Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Lorna Zamora Robles

Self – Reflection and “Inner Peace” in Peacebuilding

When I first heard about peace starting with yourself I thought that was a ridiculous and conformist idea intended to demobilize people. “Stick to your own business, don’t point fingers if you don’t look at yourself”. Yes, I can be in a lifelong journey of self-discovery. Does this mean, then, that I can’t act if I am not perfectly peaceful myself?

This is a false debate, I think. Both are needed. You definitively need to look inside and work out your own contradictions. You have to know yourself. You have to be perfectly honest with yourself and develop awareness if you want to be honest about your work. It is completely true that you cannot give what you don’t have. I don’t mean you need to be perfect in order to be in a position where you can do something, but you definitively have to be in a position where you are willing to listen and be open to learning and do so with compassion for yourself and the others. You don’t need to be a saint to work for peace. None of us are, and nobody would, then.

Compassion does not mean tolerating injustice, nor blind acceptance to it. On the contrary, you definitively need to look very hard inside and think how you are acting and what your motivations are. It takes courage to listen and confront your own beliefs. This makes dialogue complicated. But in the end, what is solving a conflict about? Proving you are right? If all parts act this way, that will not take them very far and certainly that attitude doesn’t help establishing any kind of dialogue.

Being humble is not a synonym of being servile, weakness or “giving in”, but it is certainly a trait you need to listen before reacting. And how can we understand if we are not willing to listen? How can we change if we are not willing to understand? How can we learn if we are not willing to change? This post borrows some concepts from different religious traditions. I learned the importance of incorporating spirituality to the conversation.

In societies where laicism is an important value sometimes we may be reluctant to even talk about these concepts, but I think some are interesting to explore and cultivate for more peaceful individuals in more peaceful societies.

Gender in Peacebuilding

Such as we need to think about including women and girls [along with LGBTIQ+ and diverse masculinities] in our development /peacebuilding programs we should also need to rethink about how the patriarchal agenda dictates how we operate.  Just as sometimes females can replicate misogyny (even the most hardcore feminists) we can also replicate other parts of the male-dominant system, like the use of violence, which is a very much masculine-centered approach. Violence, heroism, competitiveness, which are very central to our culture, are often identified more to masculine qualities in a binary system.

Feminisms from the global south and from postcolonial studies suggest interesting approaches to this. Recover cooperation, collaboration and nurturing in our processes. Stop thinking about our work in the rhetoric and language of a battlefield. If we care about relationships (which we should if we are even thinking of long-term lasting approaches) let’s be creative and think outside this system. Let’s stop following that agenda. What can we build differently? Can we even imagine it to be? Since the “feminine” is regarded as “weak” this approaches don’t seem to many as “combative” enough.  They are not, and they should not pretend to be. Instead, they should be proactive and, overall, deeply questioning and transgressive.

Peacebuilding and the Donor Dilemma

So peacebuilding is a very noble endeavour, but where do we get funding to do it? In Mexico there is the misconception that people in this field should be completely selfless and devoted to the cause. You might be, but you still need to eat and pay rent, and there is an operation cost to any peacebuilding activity.

Asking for fair retributions as a worker of the peacebuilding field is a matter of taking a stance about the dignity of your work. It is important. It is a job. We are professionals. There is a point in the middle between profiting from peacebuilding and working for free. It is difficult to accompany people in their quest for justice, dignified working conditions if you can’t stand up for yourself. At the same time, we know the people getting the highest salaries in this country are not the ones who make better contributions to society, but the ones who engage in more lucrative activities.

Although individuals can engage in both profit-making and peacebuilding activities, can you actually bring together both approaches in the same project? Won’t one agenda dominate the other when decisions have to be taken? This brings us to the questions of whom we should take money from and under which conditions we are willing to work. If we know we can access a certain amount of money that can do a lot of good to a certain population but don’t agree with the source, should we take it? If we are offered a job that can give you a great position to enable you to approach a large population but don’t agree with the organization you would be working for, should you take it? What are the limitations, and what should be the line? Again, I come to learn in Monterey that these are questions that are being raised all over the globe and trying to find an answer together becomes crucial in a world of globalized economy and politics.

On Living Room Conversations and Dialogue

Engaging in conversations on difficult topics requires a common ground. Until what extent can we hold conversations if one of the parts does not want to talk? What is there to be done when this is the case? What kind of mediation can there be in cases when not all parts are completely willing to not only talk but also listen? What preconditions are needed in order to sustain such a dialogue?

We had a session with Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Conversations. I think their proposal is interesting and valuable: creating safe spaces for dialogue in order to understand opposing points of view to your own and the people who hold these opinions. They hold these events all over the country and invite others to do the same. Going back to Mexico, this is a good project to try out. 

Listening and understanding others’ points of view is important, but what is to be done with them afterwards? The point of the conversations is not changing each other’s point of view, but enriching it. However, just holding the conversation does not mean one will by any means be changed by it in any way. One might as well leave it feeling that their own point has been reassured.  Actual dialogue requires a process of listening that needs to be developed and practiced over time. This exercises might help to those with the willingness, but they are not enough. Educational systems in various countries, where competition is the norm, don’t necessarily help develop capacities for sustaining dialogues in democratic societies.

On gang violence

This week we spent a couple of days with amazing local journalist Julie Reynolds, who shared with us her insights of a couple of decades of work around the prison system in Salinas.

As stated earlier, this area is highly populated by Latinos, particularly of Mexican origin, either as first-generation immigrants or descendants of Mexicans born in the US. A number of get involved from a very early age in gangs, being Nuestra Familia and La Mafia Mexicana two of the most notable.

Gangs are spaces of identity, power and serve as a project to these young persons looking for options. They allure them and offer them status, membership to a group that pretends to give them protection and take care of them as a family would, strong male role models to kids with broken homes. Understanding how belonging can be complicated in a country where you are a minority, how important it is for young people to be feel respected and the central role family plays in Latin American countries it is no surprise why gangs are appealing to so many young persons.

There are groups who have been working for a long time towards building a safer community. However, it crucial to incorporate as much as possible the voices of the youth into the conversation of how to stop gang violence, incorporating their needs and perspectives in order to better address this situation.

On visiting Salinas’ prisons

This week we went to a couple of high-security prisons in Salinas, as some of my classmates have already narrated and shared their experiences about. I want to tell my experience as a Latina visitor in Salinas, where more than 70% of the population is Latina and what going to meetings with authorities and into the penal system was like to me.

Just the trip to Salinas Valley getting there was striking. Looking at the window you could see the beautiful green fields (agriculture, by the way, is the main economic activity of the area) and the people working the soil. I will not talk about labour conditions in the fields or immigrant economy – that is very well documented. 

Happens that just seeing the workers made me think of all stories of immigrants I know, all the stories of people who get deported and who come back, regardless of the dangers and problems they know they might face here. Being in the prisons, speaking with them and just catching each other’s eyes and finding we have a lot in common even if we have such different backgrounds and lives was very shocking. 

Week 1

This week gave me a lot of tools and clues to continue digging deeper into some topics.

Storytellling with Amy Hill showed me a great methodology in practice for reframing the person in a difficult situation to give them agency and let their story be heard. The technology session with Giselle Lopez and the session with Dr. Matthew gave me some inputs as to how the work I do in the GIS industry (not mentioned earlier because of me thinking it was apparently unrelated) can support peace work and how I can link both areas. The neuroscience & trauma session with Dr. Shah showed some paths I should research more into to improve my work with dance and the mind-body relation.

A couple of sessions focused on questions about development, hegemony, and structural violence, particularly with Dr. Matthew, Dr. Iyer, Dr. Glezner and Dr. Rubenstein. I think some more sessions will address this issues, and more ideas will come, so I am preparing a broader post on this for later on the course. As of now, I am very happy with the group, the sessions, the discussions, the presenters, and the opportunity to see how ODA and conflict studies look like in action in the US. So far our organizing as a team for the case study has been ok. I think we can work on our internal communication strategies, as happens with all teams at a starting phase. I am ready for the challenges that might arise. Really looking forward to the next weeks!

Conflict solving in a conflict-solving learner community

There is a friend in the course I have a particularly good relationship with. This person is very sincere and open with me, no political correctness involved and I really appreciate the honest conversations we have. This person told me “we all get along well because we are only here for a short period of time and it is not enough to make our differences uncomfortable and there is nothing to compete over, but if there was, our relationships wouldn’t be the same”.

 Image that came up while googling “good negotiation”.

That very same day we were presented with four study cases. We had to choose one and team up with other 4-5 persons to solve it along with one organization, which would be our task for the following weeks. The instruction was to decide all together at the end of the day. By the time that happened there was already a board with names on it and three out of the four teams were all full, even before all of the cases were presented. How were we to decide who would not be in the team of their first choice?

Dr. Iyer started a negotiation process and eventually the conflict was solved. But before this happened comments popped up about first come – first serve, about the last person having to be switched and then the majority would be ok. Isn’t this how some conflicts are solved in our society? Is this fair? Is this what justice and democracy should be? What happens when there are voices left behind, unheard? Who tend to be these voices? When does the project of equality I work for affect my interests and my privileges? What is  to be done about that?

I think everyone, but especially us as peacebuilders should ask themselves this questions if we want to be coherent.

Surprisingly similar

Peace means different things for different persons. Some discourses use the concept to justify any action into finishing with a conflict. As we saw in a session with Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Solving a conflict is not the same as supressing it.

In that session we saw the documentary Parzania. The complicity of local authorities in the events, revictimization of victims because of justice not being brought to them, and the further impunity of politicians who are still in posts, even higher now, reminds me of Mexico and a case in Atenco, where an airport was going to be built and the people who were against being displaced from their lands were brutally repressed in a controversial case that involves the person who is now president of my country. In another session we talked about ISIS, how it is providing a life project (along with promises of money and glory) for some youths, what some of their sources of income are and the strategy that is being used to fight them. This reminds me of the war on drugs in Mexico, how a cartel life appeals to young people with not a lot of options and how the government addressed the problem by not looking at it holistically but above all by spending more budget on security forces. I don’t mean to minimize the differences between these cases. The reason for conflict to arise in each are key elements to understand the root of the situation and to eventually  propose solutions, but it is very clear to me how similar the government responses are to treat the them. A generic negative peace approach to such diverse situations doesn’t seem like the best way to go. I think conflict experts who can analyse each situation in its complexity are fundamental. Yet, something else I am getting to understand we are also facing in different countries are the budget cuts, the lack of resources, the tendency to see non-profit organizations as not profitable and therefore not as worthy of resources as other activities. What is the value of peace? Is it measurable? Where does it fit in this economy and in our politics? In whose agenda is it to maintain conflicts unresolved? For conflict resolution strategies to work there needs to be political will. Nevertheless, as it has been stated in most of the sessions, change can happen one step at a time, one action at a time.

Bridging change

My name is Lorna Zamora and I come from Mexico City. To say that my country is going through a difficult moment now would be an understatement. We have incredibly well-trained public administrators with great expertise to market us as this folkloric and colorful tourism and investment paradise, an image that has declined over the last 10 years. Nevertheless, conflicts involving displacement, dispossession, political dissapearances, impunity, deep inequality and heavy structural violence towards certain groups, in particular (rural-indigenous-poor-name your intersectionality here), has been even normalized long before the drug dealing cartels made the headlines.

As the course moves onwards I will write more about the situation in my country and how it relates to the topics we address. For now, I will only say that most people are unhappy with the political climate, members of our press are being targeted and assasinated, that there is not a lot of credibility on the political system, postcolonialism can be readily observed and that people all over the country are organizing as best as they can to resist the violences they are subject to everyday. Sometimes this ways of organizing will be disregarded as violent and unnecessary, sometimes they will be reactive and not very strategic, sometimes they will be harrassed and sabotaged. What can people do upon having this feeling of injustice for tenths, of hundreds of years?

In this context, I have found the best space for me to act as a student and young professional is through developing spaces to have important conversations. I consider myself to be an intercultural communicator, a peace educator, a human rights defender, a movement artist, and social healer. I have travelled vastly intending to sustain meaningful conversations with a wide variety of individuals and groups throughout different social, political, cultural and economical contexts, stretching as much as possible my understanding about how we experience, make a sense of and respond to the effects the globalised systems we live in have on our lifes.

My work is about sustaining dialogues between this co-existing realities. One tool I use for this is arts, particularly dancing. Movement becomes a powerful space to think, feel and work on one’s own body, our emotions, beliefs about ourselves, our layers of identity, what that means in one’s society, how we interact with others and how we exist in the world and go about that power. This teaching journey started out 5 years ago in Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, using dance technique as an excuse to have this conversations with women and being an Assistant Professor and researcher in the fields of Peace Education and Conflict Resolution in UNAM, as well. Ever since, I have worked with several indigenous communities and social justice movements and activist groups in rural and urban Mexico, as well as with study abroad and exchange students from all continents.

Learning about Peace Studies perspectives has really changed the way I understand violence, activism and the world in general. I used to come from a place of anger and confusion that was not becoming very sustainable for my physical, emotional and mental health, and which was not very effective. I see a lot of my peers dealing with this same issues. I am working very hard to identify spaces of violence in myself and understanding how my thoughts and actions can aid reproduce one culture. It has been very liberating to realize I have a choice on this and I have the responsibility to decide what kind of activism I build around me.

For the last 3 years I have collaborated with a wonderful group at UNAM, where we get to ask ourselves this questions, we get to have experiments in the peace education field, especifically after designing and facilitating workshops along with a wonderful Professor who know just how to ask the correct questions and who represents an example of what it looks like to walk the talk. I am being sent as a representative of this group to this course, so I am a link with Equipo de Paz y no Violencia Filos (Team for Peace and Non-Violence, Faculty of Philosophy and Litterature, UNAM).

I come to this course with the very genuine interest of learning from your work and your experience, to develop a network, to get better understanding how the path of peacebuilding has been like to you in your communities in order to nurture each other’s work 🙂  Some of the questions I hope to think more about during the following weeks are: What does peace mean in your context, both in everyday life and as a political discourse?  What effects have different notions and projects of peace brought upon your communities? What would social justice look like there for different groups? How can we make this work in a world of globalised and neoliberal economies, where profit and financial development seem to come before and above the rest? What roles can we play from our places of privilege to bring this about in a respectful way?

Being here means a lot to me. I am very much looking forward to meeting you soon 🙂


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