Ep. 026: Susan Coleman


Transcript:  Igniting Women - The Pathway to Planetary Peace

Ni Hao. Thanks for having me here. It’s really an honor.

Sit firmly in your chair.

Please put your phones away and any other distractions.

Feet on the ground.

Take a few deep breaths. All the way down into your belly, your toes, connecting down deeply into the core of the earth.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your fullest radiance, magnetism, power, divinity.

Breath that in.

Now imagine all the women in this room – all your sisters – in their highest radiance, magnetism, power, divinity.

Now imagine all women on the planet – in China, the United States, Afghanistan, Colombia, everywhere – in their highest radiance, magnetism, power, divinity.

And I am going to tell you why. From this state of being, we, women can powerfully and collectively lead humanity forward to a place of planetary peace.

Let me start with my story because each of our stories is a microcosm of our collective reality as women.

My first real paying job was working as a Wall Street lawyer in New York City, a huge global business center. Perhaps you have heard of it? This was my father’s career. I copied him cause I didn’t know any better. I came from an affluent family and my female ancestors had never worked outside of the home. The job was pretty brutal. The hours incredibly long. Sitting around with men smoking cigars. And the job wasn’t really aligned with my purpose, which even then was to support women and a more peaceful world.

I remember seeing the first Apple computer and a light bulb going off: “Aha! This is how I will solve the dilemma of how to be a mom and also have a career.” I could see it would be impossible to continue working in my law job. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was trying to combine my two role models: Mom, who had been a 1950’s stay at home; and my Dad, the Wall Street lawyer.

My solution was to set up my own global business in intercultural negotiation and mediation. I had gotten this idea at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and the program on negotiations at Harvard Law School. I was at ground zero of a kind of revolution prompted by the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

The central idea of the book is pretty simple and is captured in the story of an orange. Two little girls are fighting over one orange: “Mommy, Daddy! I want the orange. Mommy, Daddy! I want the orange.”

What’s the solution? Most people I have asked around the world say you cut the orange in half. Or, more tired parents say you take the orange away and tell the kids to stop fighting.

But the Getting to Yes answer is, you ask the girls why they want the orange and you discover that one girl wants the meat to eat it and the other wants the peel to make jam.

So, by getting to underlying interests, they both can get 100% of what they want. The reality is, a lot, and I mean a lot, of conflict doesn’t resolve this way when it could.

It’s often a power struggle: “If you don’t give me that orange, I’m going to beat the hell out of you” or can simply be based on a rule like: “I’m the oldest, so I get the orange.”

Anyway, Getting to Yes generated a much more collaborative or win-win way in how people think about negotiation.

Interesting, the central idea for the book came from a woman in the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett, but she was not given credit and is now largely forgotten.

So, anyway, I had an amazing run of it for many years.

I set up the United Nations program in Collaborative Negotiation and Mediation Skills and I taught UN staff globally.

I set up a similar program at Columbia University and also taught people from all over the world, many from China and other parts of Asia.

I launched many people in the field and became well-known

What I was teaching people, was essentially the nuts and bolts about how to resolve difference using what theorists have identified as the two main strategic choices in negotiation:

  • Collaboration, and
  • Competition.

The implications of this choice are big for women.

If the main strategy out there is power, force and competition – might makes right – we women are likely to lose.

If it’s collaboration, we are on a much more even playing field.

I read two books at the time that really got me thinking about this. The first was The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future 1st (first) edition written by Rianne Eisler (translated into about 25 languages), which divides the history – or herstory – of the world into models of domination and partnership and makes a strong case that models of domination are relatively new and have brought with them the ranking of one half of the human race over the other: men over women. And the birth of the patriarchal models that are now present in most countries on earth. The second, Getting to Peace, by Bill Ury, reaches a similar conclusion: that models of competition or coercion are relatively new on the planet. It’s a myth we have been telling ourselves and our children that humans have been warring with each other since the beginning of time. Evidence suggests that for 99% of our time on earth, we have been living in peaceful coexistence. Interestingly, during that 99% of history, the feminine was revered and the goddess reigned in many parts of the world.

On the personal front, I was very happily married, had two beautiful children, an amazing home. My marriage was a partnership. I felt empowered as a woman, aligned with my purpose and a husband who, at the time, really valued my confidence, voice, and competence. Then, like what happens to so many of us, I hit a big rupture or train wreck: both my marriage and my work fell apart. I didn’t like it at the time, but I now see that our power and evolution often come from the darker, more difficult places. My husband had shifted from being my partner to being a dominator – very threatening, angry, violent – and I had let it happen, I had relinquished my power.

The seeds of this were planted in my childhood, and maybe even my mother’s childhood and my grandmother’s. It’s almost like I had a blueprint in my brain to make this happen. I come from a very privileged family, but a very patriarchal one. My older brother, 5 years older, was anointed king by my mother and father. Here he is, placed in the middle by my mother.

My two sisters and I had no power. This was never communicated directly, just non-verbally in everything that was said and done. My brother treated me very badly throughout my childhood: physically, verbally, sexually. And no one ever told him not too. Not my mother, father, nanny, grandparents. It was normal for me at the time, but now I realize how scared I was of him, how much I believed he was more valuable than me, and how I then succeeded in recreating this in my marriage and undermining my own success with work.

I know this is not just my story. I know that women all over the planet – rich and poor – share theme and variation of it. I was recently in Afghanistan working with senior women in the government and shared some of this story. The women were shocked. They thought this kind of thing just happened in Afghanistan, not to women in the US.

Two weeks ago, I was part of a team delivering a large women’s empowerment program in NYC and a woman had traveled from China and was in tears because she had never wanted to be born a woman. Women around the world are living in a state of shame.

Ruptures are great teachers. There’s lots of sayings that speak to this and, in fact, we talk about it in conflict resolution circles:

  • crisis brings both danger and opportunity
  • diamonds get formed under pressure
  • the lotus flower blooms out of the muck
  • or this saying from the poet Rumi: “How will you be polished if every rub distracts you?”

The rupture helped me re-gain my power, re-connect to my voice and my purpose. In my dimmed down state, I had turned to men for support: male colleagues, boyfriends; but I learned that while the guys were well-intentioned, I needed to turn to other women for healing, sisterhood and transformation.

I had the luck of walking through the doors of an amazing and now global community of women at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts where the power of sisterhood is awe inspiring. I jokingly call the school Goddess training camp, but that’s essentially what’s it’s been, a way to remember the source of life that I am in spite of the toxicity of the patriarchal soup we are all – men and women alike – swimming in.

With renewed confidence, I started my podcast: The Peacebuilding Podcast: Bridging the Divide. Finding voice is critical for women. We all need to tell our stories because each time we do, it helps everyone else understand their own. With Podcasting, I can broadcast all over the world right from my home office. I interview people worldwide about creative interventions to resolve conflicts and build common ground: mediators, coaches, entrepreneurs, former ambassadors, diplomats, dancers.

I get tired of how the media in my country always focuses on the worst, destructive conflict thereby reinforcing the system of war. I knew how much great, positive work people are doing out there and I wanted to shine some sunlight on it. My mottos are:

  • “The best way to predict the future, is to create it.” or
  • “Don’t fight against the existing reality, build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete.”

I now have 35 countries downloading episodes. Check it out and please subscribe at thepeacebuildingpodcast.com. From my podcast focus, it’s become crystal clear to me that the most powerful, efficient and fun way for everyone to build peace on this planet is to empower women.

People generally believe that war is inevitable, something we have lived with always and will have to live with always, but MANY experts will tell you that war is entirely preventable and ending war is entirely within our grasp as a species. War used to be much more glorious than it is. People generally don’t have that illusion now, especially since the consequences of war have become so instantaneously global. Its hopeful to see that the long-term trends show war and violence on the decline.

The point here is not to end conflict, but rather make the world safer for it. Conflict can be a good thing if handled well. It’s what leads to creativity, growth, potentially better relationships. This will happen at lightning speed to the extent that women can really step into our leadership. No more letting fear run us, no more co-dependency, much more supporting each other to rise. Most of us women don’t like war. We didn’t like playing war games as little girls and we don’t like it as adults. Interesting, I don’t know if dueling was practiced in China, but it was very widespread in the Western world and came to an end when women started laughing at the practice.

We have a lot of power if we learn how to use it. In 2003, Leyma Gowbee inspired the world when she and other women came together to end the horrendous Liberian civil war. This story is a blueprint of what women could do planet-wide. Leyma and others organized women from all tribes and religions to come together, wear white and go on a sex strike until there was peace. They kept their message super simple: “We want peace now”. She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2011.

Women are more collaborative than men and generally more focused on relationships. Perhaps this is hormonal, or simply that we just know that if competition is the dominant strategy, we are going to lose.

But let’s be clear! Men are not bigger, stronger than women so that they can dominate us. Nature is all about reproduction and they are bigger stronger so they can protect us as we generate life. There is a close relationship between what happens in the family and what happens on the global stage.

If women are second-class citizens in our families, children learn a one-up, one-down way of relating and can often witness violence and abuse. Studies indicate that societies with more authoritarian, male-dominated and punitive homes tend to support weapons and military solutions. In contrast, studies also show that more egalitarian societies are more peace loving and better for both women and men: economically and emotionally.

Many people everywhere seem to say that women are on the rise, that the 21st century is the century for women. I, for one, can feel it. In my global travels, women everywhere say to me “It’s time”.

Money is a good metric for our global values and something we women need to get smart about. Humans currently spend $1.7 trillion of our planetary resources on war. Probably a very low estimate if you take into account the other impacts of war like psychological trauma. My country is by far the biggest military spender. In the coming century in my country, women are going to control the majority of the money. Perhaps this is true in other countries as well, I don’t know. This bodes well for a planetary shift.

Experts about women and wealth say that once women are stable and have food on the table, helping others motivates us more than money. There’s a lot to do to bring the goddess back to her rightful place. Each of us women must do the work to fully understand our value and all of us in sisterhood need to support each other with more courage and more strength.

Let’s make it happen!

Thanks for listening. Please be in touch with me for any further connection or conversation.