Ep. 001:  Susan Coleman

Transcript Of The Podcast


Hello and welcome to The Peacebuilding Podcast.  My name is Susan Coleman and I’m a global mediator, coach, intercultural negotiation expert, lawyer, facilitator — and host of this podcast. Thanks for tuning in today, this is Episode # 1, the launch episode of the podcast. Wow, I’m seriously excited that you’re joining — and that this is finally launching!!

In The Peacebuilding Podcast, we – I say we, because I have some wonderful partners and collaborators supporting me on this – I’ll tell you more about that later – anyway we are really passionate and excited about bold and creative interventions that – whether intended or not – are building peace.

I’m sure you listen to the news — 90% of what you hear is about violent conflict, terrorism, beheadings, shooting.  The impression is that it’s a bloodbath out there which, of course, to some extent is true. I know, like many of my friends, I often turn off the news because I don’t like what it does to my inner state of being. I do believe that our consciousness creates our reality — and that what we put into our brains — through the media or experience — may in turn shape how we view the world and what we are able to manifest.

So, The Peacebuilding Podcast is going to focus on amazing and constructive things going on in the world, and amazing people who are initiating new ways of coming together, new structures and processes that make violent conflict a thing of the past and take our planet to the next level.  This podcast is going to explore that – find those people and interview them.

I like this quote from Buckminster Fuller

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

So, this podcast, is about giving voice to cutting edge programs or practices that are creating a whole new reality or way of doing things — building more collaborative groups, teams, workplaces, systems, countries.  We are passionate about this whether it is happening on the front lines of deadly conflict, or in the context of a community garden.We want to bring you the best stories that we can find out there – the boldest people – who are thinking out of the box and creating new ways of harmonizing different views and cultures in a way that makes violent, destructive conflict an outdated relic.  You say, impossible – I don’t think so.  I think the absence of peace on this planet is simply a failure of imagination – and, in this podcast we will be exploring the success stories of people who are experimenting, creating, building new processes and ideas.

So if you are a new or experienced consultant, systems coach, mediator or facilitator, if you are working inside the United Nations, an international diplomat or in the military, an educator, or organization whose specific purpose is to build a more peaceful world, or if you call yourself part of the growing community of peacebuilders, this podcast might be right up your alley. Of course, I am going to also seek out lots of interdisciplinary input so we also welcome artists, entrepreneurs, corporate execs who are looking for a community of conversation and inspiration about ways to build common ground and take our planet to the next level of what’s possible.  I guess that’s a lot of people, which is great.

In today’s episode I want to kick off the podcast and share with you more about what I mean by peacebuilding and the specific niche of this podcast, more about my background and story, why I’m doing this podcast, and what you can expect from upcoming shows.

After that, I’m going to be interviewing others from places far and wide – consultants, entrepreneurs, mediators, therapists, UN peacekeepers, government officials, artists – as many people who will talk to me as I explore what’s going on out there that is, or appears to be, building peace. And then, periodically, we’ll take a pause and reflect on what we’ve been learning – and perhaps some of you will come and join me in that process and we’ll create some web hang outs for conversation.

Before I talk more about what I AM going to focus on, it might help to talk about what I am NOT going to focus on – because, when it comes to conversations about war and peace, there’s a LOT going on out there.

There are many people who are working for peace in many different ways. There is the spiritual community – that’s probably one of the first to come to mind. In fact, when I first was designing the album cover for this podcast, I held an internet design competition on 99 Designs and initially, the designers (who come from all over the world – it’s pretty cool – check out 99 Designs) gave me what you might stereotypically expect – what I’ll call either the zen or the doveapproach. I like both of these, but it’s not the focus of this podcast.

I’ll use the phrase zen approach to refer to all of the amazing work that happens in spiritual communities to develop people’s interior lives so that they are better and more peaceful human beings from the inside out — meditation practices, love they neighbor principles. These contribute so much to our human community. Of course, as we know, some of what is done in the name of religion has caused and continues to cause some of the worst conflict on the planet. Anyway, it’s not that we won’t touch on what could be called “internal interventions” in The Peacebuilding Podcast – we will, especially if it translates to larger systems of human beings – but it won’t be our primary focus.

And then there’s the approach to peace that’s often symbolized by a dove or a peace symbol — advocates who are demonstrating and taking stands against the war machine or social or economic systems that people feel are unjust and are contributing to great levels of conflict and tension on the planet. I’m an advocate and have always appreciated advocates – but The Peacebuilding Podcast will not be putting its focus here except on advocates for processes and new ideas. I am fundamentally a mediator and this podcast will take a mediator’s approach and not highlight the power struggle. The focus will not be on “the struggling against” — but rather “the vision for”. As one of my mentors, women’s health advocate, Christiane Northrup says — anything you fight against, make war against, just becomes bigger and larger. Whether this is exactly true or not, one of the earliest principles I learned when mediating is to ask the parties to focus on the positive thing they were trying to create as opposed to what they were trying to get rid of or especially to change in the other party. The simple idea of this is that if you say to someone – “don’t think about that pink elephant” there is no way that they will not.  So, the idea of this podcast is to generate ideas and inspiration that, if provided our energy and focus, will create a different kind of world than the one we currently experience.

In the world of war and peace, I should also add the work of war correspondents, those brave souls who keep us all too aware of what’s going on the front lines of deadly conflicts. Indeed, I can attribute my interest in the field of conflict resolution and peacebuilding to the courage of journalists during the Vietnam War who brought unforgettable images right into my childhood living room and left a huge impression on me.  Nonetheless, as I said at the outset, it seems that the media focuses a lot on violence – as the quip goes “if it bleeds, it leads.” Most of this coverage and the news analysis is not solution oriented but simply who is fighting whom and what are the terrible things that they are doing to each other.  The focus is on the power struggle. And, it’s titillating and exciting – whether it evokes patriotic righteous indignation — or righteous anger. Either way, the focus is on the power struggle and who is trying to win over whom.

We are going to sit out that conversation in The Peacebuilding Podcast.

So what are we going to focus on in The Peacebuilding Podcast? In the last decade or two, the term “peacebuilding has emerged as a specific discipline and is now generally recognized in both the conflict resolution and diplomatic communities. Most often, it describes outside interventions that are designed to prevent the start or resumption of violent conflict within a nation by creating a sustainable peace. It’s a close cousin to the more narrow concepts of Track Two or Multi-track Diplomacy that have evolved since the 1980’s and that refer to informal negotiation processes between stakeholder groups of a conflict. This podcast will focus on those initiatives, but also take a much broader view.

Essentially, this podcast is going to take a systems approach and focus on systemic interventions. Let me explain. First, “interventions”. I don’t love this word because it sounds more aggressive than I intend, but it seems to be the best word for what I am talking about. The podcast will focus on stories of how a third party has used “self as instrument” to shift or transform a system in ways that support collaboration, a new world order and peace.

Ok “system” what do I mean.

Essentially, when I talk about a system, I am talking about a set of connected parts that make up a whole where

  • the parts share a common purpose
  • the whole will be affected by each part
  • there is interdependence between all parts

So a “system” could be

  • an intimate couple, or two business partners
  • a group like a family or a team
  • an organization
  • a community
  • a country, a continent,
  • a planet, a solar system

So I might interview

  • peacebuilders who are designing creative interventions to shift, change or heal a community post violent conflict or war
  • mediators who are working with partnerships or organizations to maximize win-win outcomes and enhance relationships — in lieu of using a win-lose approach like litigation
  • musicians who can move a corporate group of non-singers to harmonic unity in a single session and create a palpable sense of team that then translates back at work
  • diplomats who are thinking out of the box about building peace and setting up new kinds of programs and structures
  • team and systems coaches who move a leadership team from a power struggle war zone to a collaborative symphony
  • family therapists who are rethinking how to intervene with family systems to reduce destructive conflict, violence and abuse
  • architects and designers who are transforming space to encourage collaboration and constructive engagement in an organization
  • social entrepreneurs who are innovating and creating new products and business lines that are shifting old paradigms of domination and patriarchy

Hope you’re with me so far

So, as I said, I personally will be on a mission of exploration – trying to answer the question for myself and you the listeners — what’s working out there to build peace on our planet.

Here are some of the critical questions I will be thinking about and asking.

  • How can one intervene in a complex system that is in conflict? What are the most interesting stories and practices out there of what’s working to create a sustainable peace?
  • What are people doing proactively – whether they are coaches, consultants, entrepreneurs, innovators, artists – to create new liberating structures that take systems to a higher level of performance, collaboration and a planetary value-add that makes the existing model of planetary conflict obsolete?

And I want to hear your questions too. Please send them to me as they occur to you to susan@thepeacebuildingpodcast.com and I will incorporate them into this conversation.

So, once again, who is this podcast for? Well, first and foremost it’s for people who work with people and who deeply believe that we can create a highly interdependent, alive, thriving, creative and harmonious planet for all of us. It’s for people who use themselves to intervene in systems and are looking for a whole range of interdisciplinary ideas and inspirations of what’s possible. It’s for the incredible crop of younger people I meet who are inheriting this very complex world and have the intelligence, hope, creativity and enthusiasm to take it forward. It’s for the seasoned folks working in the heart of the complex beast of diplomacy and for academics who can impart inspiration to their students. It’s for anyone, really, who is interested in going higher on this planet and thinking about what might really be possible for us.

If you’re one of those, thanks for tuning in and we will do our best to give you some great content, information and community.

Part II – My Background and Story

So about me. . .

I was born after the end of World War II as part of the baby boom that much of the western world experienced. When I think about it, I can probably thank the war for my very existence. As a country feeling pretty good about ourselves and our performance in WWII, the 50’s in the United States , were a time to settle down and have 3.2 children, have the picket fence, Ozzie and Harriet, the standard was the white, heterosexual couple – the woman was blonde, the guy dark haired. It was Mad Men – if you’ve seen that popular TV show. I entered the planet there surrounded by the hope and promise of that era, as well as plenty of the pervasive and unconscious post-war trauma.

Anyway, I was born into an economically privileged family and my first home was in a white, anglo-saxon neighborhood in a bedroom community outside of New York on Long Island.  My father was the archetype of a Wall Street corporate lawyer working for a prominent New York City law firm Davis, Polk and Wardwell. I lived a very blessed life in most respects.

But while I grew up with economic privilege, I was very much a second-class citizen in my family because of my gender. In the ways that the disenfranchised are often kept in line, throughout a large part of my growing years, I was shamed and terrorized by both physical violence and sexual transgressions by some family members and a culture and community that thought this was normal. I’m not whining about this– I’m sharing it because it profoundly shaped my life experience and had a lot to do with why I wanted to learn more about models of partnership and collaboration. I also share it because this aspect of my story is not unique and is shared, in theme and variation, by woman rich and poor all over the planet as well as parallels the earth crisis our species is facing.

At the time, the benefit to me of my second-class experience is that it opened my eyes to the struggles of others. I went to live in Latin America, I did a lot of work around diversity and privilege – what became clear to me is, just like a two-party political system is too simplistic and a binary gender system is too simplistic – thinking privilege only has to do with money is also too simplistic. I remember reading What is the What, an amazingly moving account of Valentino Achak Deng who was one of the lost boys of Sudan, and how, in his village, before the Arab invaders came in and brutally destroyed everything, he had more privilge than I– he had love, happiness, security, belonging. I had a strange brew of lacking NO THING and, like many women, also lacking the knowledge of my own worthiness, power and value.

As a child coming of age in the 70’s, I was a product of the “Vietnam War” (from the perspective of the US), the “American War” (from the perspective of the North Vietnamese.) In those days, the media was not as censored as it is today. I would sit with my parents in our den – my father in his Wall Street attire having his scotch, my mother in her lounge wear having her gin and tonic — having dinner on trays and watch horrendous images of events such as the My Lai massacre where American soldiers slaughtered an entire village of 500 including women, children and elderly. The media spared no image. Bodies strewn on roads in pools of blood. Little kids alone crying in agony. Heads blown off. All of this imprinted on my brain . I have a kind of cute and a bit silly early morning memory of going to our very upscale country club and pasting a peace sign on the front door. However ineffective as in intervention — my actions were in great ernest.

My access to excellent and liberal educators ensured that it didn’t take long for me to make troubling connections between my class, privilege and wealth, and military interventions and policing whose purpose was to control access to planetary resources. I saw how it was playing out in Vietnam, in Latin America, I knew who my father’s large corporate clients were and the types of activities they were engaged in. I continued on my journey of trying to figure out what kind of response made sense. Thanks to a generation of women activists before me, I also began to make connections between what I had grown to call “imperialism “on the one hand and “patriarchy” on the other — a worldview system based on competitive human relations where everyone is either one-up or one-down.

Because of his inhuman Wall Street schedule and the ways child-rearing duties were divied up in my growing years, my father hadn’t had much time to take an interest in me, until it came time for me to go to college. He escorted me two times to Williams – the Baby Ivy “Harvard” — to try to convince me to go there. Williams along with many colleges of its time told me that “they had a number of women coming in for their guys”. That was a deal killer for me – somehow I had enough sense of justice and self-respect then that I wasn’t going to go to college for anybody but myself – and I certainly wasn’t going there to find a husband. This was just 7 years after my sister had gone off to the elite woman’s college Vassar where guidance for finding a husband was still very much part of the conversation.

I instead decided to go to Hampshire College — a newly founded college that equally valued women and men and that even had co-ed bathrooms! Those were heady times at Hampshire College – it was a radical place and I thought myself a radical girl. We had co-ed everything. I remember my elegant and conservative new England grandmother almost fainting when she discovered a guy urinating in the co-ed bathroom.

We are all a product of those who came before us – and I will be forever grateful to the people whose thinking put Hampshire together. The college’s pedagogy was based on asking questions and then pulling from all disciplines to answer them. It was about busting through silos, and getting students to focus on global issues and interdisciplinary and creative approaches to resolving them. It was revolutionary for its day and, as I know all too well from my consulting clients who struggle with working across functions, disciplines and silos — it still is.

My focus was on Latin American economic development – or really I studied imperialism and specifically how it showed up in Latin America. I learned about the hundreds of times the US had intervened in Latin America – I became aware, for example, of a common view among Mexicans that much of what is the Western part of the United States was wrongfully taken from them. As a famous quote from a 19th century Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz, goes — “pobre mexico, tan lejos de dios, tan cerca de los estados unidos, poor mexico, so far from god, so close to the united states”.

I took a leave from college and went to live in Colombia, learned Spanish and furthered my education on what the United Nations now calls the north/south dialogue.  My college thesis was entitled “The Politics of Population Control in Mexico” – I had begun to seriously blend my understanding of how models of domination played out in North/South relations and the parallel way they could play out in relations between men and women.

I graduated from Hampshire college while on a tour of Cuba with my college advisor, Carollee Bengesldorf and other Hampshire students.  My father (who was kind of a George H.W. Bush Republican lite kind of guy) had always claimed that Hampshire college was probably a front for the then Soviet Union.  I poo-pooed his conspiracy theories at the time but then later realized that Carollee was in an intimate relationship with Fidel’s cultural minister, so certainly there was less than six degrees of separation and maybe my father had a point.

My first job after college was to be one of the founders of the North Star Fund – North Star named after Frederick Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper and underground operation guiding runaway slaves north to freedom.  North Star was one of the small community foundations that were sprouting around the country under the banner of “Robin Hood was Right.”  North star, and the other funds, were about connecting children of privilege to grassroots community organizers and providing them with seed money for radical social change projects.  I traveled all over New York City and its boros interviewing community activists who might sit on our community funding board and make decisions about who should receive the grants.  Needless to say, I think many thought I was a spy.  North Star furthered my education about the “use of self as instrument” to make a difference.  As my first real job, it also truly began my education about women, money and power.  In the startup days of North Star, there were five of us staffing the new foundation – three of whom were from privileged backgrounds. Of those three, the guy, Toby, got the salary and Katherine, the other woman and I, agreed to do our work on a volunteer basis. I’m still kind of irritated about this.

Because I didn’t really know how else to access my power and voice, I followed in my Dad’s footsteps and became a lawyer for my second career.  In one of my first cases, I had the glorious privilege of sitting in a basement at the John Hancock building in Boston doing litigation discovery – which really meant sorting through boxes of documents looking for some smoking gun that could undermine John Hancock’s case. I also spent days in Tallahassee Florida before the Florida Public Service Commission arguing about how much the new company Sprint should pay in access charges. I got enough of a view into our system of litigation to know that there had to be a better way – both for me and for a process to resolve disputes. My fellow associates and I would joke that we personally would never sue anyone — but watched as our extensive billable hours put new wings on our senior partners’ houses.

It can be difficult to break away from the grind of a law career. I was working brutal hours with little time to think what else might be possible. But either through good luck or good management – or perhaps a bit of both — I had the fortune to get myself to the Kennedy School at Harvard where I stumbled upon the beginnings of Roger Fisher’s movement around Getting to Yes and interest-based negotiations. One of my coach mentors, Dorothy Siminovich, has said that we need to “earn the gratitude others”.  The folks in the Program of Negotiations at Harvard – Roger Fisher, Larry Suskind (at MIT), Bruce Patton, Bill Ury, earned mine because they changed my life and set me on the path of what has become, to a large extent, my life’s work. I am proud of myself for following my own insight about negotiation — At the time, I told them I was going to focus on intercultural negotiations and they told me there was no such thing — but I discovered differently.

So, since I left the Kennedy School in 1987, for the last 28 years or so, I have had a very interesting run of a career – working all over the world with people from all different countries and types of organizations, dealing with conflict and transformation, transforming myself. I have had both huge highs and big lows on this journey.

My first business card said intercultural negotiations and business mediation. In the early days of this work I teamed up with Ellen Raider who had been traveling around the globe doing corporate training programs in intercultural negotiations. We worked for pharmaceuticals like Sanofi, credit card companies like American Express and we would revisit negotiations that hadn’t gone so well in the form of a simulation with skills training and theory alongside..  The mediation part of my business included doing community mediation for Project Smart of Victim Services Agency in Brooklyn, NY which has now become the New York Peace Institute and being the New York representative for the San Francisco based American Intermediation Service which offered commercial mediation mostly to insurance companies.  It was difficult and unsupported work and perhaps sounds way more glamorous than it was as I was working out of my apartment in New York City and making, I believe in the first year, about $11k.

The next chapter emerged when, with Ellen’s help, I won a contract with the United Nations Secretariat to teach cross-cultural negotiation and mediation skills to their staff worldwide. Around the same time, Ellen joined forces with Mort Deutch, a social psychologist and one of the theoretical grandfathers of conflict resolution, to bring conflict resolution training to schools and organizational systems through Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  I became Ellen’s right-hand woman and in short order we had created a highly successful certificate program in conflict resolution at Teacher’s College that launched the careers of many many colleagues in the field and connected me to my business partners of today.

My work and life for the next decade or so was like Camelot – seriously interesting, exciting , fulfilling.

On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – physical, security, belonging, recognition, self-actualization, I was hitting all of them strongly.  I was happy.

  • I worked with tens of thousands of UN staff around the globe teaching them collaborative negotiation and mediation skills.
  • I worked regularly at the top of the still standing World Trade towers teaching intercultural negotiation skills to government officials from all over the developing world.
  • I delivered customized intercultural negotiation skills programs to the Foreign Ministry of Colombia,
  • I worked for the Department of Agriculture supporting negotiators dealing with agricultural trade issues between Latin America, China etc.
  • I worked inside many school systems that wanted to teach their staff conflict resolution skills and set up peer mediation programs for their students.
  • I worked for the US space agency, NASA teaching their international project management teams international negotiation skills.

I also was very happily married, and became a Mom to two amazing children.

Two of my most exciting consulting jobs were the ones that sowed the seeds for this podcast.

The first was working with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus or UNFICYP.  Again, the job was training in intercultural collaborative negotiation and mediation – for both the military units there and civilian staff.  I had so many insights doing that work but there are a few that most stand out many years later.

The first is the limitations of the UN effort. My intention, here, is not to be critical of the UN but only to reflect on the state of approaches to building peace at that time. UNFICYP had been in Cyprus for a long time and much money had been spent but with the only outcome really being simply keeping the parties apart – setting up a green zone and saying to the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, stay on your side of the line. Of course, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots had been neighbors before the civil war and sometimes had become interwoven families. The civil war put a wedge between all and resulted in many, many conflicts about property rights and other concerns that didn’t get resolved and stayed at impasse.  There were no real efforts at large or small group engagement, building common ground or mediation of all the many disputes that made up the huge and militarized impasse. It seemed like a lost opportunity.

Another came from the opportunity to work closely with the military peacekeepers – the vast majority of whom were men. I don’t remember what countries were represented but, as is typical of peacekeeping forces, they were from many places. In those workshops, we did (and still do) a listening for needs and emotions exercise that is predictably transformative for the group. In round robin kind of style where participants are speaking in dyads, we ask one side of the dyad to share “a time that I was angry” or a time that I felt sad or a time that I felt afraid. The listener’s job, in part, is to listen to the needs that are connected to the emotions. I remember, for me, feeling very tentative about doing this exercise with men in uniform – oy vey, they will think this is so touchy feely – might be very turned off. But the impact seemed to be just the opposite – we were giving them permission to share in realms that were often off-limits to them. Anger, of course to a group of men is generally permissible. But sadness, fear, not so much and they loved being invited into that space – though they went there tentatively.  I remember thinking at the time how there is such a gender divide about what we are permitted to feel – men anger, women sadness and fear – and how much being whole beings means that we all need access to the whole range of feelings that we humans are capable of.

I also remember thinking that one of the draws of the military is what a good job it does for it’s members (at least before anyone gets injured) in meeting all of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A key explanation we give to what causes conflict is ‘frustrated needs”.  And we use Maslow’s model to talk about this– that there is a hierarchy of human needs – physical, security, belonging, recognition, self-actualization and transcendance.

The second consulting job was the most transformative.

In early 2000, I was asked to provide collaborative negotiation and mediation skills training to political representatives from Iraqui Kurdistan as part of a larger capacity-building initiative funded by the State Department and run through the International Conflict Resolution Program at SIPA, Columbia University headed by Andrea Bartoli. The participants were representatives of the PUK and the KDP, the two main political factions, whose competing attempts for political control had resulted in armed conflict. My job and the people I invited to work with me was to design and deliver a five-day skills training in negotiation and mediation, and in the process build an atmosphere of collaboration between the two sides. None of the participants spoke English, and my team did not speak either Kurdish or Arabic.

The initial part of the design was straightforward. I had delivered negotiation and mediation training programs for thousands of people around the world, set up a conflict resolution program at the United Nations and at Columbia University, and had run many programs using direct translation. I knew the training could move us towards the program objective, but to create a climate of engagement, with people talking directly to each other in a safe way without a translator, required something else. I was stumped initially and then I had a eureka to use a process called Open Space which I was familiar with but had never actually facilitated before myself. It seemed risky, but also completely appropriate. I asked my colleague and friend Ralph Copleman who had opened space many times to come and support me.

When the participants arrived in Ankara, Turkey, the atmosphere was more than chilly. People sat on opposite sides of the room, avoiding eye contact and all conversation. Group members had lost family in the war between these two sides. For these representatives, this was a paid trip to New York, an opportunity to go to Columbia University, but a passion for reconciliation was not in the air.

Days 1-3 of the program was collaborative negotiation skills training. According to participant accounts and our observations, it was a full, rich and transformational experience that had some of the following affects:

  • The training mixed the two sides in seemingly arbitrary and face-saving ways to resolve simple conflict issues that de-escalated the polarizing tone. People laughed and got playful. We gradually increased the complexity and heat of the issues, ending by role-playing PUK/KDP real-life issues.
  • Participants’ experience in Kurdistan was normalized. Through presentation of theory and re-enactment of conflicts mediated in other parts of the world (such as Mozambique), participants began to see the predictable phenomenon of adversarial conflict that they were a part of. They also were introduced to the alternative of a collaborative approach – a real eureka to them that such an option even existed.
  • Participants learned models and skills for negotiating collaboratively that they immediately put into practice in the Open Space laboratory that followed.

On Day 4, we “opened the space” focusing on the theme “Exploring and Expanding Areas of Cooperation Among Us.” To our surprise and definite concern, most of the participants took us literally when we said, “we have break-out spaces, but you are free to go anywhere you like.”  Indeed they left, and rode the subway from 125th to Macy’s at 34th to shop. That was the most anxiety-provoking moment in the design! The senior representative confronted me – “Susan — What’s this about?” Ralph helped me calm him down. Sometimes holding space can really take nerve.

Why did participants do that? Who knows? Perhaps after three days of intense training, they needed to breathe before they could really talk to each other. Perhaps they just really wanted to go shopping. My hunch based on years of cross-cultural work is that the shift from a training run by “professors”, however interactive and empowering, to an Open Space where the responsibility was squarely on their shoulders, was too much — in the beginning.

The good news is that everyone also took us at our word when we said “wherever you are, whatever you are doing, be here at 4:30 for ‘evening news’.” That’s when things started cooking. One by one, participants summoned up the courage to hold our talking “stone”, heavy in their hands, and talk to each other about the Kurdistan issues weighing on everyone. The stone, they said, often a weapon of war in Kurdistan, now might be a symbol of peace.

The momentum continued through “morning announcements” on Day 5, to various topic discussions, to an exciting action planning session on ways they could work together. Day 5 ended emotionally with hugging, tears and singing Kurdish songs. In the program aftermath, through ongoing support from ICRP, the parties created a bilateral conflict resolution center that supported on the ground collaboration in many ways including the use of Open Space as a process for high-conflict problem-solving, much more collaboration between the two sides, and the roll-out of many other Open Space and other large group processes around the world.

Around 2003, as life does to so many of us, I hit a multi-pronged train wreck — or “rupture” as one of my mentors Regena Tomashauer calls it. This is the most difficult chapter to talk about, but also, probably the one with the most learning and growth.

My marriage of about 15 years painfully and conflictually started to fall apart. My conflict and negotiation skills were extremely valuable in re-negotiating my marriage but sadly I was not able to use them to keep it together. My ex was a real fighter and I became aware that mediation and collaborative approaches were not going to work. I became hopeful that he would initiate a legal action (which he did) so that I would have the judge’s help in setting limits and getting the whole matter done with expeditiously and in a fair way. Not only was I sad about my marriage but I was shaken about the collaborative models I had stood for and taught for so many years.. But the end result was positive – I became a better consultant and person – more wise, more able to support clients that were either bullying or being bullied by coercive tactics.

Simultaneously to my marriage falling apart, I lost the contract with the UN because we were running it, at this point, through Columbia and the contract became too expensive. My chapter with the center at Columbia also came to a painful close as they wanted to do other things and didn’t want outside consultants getting so much attention. I had done great work — but there is always politics and money.

And, simultaneous as well, I had kind of hit a wall with training – I was finding myself saying – if I do this program one more time I’m going to shoot myself. I had lots of evidence that the negotiation and mediation programs were transformative to many at the individual level – sometimes hugely so — but in terms of shifting a system that was generating some of the problems – I had strong doubts. Transformation is difficult and training is a simple solution that doesn’t really require change.

In terms of mediation – I had found it really hard to get a satisfying mediation practice going that would pay me any money.Unlike California, the New York Bar was pretty hostile to mediation.Everything was supposed to be done on a volunteer basis which meant essentially that they didn’t really take it seriously or, perhaps, didn’t want mediation to compete with them. As I judge I clerked for said “it’s just not rational Susan”

What’s great about ruptures in life is that, if you’re open to it, you can learn a lot. In fact, it’s just what we always taught people in conflict resolution workshops –

Out of difficulty comes opportunity

It takes a lot of pounding to make a good bar of steel

Out of the muck comes the vegetables – or the lotus flower

Somewhere in this period I decided to get more training myself and enrolled in an 18 month, 9 week Gestalt program called the Organization and Systems Development Program.

Gestalt OSD – designed by John Carter, an amazing educator and intervenor, was all about use of self as instrument and figuring out how to make a difference in complex systems with one’s presence.  It was about scanning a system and figuring out the best place to intervene to create a positive shift or change. It was a lot about personal transformation in order that we as intervenors show up cleanly without projections on our clients.

During this time, I became a gestalt certified coach and got more intensive training in working with groups. I also got deeper training in other large group methodologies like Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry. Even though I know from one of the creators of Future Search, Marv Weisbord, that it wasn’t’ designed for resolving conflict – I saw a lot of potential.

Post Gestalt, brings me more to present day. I now have a much broader set of tools to work with organizations. I continue to use training as one vehicle, but am most likely now to blend training with many other types of interventions including coaching, especially of the leader of a system, more recently team and systems coaching, mediation, large and small group facilitation, data collection and feedback and assessments.Because I am always supporting large and small groups coming together to create a common ground vision and agenda I am always mediating in a sense but I often don’t even use that language.

–I still do some pure training, for instance, I now work with multiple space agencies from around the world to build their intercultural collaborative skills for working on projects in space.

But interventions tend to look more like ones I have done in recent years that combine a lot of different kinds of modalities

I still find that some of my greatest professional satisfaction comes from working with people in less economically developed places– recently, I have been to south sudan a few times to work with both peacekeepers there as well as do a whole systems intervention to build common ground.And just this last month, I have worked with 150 UN staffers in Liberia to punctuate the end of ebola and build a team that had been beat up by just too much intensity.

I have also shifted my business model to one that is fully standing for collaboration and the power of teams working together. While I have lots of colleagues, I now am part of a small group of four consultants – we call ourselves the Collaboraatory – who are experimenting with how high and far we can go by being a highly interdependent team in terms of money, goals and vision. We are in constant contact, holding each other accountable and sharing both the upside and downside risks. I would never have taken on this podcast were it not for the inspiration and support of the Collaboratory.

Part 3 – Why a Podcast in Peacebuilding?

So why am I now launching a podcast on peacebuilding. The simplest explanation is simply that I can – that the technology is there, its simple, its cheap and this seems like a super fun way to use myself now to co-create a conversation with others and hopefully make a positive impact – for my kids and all the incredibly beautiful younger people I see sprouting up on this planet.

Someone from the Gestalt community once handed me his business card and it said on it

Have fun

Make Money

Make a difference

Not necessarily in that order

I took that in as some pretty good career advise, and I have been using it ever since.

So, I’ll talk about why a podcast using those guideposts.

So about fun. . .

I’m really just at the beginning of this podcast and, already, it’s been super fun and exciting — and I suspect that it’s only going to get moreso. The reasons – it’s challenging. I get to connect to people all over the world and I’m already learning a ton from what they are doing about a topic that I care about deeply.

I am amazed that, with simple technology, I can interview people at all corners of the globe, about the great work they are doing and essentially facilitate a conversation about building peace.  How cool is that.  I can then, for not a lot of money, make it available for anyone, anywhere who is able to access the internet.  This would be unheard of for my grandmother – and I say grandmother because, as a woman, it’s kind of amazing as well to be empowered enough to put my voice out into the world. And it’s also amazing that the internet has only really been around for the last 20 years and we have only just scratched the surface of the transformation it is facilitating. So, when I think about what excites me about doing this — the short answer is simply — that I can. Just using just my laptop, a microphone and recorder, some simple internet tools, my professional background and network and some great, talented people who are supporting me, I can pull this off. Wild, really, especially from the perspective of, let’s say, anyone living 100 years ago.

This podcast is also challenging, creative, technological and has a potential for impact – all things that draw me. I like to create form out of nothingness and podcasting seems like a way more interesting medium to me than writing a book – say — because I am not just putting together my own ideas, I am doing that in dialogue with others – a co-creation that is much more collaborative which is much more aligned with what my work is essentially about.. I love technology, tho I must admit ,the technological hurdles are a bit daunting — there’s a lot of them, the podcast itself – mics, sound quality etc., yet another website, learning wordpress, social media and more. I would never have even taken them on were it not for Krister Lowe, one of my business partners. Krister launched the teamcoachingzone podcast a number of months ago and, in very short order, was having a lot of very interesting conversations with people in different parts of the world and all of us were learning a ton. He basically made podcasting look possible and showed me the way through the deep, dark woods, so, I’m very greatful to Krister for his leadership.   I’m also greatful to The Collaboratory – a group of four of us – Krister, me, Sandra Hayes and Yaron Prywes, who have worked together for a long time but who, about a year ago, decided that being a much more integrated team would help us go higher.  Our strategy was to throw all of our consulting fees into one pot, thereby reducing our self-employed cash flow challenges and greatly increasing our interdependence – and then take some big swings, make more money, have more fun and make a much bigger difference. This podcast would not have happened without the support of the Collaboratory. And then, back to the technology – in addition to my tech savvy partner, Krister, all these young men have showed up from different parts of the world that are all lovely and very talented – nakul Sachdeva, 24 in Delhi who is a self-taught word-press consultant, Yudha Guntara from Indonesia who put my album art together, Scott Nicholas from my super talented Hudson Valley community, who is 26 and an amazing sound editor and producer.  They have all done incredible work to create this podcast on my shoe-string budget.

Finally, I’m someone who finds life most interesting and fun if I’m learning and growing – both personally and professionally.  After taking a workshop with Barbara Stanny called Sacred Success, I decided to do something scary every day. This podcast is that. Scary because it feels right but I am on an edge of integrating my life experience and using myself as best I can in the remaining time I have on this planet.

And, I’m super excited about the conversations and learning that I think this podcast will make possible. My list of potential interviewees was pretty long when I first conceptualized this – and with each person I interview or talk to it just keeps getting longer and richer.Worlds are opening up to explore and that feels super exciting. I love podcasts as a medium too. I listen often when I drive. I have control over what content I am putting into my brain. I can, with agility, skirt around so much of the garbage we are subjected to in the main stream media as well as the bureaucracy and hierarchy of large institutions.

So about making money. . .

I honestly have no idea how this might happen from this podcast and it feels a little awkward to talk about.The topic of money when you are trying to make a difference can always a bit like a dirty word.But I would like to be as transparent as possible about the money topic because how we are about money probably has a lot to do with how we are about peace. I haven’t scientifically tested this but I think the conventional wisdom has it that you can make a lot more money through war and warlike activities than you can through peace. If that’s true and, as long as it’s true, we will not realize a more peaceful planet.

So, in this podcast, I will raise the question with my interviewees — can you make a good living and be a peacebuilder? I look forward to their answers and to the conversations that we will have on this topic because, at the end of the day, it’s a critical one. Our mental models of scarcity – both I am not enough and there is not enough to go around – have a lot to do with our fundamental embracing of competition over collaboration. And the tension between competition and collaboration, of course, is at the heart of resolving conflict and building peace. So more on this topic as we get into the podcast.

So about making a difference.

This is probably my biggest motivation for doing this podcast — that it just might make a difference, however small. I’ve lived a while and I’m at a point in my life where I want to integrate, bring all the pieces together to make the best possible impact I can with the time and energy I have left. As I reflect on my past, many of my undertakings do appear to have planted seeds and created change, so I’m interested in being intentional and using myself to the best of my ability. I do believe we can make a difference.  Hands down, what motivates me most to try to make a difference are my extraordinarily beautiful daughter and son and so many of the incredibly cool and younger people I see blossoming on this planet.  I want to serve them, and offer them the best of what I have learned and am learning so they can run with whatever part of it makes most sense to them.

I live in a beautiful home in the Hudson Highlands north of NYC – and my home has proved metaphor for many things.  Since my marriage broke up and my kids left home, I’ve been in this process of editing and cleansing – getting rid of so much stuff, restoring what’s good, re-organizing it and giving or throwing everything else away. I like the Konmari Japanese housekeeping method – holding up each object and keeping it only if it inspires joy in us.  My process of editing and cleaning my home has aligned with a similar process professionally – integrating my life’s work to date – of files, books, thoughts, colleagues. This podcast, now, feels like my best effort to integrate all of my professional experiences, re cast them and offer them up in case they might be useful.

I have been in the field of conflict resolution and organization development for close to 30 years now and have learned a number of things that I hope to communicate in this podcast in addition to learning and experiencing a whole lot more.

The first awareness is that we need to change the narrative around peace.

To continue with the house analogy, if we scaled the planet down to just one home, and if in some large percentage of
our house there were bombs going off, dead bodies, blood, oil – 99% of us would clean it up.We would make it beautiful, as fast as we could.  Otherwise, it would be intolerable.

But I believe that if we humans truly believed peace was a good idea, we would have manifested it. There’s ambivalence. I hear it all the time.

One of the things many of us in the conflict resolution field have regularly done is ask a group of people to brainstorm “what comes to mind when you hear the word “conflict”.There is great energy in the room when you ask this question – and people have no lack of answers – competition, violence, war, fighting, disagreement, win-lose, anger, hate, Iraq.

But when you ask the question “what comes to mind when you hear the word peace?”

the energy goes flat, especially when contrasted to conflict.

I think many people think peace is boring. I hope this podcast will help to change this by focusing on some of the super cool things that people are doing to “build new models that make existing models obsolete” — liberating structures that allow our differences to resolve with transformation and creativity.

Bill Ury, one of the authors of Getting to Yes and the subsequent “Getting to Peace” wrote

Perhaps the single biggest obstacle to [realizing the dream of living together without massive amounts of strife and violence] is the ‘origin myth’ that we commonly tell ourselves and our children . . .(that) we have been warring with one another since the beginning of time.”

Bill’s books are amazing so I’ll leave it to him to tell the tale but his message is that contrary to popular belief, archeology gives us very little evidence that there was organized war or violence during the first 99% of human history. Another author who really shaped me is Rianne Eisler, who, in her book the Chalice and the Blade, provides similar documentation of the human story and the millennia of models of partnership specifically between men and women that only shifted about 10,000 years ago to structures of hierarchy and domination. So there is plenty of evidence of partnership and collaboration to draw on that should dispel any idea that we don’t have it in us.

I think there is a rebirth happening now, propelled by many interrelted things including feminism, the crisis of the natural world, positive psychology, looking at what’s right, v what’s wrong, a spiritual renaissance, a flattening of the world because of the internet, and so on.

To this conversation, I would like to bring the best of organization development – processes that transform leaders, teams and systems — into the world of building peace and diplomacy.

There is a parallel process between what happens in smaller systems to what happens in the larger ones. They reverberate and mirror each other.

We are still living in a world where most systems and structures are more based on power and rights – than on interests, deeper democracy, self-organization and empowerment. When we mediate with a small system, our interventions are aimed at shifting this. When we intervene in larger systems, the intent is the same.

In our professional work, the Collaboratory is standing for movements away from top down models of heroic leadership to leading collaboratively through leadership development, team coaching and systemic inteventions.  So, there is a lot to draw on from the field of organization development and mediation and apply it to the world of diplomacy and building peace and this is what I want to explore in the peacebuilding podcast.

When it comes to building peace, time is of the essence.

The environmentalist John Muir once said “when you pick up anything in the universe, you find that it is connected to everything else”. Climate change is presenting us with a huge planetary crisis that — like we teach people in our conflict resolution workshops — presents both danger and opportunity. It has the capacity to sink us, or transform us. Climate change is upping the level of awareness about the interdependence of all of us and the need to find new ways of living together.

We know how hard war is on all living things, but perhaps we don’t know it deeply enough. It wreaks havoc on the natural world, and it wreaks havoc on us.

Last 4th of july, (the United States Independence Day) – there were tons of fireworks going around my home — at the United States military academy at West Point, the US marines, Camp smith, and the local town fireweorks ,etc. My dog was terrified. It made me wonder about all the life forms around me – the foxes, bobcats, raptors, otters. What’s their experience of this? Right about that time I also heard on NPR that the US navy was conducting bombing experiements in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. It seemed just crazy. The costs of war on the environment are astronomical – our soil is contaminated by explosives, our air, our water. It’s not what we would allow to happen if it was our own home. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, really.

And then, there’s what violence does to us. We know more and more about the impact of violence on the brain and the ways that trauma and PTSD live on. Unfortuntately, we know that many people who have been traumatized and have not been able to heal often just recreate the trauma. I have seen this uncannily in my own life with the marriage I created in the aftermath of some of the transgressions I experienced as a child. There is a lot of house cleaning to do. It’s a little like carbon emissions – even if we brought them below harmful levels right now, it would still take a long time to reverse the process of climate change. Similarly, even if we were to stop all forms of violence right now, it would take a long time to heal generations of trauma that live within people’s brains.

Interestingly, the United Nations has now put peacebuilding “on the map” with it’s inclusion in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the SDG’s – which were just agreed to by essentially all countries of the world.  Notably, peacebuilding was not there for the Milennium Development Goals – the last round of global objectives set at the turn of this century. But global awareness has shifted. I hope, with this podcast, I can ride that wave and give voice to those in the trenches who are doing the work.

I went to see an amazing production of Homer’s 8th Cent BC Illiad recently at an outdoor theatre looking out over the Hudson River to West Point on the opposite bank. In general, the play conveys a strong message of the pointlessness of war and a message to stop recreating the same realtity. At one the most captivating moments, the single actor lists the endless numbers of conflicts throughout time

  • Conquest of Sumer
  • Conquest of Sargon
  • The Peloponnesian War
  • War of Alexander the Great
  • Punic War

and on and on. . .

up to. . .

  • The cold war
  • The Vietnam war
  • Iraq
  • Haiti
  • Pakistan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria

It’s was chilling.

I like when people say — if you change your narrative, you change your life. We have perfected the art of war over millennia – men have led the charge and women have supported them. War has been the main narrative since Homer’s Iliad which is most of human history as we know it. With this podcast, my intent it to pick up my mic and laptop computer and join the many 21st century women and men who are done with patriarchy, with models of domination, and are excitedly and creatively forging a new narrative of peace.

Part 4 – What to Expect from Upcoming Episodes

Ok, so what can you expect from upcoming episodes of the podcast.

Next week, you’ll hear me interview Pablo Restrepo, a dear friend and collegue from Colombia who is, frankly, the best teacher of negotiation I have encountered and has a lot of great stories to tell and reflections – about the free trade negotiations between Colombia and the US, about negotiation in general and where we are at, as a species, on the collaboration front.

I then will get into a much more nuts and bolts conversation with Lindsay Cornelio, a recent graduate of New York University’s Peacemaking and Peacebuilding program– who has been doing peacebuilding work in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She will talk both about her academic program and the peacebuilding initiative that she orchestrated.

Upcoming shows after that will include

Nagmeh Sobhani – talking about a 15 year peacebuilding initiative in Bosnia Herzegovina that she facilitated in the aftermath of the brutal civil war

Krister Lowe will talk about his work with delivering conflict resolution training to the United Nations worldwide, a peacebuilding initiative in the NYC public schools, as well as his current focus on building collaboration in systems through team coaching.

I will interview Gay Rosenblum-Kumar, a conflict transformation specialist with 30 years of experience who co-founded the UN’s first cadre of peace and development advisers, Lorreta Raider from Mediators Beyond Borders, Ava Bynum, who has created a community-based garden initative to build peace and well-being to students in Beacon New York and many many other exciting guests that I have on my long list that will hopefully agree to share their experiences with you.

In general, you’re going to hear lots of great and inspiring stories from around the globe where practitioners are creatively building peace. You’ll hear what they did, what worked, what didn’t work, what they learned, what they are thinking about now, and what they are planning to do next. You’ll get very specific tools and techniques of how you, as a facilitator can bring a group together. We’ll share writings, books, films, and whatever we can with you our listeners. And, if you have stories that need to be told or questions that you think should be asked please be in touch with me at susan@peacebuildingpodcast.com

In each interview you’ll get a personal introduction to the person I’m interviewing – a little bit about who they are as a human being and why they do the kind of work they do. Then they’ll tell us a story about a piece of work they have undertaken. Many of these people will not be identifying specifically as peacebuilders, so I will be asking them for their thinking about why they believe their work is building peace. I’ll also ask them about what they have learned – what has worked or not – because as we say in my trade – there is no failure, just feedback.   And finally I’ll ask them what they are pursuing next and what kinds of final recommendations or thoughts they might have for you the listeners. Two standard questions will be about money and vision – their thoughts about how to make a living and build peace and a compelling vision they hold about a more peaceful world.

You should know that the peacebuilding podcast is part of a larger website which you can check out at www.thepeacebuildingpodcast.com. There you can listen to weekly episodes of the podcast, which you can also subscribe to and download on iTunes. You’ll also find the show notes of each episode and a “what we’re learning” blog where you’ll find exciting and useful summaries around the kinds of designs and ideas that people are using to build peace.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the show today. We really look forward to you joining us for next weeks show. Please email me with any comments or questions, or ideas of people out there that you think I should interview.

OK, till next week.