How do wars end? Why are some societies capable of peaceful political transitions while others descend into violence? How can violent turf battles between gangs be addressed and resolved? Tim Phillips has traveled the globe with Beyond Conflict, giving voice to courageous individuals who have led their communities from seemingly intractable conflicts through peaceful transitions. From South Africa to Guatemala, Northern Ireland to Israel, Chile to Czechoslovakia, and now in several places in the United States, Phillips has helped leaders sit down with sworn enemies and confront their greatest fears, paving the way for reconciliation and lasting peace.
The work is about finding common ground. Proclaiming a truce is not sufficient, Phillips says, and beating one party into submission is never more than a pyrrhic victory. The hard work of transformative change between adversaries begins when people start to know each other. When one hears familiar pain being spoken from an unlikely source, walls can be torn down.
In 2014, Phillips wrote about the conflict in Syria. “Hearing others share their similar, traumatic experiences is a well-worn approach in many fields, and for good reason: It helps people realize that they are not alone in their suffering and that change is possible, both of which are necessary first steps in order to move forward. Syrians are ensnared in the midst of a vicious, horrific war, but they are not the only ones who have seen their countries reduced to rubble and their loved ones tortured and murdered by hated enemies. While that damage can never be undone, hearing that others have shared that experience, and eventually made peace with enemies, is both deeply powerful and instructive.”
Can we beat our swords into ploughshares? Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post writes, “Some who work with ethnic, racial and religious conflict are pairing with neuroscientists to understand how small advancements in brain research can help explain how we experience emotions like prejudice and disgust and fear. It will be a while before researchers are able to devise many specific strategies for using that knowledge of how the brain works in the peace-building process. But simply teaching people that there is a neurological basis for prejudice has the potential to help them view the deep-seated roots of their conflicts more objectively.” Check out a TedX talk in which Phillips speaks about how our brains can teach our minds to change: https://youtu.be/AfljJGTVcKE .
Tim Phillips will join us at Redeemer next Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. as part of the VOICES speaker series. If you care about moving beyond conflict, between countries, within cities, or around your breakfast table, you won’t want to miss it.