Essential Peacemaking

Bringing together the oldest adversaries: women and men

One of the articles in Exploring Our Interconnectedness (IC#34)
Originally published in Winter 1993 on page 52
Copyright (c)1993, 1996 by Context Institute

Nowhere do the deep uncertainties over the right balance of interconnection and separation affect us more personally than in the area of gender relations. If we can’t make peace here, we are unlikely to be able to have peace on a societal or international level.

That’s certainly the conclusion to which Danaan Parry and Jerilyn Brusseau have come. They have each spent much of their lives as peace makers, Danaan as co-founder of the Earthstewards Network, and Jerilyn as founder of Peace Table. Both were extensively involved with citizen diplomacy in the former USSR, with peace work in the Middle East, and with the Peace Trees program (see IC #20, page 54; IC #22: page 51; IC #28: page 42; IC #33: page 38).

Now they’ve combined forces in a new program called Essential Peacemaking/Women and Men.© Their intention with this program is to help bring into being a broad-based – indeed, world-wide – grassroots process in which women and men can have a healing dialogue within a safe environment, overcome miscommunications, and grow a deeper trust and synergy both within and between the sexes.

To help get this process rolling, they’ve developed a format for a one-day Essential Peacemaking gathering that is simple enough to be widely replicated. In addition, they’ve developed a series of two workshops to train facilitators for these one-day gatherings.

In early October 1992, four of us from Context Institute (Carla Cole, Duane Fickeisen, Diane Gilman and I) took part in the first (two-day) workshop, and at the end of that month, Diane and I took the second (three-day) workshop for facilitators. The short report is: it works.

Three aspects of the Essential Peacemaking process seem to me to make it particularly effective and replicable:

  • The process is simple in a sophisticated way, involving a half-dozen specific activities for the one-day gathering. Drawing on their experience working with groups and with gender issues, Danaan and Jerilyn have honed the process to just what is essential – and that makes it possible to do a credible job of preparing facilitators through the five-day training process.

  • The process provides a framework, but the content comes from the participants themselves, from their own experiences. This is not a place to learn what some workshop leader thinks is the politically correct way to deal with gender issues; rather it is a place to explore the complexity of these issues as they exist in the lives of real people, and then grow beyond what is to what can be.

  • The steps in the process alternate between single-gender activities (men sharing with men, women sharing with women) and mixed-gender activities (where women and men are together). This allows a level of discovery and growth that is essentially impossible in only one of those formats.

To me, Essential Peacemaking represents a much needed next step in the women’s and men’s movements. I hope it is an early sign of a much broader trend.

A few days after we had finished the second workshop, I had a chance to talk with Jerilyn and Danaan about Essential Peacemaking:

Robert: You have been involved with all kinds of conflict resolution projects in the past. Why are you now focusing on gender issues?

Jerilyn: For the past several years my work has been bringing people together to share the culinary and agricultural traditions unique to their own cultures: Arab cultures, Latin cultures, Western European, all over the old Soviet Union, North American, Hispanic cultures in North America, and the cultures of people of color in this country. Through exploring these traditions, quite accidentally I discovered a connection to the other women involved that I didn’t necessarily feel elsewhere, and doors opened to their sharing what was really deep, meaningful, and very close to their hearts.

That sharing has led to the work of Essential Peacemaking, which I see as a process for exploring the issues that have kept our genders apart and that could bring our genders more closely together in dynamic and powerful ways.

Danaan: I came to the importance of working with gender issues from a frustrating search for what works for effective conflict resolution. My particular interest is in helping people work with their conflicts to find common ground and to look into the deeper conflicts that we usually ignore because we focus instead on the resolution of surface conflicts.

The truth is, it’s a frustrating business because most people don’t want to look there. They’d rather kill each other, or they want to get fixed up just enough to cope.

Robert: What sorts of conflicts are you thinking of?

Danaan: Arabs and Israelis arguing about whether the Koran or the Torah is right. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland fighting over issues which they have fought over for hundreds of years. They will continue to fight over these unless they are willing to look deeper – at their real fears. In my experience, these fears don’t lie with religion or with land or territorial imperatives; they lie deeper than that.

So what is an avenue that one can invite people to walk along that will lead to a place that is dark and deep enough where the real answers lie?

The only consistent answer to that question that I have found is gender issues. I’m excited about gender issues as gender issues, but I’m more excited about gender issues being a crack in the door into a very deep, and usually dark and scary, but incredibly productive and alive place, where, when we are willing to go there, we really do resolve our conflicts. It’s an invitation to intimacy, and almost all conflict is a cry for intimacy.

Perhaps because it’s a subject everybody relates to, "women and men" is mysterious and fascinating enough to draw people into amazingly deep explorations. And most times, there is a doorway that leads to the resolution of different conflicts as well.

I can get Catholic men and Protestant men in Northern Ireland talking in the same room about what it’s like to be a man, but I can never get them to start talking in the same room about what it’s like to be an Irish Catholic and an Irish Protestant. Yet once I’ve got them in the same room talking about as deep an issue as gender, there is a possibility of my bridging from that to other issues that impact their lives, but not the other way around.

Robert: What are you discovering about women and men through this?

Jerilyn: A lot of commonality across cultures. The issues women voice and the values we express seem like a shared deep taproot into something that is woman. I see the same kind of thing in the men as well.

Danaan: I agree. When you get down to the stuff men deal with, as men, there is such a congruence of issues that it is scary, amazing, and wonderful all at the same time.

It probably won’t come as any surprise to you that self-esteem is a fundamental issue. One of the things that we hear a lot in the trainings – I’m going to generalize but it’s a pretty good one and definitely cross-cultural – is that most women have something inside of them that is ashamed to be a woman and most men have something inside of them that is ashamed to be a man. There is some element in the answer to the question of, "What is it like to be a man?" that is "I’m not proud of it."

Jerilyn: Likewise what I hear and see and feel from thousands of women in every culture I’ve visited is this generalized feeling that we’re the lesser breed. That’s quite a legacy to live out!

Danaan: Isn’t that interesting that men are saying it about men and women are saying it about women? We’re not saying it across the sexes as much as we’re saying it about ourselves.

Jerilyn: Yet here we are in 1992, a time of women rediscovering and reaffirming our tremendous value and strength. Many women have, through the centuries, held on to that strength and many, many women haven’t. There is a lot of wounding, on all sides, that needs to be healed.

We need to sit down with each other and allow the differences to be, and rather approach with awe that two beings can hold such differences as male and female. Then we can begin taking the wires off of the bomb.

We also need to learn to stand on the esteem, honor, and dignity of our own gender, and to speak from that place. It’s like a well. When I can begin to live out of that well of the deep strength and dignity of woman, then I can begin to learn of the depth of the well that is man.

Danaan: Just as Jerilyn and other women seem to have been taught that they were second-class citizens, you can ask, "Well, what were men taught?" Were we taught that we’re first-class citizens?

It would have been interesting to have gotten that message, but I didn’t get that. What I got was that I was responsible for the mess. That may translate into being the first-class citizen but it’s a pretty lousy transfer. The message I got was that, "You men are responsible, you have all the wars, you kill all the people, you rape all the women, you molest all the babies. It’s you, you, you, you, you!" At some level, almost at a cellular level, most men that I work with have that somewhere inside of them.

This collective guilt is like an iron blanket that keeps a lot of men – not all men, but a lot of men – from ever changing. It’s a "Catch 22": the guilt is so heavy that you can never get beyond the guilt to change the system, which then propagates the old system, including more guilt.

For us to be able to heal, or for us even to listen to one another, it has to come from a basis of respect. And the first step in that respect is for us to respect ourselves. When I feel good about being a man then I can use that male energy for something I’ll be proud of.

The good news is that regular folks have the skills, caring, and creativity to do this. In my experience, men sharing with men about being men is a very exciting, cutting edge process. We get into it and we love it. A level of trust builds amazingly quickly where we can begin to respect one another, and we can start to bring up otherwise unspeakable questions.

When that happens, we can come back to our sisters and begin to communicate as whole human beings. They notice the difference. They feel it. And especially when the women have done their work and come back as whole human beings, all of a sudden we’re talking about stuff that really counts, and being human goes to another level.

Robert: What do you hope Essential Peacemaking will accomplish?

Danaan: I want to underline that part of the design of the Essential Peacemaking process is a body of well-trained facilitators who reach out around the planet – not just to the folks in Seattle or San Francisco, but to those in Billings, Montana, or Cedar Falls, Iowa, or India, or Russia as well. They are just as much a part of the positive change that needs to happen as anyone else. We plan to really push to make that happen. The whole design of this system is for enough people to do this work and take it out into the world so that the facilitators of the Essential Peacemaking gatherings are actually the field workers for a global community of men and women who are healing the man/woman wound, building the trust and the respect that we talked about.

Jerilyn: In a practical way, these facilitators are a microcosm of what can be. That is, when a woman and a man work together to facilitate a gathering, they are going to deal with much that comes up around women and men working together in partnership. They’re bringing other men and women together too, but the simple fact that they’re willing to go through it is a really important model .

Hopefully this will be part of a trickle-up process. The more there are these grass-roots gatherings co-led by women and men who can relate to each other, the more it will be commonplace for women and men to be co-leading in the world. Just imagine the leaders of the countries being co-leaders, a male and female at the helm.

I have this dream of a balanced world where manipulation and abuse, betrayal and reprisal, will have fallen into the past. And so we will, in an evolutionary way, move past our need to destroy ourselves and each other.

For more information about Essential Peacemaking, contact the Earthstewards Network, PO Box 10697, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, 206/842-7986.

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