“The components of accountability, forgiveness and reconciliation are essential to the leadership needed for the United Nation’s 75th year commemoration proposed by Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres as a year of listening.” Virginia Swain
In 1992, Virginia Swain had a calling to go to the United Nations to study the reasons the Persian Gulf Resolution passed in the Security Council authorizing the use of armed force to compel Iraq to leave Kuwait. After two years of study, she began a Master’s Degree Independent Study through Lesley University to explore the theory and practice of coexistence — a minimum standard for a world safe for difference. She also developed a deeper standard — reconciliation, by creating a Peacebuilding Process of Reconciliation — to contain the anger, fear, and other emotions that lead to a breakdown of communications and to address deep-rooted, intractable disputes. She presented a paper at the Hague appeal for Peace iin 1999 outlining her research and practice.
Virginia’s thesis project was conceived and implemented as a nonviolent response for the Persian Gulf Resolution to develop political will among members of the United Nations Community and provide a new kind of leadership. It was her hope that Reconciliation Leaders could contribute to Chapter V1 of the UN Charter so the United Nations and the international community could become a true peacemaking body, dedicated to serve its followers, the world’s peoples, by using pacific resolution of disputes.
A Way to Address the Cycle of Violence
An emotionally and psychologically safe, sacred place is created where people can coexist, begin to trust themselves and each other, and become conscious of unconscious behavior. The need comes from an understanding of the shadow or unconscious part of each person and situation where we express our limitations without our awareness. Reconciliation Leaders share resources and power, withdraw projections of the unconscious, and dissipate emotional reactions in such a way that the outcome of the meeting is owned by everyone present.
There is an untapped potential in emotional and spiritual energy that can be released for good. A piece of beautiful Swedish glass, in memory of Dag Hammarskjold, is used for participants to take turns in speaking as a vehicle where the emotions can be held to contain their turbulence in a way that is not alienating to the other. Reconciliation Leaders let go of their need to control the outcome and lightly guide the process so that participants have an experience of owning unconscious emotions. “I” statements are used (rather than blameful statements), so that participants own their experiences without projecting them on the others.
Virginia Swain wrote in 1996:
“Reconciliation Leadership addresses dominators and victims in people and systems that allow people to share their gifts in safety, without being invalidated or denigrated. It is a respectful, fully participatory model, allowing a shared vision and mission to emerge. Prescriptive processes are given up; being an expert evolves into having expertise; blaming and evading accountability evolve into interpersonal competence and personal responsibility; reacting evolves into responding.”
In the figure, Victimhood and Aggression: Psychological Dynamics, The Center for Strategic and International Studies shows two circles: the inner circle shows the cycle of victimhood while the outer circle shows the cycle of healing when an intervention takes place. Reconciliation Leaders provide an intervention in the cycle of violence and help provide a way for the victim to mourn, express grief and accept loss (outer circle).
Participants share power by addressing the injured-injurer (victim/perpetrator) cycle of violence in people and systems by creating ground rules as a way to re-humanize the enemy, be accountable for unconscious inner conflicts and allow people to share their gifts in safety (without being invalidated or denigrated), in a respectful, fully participatory process. The process allows a shared vision to emerge. People have new choices to forgive and negotiate solutions.
When high levels of emotion cause people to raise their voices, scream at, strike and even kill one another, skilled Reconciliation Leaders provide a useful way for participants to begin healing from alienating experiences, withdraw their projections and build relationships across divisions. Participants create ground rules for themselves that are primarily monitored by facilitators, but also by participants. A common experience brings people together naturally where emotions are contained and released.
Reconciliation Leaders provide an intervention in the cycle of violence and help provide a way for the victim to mourn, express grief and accept loss (outer circle).There is a need for conflict competency: first to clarify what is believed and valued when it comes to conflict, second to stimulate thinking about how conflicts in one’s life have been managed, and third to see that resolving conflict in a positive manner will strengthen all relationships as a conflict management system for community, institutional, national and global settings.
There is a need to learn the impact of cultural differences (including gender, ethnicity and race) on the dispute resolution process. Because the effectiveness of various conflict management strategies are influenced by cultural considerations and differences, we need to examine the various models for training leaders to intervene in disputes where cultural differences are a factor.
Reconciliation Leaders serve their followers by facilitating others through their transformations in a deeply respectful “I-thou” relationship, rather than one of control and manipulation.
Created by a Nobel nominee and Dartmouth College sociologist, the late Dr. Elise Boulding’s Conflict Management Continuum is enhanced by Reconciliation Leaders working toward the penultimate part of her continuum, “union.” Boulding’s view is that we live in a society that places a high value on dealing with conflict as something that has to be won. The goal is to vanquish the adversary, or at the least successful, to threaten (deter) the adversary. Yet we all know there are other ways of dealing with conflicts. These ways of managing conflict may be thought of as ranging on a conflict continuum.
Reconciliation Leaders help move conflict from the war of extermination to integration and union, from violence to nonviolence, from destructive to integrative behavior, from left to right. Limited war, deterrence, and threat are all on the violent side of the continuum. Noncompliance, arbitration, mediation, and negotiation lie in a violence-neutral, middle region. Reconciliation, active cooperation, and integration/union lie on the positive, nonviolent side.
The components of accountability, forgiveness and reconciliation are essential to the leadership needed for the United Nation’s 75th year commemoration which was proposed by Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres as a year of listening. Otherwise the world will repeat the suffering and horrors of this century’s wars, ethnic conflict and the use of force as a response to terrorism. The best of our humanity is desperately needed now. The figure below shows the Public Peace Process (Saunders) integrated with the Personal Peace Process (Swain) for a Sacred Container to reconcile the cycle of violence.
Peace through reconciliation
Since 1992, Virginia Swain has committed her consulting practice resources to design and implement a new social development model in a Peacebuilding Process of Reconciliation to develop political will, Rousseau’s will of the people, at its core. There have been dozens of implementations, always in a political context of collaborative changemaking and peaceful evolution to advance the common good. The conceptual framework for this model comes from Swain’s corporate experience in human resources and decades of experience as an organizational development consultant (using models that also apply to national and global challenges), vocational counselor and integrative leadership coach and trainer. Additionally, training as a spiritual director, gave Swain more resources to access.
Virginia Swain designed Celebration of the Children of the World: A Model for Building Global Community (CCW) for her master’s thesis project. CCW was designed to build on the momentum of 40,000 people from 185 countries assembling at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED or Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. At a vigil of all the world’s religions at the Global Forum, a parallel conference to UNCED builton a profound experience of the union that Boulding uses as her penultimate stage in the Conflict Management Continuum during the all-night vigil worshiping with thousands in their own traditions. The Dalai Lama brought them all together in five minutes of the deepest silence Swain had ever experienced. At the end of the silence, a sound arose out of one person and grew — so that the sounds of 40,000 people present grew such that the sounds became one sound. They sang and danced for joy at meeting one another anew. Strangers became joyful co-celebrants as they danced the day away.
Even though there was no dispute in Rio at the Earth Summit, Swain was struck by the potential for such communities to transform disputes through celebration. She began conceptualizing a reconciliation leadership intervention at the United Nations much like what she had found at the Vigil in Rio as one of nine key characteristics or competencies of this leadership style. Fifty celebration artists and a steering committee produced the Celebration of the Children of the World event after six months of preparation, by having a vigil and performances by children. To do that, Swain used the celebration model to build a holding environment for the steering committee to contain the emotions, presence and purpose to bring the various components of the UN community together as a soul force for building global community. They realized they could hold the space intentionally for the members of the United Nations community in the event itself — international civil servants, state and non-governmental actors. In the steering committee, people were able to let go and find their common humanity — especially useful for post-conflict peacebuilding.
On the eve of the Celebration of the Children of the World event there was a dispute between two of the steering committee members and one of the mutually-agreed-upon ground rules was that “we wouldn’t run away from conflict, but rather be a listening presence for the other no matter how hard it was.” Because of the successful enactment of that ground rule, one of the parties to the dispute was able to tell the second disputant that the experience was a positive and life-changing example for her on how to work through interpersonal conflict successfully.
In the times that it is not appropriate to celebrate, a ritual that would commemorate the need to mourn or express another emotional stage of growth would be available, A Global Liturgy. The stages of the Liturgy are pictured below, right.
The Celebration of Children of the World is a model for building global community (Lesley University Masters Thesis Project, 1993). The model was inspired by a vigil of the world’s religions at the Earth Summit in June 1992, in Brazil, where people of sovereign nations came together for a celebratory experience of one human family, brother and sisterhood. Celebration helps people accept the sufferings of everyday life by allowing them to relax and let go. Celebration expresses the true meaning of community as they unite their hearts through a moment of wonder. The joy of the body and the senses are linked to the joy of the Spirit. Former Secretary-General de Cuellar says there is no more beautiful profession on earth than to unite humans. Celebration allows an experience of unity and empowerment by bringing people together for an experience of joy.
Virginia is committed to gathering and mobilizing like-minded people in a shared vision for sustainable peace and development. In recent years, her research and practice interest has included Security Council Resolution 1325: Women and Peace and Security, the Sudan Track II Peace Process and the Coalition for the Human Right to Peace. In 2020, her work supports the UN Secretary-General on the Covid19 Global Ceasefire. Virginia has 30 years of experience dedicated to strengthening the skills of people who work in the United Nations by helping them clarify their personal mission, go through the academic and experiential stepping stones, and become Reconciliation Leaders to restore faith in humanity and leadership.