MCC roundtable meeting Oxford, November 2018
In November around twenty people from different European countries met in Oxford, UK. This meeting was organized by the MCC European representatives, Naomi and Douglas Enns. All participants represented an organisation working on “connecting Mennonites”. Each year a special topic is discussed and this time we discussed the book “The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace” writen by John Paul Lederach.
Peace buiding is an important theme within the mennonite community and there have been many discussions on this topic. John Paul Lederach, who has a huge experience in peace building processes, is the first person to admit that negotiating peace is not easy. In his book he vividly describes the various situations in which peace makers can find themselves. The variety is immens and for each situation you need different skills and approaches. It would be wise to read Lederach’s book each time before a negotiator starts a peace proces in order to keep him sharp and creative.
The approach Ledearch has presented suggests that peacebuilders should think of themselves as artists engaged in a vocation to nurture constructive social change. Some of their main "tools" would be serendipitous moments, intuition, innovation, and creativity.
In many respects, the events that have transpired since September 11, 2001 are the antithesis of the moral imagination. Rigid ideologies, isolation, and fear paralyze the capacity to imagine a web of interdependent relationships. What we see are cycles of violence driven by fear and insecurity. If we are to survive as a global community, we must find ways to foster the moral imagination and recognize that our current modes of response are incapable of overcoming violence.We must move away from isolation and an emphasis on domination and toward an emphasis on interdependent relationships.
Lederach ends with the following mantra:
"Reach out to those you fear. Touch the heart of complexity. Imagine beyond what is seen. Risk vulnerability one step at a time."
As said before, quite a lot is asked of the negotiators in environments where aversion and deep hatred play a key role. Signing a peace treaty is just a start. I was deeply impressed by one of the participants, Philip, who was involved in the negotiations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. This led to the "Good Friday" agreement in 1998. The guns and bombs went silent, but the process is not over yet. Even now, Philip told, young people still harbor deep hatred, even when they have not experienced the violence themselves. It is not always easy to confront old enemies because almost every family has a murdered family member or has killers in their ranks. Generations will pass before it is possible to forgive and forget. Still I was encouraged by the fact that so many people are engaged in peace processes like the ones in Northern Ireland, the Middle east, Africa and South America. These are all motivated and courageous people and I am proud that the worldwide Mennonite community plays an important role in these complex processes.