Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The late activist Arthur Gish in Palestine

When asked to reflect on the idea of "intervention" as applied to my peace work grad studies, I realized how foundational this is to every human interaction.  We cannot escape intervention, we engage in it constantly, whether or not we are conscious of it...

...and as with any concept, I like to dig deep, find out all I can, think about it from every angle, and maybe jump in and immerse myself to the point that I am living the idea - at least in my mind.  Is a word or can a word be an idea?  I say yes in the sense that "love" as a word is also an idea, "justice" as a word is an idea, and "intervention" can be as well. 

                Intervention by nature implies an action, which includes stepping into a situation, environment and/or someone's life or lives.  Therefore we have underlying factors such as motive and purpose working in the idea of intervention.  Going deeper still, I seem to hit a bedrock of two dynamics:  1.responsibility and 2. a philosophy or way of life as being at the abstract foundation of intervention.  I think we must begin with the latter.

                For me and probably for many others, the decision to work for others in such an obvious way as peacebuilding came about through an intense and sometimes torturous mental journey.  Why are we so driven to make changes in our world?  Why or how can one person possibly make a difference?  Is there some underlying need that is at work in our own lives?  When we've seen some of the world and realize the transient nature of things, the questioning ultimately will turn to the existential:  Is there a reason for living other than relationships and the impact we make on other lives through our own life?  I've come to the decision that there is not.  People are life and life-giving.  But why do we even need a reason to live?  Is our reason for living for others driven by selfishness?  These are all questions I've spent an enormous amount of time thinking about. 

                At this point we can bring in the issue of responsibility to our philosophy of life.  If we are considering stepping into a situation that has a direct impact on the life of another, then we'd better be aware of the magnitude of what we're doing, and how we're doing it.  But the dialogue can become quite existential here as well.  Is it possible not to have an impact on others?  Isn't our very presence in the world an impact just from the fact that we're alive and live in relation to others, even if that relation is seemingly benign or irrelevant?  Is the lack of the good that we could have done for someone an action of its own accord - an action out of inaction?  The conclusions I've come to in this regard tells me that the energy of the universe, the energy that many refer to as God, and I refer to as love, is the same energy that has caused me to live and that draws me inextricably towards others in positive mutuality.  Yes, I have a need that I am fulfilling - the need of purpose - by choosing to intervene in the world as a peacebuilder.  However, I am fulfilling that need with the full knowledge that what I see inside of myself is interdependent on others.  Humanity by nature is meant to function as a union, and as peacebuilders, we are working towards repairing ruptures in inter-relational dynamics and striving towards a consistent healthy functioning of that union.

                The needs I recognize in myself are common to all of humanity.  We are all drawn towards each other, so in this sense I cannot reduce the actions of peacebuilders to simply selfish motives - as everyone has the need for connection and purpose.  If it is selfish, then it's a shared selfishness with all humanity.   So we need to be connected yes, but there is a coinciding need for autonomy that goes along with connection.  We are independent and autonomous yet connected through the same energy that gives us all life.  I appreciated the reminders that Anderson & Olson (2003) - among others - have given us that peacebuilding in its ideal form is meant to give space to others to establish their own autonomy and independence.  Those two concepts involve the further concepts of dignity, freedom, sustainability and control of self.  Peacebuilding is not meant to impose peace on others, as if it were something that I or anyone was able to give to them.  No, the best that I can hope to do is to open up more spaces for others to realize opportunities that they never were able to see before, and to further allow them to see that they can build upon these opportunities and continue to spread the divine energy of the universe in their own lives and environments. 

                But here again, caution is needed.   The same motive of opening "opportunities" is also claimed by those who enter parts of our world to proselytize.  We have a very real danger of falling into the mentality of the benefactor who believing themselves superior, has something to give to those less fortunate.  I have observed that this benefactor mentality is often combined with a misconception of the categorical imperative to "show the light" to others.  This is where the idea of duty or the establishment of morality by some code can become dangerous, and where I disagree with the wording of Anderson & Olson.  Yes, we should live our lives by a standard.  However, to term that standard "morality" can imply things to others that we don't mean it to.  The same could even be true for the term "love", but I do not know any other way to refer to the ultimate life force we all live by. 

                The main point to be taken from this is that we must constantly be aware of the environment and worldview from which we come.  We must further be aware that everyone has a worldview, and none is benign or lacking of impact upon others in some way.  As mentioned previously, I strongly believe that inaction is still action.  We cannot escape worldviews or our impact upon others.  But we can control how that impact is made upon others.  Entering situations and foreign environments requires us to live and operate with the utmost humility.  Our morality may not be the morality of others, but I fully believe that love is universal.  There is a certain level of dignity and respect for human life and rights that is also universal.  I believe that we cannot go wrong if we always strive to hold our every action up against the energy of love which is inclusive of equanimity, justice, peace, respect, humility, compassion and dignity. 

                But you as the reader may be thinking that all of these are abstractions and not very pragmatic in application.  I would argue otherwise.  When considering our conceptions of humanity - that is how we view human life in all of its facets, right down to the very value of the life itself - we must realize how subconscious these conceptions become and how influential they are on every life decision we make.  There is no choice to intervene, and there is certainly no choice whether or not to intervene for the peace practitioner.  We intervene no matter what we do.  

                Since we have no choice in the matter, we need to approach our "interventions" in life with an open attitude; one that realizes that the need to learn more from others is greater than the need to teach others or assume some sort of "high road" when it comes to morality.  I believe this applies as well to someone who is adopting the "do-gooder" mentality out of a feeling of guilt rather than love.  I cannot see how we can effectively practice peace in our world unless we learn how to truly connect with others on a deep level.  To do that, we must learn how to love - and love in the broadest sense, which starts with the love of self.  If we cannot recognize and love the humanity that resides within us, we will never be able to recognize it in the world around us, and we will be going through life blind to the interventions that we engage in constantly.  I appreciate the insights that the academic world has given me in this respect, but the vast majority of this knowledge cannot be learned through strict academics void of coinciding internal work.  For some, it requires a great deal of adversity, for others it may not.  But no matter how the process manifests itself in life, those who are able to achieve the smallest insight into the complexities of intervention are among the fortunate ones in our world.  

Anderson, M., & Olson, L. (2003). Confronting war: critical lessons for peace practitioners. Cambridge, MA: The Collaborative for Development Action, Inc.

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