Unga Fredsbyggare

How did you get into the subject of conflict resolution?
I grew up at the Catholic side in Northern Ireland, in an organization called the Corrymeela community, which was a center of reconciliation. At 17 years of age, here I was, with this big unfolding conflict. I liked what they were doing at the center and the way they talked about the future and how we could all live together. It made sense for me, so I got interested in that and did a lot of volunteer work. And then I went off and trained as a teacher, spend 6 years working with young offenders, diverting them from prison, and that in the end took me back to becoming the director of this center in the ’90s.

I was always interested in the practice, in the work and the understanding of what we at that point called reconciliation. I was interested in helping and being part of developing some new methodology and ways of thinking about this. Linking together my teaching, conceptual side to the practice side and also to the systemic side because I’m leading an organization.

In 2004 I was asked to be part of a 16 country seminar with the title ”Dialogue for understanding”. I listened for a day or two but then I decided that there was a lot of good intentions but the conversation was very naive, it didn’t deal with reality. So I said that even if we develop a complete understanding of each other, understanding does not necessarily mean we don’t want to kill each other. There was no lack of understanding in Northern Ireland. And from that, we developed ”Dialogue for Peaceful change”. Today we have trained 1300 people all over the world.

Do you think it’s possible to live in a world that’s conflict-free? Or what’s the goal?
No, because I think that sets up a binary that conflict is bad and non-conflict is good. There are situations you have to change, some injustice, at home or at work, all change occurs through conflict. And that doesn’t mean violence, but it means some kind of tension, argument or pressure. Something has to cause the change to occur. Conflict is part of our human nature and world and we don’t learn well how to deal with it.

It’s getting clear to me that conflict is the manifestation of change resistance, I think that’s a big insight. Often people just try to get rid of the conflict, so when the heat comes down – job done. But you need to understand what created the heat in the first place. Just doing harm reduction is fine, but that’s the beginning of the work. So I think that too much of peacebuilding is built sometimes on the naivety that the natural position is peace.

And in countries as Sweden, you’re at peace, what that means is that you’re not at war per se. So peace in many definitions is just the absence of violence, but that’s not peace. Sometimes to feel peace, you have to go through conflict, there needs to be a change. People have to change their habits. The right-wing people in Sweden wants to ”go back” to how things were, so they can look out at a world which mirrors themselves, and makes them feel safe. And yet the reality is that the wider context has changed, and it’s not gonna go back to that because the world has changed.

I think a better word than peace is peacefulness. Feeling at peace, because it’s a choice.

What makes DPC unique?
It’s not the bits that make PDC special, it’s how it’s put together, I think I have brought together some deeper truths. It’s not just about conflicts to which there are solutions, it’s about why the problem arose. Its roots into evolution, biology, culture, human nature, analysis and reflection, and gives us tools to move forward. When you weave it all together, that’s what’s makes the method effective. It both pushes you conceptually but also offers you the tools. It doesn’t offer easy solutions because there is no easy answer. Its practice and theory, constantly evolving as we learn. It’s about navigating in conflict and change and trying to find your way through changing conditions.

Why do you think we need the method in Sweden?
There are clearly tensions here. We have tested this methodology with people on the ground and they confirmed that it’s a helpful framework. We want to train people at Fryshuset to create a hub here. So we have people who can facilitate this work, use it and apply it. And people who can train new facilitators. It creates its own engine which can then live through the organization as a methodological framework on how to deal with hard change and conflict – a part of the cultural DNA of Fryshuset. We need young people who are willing to and are supported to do the long work, to create a new future for themselves and for their community’s. It’s generational work, not a quick fix.

What do you think is necessary from society in general, to create a peaceful change?
I think you got a strong platform in Sweden. Your social structure is ahead of many countries. But what you have to do is acknowledge the shadow side. We need to understand that Sweden was never perfect, not pretend there is some fantasy past where everything was perfect. We need to understand that these tensions are gonna build, and embrace it, not to be scared but to try and understand why they’re there. And commit to a set of values that offer generations to come with a different set of possibilities.

Yes, you need to deal with local problems, but the bigger work is that we need a new story to work with, with a new perspective. And to do it you will need some tools, good intentions won’t cut it. And with tools you need practice.