This is a revised, updated version of Rachel Goodman’s Peace Making in Troubled Times. From Ireland to the United States to Lithuania, these are practitioners’ stories of how EQ helped them and their communities heal from conflict.
“Once the ceasefires were called and peace was negotiated, I quickly realized that stopping killing wasn’t in itself peace, it was just the end of violence. And that peace involved something more significant and that was the renewal of the relationship between the warring parties.” – Glenn Hinds, The Troubles, 1968-1998, Northern Ireland
How Communities Heal from Conflict
3 practitioners’ stories of building empathy and new relationships after conflict
#1 Empathizing with someone who burned down your house
Growing up, Glenn Hinds occasionally “celebrated the deaths of other people,” as he put it. Because he grew up during The Troubles, a decades long conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland that killed more than 3,6000 people and wounded many others. Protestants burned his family’s house to the ground and attempted to assassinate his father. Even though the conflict has been over for many years, Glenn says people, himself included, still struggle with its aftermath:
“Once the ceasefires were called and peace was negotiated, I quickly realized that stopping killing wasn’t in itself peace, it was just the end of violence. And that peace involved something more significant and that was the renewal of the relationship between the warring parties.”
To heal from conflict at this deeper level, he says, has been more difficult than he imagined. Glenn says that a key part of healing has been about increasing empathy, both for himself and the other side.
He has had to come to peace with the fact that as a Catholic IRA supporter, he celebrated the deaths of many prominent Protestants: “I am not ashamed of that…I look back at that part of myself now, and I endeavor to understand him, not judge him. It was where I was born, and the circumstances I was born into.”
Even though it wasn’t always easy, Glenn forced himself to see things from the other side’s perspective, using empathy to get past his anger: “For me that was about recognizing that the truth I had about the others was true, but equally significant, the truth they had about us was true as well.”
“The more I allowed myself to do that, the more I opened myself to seeing the strengths, talents, gifts and resources that are present in unionism and Britishness. I saw that by not allowing myself to identify with it, I was denying myself. Because, whatever else was true, this is a state that is both Irish and British at the same time.”
But when it came to shaking hands with one of the people who burned down his family’s home, Glenn had to both be true to himself, and keep moving toward his goal of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Glenn saw this man at a drama performance meant to help with reconciliation. He was one of the actors. Here’s what happened, according to Glenn: “As part of my journey, I was able to go up to him afterwards. He offered his hand. And I said ‘ It would be disingenuous for me to shake your hand at this point. Because it wouldn’t be real for me to do that. But I want you to know who I am and what you represent to me, and my attempts to move forward from this point.’”
Three months later, Glenn was able to approach the man and talk to him and shake his hand.
The entire process, Glenn says, was “a difficult journey made easier by EQ.” The Six seconds Model, with its focus on increasing empathy, exercising optimism, and pursuing noble goals, “offers a gentle guidance and roadmap for how to make things more purposeful and more meaningful, for communities, the country, and the world as a whole.”
#2 Embracing strong feelings about a divisive election
My mother had been friends with her cousins for decades, both in real life and, more recently, on Facebook. They shared recipes, cute videos and life updates. That is, until the 2016 presidential election in the United States. They supported different candidates, and as the election turned more divisive by the day, so did the posts. Eventually, she unfriended them, one by one, and felt like any sense of friendship had been lost – with her own cousins.
This, unfortunately, is a common story in what was a nasty, divisive election. The 2016 election split families, ended friendships and seemingly divided the entire country along political and cultural lines.
Michael Eatman knew he couldn’t stay silent about the election. As the director of community for the Pike School in Massachusetts, Eatman could see that the only way to help his community heal from the contentious election was by creating a space for honest dialog about people’s feelings, so that’s what he did.
“I showed them a three minute clip of Clinton and Trump ads. Then I asked them to write down what comes up for them, when it comes to the 2016 election and talk about it with a partner. We didn’t solve the problems of the world, however we got to see what the other person thought. It was colleagues working together to understand each other.” Once they began talking, the feelings and words flowed. They used EQ cards to help people focus on their feelings and express them. For many people, the same feelings, like fear, were driving them, even if to support a different candidate. Realizing this shared experience helped each party see the humanity in the other, a huge step toward healing the division.
Next, Michael decided to try it with a larger group during the school visiting day. In a library full of 100 parents and alumni, he stood on a chair, and with some nervousness, he read a text from his niece, describing a fight that erupted between African American and white students at her college regarding the recent election. “I had them pair up and do a listening exercise called compassionate engagement with someone they didn’t know. They had to take turns talking while the other person listened, and responded to the question, ‘How do you feel about the recent election?’ Interrupting or reacting was forbidden until the other person had finished. The result was that by sharing they had a rich dialog about a potentially polarizing topic. It was amazing to watch this group of people who didn’t really know each other have rich conversations about the election.”
A few commons themes emerged in these sessions. One is the encouragement to engage emotions. When emotions can be discussed in a way that allows people to feel heard and understood, that is the beginning of bridging perceived differences, or even finding solutions to common problems. Another theme is to practice empathy. Listening to someone who feels differently than you do about a charged topic is an amazing practice of empathy.
Rather than sink into despair or inaction, Michael Eatman chose to use the election to galvanize his work, even if it means getting out of his comfort zone. “As a diversity practitioner and as an African American man, I had to ask myself, am I angry? Am I optimistic? I realized I have some options, whether they are large or small. Using the KCG model, the choose part of the model really helped me in this case. In a time of fear and darkness, I choose to have hope.”
#3 Modeling trust for orphans in a country driven by fear
At the Foster Care and Social Family Support Centre in Didziasalis, Lithuania, many of the children come from a similarly tragic background of alcoholism, abuse and violence. Some of the children are brought in by social workers, some – literally – come to the foster care home by themselves after having fled their insecure homes and families. Many of these children’s parents can barely provide basic food or clothing – and very few can provide a safe, nurturing environment for a child to grow up in. For the kids, being in foster care is both an amazing opportunity – and a difficult life full of changes and adjustments to new adults and new living arrangements.
Nomeda Marziene is the founder of Lyderystės Ekspertų grupė, an EQ training company that has partnered with Barclays Group to bring emotional intelligence training to the foster care center. To understand the necessity of EQ training, Marziene says that it’s important to understand the wider cultural context. After 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union, the political situation still doesn’t instill a high level of trust in the average citizen:
“Then and now, people are led and manipulated by so-called leaders. It is fear-based, and there is a real lack of emotional intelligence amongst our leaders. There is a low level of trust. This is the basic issue. They lack integrity and change their promises from day to day and week to week. It brings a high level of uncertainty and distrust.”
Under these circumstances, Nomeda says, people feel isolated and powerless. So they strove to create an environment at the center that is based on trust and open communication. The project aimed to strengthen the children’s confidence and self-respect, teach them the skills needed to thrive in stressful situations, and heal from conflict. Interactive exercises and activities were designed to encourage children to set personal goals and take responsibility for their actions, hopefully creating a group of strong, independent thinkers who will contribute to the future of Lithuania. After a year Nomeda is happy to report “a great change in the emotional culture in terms of trust and empathy. Emotional intelligence has changed people’s mindsets and attitudes, especially in the group of educators, who are really the key people there who radiate the emotional culture and model that for the children.” When asked for a specific example, she shared this beautiful story of a girl who found her voice:
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