Last week, the dialogue among peace messengers shifted from Sando, Sweden, to Abuja, Nigeria, and this time it was among persons from different ethnic, educational and social backgrounds. Simply put, it was not a homogenous group.
The goal was to serve as one of the lead trainers on identity and identity based conflict in West Africa but I ended up picking up a few lessons from the highly interactive and intense training program. Like all peace intervention programs, the lessons learnt are in several dimensions of peace. The training evaluation provided the opportunity to transform practice into theory and revealed the inner core of our being, which to large degree is frail and subject to lots of biases.
We learnt that from the training that justice delayed is justice denied and the adage of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ became profound. And this is for upcoming young Peacebuilders to note: whenever there is conflict, we should not allow this to fester; it should be addressed as quickly as possible because, time, timeliness and timing are not only critical but essential. In our own experience in West Africa, particularly among the Yoruba, issues of culture shock should be addressed as quickly as possible because bottling up could result into explosive dialogue, confrontation and conflict. Like the Yoruba adage says: “An adult cannot be present in the marketplace and allow the neck of a child to twist.”
The training also taught us the importance of listening which, according to a Cuban proverb: “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.” Reflective listening is a primary skill in conflict management as this is the pathway to engaging others. I put this into practice at the training as in the words of Paulo Freire, “No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”
We also learnt the importance of neutrality, as the lack of objectivity most often clouds our decision making processes and judgments. As humans, we are too quick to make pronouncements and to take sides during dialogue or mediation.
The knowledge received during the dialogue and mediation training in Sando, Sweden, came in handy especially on the need for self-reflection and to establish an open space for peace dialogue, not assign blame, takes sides and play favoritism. We learnt never to crack under pressure and to always remain calm, be expressive and assertive. The avoidance tactic of conflict resolution is not a workable strategy among peace builders and we should learn to practice what it is that we preach.
Self-preservation and self-recognition among young people is not and should not be an option. In conflict resolution, responsibilities are shared, and blame is not only ascribed to a portion.
In developing programs on Adolescents and Peace, it is important to create awareness, clarify values and misconceptions, manage expectations and be flexible to re-write your strategies, plans and at times your goals. Peace-building programs for young people should not be cast in concrete or etched in stones.
Until next week, when we continue with Part 5 of Adolescents and Peace and Youth for Youth peace building initiatives, it is peace above all else, peace first, may peace prevail in our time.