My day at a Peace Forum

Over the past several months I have been working on putting together and hosting a peace forum here in Lee’s Summit. Last Saturday it all came to an end at 3 in the afternoon as I closed the forum after a lengthy panel Q&A. I breathed a sigh of relief after packing my truck with all my gear and just stared out the window. There was so much information delivered over a 6 hour period that I was still trying to digest.

I still had some work to do that day before it was really over. The dinner wasn’t until 5 and I would be driving all four speakers down to the plaza to toast there efforts.

The short down time gave me a bit to look back on the day and begin to analyze. I guess the first thing that really struck me about the entire event was how interesting the four points of view where from each speaker. Every talk was like a mini TED talk on peace and kept me engaged. They were all great speakers but the one that still makes me think was Dr. Sharif Abdullah’s talk. He went thru, step by step, the process of how he worked with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, to stop the violence.

Later during the panel Q&A, Dr. Sharif recalled sending out a young man to a meeting. It was always dangerous work, at any moment the person your trying to help, the person on the other side of the table, may decide its better to just shoot you. This young man, never came back from the meeting. After that incident he pulled back from all his work, determined to never send another person to there death. It took him four years to recover from that, I don’t think he will ever fully recover from it.

In these little personal moments, so much can be shared. I drove them down to dinner that night with Dr. Sharif following behind, riding with his daughter. She’s a sergeant at Ft. Leavenworth and drove over for the day to see her dad. I could not imagine what she has gone thru in her life, her father traveling all over the world, usually in harms way. She understood the sacrifices now, she has made a few of her own in her line of work. Dr. Sharif will be heading to Lahore next, a city in northern Pakistan, on the border with India. He chose to eat red meat at Jack Stacks, even though he never eats red meat. He said it was because the only food in that area was “Yak Burgers” and that he needed to get his stomach used to meat again. And I thought I made sacrifices….

On the drive down Russ Vandenbroucke sat in the passenger seat next to me. He’s a very tall, thin academic man. Spending most of his adult life either studying or teaching at a University somewhere around the world. Of the four speakers from the day, I had spoken to him the least and was looking forward to picking his brain. His talk looked at conflict more on the micro scale. Using the family dynamic or parent and child to illustrate his points on perception, he showed an image of an orange in a slide. He talked about two kids fighting over it, the typical scenario of two siblings saying “mine” back and forth. The parent coming in, taking the orange and slicing it in half, handing each half to each child. The first child shouted, thats not what I wanted! I wanted to juggle with it! The second child yelling, hey! I was going to draw a picture a whole orange mommy! The parent had made a decision that seemed right, but turned out to be wrong for both children. No one was happy in the end, not even the parent. The story was to highlight how peacekeepers and negotiators can inadvertently get involved in situations that they don’t understand and make choices that no one is happy with in the end.

He also told a story about an old Indian Chief, who sat around the fire one night with all his grandchildren. The chief told a story of two wolves that were forever fighting each other. One was always anger, taking what ever he wanted, un caring about the rest of the pack. The other was always patient, taking great care of the cubs and the pack. He told the children that each wolf lives inside them and the fight continues every day. With that he stood up and started to leave the tent. The children cryed out, “Who will win!” The old chief looked back at the children and said, “The one you feed”

We toasted at the restaurant with a glass of wine, I had a Corona of course. The evening was even more relaxed than the forum itself, with conversation drifting from every topic you can imagine. I had to explain what brisket was, briefly becoming an expert on BBQ. I am pretty sure that will never happen again. As it turns out, Dr. Sharifs daughter is a vegetarian, thankfully it didn’t bother her. Other topics were about Cuba and the recent lift on restriction to travel there. Rita Marie, another one of the speakers, has her institute in Costa Rica and talked about  how eager she was to see Cuba one day.

I was surprised that I didn’t feel like the dumb kid at the table, I had every expectation to. After all I was sitting with four individuals who had not only seen more of the world than I ever will, but who also held multiple degrees as well. It wasn’t because I was witty, or even leading the conversation. It was more because they all had an ease about them, a way of making you feel like you had something interesting to say. (Even though I know I didn’t) It was a day I will not be able to replicate. A once in a lifetime moment to be sure, a day I hope I never forget.

While the event failed to attract a large crowd, it made an impact on those who attended. It made an impact on me, one that I hope sticks for along time to come. I don’t think I will become a peace maker in the way these four have. They are the trailblazers, but I would like to join the mop up crew.

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