Sunday, May 5, 2013

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interview Series. Lisa Schirch

Design, Improvisation & Healing

Lisa Schirch is Director of 3P Human Security, a partnership of organizations connecting policymakers with global civil society networks, facilitating civil-military dialogue and providing a peacebuilding lens on current policy issues. 3P Human Security is a program of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. She is also a Research Professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, and Policy Advisor for the Alliance for Peacebuilding. A former Fulbright Fellow in East and West Africa, Schirch has worked in over 20 countries in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Schirch has written four books and numerous articles on conflict prevention and strategic peacebuilding. Her current research interests include civil-military dialogue, the design and structure of a comprehensive peace process in Afghanistan, conflict assessment and program design, and the role of the media in peacebuilding. Schirch is a frequent public speaker and has TV and radio experience discussing U.S. foreign policy. Schirch holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.

Yago: Lisa, you are welcome to this blog that aims at breathing forgiveness as we deconstruct and embrace the energies of enslavement that keeps in conflict many parts of the world. I am very much interested to incorporate your understanding of ritual and symbol on the field of peacebuilding. I believe that one of the most powerful strategies of the energies that enslave us is linked with the underdevelopment of our imagination, our symbolic selves.
Pax Bellissima. Artist: Lisa Schirch
Recently you have had an art show call “Pax Bellissima” where you have shared with us your own processing of painful life experiences linked to the field of peacebuilding. But before we go into details on this regard could you share with us briefly the outstanding moments of your life story as a peacebuilder?

Lisa: I grew up in a family that was very international. So, we lived abroad when I was young, in Italy, in England… In the US I lived in a Mennonite community where there were many people from around the world travelling through. And so, I was exposed to a lot of people from a lot of different countries and a lot of different cultures from a very young age. And along with that exposure, there was the Mennonite theology which really emphasises the humanity of all people, that there are not some people that are better than others in the world… that everybody is a child of God and is worthy of being alive, and has rights.  So it was a religious version of human rights, I think, that I was taught from a very young age. I think that’s what Mennonite theology is. It’s about the rights that human beings have to live, to have dignity, to have respect. And part of that philosophy is pacifism. For me, pacifism is a commitment to peace and a belief that the use of violence to achieve peace is inherently problematic. Violence is like a virus: it leads to more violence. The use of violence to attempt to stop other people’s violence creates unintended second and third order problems. So Mennonites are sceptical of the utility of violence; and that scepticism is both theological and practical. 

There were people who had lived in different war zones coming through my community in Ohio, telling histories of violence in their countries. I think as a child I wasn’t conscious of absorbing this, but as I became older and I went to a Mennonite university and took classes in political science, I started realizing that I was very conscientious that life is not fair and that I wanted my life to support justice and fairness. (I don’t personally use the word “slavery” to refer to justice issues outside of the enslavement of African American peoples. But I think in terms of justice and injustice, and I was very keenly aware of many injustices in the world.) After college, I worked on Indigenous rights in Canada. My brother was living in Central America documenting human rights violations. I also was working on stopping US arms traffic to Central America and working in support of democracy movements. So I had a lot going on that refined my consciousness.

During a college semester abroad program, I lived and worked in a refugee camp in Costa Rica, full of upper class Nicaraguan refugees who had fled the Nicaraguan revolution. While living with refugees that once were wealthy in Nicaragua, I realized for the first time the humanity of all people. These wealthy landowners had resisted democracy efforts in Nicaragua. They had supported a repressive dictator. But in finding a solution for Nicaragua’s future, their dignity also mattered. I heard them talk about how the democratic revolution was problematic from their point of view, as it, didn’t take into consideration everybody’s interest and needs, and it didn’t lead to a social transformation where everyone else feels respected. I think that that experience planted the seeds for me of wanting a different form of social change, where we begin to engage with the powerful as well as those who are not powerful. To find ways of transforming society where it is not just another group becomes the group on top, and somebody else is being trampled underneath. But you create a society where people are around the table and expressing their interest and perceptions. Transformation is much more like a dialogue, where you find your way to go forward together. And so the field of conflict resolution, as it was called then, became conflict transformation and now is peacebuilding. For me that’s when I started realizing that I need to find this other way that brings people together. Human rights activism and the resistance movements I had seen in the US and Central America are important. I supported the values that they represented. But people in those movements tend to demonize the other side and they rarely seek to engage with people who have a different point of view.

Eventually I ended up in a Masters program and a PhD program in conflict resolution and starting studying how do you bring people together to talk: people who are really different, who see the world in a different way, who have different levels of power, forms of power, and different beliefs systems. And I think for me this is where I belong. There really are not easy answers to any of these questions. It is not just about power (the power of the gun, or the power of the vote, to push forward one agenda over another). The real question for me is how you build a society where people actually respect and listen to each other. Those values are the ones that are the most important. I still feel like a lot of the world is less interested in dialogue and more interested in imposing their views on others, even when they are really different. We all, I think, as human beings tend to think that we all know best, what is good for our society.

For me, that experience in Nicaragua planted the seeds for the work that I am doing now engaging with people who are very different. The work that I do today is trying to build the bridge between civil society, the grassroots, and those who works for justice and name injustices.

Yago: Yes, you have been working in Washington for the last 6 years as Director of 3P Human Security and now at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, out of the call of the “Center for Justice and Peacebuilding" or “CJP community" that we somehow translate all these ideas into “Washington” policy making together with peacebuilding done at grassroot levels around the world. You said the “CJP community” needed to go and to talk with US military, to talk to the State Department, and to the Congress about the foreign policy and to engage people. I know that this has been paradoxically wonderful and exhausting. Traveling to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, you faced all kind of things and many of them dramatic. As you said “your work has been mentally and physically stressful.” Lisa, could you share with us your role and your vision as a peacebuilder working in the context of the military?

Lisa: In the field of peacebuilding we try to build bridges between people who see the world in a different way. Between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis, Hutus and Tutsis, all around the world these small peacebuilding programs try to bring people together who are different, who see the world differently, and find solutions that takes into consideration everyone’s point of view, and to try to find mutually satisfying ways of addressing different people’s interests. So, for me the work in Washington is about bringing those principles of thinking about change to a large systemic level. Too much of peacebuilding has just been grassroots to grassroots, and not enough about engaging systems and institutions, structures, nations, states, infrastructures with the ideas of peacebuilding. Government need to dialogue with civil society. States don’t tend to think about peacebuilding, they usually think about security, so they come at the whole issue of peace through a different door, but they are basically asking the same question.  When the Hutus and the Tutsis start to hurt or threaten each other, what do you do? Do you send them peacekeeping troops, do you send in diplomats or what do you do?

Peacebuilding includes a wide range of options and I discuss the options and strategy of peaceubilding in my Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding. With my background these issues are very difficult because I bring such scepticism of the utility of violence. I think for many Mennonites they have rejected being part of that conversation at all, because they reject even talking with those who believe in violence and use violence.

I feel very humble when it comes to thinking about this. I don’t know what the answer is to Syria, Rwanda, South Sudan, or Darfur. I bring the scepticism that says violence is  not a simple solution to these problems. But on the other hand I don’t know what the solution is. So I am not ready to judge that there should not be peacekeeping when civilians are being slaughtered. I am a little bit slower to put all the blame out there on those planning a military intervention. I think human beings lack knowledge of ways to address situations of mass atrocity. I think, John Paul Lederach calls this the “human crudeness.” I do feel we are quite crude, none of us have all the answers.

So, for me pacifism means I am very sceptical of violence. I think people don’t think through the implications of it. They have a fantasy of fire power. They long for a quick solution, and it seems that the guy with the biggest gun can win but that is not the case in most situations. It is much more messy and there are many consequences to the use of violence.

So in Washington I feel that I am a voice of scepticism of violence. I try to raise the implications, the unintended consequences. The military calls it the second and third order effects; the effects that you haven’t plan for. Because I think that’s easier for them to hear than my Mennonite theology that is immoral to kill. Certainly I do believe that is immoral to kill, and that even the act of killing causes great scars in the people that have to kill. I think the recent news that more US soldiers died from suicide than in battle in the last year is evidence that there is a lot of internal wrestling going on with people in the military. And they have been asked to do things that go against the human nature and what people are taught; and when you are asked to do something that goes against your human nature it is very hard to live with yourself. I feel great compassion for soldiers who have been asked to torture, to participate in killings, and for those who have killed civilians. I know from listening to them, it is hard for them to live with themselves. And then I have also a lot of compassion with the soldiers that I meet in my work that don’t believe in what they are doing; they don’t feel that the war in Iraq or Afghanistan is legitimate or it is achieving anything.

I think it is this compassion and humility that is really essential to peacebuilding. I don’t have all the answers. All I can do is to raise the questions that I have experienced, and to have compassion for people who are in positions of power. To try to listen to them and their interests and sort out the legitimate concerns, the legitimate interest from those who are more centered on greed, and elite power, and elite economic interests. But even when there are elite, economic interests at stake, it is important to find a way of engaging with that – a way that is a listening engagement, and not just a condemnation. I think too often peace activists just openly condemn and push people away with their “name, blame, shame” approach. There is definitely a place and a time for that. But I don’t know whether that approach is really transformative. What does it achieve. The group blaming maybe feels better about themselves. And sometimes it can deter violent actions.  But I don’t think it is redemptive or transformative. There has to be something more than blaming and shaming, there has to be a way of listening and engaging and dialogue.

Yago: Yes! Lisa, I agree very much with what you are highlighting. This is one of the areas of exploration in this blog: the need of incorporating a paradoxical mind in the peacebuilding field; in other words, to develop a reconciling heart with the oppressors as we still fearlessly name the injustices committed by them.

Lisa: When I teach the class on violence I use the metaphor of what is called “the two hands approach.” You have one hand that is saying “no you cannot do that and you must stop hurting other people,” and another hand is stretched out saying, “I want to talk to you about what you are doing and what is going on,” and this is the whole approach to peacebuilding for me. It is saying what your values are, and being very clear that violence, suppression, slavery has to stop. On the other hand recognizing that the other person is a human being, just as I am a human being.  We are caught up together in this world, and we will change it only together. I cannot force you to change. It is only by the engagement, and the relationship, and the dialogue that things will change. I am criticized for talking to the military, some people would say that this is wrong and others, you know, say I am too liberal, too much of a bleeding heart for people who are suffering. It is a balance of justice and peace, outrage and compassion.

Yago: In fact peacebuilding is about balancing. You are talking about the importance of integrating the eastern mind with our western mind. I believe that this can be linked very much to the left and right sides of our brains. We are called to bridge holistically both sides.

Lisa: That’s interesting, that resonates, that makes sense to me.

Yago: In the same line in your book “Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding” you explain that examples of peacebuilding often center on serious, rational negotiations and formal problem-solving efforts in conflict situations. You argue that what truly bonds adversaries and helps achieve peace are the symbolic, non-verbal ritual acts – shaking hands, sharing a meal, showing a photograph of a loved one. Yet these are often overlooked as deliberate components of peace negotiations.
Do you have any meaningful example during your last six years working with the military of integrating ritual and symbol in your service? Was it easy for you to implement your vision in the “structures” of Washington?

Lisa: Absolutely, I am so glad that I wrote that book first and I did the research on the brain, and how the brain works, because I think that too many people in Washington think that everything is rational where people make a cost-benefit analysis rather than on identity or relationships. What I saw in my research for ritual and symbol and peacebuilding is that often in negotiations between stark enemies who hate each other, it was not the moments of negotiating that were transformative to them. It was the moments of relationship, dinners together, eating together, dancing together, walking together, fishing together in South Africa, sharing photos of grandchildren in Camp David. The most pivotal moments in negotiations are when people are actually not talking about the conflict but are relating to each other as human beings.

In my relationships with people in the military, there has been a lot of opportunities for eating together when we talk about our children or when we are relating to each other as human beings. We also talk about the hard issues. I feel like I have been able to do the amount of work that I have done because I brought my whole self to those relationships, and so did others. I mean, yes, as years progress you have a lot of hard conversations that have to be sprinkled with questions like “how are your children and where have you gone for vacation”. All these little conversations build a fuller sense of the relationship. The hardest relationships I have had in Washington are with people who were unable to do that. You know when there has not been a time to eat together, or to have coffee, or share about our family, and there is not a basis of trust in relationship, it is very hard to make any progress on difficult negotiations or issues. So I absolutely believe and look for opportunities for engaging with people as whole human beings, whether they are Ambassadors or Colonels in the military, or whoever. For me it is the ritual that allows the relationship. It is the drinking of coffee, it is the social scenario that goes around eating together. You end up talking about different things because, you are not just in your rational mode, you are going for a walk to a forest, you are in a context where is allowing you to talk about things other that work.

Yago: You say that conflict is dramatic. All theatre, literature, and good storytelling revolve around some form of conflict. Peacebuilding can and needs to be equally dramatic to capture people’s imagination and interest. Could you expand on this?

Lisa: This also relates to my work on the media. I am working on another book on the media and peacebuilding. And the media, you know, they say “if it bleeds, it leads” because news stories that cover blood, and violence, and war help them sell more newspapers. Violence is very dramatic. I think the most dramatic parts of peacebuilding are emotional and gripping to people’s attention. I think about the Greeks and the Turkish Cypriots dancing together, I see the beauty of seeing two people sharing a meal together while their countries hate each other.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Peacebuilding is dramatic when you see it; it is somehow more than just sitting in a table. Peace requires hammering out the details in complex documents and negotiations. It also includes symbols and ritual - it includes the grand memorial that people can visit and remember the past and imagine the future, there has to be something inspirational and beautiful about peace, and opportunities for photos, and something that the media can get their hands around that is dramatic. So, in Israel and Palestine, a lot of the peacebuilding programs have been quite dramatic, you know…. Getting kids together in summer camps, a lot of photographs of the Israeli and Palestinian children competing with each other in sports, singing together, wrestling. Those programs are so well-funded because there were so dramatic. The peace process which is much more technical is not well funded, and it is not well covered by the media either. I guess this is a challenge for us though.

Yago: Lisa, in the context of looking at conflict through the lenses of drama, how would you explain the worldview of a person in the context of deep-rooted conflict?

Lisa: I think people who are suffering from conflict are frozen. I think a peaceful worldview is one that is transforming and open and not locked. And so, a person, a community, can experience different ideas, different people, and all kinds of diversity without becoming allergic to it, and automatically resisting it. In conflict, what happens is that there is an autoimmune response that rejects new ideas or people as foreign.  Anything different, any person, any idea, is perceived as threat, and once it is perceived as threat there cannot be a dialogue, there cannot be engagement, there cannot be transformation, there cannot be a moving forward together.  In conflict, too often people believe it is either you or me, win or lose. So I think the worldview of conflict is stuck, locked; unable to accept openness and change.

Yago: I believe that conflict is very much rooted in identity issues. In your book you talk about ritual re-humanizing, transforming identity. How ritual forms and transforms identity?

Lisa: Every religion, every culture around the world has rituals that they train children in, that form their identity. So in this country pledging allegiance to the flag can be a ritual, it helps to form the identity of the citizen. It tries to shape the beliefs of Americans citizens, of American children. This is what you believe about your country. Religions do this in teaching, baptisms, all kind of rituals that try to form the identity of a person. So rituals are always used for forming, but also rituals can be used for transforming, and that is where rites of passage comes in. So, rites of passages are where a person changes from one thing to another through ritual. So, rites of passage of a single person becoming married through a wedding, the wedding is the ritual, the rite of passage. A coming of age rite of passage, it is when a child goes through a ritual to become an adult. 

In the context of peacebuilding organizations, also healing efforts of women groups where domestic violence survivors were using rituals and creating rituals for transformation. And so the women who have being sexually abused when they were young, one of them would have a funeral with her own child dress, and a funeral for the child on her who has been sexually abused, so that she might moved from the identity of the victim to the identity of the survivor. In peacebuilding there are examples of communities of people where there has been conflict and having a ritual of almost reuniting tribes. In Kenya for example, tribes that have conflicts with each other will have a celebration, will sacrifice an animal, and they will use that ritual as a transformation of their relationships. So they sign an agreement, they sacrifice a cow, they move from being at war with each other, to being at peace with each other. It is a ritual, reconciliation, a transforming ritual. Many cultures around the world have those kinds of transforming peace-making rituals.

Yago: You say that rituals play the function of forming and transforming people. Can we say that rituals have the potential of also deforming the real nature (deepest identity) of a human being?

Lisa: Yes, we can talk about that, in the apartheid in South Africa, white community enforced an apartheid mind-set onto black South African children. Children would not be allowed to speak their language. They were taught that they were not as good as white children. You know those were forming rituals that were very oppressive. So, it is important to see that ritual has the power to form and transform and they can be used very destructively.

Yago: Also to indoctrinate people?

Lisa: Yes, to indoctrinate, and to be slaves. There is nothing inherently good about ritual, but it is a very, very powerful tool. Hitler was a brilliant expert in ritual. I think too often as peacebuilders we try to be too rational, and not recognize the incredible power that ritual and the arts have. The most powerful people, and the most oppressive people throughout history have known very well the power  ritual of the arts.

Yago: And it is very much linked to the subconscious…

Lisa: It is very linked to the subconscious, to the brain, and the way the brain thinks. And that is the way we study trauma too. Most of our brain is not operating in terms of the conscious thought, the frontal cortex, where we do negotiations and problem solving.
Most of our brain is emotional, sensual, it is looking to respond to the world, not in a rational way but in an instinctual way, fight-flight. So we have to know how the brain is structured. That’s why people like Hollywood movies, right? … you know the blood, the guns, the horror, the thrilled, the fear,… that very much engages our brain. That is why the media reports on, the dramatic violence that is happening. So, if we want peace to be engaging we cannot be dole and bore about it. It has to be engaging and thrilling and find a way of bridging that with the logic of peace; because I think peace has a logic and value that is rational. But too often the instinctual part of our brain, the part that loves thrill and fear, overcomes the rational part of our brain. And as peacebuilders we have to understand how our brains work.

Yago: We have been living in patriarchal societies for thousands of years. This has brought a lot of suffering to humanity. The gender unbalance has created enslavement towards the real identity and potential of the woman and also men’s behavior has been shaped by oppressive energies. In your book you say that in the middle of patriarchal societies, women’s ritual is a patriarchy-free zone for experiencing gender equality and empowerment? Could you elucidate more on this?

Widow's meeting at Tandale, Tanzania
Lisa: In my book I cover how women come together to share their lives in a way that includes ritual; maybe it is just the ritual of drinking tea, but the idea of sitting in a circle with other people and sharing, and through that process trying to become better people. I know a lot of women’s groups. In every community I have ever lived in there have been groups of women who get together with that purpose, basically, of processing our lives together, of growing, of improving ourselves. And I think that the development of women’s groups is only about 50 years old, at least in the North-American context. In some women’s groups, women who have been abused as children created rituals to move their identity from victims to survivors. In Africa women have other natural places of being together. The market is usually a women’s place. Throughout history, women often have been segregated from men, so they often have their own space. So women’s groups, and especially women’s groups that use ritual, is just a way for women to come together, to remember our humanity, and to try to figure it out. It’s there a way for us to be transformative in our lives; even if we were discriminated at work because we were a woman and not a man. Interacting in a world where we see beauty standards and models that don’t look like us. How do we interact in a patriarchal world that projects and tell us what means to be a women? How do we resist and transform that in our own lives?

Yago: As I said before, I believe in the importance of developing a paradoxical mind in the very middle of conflict. This is the only way that things can be meaningfully transform. Thomas Merton said that to live is to travel in the belly of a paradox. In your book you talk about the ritual paradox. You say that nonviolent activism often uses paradox by doing the opposite of what is expected; by receiving violence without resisting. Could you expand on it?

Lisa: Yes, there is a whole set of theories about paradox. Most people, when they have a person they don’t like they stay away from them. But in peacebuilding you walk towards conflict, you walk towards the person you disagree with. That’s paradox. Loving your enemy is also a paradox. Probably again, because our brain is so ancient; the intuition is often based on fight or flight response, that when we don’t flee, run away from our enemy, or fight, we choose some other third way of engaging with somebody we disagree with. It opens all kind of doors for change, because the other person doesn’t know how to respond to, either somebody running away from them or fighting them. It has been interesting to watch many of the people in the military I have worked with, because first they just assume that I think just like them; and then when they realize I don’t think like, some of them push me away. But a lot of them stay for the conversation over the years, and that is still going on. That’s a paradox, to engage with the very people you disagree with.

Theory Class at CJP (Spring Semester 2013)
Yago: Lisa, you have been teaching at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (CJP) for many years. Here at CJP we are edging towards new educational models that allows the student to develop a holistic mind-set. How can we acquire a mind that holds opposites, that loves the enemy, a reconciling mind? What can you say on this regard towards a more in depth integration of new models of education in CJP?

Lisa: That’s a really good question, it makes me think that there are just a few key ideas that are really important: love and respect, acceptance, dialogue, paradox… I think that if people really understand these values and can experience and know a lot of examples and case studies of them, that’s the most important thing for students. I still think we spend too much time with tools and theories, because if you have in your gut what the direction is, more like a compass, so you have your magnet pointing in the right direction of paradox, compassion, listening, respect, dialogue, you are going to do interesting stuff. So, for me that’s almost more important. First of all, study people throughout history who live their life with those values and then be inspired by that and improvise. I think improvisation, just like paradox, is one of those key values. Peacebuilding is improvisation. There are no manuals. You are not going to be able to walk on somebody else’s path. You are going to have to go out and to figure out what your unique place in the universe is and what you have been called to do. What doors are going to be opened for you; given who you are, what you can do and how will you follow that call? Would you listen for it and go through the doors, even when they are difficult? I think what I was taught, the rational skills, were very important, but the inspirational case studies and these core ideas of paradox and compassion, empathy, those are the foundation of everything. Many of the tools would not make any sense if I did not have those values.

Engaged Pedagogy (Arts and Peacebuilding. Fall Semester 2012)
Yago: In CJP the importance of being reflective practitioners is very much stressed. I am currently following a very interesting course with Howard Zehr called “Contemplative Photography.” It is through the art of doing photography that we become aware of the importance of being mindful in our practice. This is a very creative and practical approach in the integration of arts and peacebuilding. It is an invitation towards living in the now, towards becoming aware of our interaction with reality, towards our worldviews. What can you say on the importance of mindfulness in peacebuilding?

Lisa: Mindfulness and reflection are very important. Being in a world where we have so much information is the modern crisis actually – we all have too much information coming into us each day and not enough quietness, still spaces, not enough long walks, not enough time to digest. It is like being forced fed; it is like too much food. We have too much information in our minds. We can’t function. So, I think more like mindfulness, stillness and quietness, - digestion of what is happening around us.

Yago: In your book you explore the liminality of time, location, architecture, symbolic objects, smells, tastes, sounds… When we live in the now we live in a constant liminal space. Imagination and creativity happens in the now. Could you elaborate on ritual as a liminal space? 

Lisa: This goes back to the idea of transformation, because liminal means a place where transformation happens, where change happens. A liminal space is an open space I should say, it is open to change. So yes, religions create liminal space; and this liminal space can be use for good or bad. For example, candlelight creates liminality. The dimming of the lights puts our brain into a different mind-set allowing mindfulness, allowing more quiet. You feel like being quiet when there is candlelight. It just send a signal to people of all kind, all cultures, all around the world, that something is sacred, that something is different. It is time for either being still or quiet. Gathering in a circle is something distinct. And so yes, people use, sound, smell, the gong in the Buddhist tradition, you ring the bell, you mark a ritual space, a liminal space, through different sounds, objects and symbols, smells, the burning of incense…

Yago: Liminality also happens in silent moments. You talk about sensing and feeling the world, about speaking as doing… How can we negotiate without words?

Lisa: When I was living and working in Indigenous communities in northern Canada, there was very little talk. If people would be angry with each other, there would be a lot of drinking tea, sitting silently with each other. I guess I still don’t know what was going on, but I always felt like something had changed just by sitting and drinking tea together. And I guess I could say the same happens in Washington sometimes. I guess it is not negotiation but transformation happens without words. Change happens; the relationship has changed, even though you don’t agree on something, or you didn’t hammer things out with rational discussion.

Pottery Lament
Yago: You mentioned that the art show “Pax Bellisima” was very much about lamenting people you have known and have been assassinated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they were your hosts in both countries. You have also lost friends in the Pentagon who died mysteriously. The dramatic lost of life has impacted you. As pacifists, it is so hard when we don’t have answers. We are invited to process all these dilemmas. Could you talk more about the importance of processing and lamenting as peacebuilders?

Lisa: I am still learning about this. I don’t know if I have the words to talk about that. Peacebuilding is hard. Obviously, there are dilemmas, dilemmas about Syria, and the war happening in Syria, and the number of civilians being killed. But then, there is also the personal pain that comes with losing a friend, somebody on the ground, who is working in these places.

Lisa Schrich working at the pottery wheel
And the lament - yes I realize that, actually many years of loss, after loss, after loss -there has not been time in my life to lament and to be mindful of the sadness. I was almost afraid of letting it in. I think as peacebuilding practitioners we have to be reflective of that sadness and recognize it. You know, I think partly it is living with it. I don’t know yet, if it goes away, if it transforms into something else.
So I think we need to find ways of lamenting the challenges of doing very hard work in very hard places, and losing people that we love.

Yago: In your introductory words at “Pax Bellisima” art show, you shared about the importance of integrating the left and right side of the brain. In your book you also talk about ritual and the brain. What is the contribution of neurobiology on the field of peacebuilding? How do the arts help us activate dormant parts of our brain?

Lisa: For me the arts, and my art show in “Pax Bellissima” was a way of using a different part of my brain that processes information in a way that is not verbal. And so, I think that the study of the brain is very important to understanding the relationship between the arts and peacebuilding too -whether we have experience a great trauma, a lost of friends in war situations, or we are facing dilemmas in our peacebuilding and don’t know how to move forward. Finding ways to engage the brain that are not verbal can help us maybe eventually articulate what we want to say. So the art show that I did was a lot about processing information that I didn’t know how to speak about, I didn’t know how to articulate yet. And the painting, and the pottery, and the other ways of thinking about the arts were helpful to me.

Pax Bellissima. Artist: Lisa Schrich
Yago: Lisa, I was very touched during your exhibition to see in all your paintings an amazing sun symbolizing a halo of sacred presence in all what exists. In fact it comes back to what you have already shared in this interview. In the art show you challenged us by asking: “What if everything and everyone we saw wore a halo? Would this change how we relate? What if when we look at the world, we use a peacebuilding approach of appreciative inquiry – looking for the local capacities for peace, the good that exists, the strengths and the beauty?” You said that “peacebuilding requires a culture of creation, not criticism.” Could you elucidate more on this?

Lisa: It comes back to what I said earlier in the interview about some of the basic values of respect and dignity, another religious way of saying that everything is sacred, that there is Spirit in the people we meet, to interact in a world in a way where things are sacred and spiritual… It’s a different way of interacting then when you don’t see the healer in the person you are talking to, or the environment that we live in. The beauty that we live in. It is part of the mindfulness of seeing that human being, and saying I am going to respect and honour the dignity of other people and how I relate to them - whether they are somebody I really disagree with or who does things I really disagree with. It is everybody. It is not for some people; it’s everybody.

Yago: Lisa, thanks a lot for this wonderful witness and for the time granted to this  interview. 

Lisa: It is good to have chance to reflect on this. Thanks to you, Yago!