Ep. 037: Melanie Greenberg: Making Peace in a Polarized World — And the US Is No Exception. .

Ep. 037: Melanie Greenberg: Making Peace in a Polarized World — And the US Is No Exception. .


“Peacebuilding is not about negative peace which is the absence of violence. Peacebuilding includes the processes that societies use to resolve conflict - because there will always be conflict - and to do it through negotiation, dialogue, consensus-building and politics rather than through deadly violence"

Melanie Greenberg

When I travel outside of the US I often think that American citizens have no idea what a “war zone” we are actually living in. Guns are rampant every where. Military hardware comes back from global combat for use by our police departments further escalating violence. Since 2001, the US has spent $32 million PER HOUR on war with each taxpayer paying a total of $24,000. US military spending far exceeds every other country on earth including China which comes in a very distant second. Those of us in the conflict resolution field know all too well that when you create an adversarial climate, you get identity group polarization. Sure enough, racial tensions in the US are at an epic high and, while “the feminine” is rising, girls and the feminine are under harsh attack with a man in our White House who brags about sexually assaulting women and a Supreme Court majority that does not protect women by law from domestic violence (Castle Rock v. Gonzales). We in the US typically think of ourselves as the envy of the world to which certainly there is some truth. But we are numb to what it costs us — on every level — to dominate the planet.

So when I heard Melanie speak at the AfP (Alliance for Peacbuilding) annual conference about the Hands Across the Hills initiative which applies the same peacebuilding approaches used in the most deadly conflicts around the world to conflicts in the US I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.

Melanie is one of those souls who exudes both integrity, kindness, high professionalism and intelligence. She is currently the Managing Director at Humanity United (HU) overseeing the peacebuilding and conflict transformation portfolio which develops, refines and implements strategies to build peace and counter violent conflict. Before HU, she was the president and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and before that the president and founder of the Cyprus Fund for Peace and Security. She has helped design and facilitate public peace processes in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, the Caucuses and much more. Check out her impressive bio here.

Because she is one of the most seasoned and respected practitioners in the peacebuilding field, I wanted to hear her definition of peacebuilding, how it has emerged as a field and what she sees as the trends.

“Peacebuilding” emerged in around 1990 and was first articulated by Boutros Boutros-Ghali from the United Nations. Melanie describes the various streams coming together (at least in the US) to form the peacebuilding “river”: the Vietnam anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement which required large scale consensus processes to resolve disputes around land, and the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) movement giving rise to mediation and other collaborative processes as an alternative to the American legal systems which is also known as “the adversary system.” All of these movements, she says, inspired people to act for themselves and realize that building peace wasn't just the role of the government but could and should belong to citizens as well. She continues on with the clear definition of peacebuilding quoted above.

She sees many exciting trends in peacebuilding — what we are learning about the connection between neuroscience and peacemaking and how peacebuilding is becoming more systemically integrated into our institutions. Cool to know that many of the large peacebuilding organizations have come together to improve the “branding” of peacebuilding — to make peace enticing, and counter the news culture of “if it bleeds it leads”.

The most discouraging trend to her is that, among practitioners, the US is now generally seen as a “peacebuilding problem”. All of the criteria that are red flags for a peacebuilding initiative are present in this country — the level of gun violence, the tensions, the polarization, the number of deaths from violent conflict. In the Hands Across the Hills initiative, peacebuilder Paula Green is creating dialogue between people from a very conservative area from Eastern Kentucky and a very liberal area from Western Massachusetts. Please see our show notes for more information.

Melanie talks about her early years and what planted seeds in her to do the work she does today. She and I have some commonalities on that front — both white women who grew up in pockets of relative privilege but surrounded by racial tensions. We both then went to law school and had a similar reaction to the American legal system which she describes as “antagonistic by design” and then into conflict resolution & peacebuilding fields. I suspect this has something to do with our sensibilities as women and speaks to why creating gender balance on the planet is so important for all of us.

So whether you are somebody who formerly considers yourself in the conflict resolution world or someone who just wants to know more about the field and what's possible, I know you’ll enjoy this interview.

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