Peacebuilding as Disciplined Imagination and Maturity

            In a recent commentary, (http://www.peacexpeace.org/2010/10/peacebuilding-the-art-of-human-appreciation/) Milet Mendoza of the Philippines, who is currently serving as a Women Peacemaker at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, and who was kidnapped and held captive at gunpoint for two months by the guerilla group Abu Sayyak in her home nation in 2008, said:

“As they were taping my mouth shut, I said what I thought were going to be my last words: “I just want you to know that my respect for the Muslim people has not diminished because many of them opened their homes to me, adopted me as their sister, as their daughter, as one of them. And because of that I became a better Christian.

“As a humanitarian and a peace worker, I feel strongly that it is not about “I and me,” but “we and us.” My story is part of a bigger story. I share this story because I hope people see the importance of the context, of why people turned out to be like this. I was sure that if I were born in that side of the world, I could be one of them. …

“When you enter a community that has been traumatized and disintegrated, what is important at the end of the day is that you uplift the human dignity of people. Human security is not just where people are now but the hope and the dream that is crystallized when they see their own potential. You draw out the best in people by providing them opportunities to take the primary role in making positive changes.”

            These are rare insights plainly stated. They suggest that those who would practice peacebuilding or international development, or who seek change in others’ lives in this country for that matter, should do so from a position of profound humility and empathy for those being served. That this is always difficult, and sometimes profoundly so, is obvious from the choices Mendoza had to make in the horrific circumstances she confronted.

            Mendoza’s decisions suggest an individual wiling to forgive rather than seek vengeance or retribution, even when perhaps justified, in the name of the possibility of building a greater community. It is interesting to imagine what might have transpired if the majority of America’s population and elected leaders had reacted with such prudence, probity and reflection following the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Or, if today, such critical and empathetic distancing characterized our own nation’s political discourse, which instead is literally, lately, replete with clarion calls to punish someone, anyone really, for the nations’ continuing economic turmoil.

            Yet, no such reflective mental and emotional toughness or humility characterized our public dialogue in 2001, and today’s full-throated cry for scapegoats and targets of blame for our economic travail hardly gives reason for hope that such a discerning conversation will emerge soon. In truth, a democratic community confronting difficult challenges may require many like Mendoza, but our nation’s s experience in recent years suggests they will nonetheless be in too short supply in leadership roles when social choices are made. The bedeviling problem for friends of self-government and supporters of peacebuilding is how to secure leaders and citizens with the capabilities necessary to secure deliberation and a devotion to the commons. Today’s political climate provides little hope this critical concern will receive attention from elected leaders anytime soon. Meanwhile, the search for scapegoats and false panaceas will continue. The nagging question for America as it was for Mendoza, remains, “What are the costs of a continuing collective lack of emotional discipline and truncated empathetic imagination?