Peace Talks Radio
Best of 2023
Seeking Peace on Earth
This is Seeking Peace on Earth, one of our Peace Talks Radio annual specials that presents some highlights from just one season’s worth of programs in our series totally devoted to peacemaking and non-violent conflict resolution strategies. I’m series producer and cofounder Paul Ingles along with cofounder Suzanne Kryder and our tiny but talented team of four or five part time freelance correspondents.
We began the year 2023 turning the corner from completing a full 20 seasons of our project. 2023 was one of those years when we had to come to grips again with what our little non-profit organization could do and could not do from our tiny independent home studios and 12 x 12 office built into the corner of my home garage.
We’re not equipped to offer timely coverage of for example the two wars that wage loudly and sadly in Ukraine in the Middle East that year or analyze in detail the constantly shifting sands of the political and social divisions that dominate the 24/7 coverage of the world’s major news organizations.
Our mission remains to protect some of the media real estate for constructive, solutions- based talk about how we can all face the many sources of conflict in our daily lives, in our society, in our world with a practical toolkit of ideas that could actually be put to use today here and now to reduce the negative impacts that internal, interpersonal and intersection conflict has in our world every day.
Here at Peace Talks Radio, we really do believe in that ripple effect that all of us as individuals can have if we feel more empowered to face conflict head on. In our minds at Peace Talks Radio, conflict is not a bad thing to be run from or swept under the rug. Facing conflict with a helpful toolkit that we hope to provide is the key to a better tomorrow, a more perfect union or, as Dr. Martin Luther King always referred to it, the “beloved community.”
So today, samples of our program from that one season trying to bring us a step closer to all of that. We start with part of a program we did about the conflict many of us feel with our often-daily encounters with homeless or unhoused people in our communities. If we’re privileged to have safe housing ourselves, when we see unhoused folks, there is often a mix of thoughts, impulses and feelings and uncertainty and even internal conflict over all of those thoughts, feelings and impulses coming up. Local governments have a hard time settling on how to help the unhoused as well.
Our correspondent Emily Cohen talked with several stakeholders on this issue including Wren Fialka, a long-time resident of Jackson Wyoming and the founder and Executive Director of the Spread the Love Commission, an outreach to assist the unhoused population in her community.
Emily Cohen: What do you say to people who might see unhoused people on the street but then don’t know how to help?
Wren Fialka: That’s one of the huge elephants in the room is that sense of helplessness. You know the first thing, and the reason we call it “Spread the Love,” the first thing that anybody needs, and I always say this, human beings need love like plants need water. It’s essential. The first thing that anybody really truly needs is to be acknowledged.
And of course, you need to recognize, just like you would with anybody else, that you are interacting with someone you’ve never met before. You don’t know their history. You don’t know anything about them. I think the stigma that people experiencing homelessness have had to face and deal with every day is that a housed person usually has some kind of distrust or fear, reticence about approaching them at all.
There have been studies where people that are looking at someone who is obviously experiencing homelessness, actually their brain sees them as an object instead of a person. I think the dehumanization of homelessness has been the big problem from the beginning.
The first thing that you want to do if you want to engage with somebody who is experiencing homelessness is first use your common sense that you would with anyone. Check your situation out. Feel the vibe with them. Just even a smile, eye contact, a “good morning,” that’s a great place to start. If it’s someone you pass every day, let it bloom naturally like any other relationship. If it’s someone out there actually with a sign, take a minute to read the sign.
Don’t immediately go to whatever potential horror story you’ve heard from somebody else or a negative experience you’ve had yourself. Everyone is an individual. That population is as widely varied as any other population we have in the United States.
We’ve now been doing this for over nine years and no matter what we bring out there, including tents and sleeping bags, what we get, our feedback has always been, “The thing that you brought out here to us that was the most valuable was that you stayed with us, listened to our stories and respected what we had to say. You said ‘hello.’ You gave us a hug. You gave us time. You treated us like equals.” That’s the biggest gift you can give anyone.
It's not always going to be well-received. Some people out there have PTSD, they’re not treated well. Some people are dealing with mental illness or addiction. Some people just have no trust. You can give them that too. They’re allowed to feel that way, but don’t make that person the poster child of every other person that you could have an interaction with. Respect their space. If they shy away, the next day, give them more of a smile. If they really don’t want to be engaged with, give them that. That’s respectful.
Emily Cohen: What about in situations where you see someone asking for money? I know a lot of people are conflicted about that. Do you give that person money?
Wren Fialka: Okay, so I love this question. I struggle with it a lot too. First of all, a lot of common-sense things here. We don’t carry money with us when we are on outreach. What I recommend people do if they want to be helpful in the day to day and want to offer something more than a smile or a hello is to get something like a meal card. What you’re looking for with a meal card is a place like a Starbucks, Subway or McDonalds. I know it’s not always healthy, but you are not their parents, and it’s hot, delicious food. If it’s something in that area that they could easily walk to, you’re not just giving them a meal, you’re also giving them access to a restroom and indoors. They are paying customers.
The very people that need access to running water and a bathroom and all these other things, they are not allowed to go into most establishments like a housed person can even if they didn’t buy something. If you look like you’re experiencing homelessness, you might not even get in the front door.
If you’re giving someone a meal card, a very easy thing to carry, $10 or $15, they can share it with a friend. They can use it multiple times. You’re giving them access to indoors, possibly a bathroom and food.
Paul Ingles: That was Wren Fialka, Founder of the nonprofit Spread the Love that distributes personal care, clothing and hygiene supplies to unhoused people. You can hear Emily Cohen’s entire interview with Wren at our website, www.peacetalksradio.com.
Next, correspondent Priyanka Shankar’s conversation with musician, author, speaker and community activist David LaMotte. Whatever David seems to do in his community, in his music, writing and speaking, he says it’s driven by simple principles that can guide us all.
David LaMotte: As we try to figure out how to respond to hatred, I think it’s important to not sink into that hatred ourselves, to find ways to heal that. I think it’s really healed through relationships and through compassion. It sounds so trite to say that love is really what changes the world, but actually, it’s empirically true, love is what changes the world. I mean not just the emotion of love. In fact, I don’t even mean the emotion of love, I mean a policy of love, holding up someone else’ dignity and value as equivalent to your own and treating them accordingly no matter how you feel, sometimes in spite of how you feel rather than because of it.
Priyanka Shankar: Lastly, is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t already asked you about?
David LaMotte: In November of 2016 in the United States, there was a very contentious election that I think everyone on the planet has heard about when Donald Trump was elected.
I live in a neighborhood in a small town in the South that didn’t have a sidewalk on my street for many years. People would sometimes walk up and down the street, but cars drove on that street very fast, and I was afraid every time I saw somebody walking.
Then one day the town actually listened to some complaints from neighbors and came and put a sidewalk in my neighborhood. Over the next year or two, I watched my neighborhood change. As people started walking with their babies and their dogs down that sidewalk to town, they started to get to know each other a little bit. Threads of connection were woven in this neighborhood.
Then this election happened in 2016 and I felt like the town had come in and ripped out the sidewalk because my neighbors were all afraid to talk to each other. They didn’t know how each other voted and were literally afraid of what was going to happen next. They didn’t want to deal with the conflict of finding out that they had voted differently from each other. That election mattered a lot. People live and die by elections. Not minimizing the significance of it, in fact, just the opposite, it mattered a great deal. I found that my neighbors were afraid to talk to me.
I wanted my neighbors to know that no matter who they voted for, I would happily jump their car battery if their battery was dead. If they needed to borrow some groceries in the middle of making something, they could knock on my door. I wanted to let my neighbors know that I still wanted to be in community, not because the differences don’t matter, but because they do. Our only chance moving forward is to know each other and love each other. People are very seldom rejected into more compassionate ways of living.
I just wanted to put a sign on my house I said that to my family one night over dinner. I was so frustrated. I said, “I want to nail a sign to the front of our house that says, ‘You can knock on our door. You can talk to us if we can help you in some way no matter who you voted for.’”
I think relationships come first and then transformation happens, not the other way around. We can’t demand that people transform in order to be in a relationship. It is relationships that change us.
Then it occurred to me that I actually know how to have signs made. It’s always dangerous when you say, “Somebody ought to …” because then you remember that you’re somebody. So, I actually did, I had a big sign made and nailed it to the front of my house. It’s three feet wide and eight feet tall. It says, “You are our neighbors no matter who you vote for, who you love, where you’re from, the color of your skin. We will try to be here for you. That’s what community means. Let’s be neighbors.” I nailed that sign to the front of my house.
It was amazing to see the conversations that grew out of that. People came and knocked on my door and asked me about the sign. People pulled into the driveway to take pictures of it. Then people started asking where they could get one, so I started making them for people. Now there is a website, www.letsbeneighbors.com that is where people can go and get a sign. I feel so strongly about the message that people can actually download the sign and print their own if they want for free. They don’t have to pay me anything for, but they can also order signs if they want to. Now those are hanging across the country, and I think that matters.
I think that stories that grew out of that, the conversations that grew out of that weave the threads of the fabric of society. At a time when people are actively trying to cut the fabric of society to shreds, I think it’s really important that we not only refrain from cutting the fabric of society, but that we actively weave the threads back together. I believe in community peacemaking and community justice. I think all of us can show up for that in our own small ways and I really think it matters.
Paul Ingles: That was David LaMotte, songwriter, speaker and author. You can hear Priyanka Shankar’s entire interview with David at our website, www.peacetalksradio.com.
You’re listening to Seeking Peace on Earth, a Peace Talks Radio special featuring highlights from our 21st season on the air. I’m series producer Paul Ingles.
Next, we excerpt a program produced by our correspondent Julia Joubert who dove into the challenge of estrangement in personal relationships. We’ve all been there, whether it’s with family members or friends or work colleagues. Something happens in the relationship that causes one or the other in a relationship to pull back, sometimes disappear altogether. We’ve become familiar with terms like “ghosting” and “canceling” in such situations.
In our program, Julia spoke with a woman who had become estranged from her two daughters and after some considerable time at a distance managed a kind of reconciliation. And another woman who is still estranged from her father but felt that was the best and safest place for her to be in her case.
Julia also talked with therapist Dr. Aileen Fullchange, licensed psychologist, certified school psychologist and speaker.
Aileen Fullchange: I want to back up a little bit and talk about what even reconciliation means because there is reconciliation of the relationship, but then I think there is also a process of reconciliation within the person.
Certainly, in American society, but in many societies, we are not actually taught how to reconcile. There are very broad historical reasons for that as well as interpersonal reasons. Certainly, in my own family, we weren’t taught reconciliation. I can trace that back to not just the interpersonal or lack of interpersonal skills of my parents and grandparents, but I can trace that all the way back to the history of colonization.
Here in the United States, similarly there is a long history of colonization and lack of repair, lack of reconciliation, so I want to really normalize that. If one has not been raised in a way that has model reconciliation either in families or societally, then of course we are not going to be equipped nor are the people we are estranged from going to be equipped with how to reconcile.
I want to really slow down and talk more about reconciliation within oneself before trying to reconcile with another person. When we look at the research on compassion and empathy, we actually find that it is much more difficult to show and feel compassion and empathy towards another person without first showing compassion and empathy towards oneself. That’s the first step.
Then, just slow down and allow for space and time for the person who is experiencing that estrangement to actually recognize the feelings that they’re feeling and where the feelings are coming from. Perhaps the feelings are coming from a long personal history with a person or perhaps there are larger societal and historical contexts also.
To really have a felt sense of “Gosh, I make sense to me, and I accept me and where I’m feeling,” whether it’s a sense of sadness and grief or other times a lot of anger. I think especially the anger is a bit harder for a lot of folks to sit with. We are not a society that sits in feelings or anger especially. I do think it’s important to take time to do that.
Then going forward, we can talk about what reconciliation might look like from a broader perspective. Just like estrangement is along a continuum, so is reconciliation along a continuum. A lot of folks might not term those interactions as reconciliation, but often times there will be a new version of the relationship. This idea of reconciliation as a returning back to how things were is unrealistic because often a long process, a long history has led to the estrangement and that doesn’t just go away. The process of reconciliation can often look like new realizations, new understandings so that whatever new relationship is formed, however it forms, whatever shape it takes, it will be and maybe should be different from how it was before.
Julia Joubert: And if people choose not to reconcile, that is often viewed as a failure, a failure of a relationship be it a friendship or a relationship with family. How would you advise someone experiencing that feeling of shame and failure? How would you advise them to reframe that for themselves that, at least for now, this is it?
Aileen Fullchange: Often what happens in the work that I do with folks is that as folks get healthier and healthier, their relationships with other people, whether it’s family or friends, changes and that’s because often times health begats health. To think of a relationship ending as a failure is just inaccurate. It’s often an indication actually of health.
If you are gardening, you may have to take out some plants in order to make room for other plants that you really want to grow, thrive and flourish. It’s very similar in that in order to make room for healthy relationships to grow and flourish, we do have to omit unhealthy relationships. That is a success.
For a lot of folks, even just setting boundaries and saying, “This isn’t what I want,” is a success. That’s huge! I would encourage folks to reframe things in that way and also to find people who are able to reframe the narrative in that way and to support or reinforce the reframe.
Paul Ingles: Dr. Aileen Fullchange on estrangement and relationships. You can hear Julia Joubert’s other guests and more of that full program. It’s show number nine in our 2023 season. Look for it on our website, www.peacetalksradio.com.
In our show number six of that same season, you’ll hear our correspondent Yamini Ranjan talk with several experts and stakeholders on the topic of cultural appropriation, when someone or some company takes the imagery, the iconography or the art of a particular person or culture or community without permission or even proper acknowledgement and profiting from that misuse.
Yamini spoke with Claudia Fox Tree, a multiracial and multicultural professional educator and social justice activist who facilitates courses and workshops while having challenging conversations about diversity, equity and social justice.
In one part of the program, the two talked about the more recent practice of plaques going up or announcements preceding official meetings acknowledging that buildings or events of colonization populations are in fact existing on indigenous lands that were taken over by the colonizers many years ago.
Claudia Fox Tree: It can be performative, but it shouldn’t. I have heard it be performative, “This is whose land we are on,” I do workshops on it, but that’s not where we want to be. A sign in a building may be performative, “This building sits on indigenous land,” maybe. You could say more but that’s the closest to being as performative as I would get, a static sign.
We shouldn’t expect that if we are in a place where indigenous people are hosting that they are going to do a tribal land acknowledgment because we don’t invite people into our homes and say, “Let me tell you this is my home,” because people have come, and they know it’s their home.
People who are colonizers, which includes me because my nation is not from the land where I am standing, need to recognize that they are on someone else’s land and that those people are still alive. By saying that, it’s not enough. What have you learned about that group or what have you learned about Native issues and causes? What have you learned now that is different from the last time you stood there and talked about what land acknowledgment was? In that way, you up the ante in terms of doing a tribal land acknowledgment and raising visibility by telling something about indigenous people. Then it becomes real. Then you are trying to be an ally and have a relationship.
Yamini Ranjan: If a non-indigenous person wants to borrow elements from your culture, what questions should they first ask themselves?
Claudia Fox Tree: Why are you borrowing it and what is the context of borrowing? Giving credit is a big piece. Using it in a way that it is meant to be used, not some other way. For example, I’m going to say a word. I want you to imagine what this word means. It’s an indigenous word. A lot of people think of it as not an indigenous thing. The word is “Winnebago.” Did you think of a whole chunk of people from the Great Lakes area? That’s who The Winnebago are. They are a people who lived in the past and they live in the present. They have many industries. Did you think of a recreational vehicle? Winnebago has been appropriated and used in a way that is no longer even connected to the original people. That is the extreme problem and harmfulness that can happen with appropriation.
Yamini Ranjan: Claudia, how do non-indigenous people show up for indigenous people?
Claudia Fox Tree: It’s a lot bigger than cultural appropriation. That’s just a small part of the problem. Cultural appropriation is harmful because it’s one of the extensions of centuries of racism, genocide and oppression. This is not someone being offended that you are doing it, it is something related to being oppressed by somebody doing it.
The context is that indigenous native people never migrated to somewhere else in the world. It isn’t like you’re going to find a whole bunch of Wampanoag people in the middle of Germany. The context that this is the only place it needs to be and should be is where allies and people who want to support indigenous people comes in. We need the voices lifted of the people whose land we are on. We are on someone else’s land whose stories are misrepresented, misunderstood and have been totally formed through a dominant narrative instead of people talking for themselves. That piece of visibility is the best thing that our allies can do.
Paul Ingles: You can find links to Claudia Fox Tree’s interview and work at www.peacetalksradio.com. That’s where you can also hear more of this interview, either in the hour-long version of it or in Yamini’s full extended interview with Claudia Fox Tree at www.peacetalksradio.com.
Hostage-taking and hostage release negotiating is a high stakes conflict scenario that can certainly surge and has been happening around wars like Ukraine and the Middle East flaring up during our 2023 season. These situations also happen every day in some places in the world on a smaller scale. It takes highly trained people working delicately in every aspect of a hostage negotiation to bring about a non-violent resolution to these scenarios.
In one of our programs in season 21, our Danielle Preiss explored all fronts of hostage taking and negotiating including her conversation with Sue Williams, a hostage negotiator with international organizations in the humanitarian world who told Danielle, “Real life hostage negotiating is not much like it’s shown in the movies.”
Sue Williams: I think sometimes in the movies, you get a husky disc jockey voice saying, “Talk to me.” That’s the beginning of it, but if only it were that easy. It doesn’t work like that. There’s lots of preparation. In some of the movies that I’ve seen, the negotiator tends to get involved in a lot of the decision making and a lot of other aspects whereas in real life, if you’re in the negotiator role, you just stick to that role.
You don’t have much involvement in other aspects of the response because your job is to build rapport and to get on with the hostage taker or whoever it is that is in crisis. That’s one difference, the lack of preparation. That’s not really entertainment, is it, watching someone prepare or watching someone do a risk assessment. It’s not really riveting entertainment, so I can understand why that’s left out.
Danielle Preiss: How did you end up getting into this work in the first place?
Sue Williams: I was a police officer. I knew that I wanted to become a detective. I did become a detective and then I thought that I wanted to investigate murders because I thought that would be the pinnacle of anyone’s detective career. But along the way, one of my senior officers suggested that I might be quite good at negotiation. The funny thing is the reason that he gave was that I talked a lot. Anybody who knows anything about negotiation knows that it’s not about talking, it’s about listening. He was right though; it did work for me. I felt like a round peg in a round hole once I discovered it really.
Danielle Preiss: Your main job is to build rapport you said. How do you do that?
Sue Williams: It’s not easy. That’s the first answer. Sometimes you’re working through an interpreter, sometimes you’re not. You just really have to begin by listening. You have to listen without judgment. You have to ask questions that will hopefully harvest information. The main thing that you have to do, Danielle, is you have to try to understand your counterpart. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with them, you just have to understand them without judgement. I think some people can’t understand that they have to do that and why they have to do that.
How could I be arrogant enough to get them to do what I say if I haven’t taken the time and the trouble to understand their life and to see the world through their eyes. Really the beginning is relationship building. It’s building up rapport, it’s communication, hopefully good communication and then that flips over into negotiation. In my mind, I’m always conscious when I’ve moved from communication into negotiation.
Danielle Preiss: When you are in the negotiation phase, does honesty work best or is there some level of game play that is employed or is some level of misdirection needed?
Sue Williams: No, you have to use honesty and the reason that you have to do that, Danielle is because negotiation is based on a lot of trust, even trusting bad people. You have to do that sometimes. If you get caught in a lie, you’re never going to get that trust back are you. It’s a bit like a broken glass, you can put it back together again, but it’s never going to quite look the same.
Danielle Preiss: Do you have to empathize with the other person?
Sue Williams: One hundred percent yes. Sometimes you can create tactical empathy and also get them to empathize with you as well. Yes, empathy is a huge tool in the box, not sympathy, but empathy definitely.
Danielle Preiss: How do you do that? What is tactical empathy? How do get someone who has a pretty strong motivation to do something to empathize with you?
Sue Williams: You just have to listen and come up with the right words.
Danielle Preiss: Are there specific terms or phrases or ways to word things that you find de-escalates situations?
Sue Williams: Yes, the normal de-escalation that you would use with a colleague who is having a big of an angry moment, things like not matching their voice, keeping your voice calm. Never say “I understand,” because you don’t do you. Nobody can really understand how somebody else feels. Also, the right to understand is not given to you is it as such if that makes sense.
Danielle Preiss: How do you mean not having the right to understand?
Sue Williams: Well, if someone says, “I understand how you feel,” they really don’t do they. They don’t know how you feel. That’s why it can sometimes be a provocative thing to say and can actually spark someone in crisis off in the wrong direction.
Paul Ingles: Hostage negotiator Sue Williams with our Danielle Preiss. Danielle also talked with someone who had been held hostage before and an academic who researched hostage negotiating techniques and personality traits that good negotiators generally have. It’s a cool episode, number eleven in our 21st season.
A short break here then more. You’re listening to Seeking Peace on Earth, a Peace Talks Radio special. Stay tuned.
I’m Peace Talks Radio cofounder and host Paul Ingles. Look for all our episodes online by visiting www.peacetalksradio.com and while you’re there, also look for our donate button to help us continue our nonprofit work.
Today we’re hearing some highlights from our 21st season of programs about peacemaking and nonviolent resolution strategies including a program hosted by our Julia Joubert who asked what happens in a relationship when one individual in the pairing takes suddenly and seriously ill or is perhaps going through addiction recovery of some type. For the other, it may be that nagging musical question by the group The Clash, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
If you’ve been involved in any role in that kind of scenario, we recommend you seek out episode number seven of season 21 of Peace Talks Radio. Here is a clip as Julia talks with Dani van Zyl, a woman living with POTS, the chronic condition that brings on fainting from standing up too quickly among other things and other chronic illnesses too. Dani has been reckoning with the isolation that her illness brings.
Dani van Zyl: What unfortunately happened is I got too good at letting people go. People coming in and out of my life became the norm and I didn’t realize that that was not normal, but I did realize how much it hurt every time and so I stopped letting people into my life.
Julia Joubert: Would you rather have somebody say, “Hey, this relationship is just not meeting my expectations and therefore I am calling it quits”? That’s a hard conversation to have. Honestly, I myself think that I would be stressing over it for months.
Dani van Zyl: I would one hundred percent take that. By that little communication, there is also a chance to learn exactly what that person is feeling and how I could try to adapt if I was able to. Mending things, relationships are never going to be easy, but I think it’s how you move on from that that matters the most.
Julia Joubert: You are pretty good at communicating your needs and your desires and where you are at in a day. How do you communicate these needs, wants and check ins with friends and family?
Dani van Zyl: My whole life’s motto would be that cliché that honesty is the best policy. Why lie? Why pretend? There was a very long time where I was pretending that I could do everything, that I could manage everything, that I was fine. When I realized that I was not fine, I realized that I was going to have to change how I communicate. I think people are scared to communicate their true feelings or what they are going through because they don’t want to look like failures in their partners’ eyes and their families’ eyes. When you are trying to communicate what you’re dealing with, when you talk about it, you can’t help hiding your emotions.
Julia Joubert: It’s been really interesting talking to you and hearing how you navigate your relationships in that you are carrying almost the “sufferer” role as well as the role of the caregiver in that you are aware of your own pain, what you are struggling with, but you are empathizing exceptionally with other people as well.
Dani van Zyl: You hit the nail on the head there with caregiver. That is my role, not just from my point of view but in terms of family and friends. That is the role that I played and often to my own detriment, yes.
Julia Joubert: Do you think that comes with self-isolation as well, not wanting to be a burden that means that people don’t see that there is something to be looking after?
Dani van Zyl: Yes, definitely. I am in quite a few support groups on Facebook and that does seem to be a common theme, the yes, it’s from self-isolation, but you can also see how you are isolated through actions as well. These groups are helpful, even if you don’t interact. Sometimes it’s nice to see someone say something and realize that I’ve experienced exactly that. I’m not totally alone.
Julia Joubert: I want to close with a question on the relationships that you have in your life that have been maintained, that are working where communication is flowing. What do you value most in those relationships?
Dani van Zyl: I think the best relationships that I have are with my niece and nephew. That might sound strange. They are nine and seven and for me, I’ve wanted to give them a perspective of life that I never had. I’ll take them for dinner, and it will be a feelings dinner; “How are you feeling today? Why do you feel this way? It’s okay to feel this way.” Trying to create a world for these kids where there is no invalidity. Yes, those relationships for me are I think the most important because it’s nurturing from both sides.
Julia Joubert: Do you feel like by imparting that to them, it’s emboldening you in those feelings as well?
Dani van Zyl: It does. I have never seen kinder children. That is something that just makes my heart happy.
Paul Ingles: That was Dani van Zyl. Her full interview as well as the rest of Julia’s complete interviews with her guests today can all be heard at www.peacetalksradio.com.
Another of many compelling conversations that we had in our 21st season of Peace Talks Radio was one that our correspondent Sen Zhan had with diversity, equity and inclusion expert and poet Kevin Groen about what it means to be a better ally to members of marginalized communities, and we can at times all be both the oppressed as well as the oppressor without being aware of it.
Kevin Groen: It is important that people take responsibility because the relationships that you can form with other people, especially people from marginalized groups will become so much richer, so much more connecting, so much more powerful, so much more meaningful once you start realizing that you are disconnecting from them because of your unaware oppressive behaviors.
My relationships with women can be so much more meaningful when I start realizing that my behaviors are biased, oppressive and disconnecting.
Sen Zhan: It’s really interesting to hear you talk about this because what I have not considered is that when you do have that privilege, you are disconnected from people who don’t have that privilege and you cannot connect with the people who you might want to connect with and it’s lonely.
Kevin Groen: It is lonely. As a man, I can develop healthier, richer relationships with women if I address my male biases towards women. Just imagine how much richer and healthier my relationships can be towards other men if we collectively as men start addressing toxic masculinity and healing. How many men can genuinely say that they’ve said to another man, not romantically, just to another male friend, “I love you”? When was the last time you either texted or verbally said to another man, not romantically, “I love you”?
The fact that we don’t dare to say that to other men is homophobic, oppressive, sad and leads to loneliness. If I can say to another man genuinely, “I love you,” my relationship to that other man can be so much healthier, so much richer. It’s not just me having healthier relationships to women, but also me having healthier relationships to men and nonbinary people.
Sen Zhan: How would you respond to people who when they hear stories of your hardships say, “Everybody has hardships”? Some people have hardships with racism. Some people have hardships with political status. Some people have hardships with abuse. Everyone has hardships.
Kevin Groen: Let’s listen to those experiences. Let’s acknowledge the hardships. Let’s not compete because trauma works different for people. You can’t say this is traumatic and that is not. There is no universal scale for pain. If I say that racism hurts me on scale from one to ten at ten, no one has a right to say, “No, it’s a six.” There is no universal scale for pain. Pain is subjective. Something can cause tremendous pain for one person and not for another. Let’s learn to have the capacity to develop relationships with people who have gone through very different experiences than ourselves.
If I for example would sit with someone who has been raped and I have not been raped, I have to learn to hold space for that person. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that my ability to hold space for that person, to listen to their pain, to not define them the way that I want but to listen to where they are at right now depends on my ability to explore my relationship with discomfort, my relationship with all the things that I don’t yet know, don’t yet understand which is often uncertainty, discomfort, chaos, lots of unknowns. My ability to sit with that will determine very much the quality of the relationship that I can build with the other person.
Sen Zhan: Have you ever had experiences where you’re like wow, the intensity of this persons’ experience might destabilize me, might change my understanding of who I am so much that I don’t how to be anymore?
Kevin Groen: If I think about situations where I felt overwhelmed, if I’m very honest, the reason why I felt overwhelmed is because I felt that I needed to do something.
Sen Zhan: To make it better?
Kevin Groen: Yes, but to make it better for the other person is not empathy. The other person never asked me to fix them. To make it better means that I can’t sit with the discomfort, so I want to fix it straightaway.
Sen Zhan: You want to fix it for yourself.
Kevin Groen: Yes, in those moments, I wanted to fix the situation so that I could escape the discomfort. The biggest service we can do to ourselves, to the other person and to the relationship is the moment we feel overwhelmed, look really deep within ourselves and figure out what is so hard for me about this. What is this teaching me about myself rather than the other person. The discomfort isn’t about the other person most of the time, it's about our inability to sit with it. If I feel the need to fix it, why am I feeling the need to fix it? If we are willing to sit with those kinds of questions, to explore our inner world, inside out perspective, we have an opportunity to gain incredible insight and wisdom that will help us to develop better relationships in the future.
Paul Ingles: Kevin Groen there, a poet and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) speaker in conversation with our correspondent Sen Zhan on how to be a better ally to oppressed populations in our world. More with Kevin and Sen’s other guests can be found in episode three in our 21st season at www.peacetalksradio.com.
Throughout the world in recent decades, more communities and nations trying recover from historical traumas have tried truth and reconciliation commissions in search of a fresh start for themselves.
Our correspondent Danielle Preiss was curious how well these commissions have been judged to have done. She devoted our episode number eight in the 2023 season to it. Hear now part of her conversation with Dr. Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman, Program Director of the Global Transitional Justice Initiative at The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
Danielle Preiss: The most famous example of a truth and reconciliation commission is South Africa which is generally considered to be a success. What has actually happened as a long-term result?
Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman: The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been celebrated globally, however increasingly, there has been more and more criticism of the process itself.
For starters, it had a very limited definition of human rights violations. It focused on civil and political rights violations and ignored economic, social and cultural rights. Much of apartheid was based on racial segregation but also an unequal division of resources between white South Africans, black South Africans, Indians and in South Africa Biracial people who are called “coloreds.”
The Amnesty Clause was also problematic. It offered perpetrators an opportunity to come forward to share the truth about whatever acts they perpetrated in exchange for amnesty. Many perpetrators came forward, shared partial truths, often with very little remorse and there was a burden placed on survivors to forgive the perpetrators and move on.
The success of truth commissions is often judged on the way victims are treated and often the delivery around reparations particularly. To date, there are thousands of victims in South Africa that are still fighting for reparations.
Danielle Preiss: You said at the beginning of your response that globally it has been widely celebrated. Is the criticism that you’re speaking of more internally inside of South Africa or is that shifting globally as well?
Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman: It’s global. At the time, the reason that it was so celebrated was because it was one of the few truth commissions that were public. It was on national television. Perpetrators were offered amnesty. They offered a platform for victims to come forward. It was very innovative in multiple ways, however years later, we see that the Truth Commission didn’t do much in terms of repairing. Transitional justice is unable to address some of the root causes of conflict. It does it very superficially and it is also a very political process.
Danielle Preiss: Ereshnee, we want to talk also about some less well-known examples of truth and reconciliation commissions. Let’s start with Gambia. In 2017, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission was set up to investigate abuses under the leadership of President Yahya Jammeh which lasted from 1994 to 2017. What was the outcome of this process?
Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman: One of the positive things about truth commissions is that it aims to uncover the past. In lots of conflict situations as well as authoritarian situations as in the case of Gambia, there are a lot of silences in the society. Things are hidden. People refuse to talk about acts that were perpetrated. Often victims live right next to the perpetrator in lots of contexts.
What truth commissions do is allow for these silences to be broken and for some of the shame and taboo around some of this to be resolved. That’s what happened in the Gambia context as well. It was able to uncover some of the truths that happened under the Jammeh Regime.
In Gambia, very little thought went into how women would testify. Local partners set up women’s listening circles for women to share their experiences of what happened.
Danielle Preiss: Ereshnee, how can transitional justice processes be evaluated? How do we know whether or not they worked in the examples that we’ve been discussing?
Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman: There is increasing questioning about whether transitional justice actually works. The problem in terms of evaluation is that while you can evaluate the short-term results of a transition justice process like a truth commission, the fact is that transitional justice goals of truth, justice and reconciliation actually happen over a long term and may even happen over generations.
It’s difficult to assess whether it’s been successful or not, but as I said, there are certain indicators. For example, whether it was victim-centered, whether it was locally owned, whether survivors and victims received reparations, whether victims were treated in a certain way. Was there a consultative process? Were victims included in the process? Were women included? We can set up a list of indicators for short-term success, but in terms of longer-term success, that’s a little bit more difficult to assess.
Danielle Preiss: Are there also negatives of transitional justice processes?
Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman: It sets up expectations, particularly for survivor and victim communities. What needs to happen during that process is that survivor and victim expectations need to be managed. There is generally a perception that going through a truth commission process will uncover the truth, there will be a report, reparations will be made, and recognition will be given. A lot of victims look for recognition that they have been harmed, there has been a wrong done. In some cases, they don’t get that recognition. In lots of contexts in which I’ve worked, I’ve found that often victims want somebody to listen to their story and want somebody to recognize that there has been a harm done. In lots of communities, victims are ostracized for the violations that they have experienced, and truth commissions don’t always fulfill the expectations and needs of survivors.
Paul Ingles: You can read more about the truth commission examples described by Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman through a link to The Global Initiative for Justice Truth and Reconciliation at www.peacetalksradio.com. That’s where you can also hear the full extended interview between Ereshnee and Danielle Preiss.
Threats of both international and domestic terrorism has been a constant in our world for decades now. Radicalization of individuals to practice such terrorism has been identified as one of the key reasons behind these attacks forcing governments around the world to focus on countering terrorism through deradicalization.
On one of our Peace Talks Radio episodes, correspondent Priyanka Shankar talked with our guests about what drives people to join terrorist groups and how counterterrorism efforts are trying to flip extremists to bolster peace.
One of her guests was Mubin Shaikh, Professor of Public Safety at Seneca College in Toronto and an international expert in counterterrorism efforts who also works with Parents for Peace an NGO in the U.S. which empowers and helps families prevent radicalization.
Mubin was radicalized himself as a young man to join a Muslim group that was extreme and politicized in its fundamentalism. He subsequently left that group not long after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001. Losing faith in the overly fundamental and violently aggressive trends of that movement, he described his personal deradicalization to correspondent Priyanka Shankar.
Mubin Shaikh: There are two primary sources of Islam, the Quran and the Sunnah. The Sunnah is the demonstrated examples, the sayings and tacit approvals of the Prophet, peace be upon him. There was a whole methodology that was employed to understand Islam, the Quran, the Sunnah as well as biographical material and that’s where you get most of the war stories that extremists fixate on. As I was reminded, it was only a very, very small portion of time in which Muslims were engaged in fighting. For the first ten of the 23 years that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was with the community, there was nothing. Even in the subsequent years, a very small amount of time over the 23 years was spent fighting.
You also learn in Sirah and Marathi material, reports that are not as authentic and accurate as what we might find in the Hadith which are basically like raw intelligence reports that have associate degrees of reliability.
I find that a lot of the things that the extremists talked about really came out of things that were not authentic. In fact, when you look at the interpretation of the verses, the context of the verses, the translations, etc. their interpretations were completely wrong. They had even been falsified in some cases.
Spending two years there in a very deep dive study of Islamic sources, I went through something that I later learned was called deradicalization.
Priyanka Shankar: In society, as soon as you see somebody is starting to get radicalized or is an extremist, people instantly isolate them. For example, they categorize them under labels like “dangerous people,” “threats to society.” Is this how people should be reacting? What if a loved one or somebody they know in their neighborhood is going through this radicalization process?
Mubin Shaikh: This is something that Parents for Peace is very well involved in.
First, identify how the radicalization is occurring if a person is becoming more extreme in their views. If family members, friends, teachers, colleagues can see that, the first thing to do is not to isolate that person. Do not completely cut that person off even if they might cut you off. Remain in the person’s orbit and influence as much as and as long as possible. Engage the person with personal stories, especially with those people with whom you’ve had a friendship for so long. Keep working on that friendship, that relationship.
Condemning them, pointing fingers at them, damning them to hell are not tactics that work. Having a strong support system around that person is going to be very necessary.
Paul Ingles: That was Mubin Shaikh, a former extremist talking with our correspondent Priyanka Shankar about how he now helps young people drawn toward extremist/terror ideologies get deradicalized. Shaikh is also a Professor of Public Safety at Seneca College in Toronto Canada and helps family tackling deradicalization with the NGO called Parents for Peace. You can hear more with Mubin at our website, www.peacetalksradio.com either the longer version of our program or in Priyanka’s entire interview with Mubin.
That is all the time we have for today’s program, Seeking Peace on Earth, a Peace Talks Radio special, offering highlights from just some of the episodes our team of correspondents helped produced in the year 2023. We thank Danielle Preiss, Emily Cohen, Julia Joubert, Sen Zhan, Yamini Ranjan and Priyanka Shankar for their interviews and reporting.
What you’ve heard today are just short excerpts from full programs on these topics that you can hear in their entireties if you go to our website, www.peacetalksradio.com to hear the shows or share them with others.
Also at www.peacetalksradio.com, you can dig into our archives to hear any of the hundreds of programs on peacemaking and nonviolent conflict resolution, read and share transcripts, sign up to subscribe to our podcasts. Write to us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While at our website, don’t forget to consider a donation to help keep our nonprofit work going.
I’m Paul Ingles, for our cofounder Suzanne Kryder, our Executive Director Nola Daves Moses and the rest of our crew, thanks for listening to and for supporting Peace Talks Radio.