Newsletter 129 - Friday, June 30, 2023
From Beyond Intractability's Co-Directors
Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess
June 30, 2023
MBBI’s Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding
Agnieszka Alboszta, Coordinator of the Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding at Mediators Beyond Borders, International (MBBI), recently sent us a report of their efforts to provide and train others to provide trauma-informed peacebuilding around the world. We published her report as a Practitioner Reflection in the Knowledge Base section of BI, and hope our readers will read her full report there. But we want to pull out a few key ideas and post them here also.
First, at the beginning of her report, Agnieszka quotes a line from John Paul Lederach in his classic book, Building Peace
Trauma and violence represent a critical impediment to the building of sustainable peace. For if we do not attend to the wounds of the past, if we do not acknowledge the pain and suffering that have been experienced, then the seeds of future violence will remain firmly planted in the soil of the present.
She goes on to report on neurobiological studies that confirm that trauma harms people's brains in ways that prevent both individuals and entire societies from living in peace in the future. For that reason, she explains, MBBI has "accentuated the value of awareness regarding the neurobiology of conflict and impact of trauma on participants and practitioners."
Training in Ukraine
After reporting on trauma-informed interventions in Liberia, Kenya, and South Sudan, she tells a remarkable story about MBBI's most recent effort to provide training on Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding in Ukraine as the war is going on.
Two expert trainer facilitators from the US joined with three Ukrainian counterparts to customize MBBI’s program on trauma-informed peacebuilding. The aim was to provide the pilot group of Ukrainian ADR professionals with knowledge to recognize effects of trauma in affected parties and skills to safely navigate the impacts during mediation and facilitation. The program included three training sessions with discussions and exercises based on weekly videos and reflection questions. The training component was followed by three coaching sessions which included case study analysis and discussion, peer support, and opportunities to talk through questions and challenges participants came up against as they integrated the new knowledge into their mediation and facilitation work.
The program was delivered entirely online, which had challenges of its own. This, combined with the challenges of working cross-culturally, with language differences, AND during an ongoing war which inflicted daily trauma on the Ukrainian participants themselves, made for an extremely difficult situation. Nevertheless, 21 of the 30 people accepted to the program were able to finish it successfully and reported benefits to themselves and their work.
Agnieszka finishes her report with a reflection on what MBBI learned about doing training under such difficult circumstances. She also provides a link to a fascinating 28-minute video showing three of the five facilitators reflecting together on the program. They talk about "their expectations vs. the realities of the program; the balancing that was necessary for instance, between being supportive, sensitive, and patient while aiming to deliver a robust curriculum. They discuss unique challenges of running sessions during a live war and for experienced professionals who themselves share trauma with those they serve. They also touch on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the program structure, dilemmas faced, and lessons learned."
This video is powerful, as is Agnieszka's report, and we hope many of our readers will be able to find the time to read the report and/or watch the video.
We Need Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding in the United States Too!
Agnieszka’s report and the video also got us reflecting on the discussions we have been having here in this blog, which is focused, not entirely, but largely, on the United States.
Many people here think that the U.S. is different. "We do not have violent conflict here; we do not need to worry about trauma-informed peacebuilding, or even peacebuilding at all within the United States," I used to hear frequently. More and more people are now coming to realize that is not at all true. While the United States has not yet experienced a new civil war or even the kind of large-scale civil unrest that was common in the1960s or 70, the intensity of emotions and the widespread belief that one's group is actively being victimized is, for many, genuinely traumatic.
As I read John Paul's quote: "if we do not attend to the wounds of the past, if we do not acknowledge the pain and suffering that have been experienced, then the seeds of future violence will remain firmly planted in the soil of the present," I was thinking about the U.S. That warning certainly applies here. As such, many of the lessons from the MBBI program are likely to be applicable in the U.S. and other developed democracies (hopefully, in ways that will help us prevent something much more violent and traumatic from happening.)
A look at the current level of violence in the United States reveals much about the precariousness of the situation. For instance, the rate of gun deaths per capita in the United states is much higher than most other nations. The National Institute of Health's PubMed reports that "the homicide rate in the US was 7.5 times higher than the homicide rate in the other high-income countries combined, which was largely attributable to a firearm homicide rate that was 24.9 times higher. The overall firearm death rate was 11.4 times higher in the US than in other high-income countries." The result, no doubt, is many highly traumatized people. But there are many more aspects of our society beyond gun deaths that contribute to trauma.
Our media also contributes to trauma. For example, not only do they report on violence on a daily basis, but also, the tend to focus attention on the most extreme and terrible stories of things that are going wrong, while failing to share stories about what's going right (and the progress that could be made if only we could find a way to back away from our deep animosities).
Both left-leaning and right-leaning media constantly tell us how the "other side" is systematically attacking most everything that we care about. And, in case after case, our situation is described in hopeless terms. We cannot fix climate, we cannot fix the economy, we cannot fix injustice, there's nothing constructive one can do to help oneself attain a better life because the system is "rigged." Somehow, we are told, we have to find a way to decisively defeat our fellow citizens (even if that means violating democratic norms and taboos that we claim to defend). Is it any wonder that young people are so depressed?
As Agnieszka illustrates, violence and trauma affects the way we think at the most fundamental, neurobiological level. Soo, too, does hyper-polarization with all of its destructive manifestations. So, in addition to its use in war-torn societies, there is a need for trauma-informed peacebuilding in the United States and other developed democracies (take today's news from France as just one example).
If you want to know more, consider signing up for MBBI's online training program on Trauma Informed Peacebuilding.
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