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Foundations for Peace

Fourth in the Making Peace series

Copyright © 2000 Dorian Scott Cole

Is Peace Possible? | Power! | Power vs Power | And the People's Choice Is... |
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Is Peace Possible?

Is it actually possible to live in a way that people settle their differences without violence and hostility? I'm not so sure that all people can live this way for a number of reasons. Some people are just too difficult for just about anyone to put up with. Some are too selfish or antisocial to create working relationships with. Some are convinced that their way is "right" and there is no room for compromise. But generally these people are well scattered in a population and are at least controllable, so there is hope that most of us can live together peacefully.

Are there fundamental things that are essential to making peace? I think that there are several:

  • Anger Control
  • Power
  • The rule of law
  • Peace-keepers - defusing confict
  • Compromise or live apart
  • Peaceful co-existence
  • Pluralism - appreciate other's differences
  • Conflict resolution

There may be a form of peace achieved by the first six, but not an effective peace. A form of peace may be all we can realistically achieve in the immediate future, but not all that we can hope to achieve. This article in the series will cover only the second of these, Power.

Something notable happened on the way to writing this article. I outline these series in advance, usually three or four levels deep. I read authoritative books on these subjects while I am writing the articles. I don't like to regurgitate others points of view, so for better or worse this is vintage Scott. It isn't that my thoughts are so original, but they are not spontaneously shaped by the next idea that comes along through the serendipitous reading of a book. After all, the point of this series isn't to be informative, but to help stimulate creative thought (and to pose a larger question, "What kind of a world are we creating for ourselves?").

The books help me in a couple of ways. They help make sure that I don't unintentionally drift too far into fantasy land, and they help stimulate my thoughts as I react to the author's points. Of course, I also learn much from these authors.

I usually make notes in the margins - "What about that..." "This supports my view..." "This is challenging...." The last few days, in preparation for this article, I have been reading Getting To Peace by William Ury, which I selected as one of two authoritative books for this series. As usual I was making notes in the margin, but inevitably a few pages later that very topic was covered. I thought for a while that all I would have left to say was, "Read this book." I have more to say, of course, but read this book. The subject is obviously well trodden ground for the author, not just from political or intellectual exercise, but from considerable successful experience and contact with others in the field.

Having said that, I should also say in fairness to the author, that what I present here is not the author's point of view and shouldn't reflect on his book.


One of the most frustrating things about being a child is that you have so little control over your own life. Everyone else makes the rules, and if you won't live with the rules any other way, then you are forced to live with them. There are endless examples. The government says that you will spend most of your waking life in school, so there you are. You can't drive until you are 16+, so you have no way to get anywhere worthwhile. Your parents control your TV watching, your computer browsing, your dating... And the fact is, you have no power to change anything. You really can't do much about it except cause trouble. If nothing else, passive resistance gives you an illusion of control - you just refuse to learn or do anything unless someone actually takes the time to force you. But this isn't really control either, it is just living in misery - shades of death.

This seems to be a good model for how the world actually works. If you have power, you have a way to negotiate with others. If you don't have power you are subject to other's control. You can whine, throw stones, try to subvert the system, occassionally gain what you want by risky subterfuge, use passive resistance, but in the end most of time you do what those with power want.

There are exceptions. Ghandi and King were masters at using passive resistance to assert civil rights. And many colonies gained their independence by armed resistance. But in another nation any resistor and their followers might have been executed or put in prison, as many have been. And eventually some systems are worn down by the sheer madness and weight of it all - they finally self-destruct. But for the most part, those who don't have power live subject to those who do. The good news is that the world is slowly changing.

Having said that, there is another side to this equation. While those in power may usually be able to force those less powerful to do their bidding, it isn't necessarily a harmonious arrangement. Those who seem powerless do have the power to make their oppressor's lives a living hell - and an expensive one. It takes a lot of resources to make people do what you want if they don't want to do it.

People have to be monitored continuously, they require more laws designed to restrict their activities, they must have more supervision to catch their errors, and more investigative and enforcement people have to be engaged to check and correct their behavior. And then there are the punishment facilities that have to be staffed and maintained. More recruiting has to be done because carrying out all of this work is a major drain on the people who have to do it. This stuff eats an organization or state alive. As I found out as a manager, one difficult person takes more time than all the rest of your staff put together.

So what is power? We all know the usual answers: government, tyrannical leaders, law, bullies, money, money, money, terrorists. Some of these are good, and some are bad, depending on how they are used. To some they are all bad. But there is also power in places we often don't think of. There is the power of a baby's cry, which brings everyone running to see what the baby wants. There is the power of "friendly persuasion," already mentioned in this series. There is grass roots power that comes from people who unite behind a common cause and a leader. An example is the grass roots civil unrest in the recent successful effort after the elections in Yugoslavia to oust Milosevic. This is the power of the people, with the support of religious leaders and the military.

People can have power even through family, friends, and allies. Another example of power is the power of religion to move people to create a more just, compassionate, and helpful world. And there is the power of God to help people get through situations, to lead to greener pastures, and sometimes to even work a miracle.

There is another power that we often don't consider. For some power can only be seen in things that behave a certain way. For example, some men can only see power in people who can exert physical force on someone. Others are seen by them as powerless; for example, those with knowledge, or those with money, or females, are seen as powerless. Without power, they gain no respect from these men. How is it then that mothers can put up with husbands or raise sons who have this attitude? How is it that governments can survive troublemakers who think they have no power to penalize them? How is it that the wise or knowledgeable can live with the destructiveness of those who don't know? How is it that the wealthy can live with those who are suspicious of them or dislike them?

These things can be because of the power of meekness. The idea that it takes power of any kind to prevent domination by others will to many seem to be in contrast with the idea of meekness. But as I wrote previously in this series, meekness doesn't mean being a floormat for others; meekness is more an attitude of tolerance of others, suffering other's power for the greater good of all. The ability to be meek stems from the internal power of the individual. It is meekness that respects other individuals and lets them experience and grow, but with the influence of those who are meek.

Power vs Power, or Power negotiating with Power, or Power cooperating with Power?

What relationship should those with power have? Should they fight each other, or respect each other's turf, or do everything through negotiations, or find ways to cooperate? Today more than ever before, competitors are finding that their product's strengths often compliment their competitor's products so that both of the competitors and their customer are in a win : win situation. Business is as "dog eat dog" as we make it (which doesn't mean that suddenly you can trust all other businesses.) And those people who are in disputes are finding that as long as they are dominating the other party, very little can get resolved. Power leads to negotiations, which leads to resolution. Only when the two parties are equal can real progress take place.

But even in everyday relationships should everything be resolved through power and negotiations? Should negotiations characterize our daily lives? Power is an important element of life. Money is a symbol of power, and of Christ's sayings, about one sixth are related to the use of money. Much of religious writings address the mistreatment of people by the wealthy and powerful. Should all interaction between people be overshadowed by power and money and negotiations? My experience is that most people don't want to negotiate. They just want to feel that they got the best that you offer others and expect to do the same for you. Even government open contracts are predicated on "the best price that you offer others." Our lives should not be dominated by a preoccupation with getting, maintaining, and using power. But while power and negotiation aren't everything, there is one thing that can be said for the power : powerless situation. It is a lose : lose situation for all concerned.

An example of power in the US is the Microsoft Corporation. The government is taking action to stem some of Microsoft's monopolizing power. But on the other hand, some of Microsoft's actions have been supportive of its competitors. Like IBM, Hewlett Packard, Sun, Netscape, and many others, Microsoft and other companies have shared much of their platform technology with competitors in order to allow them to develop products. They have entered into alliances with many of these same competitors to develop Internet products that are open for all to use. This has made the Internet a realm with synchronicity of products rather than a limited realm of exclusive products, and most manufacturers and the public have gained through a highly useful and successful environment.

Microsoft has also purchased stock in failing competitors like Apple and Corel, to help them survive. Why should Microsoft prop up a competitor - why not just let it die and take over their market? Undoubtedly all of these alliances will also help Microsoft in some way. I don't know Microsoft's motives, but instead of thinking that these are purely selfish motivations on Microsoft's part, we should realize that alliances are ways that businesses, even fierce competitors, can benefit from working together. Giving power to others makes us stronger.

Power is a loose cannon in the world. We too often see the power of having a singular focus and misinterpret this exclusiveness as the key to power. Those who have power would benefit from getting perspective on power. Competition is fun and through competition usually everyone benefits. But in the end we are all on the same team. We all need our incomes and investment incomes to put food on our table, build homes, get educated, retire, protect our health, improve the quality of our lives, and make our nation strong. We all have a common goal and competition can help us attain our goals. But the "exclusive, saber rattling, winner takes all, dominate, pillage, plunder, and annihilate" types of competition between governments, between religions, between corporations, and between people, is very destructive and destructive clashes of power weaken us all. At some level we can all work together to make each other powerful.

The secret to the effective use of power comes from two things:

1. Leadership is the primary means of properly controlling power, whether it is through God, organizations such as political states or lobbying groups, or through our own leadership, we have the responsibility to stand up for ourselves, and for those who are powerless because they have no other way to prevent domination by others. Power without leadership is poison. But leadership does not mean domination.

2. Giving power away makes you stronger. This flies in the face of those who hoard power or who are so authoritarian in nature that power is very tightly controlled. Instead, each person to whom you give leadership, responsibility, authority, and means, is basically an emissary who multiplies your strength. In doing so, these same people bring with them the diversity of opinion to make you stronger. While many are authoritarian in their approach to organization, in reality this focus of power only prevents them from becoming more powerful and growing. For one thing, it starts people fighting over power, and weakens the organization or opponents. This is the typical approach of movements like colonialism which ultimately came to an end. Unlike the Highlander movie character who gains the power of others by killing them (there can be only one), in reality true power grows by enabling others.

And the People's Choice Is...

As I was writing the paragraph about the people ousting Milosevic, the outcome was in doubt. I wrote it anyway, confident that the Serbian people would rally and accomplish their task. They did. Similarly the peace process in the Middle East is stalled at this time and civil unrest appears to be accellerating toward war. Yet I am confident that eventually the two sides can work peace out because of the power of the people. When former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon entered the Moslem Holy place, the Temple of the Mount, and announced that Israel was in control, he "pushed the buttons" of the Muslims, inviting a peace-breaking response. But this powerless gesture allowed both sides to demonstrate special kinds of power important to the peace process.

During the next days of conflict, armed with little more than stones, frustrated Palestinians responded by destroying and ousting an Israeli police station and destroying an Israeli Temple (the Tomb of Jacob). The people have power. These actions also permitted the Israelis to demonstrate their power of restraint in not escalating the conflict but allowing it to pass without retaliation - a rare occurrence in typical Israeli policy. Both actions demonstrated that both sides have power to affect the other, and they demonstrate the need and desire of both parties to find peace.

I can only hope that the outcome is good. It may be months or years before a permanent and lasting peace is strongly anchored in the Middle East. However, there is greater strength in diversity and while the conflict is primarily political and cultural, it also has strong religious underpinnings. I don't think that it is any accident that both the major Moslem Holy place and the major Israeli Holy place occupy virtually the same ground, and both nations of people have the power to struggle over it, destroy it, or be strengthened by it. The outcome may depend on what people think that religion is about.

While both religions co-existist and address different audiences, they share common origins and common goals. The Moslem Koran states about the universality of believers: "Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian... the people most worthy of Abraham are those who follow him and his prophets, and those who believe;- God is the patron of the believers.." The Jewish Bible is more prophetic in its words, and more subject to interpretation, The Bible says of the universality of believers: (about Abraham) "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (About Jerusalem) "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem..." (About the Temple) "...'for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.' The Lord Jehovah, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, 'Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own that are gathered.'" What do these words mean?

Power doesn't come from everyone being the same. Power comes both from our diversity and from our unity. Our diversity gives us breadth of interests and abilities to meet challenges and excel. Unity gives us the power of numbers to make it happen.

U B Peace. - Scott



This series of articles is a unique exploration and commentary. Some of the books which I expect to inform and challenge my own thinking as I write this series include:

George J. Mitchell, Making Peace: The behind-the-scenes story of the negotiations that culminated in the signing of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.

William Ury, Getting To Peace: Transforming Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World.

Kohn, Alfie. No Contest, The Case Against Competition, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Other distribution restrictions: None

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