace and unity once upheavals subside? What could the United Nations,
national governments, or non-governmental organizations do to discourage evil,
war, injustice, and terrorism before they begin? [For more on what the United
Nations could do, see Chapter 19 of Mediating Dangerously.]
Political conflicts are simultaneously public and private, intellectual and
emotional, procedural and structural, preventive and reactive, relational and
systemic. Because these disputes are highly complex and multi-layered,
successful resolution efforts will need to focus on supporting diverse local
collaborative initiatives, and on developing a combination of techniques and
approaches democratically, rather than simply importing or blindly imposing USspecific
Solving any of these problems will not be simple. In the face of such difficulties,
it is easy to think: we are so few, so isolated, so imperfect, so poorly prepared,
and the problems we face are so vast, universal, multifaceted, and ingrained,
how could we possibly make a difference? The real question, however, is: how
can we stand by and not try to make a difference, no matter how imperfect our
efforts may be?
On a global level, it does not matter whose end of the ship is sinking. We inhabit a
planetary island in a vast, expanding universe. As a result, regardless of who
created these problems, we are all impacted by them, and have no sustainable
option other than to learn to discuss, negotiate, and resolve our conflicts, and
prevent them by acting together.
In truth, we already know – not just intellectually, but in our hearts, as human beings and conflict resolvers – that there are many tangible, practical ways we can make a difference, as imperfect as we are. Over the last few decades, we have developed a number of techniques for successfully communicating across much smaller, less defended interpersonal borders and cultural divides, and resolving disputes in families and communities without warfare or coercion. And it is precisely these skills that the world now needs in order to solve its problems.
An Elicitive Approach to Mediating Between Cultures
In order to achieve these goals, it is necessary first to learn how to work humbly,
ethically, and respectfully across cultural lines. Cultural differences inevitably
exacerbate conflicts, as do prejudices based on nationality, ethnicity, gender,
sexual orientation, religion, personality, and style. It is therefore critical in
working beyond borders that we learn ways of communicating, working
collaboratively, solving problems, and resolving conflicts within, between, and
across cultures that are not our own.
I have found the most effective approach in developing conflict resolution
capacity across diverse cultures is the elicitive, collaborative, democratic
methodology best articulated and practiced by Mennonite mediator John Paul
Lederach. This method focuses on supplementing rather than replacing
indigenous resolution strategies, while simultaneously learning from other
cultures and developing improvements in local methods and practices. Here are
a few of the techniques I have used to bridge cross-cultural gaps, either between
the mediator and the parties, or between the parties themselves:
• Take time to warmly welcome both sides. Serve food or drink and
break bread together. Ask them to create a culturally appropriate
heartfelt context and opening for the conversation they want to
• Ask each person to clarify who they think you are, or how they
define your role, or what they expect of you and the mediation
• Ask each side to identify the ground rules that will make them feel
respected, communicate effectively, and better able to resolve their
• Elicit a prioritization of conflicts from each side. What are the words for different kinds of conflict? Which are most serious and which are least? What is commonly done in response to each? Compare similarities and differences between cultures, then do the same for conflict styles and resolution techniques.
• Ask people to rank their available options from war to surrender,
and explore the reasons they might choose one over another.
• Ask people to state, pantomime, role-play, draw, or script how
conflicts are resolved in their culture. To whom do they go to for
assistance? What roles do third parties traditionally play? Which
techniques do they use when, and why? How do they mediate,
forgive, and reconcile? Where do they get stuck and why?
• Invite volunteers from opposing cultures to jointly design a
culturally inclusive, enriched, multilayered, comprehensive
conflict resolution system to help them avoid future disputes.
• Ask each side to meet separately and list the words that describe
the communication, negotiation, or conflict style of the opposing
culture and, next to it, the words that describe their own. Exchange
lists and ask each side to respond. Do the same with conflicting
ideas, feelings such as anger, or attitudes toward the issues.
• Establish common points of reference by asking someone from each
culture to indicate their values, or goals for their relationship with
the other culture, or aspirations for the resolution process.
• Ask questions like: “What does that mean to you?” “What does the
word ‘fairness’ indicate or imply to you?” “Can you give an
• Acknowledge and model respect for differences, and ask questions
if you are not sure what things mean.
• Ask each person to say one thing they are proud of with regard to
their culture, ethnicity, or group, and why.
• If appropriate, ask if there is anything they dislike about their
culture, ethnicity, or group, and why.
• Ask groups in conflict to say what they most appreciate about the
opposing group or culture and why.
• Ask them to bring cultural artifacts, such as poems, music, or
artifacts, and share stories that would help an outsider understand
and appreciate their culture.
• Ask each side to identify a common stereotype regarding their
culture, what it feels like, and why. Then ask them to describe what
their culture is actually like, why the stereotype is inaccurate, and
what they would most like others to know about them.
• Ask what rituals are used in each culture to end conflicts or reach
forgiveness, such as shaking hands, then design combined or
simultaneous rituals for closure and reconciliation.
In many countries that lack significant long-term experience with social,
economic, or political democracy, many ancient indigenous tribal or civil societal
conflict resolution traditions that originally emphasized collaboration, and
democratic, interest-based interactions were gradually supplanted by or
subordinated to conformist, competitive, autocratic, power-based processes that
relied on directives and hierarchical authority from above, rather than on
democratic participation, curiosity, community, and insight from below.
While both of these have proven useful, prevention, resolution, transformation,
and transcendence occur more often when ancient interest-based resolution
processes can be revived and reintegrated using elicitive techniques. An example
is the panchayat system in India and Pakistan, which originally resolved disputes
communally, but in many places became dependent on local political leaders
who had been hierarchically selected from outside. Another example is palaver,
which consists largely of continuous community dialogue, and is still used in
parts of Angola, Mozambique, and other countries in Southern Africa. Yet with
the rise of large, urban centers, the old techniques have been bypassed, or
become institutionalized and less effective in recent years. Yet when revived and
combined with modern methodologies, these ancient practices can invigorate the
process of dispute resolution and help us all learn from one other.
Race, Class, Ethnic, and Cross-Cultural Conflicts
It has become increasingly clear, especially since the devastation of New Orleans
by Hurricane Katrina and a number of disputes alleging police brutality in ethnic
urban communities, that resolving conflicts requires us to learn ways of crossing
the invisible boundaries that separate genders, races, classes, ethnicities, and
Indeed, gender, race, class, ethnic, and cross-cultural conflicts are now common
occurrences, not only in the US, but Europe and elsewhere around the world. In
many large cities, poverty, underfunded schools, violence, delinquency, gang
warfare, drive-by shootings, and drugs as big business are everyday events that
have habituated us to the spectacle of people destroying themselves and their
communities. Rapid changes in demographics, cultural rivalries, and economic
inequalities inevitably accentuate these conflicts.
Of course, there have always been conflicts between people living in close
proximity to one another whose cultures, religions, and languages are
fundamentally different. There have been conflicts throughout history between
men and women, white and black, rich and poor, gay and straight, privileged
and dispossessed, hard working and laid back. There have also been conflicts
between people who simply think and behave differently, as for example,
between those who occupy positions of power and those who do not, those who
want to protect natural resources and those who seek to profit by them, those
who advocate change and those who struggle to hold onto traditions.
These conflicts take place within a context, environment, or system that has been
shaped by a wide range of cultural, familial, organizational, social, economic,
and political influences, all of which can dramatically impact the ways people
behave when they are in conflict. We easily recognize, for example, that there are
cultures that actively promote avoidance and obedience while others promote
engagement and dissent. There are family systems that support secrecy and
authority, while others encourage openness and dialogue. There are
organizations that reward individuality and distrust, while others build
teamwork and trust. There are social systems that promote inequality and
inequity, while others try to reduce them. There are economic systems that prize
competition and individual efforts, while others support collaboration and social
engagement. And there are political systems that are dictatorial and corrupt,
while others are more democratic and transparent.
In periods of social chaos, economic crisis, and profound political change,
conflicts between these different orientations and tendencies inevitably increase.
These conflicts are nearly always experienced as personal, emotional, isolating,
and unique, yet it is clear, most often in retrospect, that these are systemic
conflicts that are inspired and influenced by cultural, social, economic, and
Five Intervention Strategies
In order to recover from the aftermath of severe conflicts such as war and
genocide, people in divided communities need to develop a broad range of skills,
including Communication skills in order to reduce bias and prejudice and engage
in constructive dialogue; negotiation skills to solve problems and settle
differences; emotional processing skills to work through rage and guilt and
assuage grief and loss; mediation skills to resolve disputes collaboratively;
community building skills to develop interest-based, collaborative leadership and
become productive, functional communities again; heart and spirit enhancing
skills to rebuild empathy and compassion and encourage forgiveness and
reconciliation; and conflict resolution systems design skills to prevent and resolve
future disputes before they become intractable.
In working with diverse cultures, communities, and nations to build local
capacity to resolve conflicts, it is essential to develop skills in each of these areas.
There are dozens of additional ways of assisting people to recover from their
conflicts and to learn practical methods for preventing, resolving, transforming,
and transcending them. Combining these together, we can identify five
fundamental intervention strategies that have proven useful in my experience in
building local capacity to achieve these goals.
1. Responding to Grief and Loss
The first strategy is to actively encourage the open expression of grief and rage
that were triggered by the conflict, but to do so by first creating a context, process,
and setting that are constructive and oriented to resolution and reconciliation,
such as that invented by the South African Truth and Reconciliation
Grief, along with denial and rage, are natural emotions in processing loss,
whether it be the loss of a loved one, a way of life, or material goods, position, or
influence. It is normal to blame others for one’s loss and feed enmity and conflict
with accusations and blaming. Yet healing comes when people face their losses,
express profound grief, tell stories about what happened, describe their feelings,
hear each other’s subjective truths, open their hearts to forgiveness and
reconciliation, and collaboratively seek to prevent future clashes.
Modern psychology has created a useful set of tools for responding to grief, loss,
understanding the desire for revenge, and helping people overcome them. Every
culture has its own rituals for handling painful emotions, and these rituals
should be respected and included in the conflict resolution process. Yet there are
times, places, and individuals for whom these rituals will be inapplicable or
ineffective, and all rituals can be creatively improved and supplemented using
insights drawn from experiences in conflict resolution.
Responding to loss can be seen as requiring efforts in four principal stages.
1) Design an environment within which it becomes possible to
encourage and support expressions of grief and rage.
2) Examine prejudicial views being spread about “the enemy” and
explore alternatives such as forgiveness, reconciliation,
collaboration, and heartfelt communication.
3) Develop skills in directing future expressions of grief and rage in
the direction of problem solving, negotiation, collaboration, and
4) Use these skills to create a sense of larger community, so that future
conflicts are resolved in ways that do not require the use of
By way of illustration, I have asked hostile racial, religious, and ethnic groups to
meet in mixed or self-same teams to discuss and answer the following questions:
• What is one thing you lost as a result of this conflict, or one thing
that happened that you are still grieving over?
• What is one thing someone said or did to you or others that you
find it difficult to forgive, and never, ever want to experience
• What is one thing someone said or did that supported you or
others when this happened, or that gave you strength or courage,
or helped you recover?
• What is one thing the people who are here could do right now to
help make sure that what happened to you will never happen
• What is one thing you would be willing to do to help make sure
• What is one wish you have for your future relationship with each
other, or for the relationship between your children and
• What is one thing you would be willing to do starting now to help
those children have the relationship you would like them to have?
2. Dismantling Prejudice and Bias
A second strategy is to systematically dismantle the prejudices and stereotypes of
the “enemy” through a combination of sensitivity to others, awareness of one’s
own biases and prejudices, storytelling, honest dialogue over differences,
problem solving, collaborative negotiation, conflict resolution, and jointly
planning how to face common problems in the future.
Every community experiences cross-cultural, ethnic, racial, national, and
religious conflicts, and in every community these conflicts interfere with peace
and cooperation, unity and progress. These conflicts grow out of biases and
prejudices regarding culture, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics, nationality,
language skills, handicap, sexual orientation, and countless other differences that
can be surfaced and successfully resolved in open-dialogue sessions that teach
people how to become aware of their biases and prejudices and resolve crosscultural
Creative interventions, techniques, and exercises can assist people in becoming
more aware of their biases and realizing that differences can be a source of
strength and celebration. These exercises encourage pride in one’s culture or
background without denigrating anyone else’s right to feel pride in theirs. They
use storytelling to elicit empathy and person-to-person understanding, and
group presentations to promote learning from each other.
Specific conflicts can then be analyzed through simulations, and alternative
solutions generated through joint analysis of group experiences. For example, I
have used the following exercises, even in large community groups, to reduce
prejudices and cross-cultural conflicts:
• Introductions: Ask people to turn to the person next to them and
introduce themselves by describing their personal history and
• Reclaiming Pride: Ask participants to state their names, the groups
with which they identity, and why they are proud to belong to
them, as in “I am a _____, _____, _____, and _____,” listing different
sources of identity.
• What’s in a Name? In mixed dyads, ask people to describe the origin
and meaning of their names and how they came by them.
• Storytelling: Each person finds someone from a different group or
culture and tells a story about what it felt like to grow up as a
member of their group or culture.
• Assessing Group Identity: Participants discuss what they get by
identifying with a group, and what they give in return.
• Personalizing Discrimination: In mixed dyads or small groups,
participants describe a time when they felt disrespected or
discriminated against for any reason, and compare their
• Reframing Stereotypes: In mixed or self-same dyads, people describe
the stereotypes and prejudices others have about their group while
their partners write down key descriptive words and phrases,
which they later compare and reframe as positives.
• Observing Discrimination: In mixed dyads, participants describe a
time when they witnessed discrimination against someone else.
What did they do? How successful was it? What might they have
done instead? What kept them from doing more? How could they
overcome these obstacles?
• Owning Prejudice: Participants in teams write down all the
prejudicial statements they can think of, analyze them, identify
their common elements, and read these elements out to the group.
• Overcoming Prejudice: In dyads, participants describe a personal
prejudice or stereotype they had or have, what they did or are
doing to overcome it, then ask for and receive coaching, preferably
from someone in that group, on what else they might do.
• Which Minority are You?: Participants list all the ways they are a
minority, report on the total number of ways, and discuss them.
• Explaining Prejudice: Participants in self-same groups identify the
prejudices and stereotypes other groups have of them, then explain
the truth about their culture and answer questions others have
about their group but were afraid to ask.
• A Celebration of Differences: Participants are asked to stand and be
applauded for their differences, in age, family backgrounds, skills,
languages, cultures, and personal life experiences.
[Based partly on work by the National Coalition Building Institute]
3. Developing Skills in Interest-Based Processes
A third intervention strategy is to develop skills within local neighborhoods and
communities in implementing these strategies, as well as in interest-based
processes such as group facilitation, public dialogue, strategic planning,
collaborative negotiation, and peer mediation. Teams of volunteers can then
conduct skill-building workshops, not only for conflict resolvers, but for mixed
groups of neighbors, community activists, therapists, clergy, managers, union
leaders, judges, attorneys, government officials, and leaders in civil society.
For example, in Los Angeles following the civil unrest in response to the beating
of Rodney King, I helped train Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
workers to facilitate community dialogues between hostile racial and ethnic
groups, and go door-to-door to de-escalate potentially explosive conflicts. Here
are some of the exercises I used:
• Communication and Miscommunication: Self-same groups identify the
communications, behaviors, and signals they or other groups do
not understand about their culture, and suggest ways to clear up
• Mock Conflict: Participants demonstrate a typical cross-cultural
conflict in a fishbowl while observers describe their reactions and
volunteers offer suggestions on how to mediate.
• Offensive Remarks: A volunteer starts to make an offensive comment
or joke, and observers offer coaching on possible ways to respond.
• Observing Cultural Bias: As homework, participants collect
examples of biases and prejudices in the media and share them.
• Social Change: Cross-cultural teams discuss what they could do to
change prejudicial attitudes and behaviors among family, friends,
and peers, brainstorm suggestions, and agree to implement them.
• Institutional Change: Participants discuss what their organizations
and institutions could do to counteract prejudice, and what they
might do together to encourage them to change.
• Breaking Bread: Ask each participant to invite someone from the
other groups or cultures in their community to their home for a
potluck dinner, and exchange food, music, poetry, artifacts, and
stories from their cultures. Then, ask each of them to do the same
next month, and pass it on.
• What I Will Do: Each person indicates one thing they learned and are
willing to do differently in the future to reduce cross-cultural conflict.
4. Encouraging Forgiveness and Reconciliation
A fourth strategy is to encourage forgiveness and reconciliation by creating
profound, spiritual, open-hearted communications and direct, heart-to-heart
dialogue between former antagonists. I discuss these techniques in greater detail
in Mediating Dangerously and The Crossroads of Conflict, but have often found it
useful, for example, to ask adversaries to:
• tell their opponent directly what they most want or need to hear in
order for the conflict to be over for them
• acknowledge the positive intentions or character of the other person or group
• apologize for what they did or did not do in the conflict that was
counterproductive, or allowed the conflict to continue
• clarify through stories the price they have paid for the conflict, and
why it is difficult for them to forgive
• list all the reasons for not forgiving them, then identify what it will
cost them in their lives to hold on to each of those reasons
• say what they most want to say to each other, straight from the
heart, as though this were the last conversation they were ever
going to have
• articulate what they each believe are the most important lessons
they learned from their conflict and what they are willing to do
• design a ritual of release, completion, or closure that expresses their
desire for forgiveness and reconciliation, and agree to execute it
5. Redesigning Systems and Institutionalizing Conflict Resolution
A fifth strategy consists of redesigning systems and institutionalizing conflict
resolution skills so that future disputes can be prevented or resolved without
violence or coercion. This strategy consists of using conflict resolution systems
design principles that have been discussed in earlier chapters to identify what
the organization, institution, or system contributed to the conflict, and work
together to change it.
For example, I have created mixed “conflict audit teams” to identify the systemic
sources of conflict in specific organizations and institutions by asking the
following questions drawn from Resolving Conflicts at Work:
• How much time and money have been spent on lawyers, litigation,
and human resources personnel regarding conflict?
• How much time does the average manager, human resource
personnel, union representative, and employee spend each week
preventing, managing and resolving conflicts? At what salary rate
and total cost?
• What has been lost due to stress-related illnesses and conflict-related
• How much time has been spent on rumors, gossip, lost productivity,
and reduced collaboration due to conflict?
• What impact has conflict had on morale and motivation?
• How many conflicts have recurred because they were never fully
What personal and organizational opportunities have been lost due to conflict?
• Where might the organization be by now if it had not experienced these conflicts?
• What are the organization’s unspoken expectations and values
• What are the main messages sent by the organizational culture
• Are negative conflict behaviors being rewarded? If so, how?
• How do leaders and managers typically respond to conflicts? How
might they respond better?
• Have people been trained in conflict resolution techniques? Why
• What do different people do when they experience conflicts? Where
do they go for help?
• Is there an internal conflict resolution procedure? Who is allowed to
use it? How often is it used? Do people know about it?
• How satisfied are people with existing conflict resolution processes?
• How skilled are they in using those processes?
• What obstacles hinder prevention, resolution, transformation, and
transcendence of conflicts?
• How can people be motivated to resolve their disputes more quickly
• What skills do people need to resolve conflicts more successfully?
• What systemic changes would reduce or help to resolve future
Conflict audit teams in communities and countries could easily adapt these
questions, then join with dispute resolvers, organizations, agencies, and others to
design programs that would provide a broad array of resolution alternatives and
strategically integrate the initiatives that are aimed at prevention across social,
economic, political, and cultural lines.
In the aftermath of wars, urban riots, and natural disasters, cleaning up the ashes
and debris is the least formidable challenge. Something far more difficult must be
done to heal the fury, mistrust, rage, and sense of loss that prevents healing from
these outbursts, thereby triggering renewed outbreaks. As Israeli novelist David
Grossman eloquently recorded:
I feel the heavy toll that I, and the people I know and see around me, pay
for this ongoing state of war. The shrinking of the “surface area” of the
soul that comes in contact with the bloody and menacing world out there.
The limiting of one’s ability and willingness to identify, even a little, with
the pain of others; the suspension of moral judgment. The despair most of
us experience of possibly understanding our own true thoughts in a state
of affairs that is so terrifying and deceptive and complex, both morally
and practically… Because of the perpetual — and all-too-real — fear of
being hurt, or of death, or of unbearable loss, or even of “mere”
humiliation, each and every one of us, the conflict’s citizens, its prisoners,
trim down our own vivacity, our internal mental and cognitive diaspora,
ever enveloping ourselves with protective layers, which end up
In response to such overwhelming challenges, what can we possibly do? While
large-scale, long-term solutions to war and catastrophe can only be put in motion
through political action, it is possible for each of us in our communities to begin
the healing process. Most often, this means working locally and preventatively to
resolve on-going conflicts, and simultaneously build the capacity and the skills
needed to interact differently.
This means teaching people ways of communicating effectively across cultural
divides, solving common problems creatively, negotiating collaboratively,
resolving disputes without violence, and encouraging forgiveness and
reconciliation, even after the worst atrocities. Without these skills, the suffering
will simply continue, bringing new suffering in its wake.
It is possible, for example, for local communities to establish an expanding
network of simple, replicable, peer-based community mediation projects in crisis
areas, in which multicultural mediators volunteer, or are elected by their
neighbors in the blocks where they live, given training and hands-on experience,
and develop the capacity to expand outward into new communities on a blockby-
block, house-by-house, community-by-community basis.
A simple “block-by-block” project might begin by selecting a small number of
blocks representing diverse neighborhoods, then bringing hostile or divergent
groups together, asking them to identify the sources of conflict between them,
and analyzing the techniques most needed to resolve them. It would then be
possible to train cross-cultural co-mediation/community facilitation teams to
help prevent, resolve, transform, and transcend local conflicts; reach consensus
on shared cultural values; facilitate open dialogues and problem-solving sessions
on community problems, and design conflict resolution systems for preventing
future conflicts between diverse cultures.
In many US neighborhoods, for example, cross-cultural teams of mediators
representing African-American, Hispanic, Asian Pacific-American and White
communities, might be trained in processing people’s feelings of grief and loss
regarding recent tragedies, or solving problems and negotiating with other
communities, or facilitating community meetings, or reducing prejudice against
people from different cultures who are seen as “enemies,” or using state-of-theart
mediation techniques to resolve community and cross-cultural conflicts, or
reaching forgiveness and reconciliation.
A Twelve-Step Program
These strategies and techniques, in combination and adopted as a whole, suggest
a generic 12-step plan that might be used to increase the capacity of communities
and countries to help prevent, resolve, transform, and transcend their conflicts.
These 12 steps can be modified to match local conditions and used to break the
cycle and addiction to local violence that ultimately impacts all of us:
1. Identify potential partners and allies and convene a cross-cultural team of
experienced trainers to conduct research and deepen understanding of
what is required.
2. Meet with leaders of hostile groups, cultures, or factions to secure
agreement on a common plan, build trust, and encourage ongoing
3. Interview leaders of opposing groups, cultures, and factions, listen
empathetically to their issues, and clarify cultural mores, values, interests,
goals, and concerns.
4. Elicit from each group, culture, or faction the methods currently being
used to resolve disputes, and identify ways of validating, supplementing,
and expanding these core strategies, while introducing new strategies to
adapt and try out to see which are successful.
5. Select or elect a team of volunteers from each group who would like to be
trained as mediators, facilitators, and trainers.
6. Form cross-cultural teams of volunteer mediators and facilitators to work
in communities, schools, workplaces, government offices, and other
locations where conflicts occur.
7. Train volunteer facilitators in techniques for processing grief and loss,
reducing prejudice, facilitating public dialogue, organizing Truth and
Reconciliation Commissions, and similar efforts to build collaborative
relationships and improve trust.
8. Train teams to facilitate public dialogues, arbitrate disputes, encourage
forgiveness and reconciliation, and conduct conflict audits.
9. Form cross-cultural teams to train trainers in these techniques throughout
civil society, and support for them to train others.
10. Conduct periodic feedback, evaluations, audits, and course corrections to
improve the capacity of volunteers and identify where future support may
11. Develop case studies revealing successes and failures and build ongoing
popular, financial, and institutional support for resolution programs.
12. Design conflict resolution systems for civil society, economic
organizations, political parties, and government agencies that provide
increased opportunities for early intervention, open dialogue, problem
solving, collaborative negotiation mediation, and between adversaries.
Implementing these steps and modifying them to fit each situation will allow us
to substantially reduce the destructiveness of conflict and create a platform on
which deeper social and political changes might take place. By comparison with
the long-term costs of conflict, the most ambitious program imaginable would be
inexpensive and well worth undertaking.
Postscript: A New Organization
Since writing about this idea, Mediators Beyond Borders: Pathways to Peace and
Reconciliation (MBB) has become a reality, and is now a fully functioning
organization working to bring a rich array of conflict resolution techniques to
people internationally. Its goal is to recruit volunteers within the dispute
resolution community to support projects and programs that build conflict
resolution capacity globally.
The work of MBB is principally accomplished through project teams in which
people commit to work in a particular country, community, or region over a
period of several years. Each project team consists of a small, diverse group of
people who travel to a designated area several times a year to learn about
conflicts from local sources and assist in designing and delivering conflict
resolution trainings and services without charge. Members also work in
committees and content groups to deepen our understanding of the field and the
methods and techniques that prove most useful.
MBB is not alone or unique in attempting to assist people in other countries and
cultures to resolve disputes without warfare, and works in partnership with
other individuals, groups and organizations. What is unique about MBB is its
focus on building local capacity in a variety of skills, including mediating family,
community, environmental, and public policy disputes; reducing bias and
prejudice; developing restorative justice and victim-offender programs;
implementing multidoor courthouses; applying conflict resolution systems
design principles; and encouraging forgiveness and reconciliation.
MBB also seeks to improve skills in group facilitation, informal problem-solving,
team building, consensus decision-making, linking leadership, strategic
planning, community building, and organizational development, both
internationally and in the US. It uses computer technology, including the
Internet, blog sites, websites, and audio and video uploads to transfer conflict
resolution information, build networks and ongoing relationships, and allow
people in any country to become directly involved in providing assistance where
it is needed.
MBB chapters and individual members provide ongoing communication,
research, training materials, and Internet support to local mediators, conflict
revolutionists, disputing parties, and project teams. They assist in developing,
refining, and disseminating best practices in dispute resolution, including
training designs, materials, role-plays, and turnkey programs.
MBB is committed to a comprehensive, holistic approach that seeks to integrate
innovative conflict resolution methods with traditional and local techniques, and
develop a strategic methodology for addressing the sources of conflict within
organizations, communities and societies. It is committed to a sustainable, longterm
approach to local capacity building, together with a systems design
orientation that focuses on prevention, transparency and sustainability.
30 Things You Can Do
If you would like to support this work or create your own local projects to
encourage conflict resolution in other communities, countries, and cultures, there
are countless actions you can take, some small and quick, others large and long
lasting, each of which can be immensely helpful. To illustrate, here are 30 ways
you might decide to contribute:
1. Join MBB or similar organizations and help publicize their work. To
contact MBB, visit the website at www.mediatorsbeyondborders.org, or
2. Send a donation to MBB or similar organizations and assist them in
locating potential funders and making media contacts in your area.
3. If you have expertise in a particular region, country, language, or conflict
and would like to help or become a member of a project team and work in
that country for a period of several years, contact MBB and specify your
4. If you have training materials in communication, dialogue, problemsolving,
negotiation, mediation, prejudice reduction, conflict resolution,
and similar topics that might be useful to people in conflict areas,
especially if they are in other languages, send them to the MBB Library.
5. If you have useful information regarding a country or region where
conflicts are occurring, contact MBB and share or coordinate your
information with others through our newly created “conflictpedia”.
6. Select a country or region where conflicts are occurring, form a small
group of like-minded people, or create a local chapter of MBB to study,
think about, and discuss what is happening there.
7. Go online to see what has already been written about the conflict and
synthesize it in a briefing paper that others can supplement online or read
before traveling there.
8. Prepare a summary of the history of a conflict; or description of the
dominant political forces and constituencies, economic factors, or
environmental concerns that impact it; or list the main sources of impasse
and similar information that might be useful in briefing groups or project
teams working there.
9. Adopt one or more pen pals in an area you select and wherever possible
add correspondents from the opposing side.
10. Once you make contact, ask questions to expand your knowledge and
understanding of what is taking place there, then pass it on.
11. Find out what is needed or desired by way of assistance and let MBB or
similar organizations know.
12. Identify important cultural “dos and don’ts” and publicize them.
13. Prepare a list of useful quotations from indigenous authors, including
poetry, stories, folklore, novels, religious tracts, and political ideas and
send them to the MBB Library.
14. Develop a list of stereotypes used by each group against their opponents
and send it to MBB.
15. Start a local area blog, or send information and ideas to MBB’s blog site at
16. Collect important news articles from media in and around the area,
translate them, and forward them to others.
17. Create a list with useful descriptions and contact information identifying
mediators, facilitators, trainers, and allied professionals in the country or
region who might be willing to assist.
18. List other potentially useful contacts, such as leaders in government and
hostile organizations, for use by groups or project teams in the area.
19. Identify institutions and organizations already contributing to peace,
including descriptions and contact information.
20. Organize a public dialogue in your community to discuss global conflicts,
pass resolutions supporting conflict resolution, and publicize facts and
stories that raise people’s awareness.
21. Send pen pals information about MBB and other organizations, and assist
them in forming chapters or supporting conflict resolution activities in
22. Send useful books, training materials, and articles to conflict resolvers in
23. Assist in preparing or revising training materials targeted to areas you
24. Contact media to increase awareness of conflict resolution, write letters to
the editor, or op-ed pieces advocating meditative approaches to conflict.
25. Contact political representatives to encourage support for conflict
26. Write to the United Nations, especially country representatives, and
encourage use of conflict resolution.
27. Contact schools, religious gatherings, etc., and ask to speak about conflict
resolution and conflicted areas.
28. Invite friends from ethnically diverse communities to dinner, ask them to
bring cultural food, artifacts, and materials to share, discuss conflicts in
the area, and agree on ways you can help.
29. Travel to an area to gather information first-hand, but do not intervene in
conflicts without adequate training, preparation, support, and assistance.
30. Make copies of this list and pass it on. If these ideas don’t succeed, invent
others. Don’t give up. Remember that a journey of a thousand miles starts
with a single step.
What is most important in reducing the level of global conflict is for each of us to
recognize that if we cannot learn to resolve our conflicts without war, injustice,
coercion, and catastrophic loss, we will be unable to survive, either as a species
or as a planet.
More profoundly, by responding to global conflicts in these preventative,
heartfelt, systemic ways, we may actually prepare the groundwork for the next
great leap in human history – the leap into international cooperation and
coexistence without war. Through these efforts, we may someday achieve the
transformation promised in a pamphlet issued by the South African Truth and
Instead of revenge, there will be reconciliation.
Instead of forgetfulness, there will be knowledge and acknowledgement.
Instead of rejection, there will be acceptance by a compassionate state.
Instead of violations of human rights, there will be restoration of the
moral order and respect for the rule of law.
Let’s make it happen. Right now. Starting with us.
Kenneth Cloke is Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and a mediator, arbitrator, attorney, coach, consultant, and trainer. Cloke is a nationally recognized speaker and author of many journal articles and books. His coaching, consulting, facilitation, and training practice includes work with leaders of public, private and non-profit organizations on effective communications, collaborative negotiation, relationship building, conflict resolution, leadership development, strategic planning, team building, and organizational change. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Law; Harvard University School of Law, Program on Negotiation, Insight Initiative; Global Negotiation Insight Institute; Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Cape Cod Institute; University of Amsterdam ADR Institute; and Saybrook University. He has done conflict resolution work in Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, England, Georgia, India, Ireland, Japan, Latin America, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Ukraine, former USSR, United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. He is President of Mediators Beyond Borders.