Volume 19 Number 5
For Those Who Know What but Don't Know how
01 October 2006
Although some of the Lebanese travelling to the conference managed to get to Beirut airport before it was closed, their families were still at home. For those who came, the stay at Mountain House could not be peaceful, but they had the courage to share their feelings about what was happening in their country.
Andrea Cabrera talks to the organisers and participants of the Tools for Change conference at Caux.
Just before the Tools for Change conference started in Caux this summer, Lebanon was going through one of the most difficult periods of its history. Although some of the Lebanese travelling to the conference managed to get to Beirut airport before it was closed, their families were still at home. For those who came, the stay at Mountain House could not be peaceful, but they had the courage to share their feelings about what was happening in their country. Their presence pointed up one of the most interesting challenges of the conference: how to make the connection between theory and practice.
The conference was a new departure for Caux: offering practical training in conflict-resolution and other skills to people who want to be constructive agents of change. Participants were given a choice between seven different 'learning tracks', delivered by experts in their fields and with an emphasis on personal application. 'When something breaks or something needs doing at home,we often can't find the tools we need,' said Rob Corcoran, who was one of the organisers.'If we try to be the change we want to see, we carry the tools with us always.'
To Krish Raval, who gave the learning track on Communication and Presentation, the importance of the conference was how the tools are transferred into daily life. 'A Palestinian woman came to me and said she wanted to learn to speak in public, so that she could represent her country's cause.'
Participants joined a community group where they discussed the issues that had been introduced in the plenary sessions. They also undertook practical tasks in the building. The size of these groups allowed for more intimacy, trust and freedom.
In the community group I attended, several people spoke openly about the difficulties of dialogue, especially when strong emotions are involved. A French Muslim woman described how she had been called 'kamikaze' by a Jewish woman when she asked her why the Jews were treating Muslims like they had been treated in the Holocaust. She honestly could not understand the woman's reaction. A Palestinian participant talked about how, the day before, a German participant had asked her why the Palestinians could not understand Jewish people. She was worried about how to have a dialogue with someone who seemed so aggressive. A young Senegalese woman explained that in her culture, when there was a problem between two people, there was always a third person who acted as an intermediary.
The cultural diversity of the conference allowed an exchange of ideas about different ways to solve problems. Even though it was often painful, people listened to each other.
Professor Mari Fitzduff of Brandeis University gave a Caux Lecture during the week, drawing on her experience as a peace builder in her own country, Ireland, as well as others. 'We want our enemies to be simple; we like our beliefs to be simple,' she said, 'Leaders always believe that their enemies are simpler, more united and can deliver on compromises more easily than they can.' She insisted on the importance of making conversation with the 'other' robust and strong enough when dealing with issues of equity.
A young man said at the final plenary session, 'We Jewish people have suffered and we are afraid to speak in certain places. However, I have communicated with Arabs and Muslims like I never have before. My heart is open to listening and it's also beginning not to have fear.'
Three personal stories
Zeke Reich, from the United States, helped provide logistical support to the conference.
I attended the learning tracks on Dialogue Facilitation and on Conflict Transformation and Healing History. The first focused on how to communicate with each other, team-building and personal growth, and the second brought up crosscultural and multifaith aspects of peace-building.
Mountain House is a safer place to try out these tools than the rest of the world. It's an inspiring place, which allows things to happen—in spite of our weaknesses. It's not always easy to face conflict and differences.
One thing that helped me to feel open to others and to my own feelings was taking time to be quiet. It made me have an open spirit so that I could connect with others spiritually, rather than with words. I stopped being afraid of being judged in advance by others. That gave me the space to sit with someone who was different from me and talk as two human beings.
Dialogue, conversation and acknowledgement of each person's responsibility to the world are important. I'm still deepening my commitments to this process and this conference was a major source of inspiration and strength.
Mona Ayyad, from Palestine, works in a human rights organisation.
I left Gaza three weeks ago to attend two conferences in Caux. Due to the siege on Palestinian borders the journey wasn't an easy one. When I was in Gaza I realised that Palestinian society was going through a negative change. Since I experienced a positive inner change as a Caux Scholar in 2004, I came back to Caux. For me this is not a place of leisure and pleasure but of education.
In the conference I was exposed to a new dimension of cooperation and joint work. I chose Presentation and Communication and Team Building as my learning tracks. In the second I met people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds. We worked together, even when we were completely different.
The facilitators gave us exercises, which invited us to work as a unit and thus become stronger. I had to take distance from my helplessness and hopelessness about a better future in my country and be willing to be a positive participant. People who want to change must start with themselves and I took that step.
If I could change something, I would change injustice. Once justice prevails everything can change positively. When injustice prevails the change produced is negative.
What I learnt in the team building sessions is that change has to be achieved by a group of people. Self achievement is not enough. If one person is ready to undertake change but the other is not then progress will be slower. We have to work together if we want to achieve any positive change.
Irene da Silva Oliveira, from Brazil, is a coordinator of Gente que Avanza and works as a psychologist.
I attended the Nurturing Inner Resources learning track. One of the facilitators talked about listening, and then encouraged us to take a walk outside in silence, only listening. I sat down, surrounded by nature, observing the plants, the mountains and listening to the birds. In the
midst of this silence I could hear the marvels of creation and give thanks. I could also hear my own inner voice.
This made me think of all I have learned with the Gente que Avanza programme in Latin America and the workshops we give in which we use drama to illustrate negative attitudes such as arrogance, indifference and hypocrisy, facing these with positive attitudes. In this way we try to help people search in the silence of their hearts for instances in which they can use the words 'thank you', 'forgive me' and 'I love you'.
When you put a problem into words you are already beginning to solve it. Once you recognise a negative attitude in yourself you have an opportunity to change it.
When I was young I spent a lot of time demanding the attention of my father and blaming him for not being the person I wanted him to be. I asked myself what my responsibility was in this 'problem' and finally wrote him telling him what I felt and recognising my own omissions. As a result of this we had an experience of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Today people die of sadness because they haven't found a meaning in their lives. They don't manage to forgive or to free themselves of what holds them back. The spirit of Caux is a very special one. The conference has been quite intense, but I love meeting people from other countries, hearing different languages and discovering that no matter where we are from, we have the same basic needs and dreams, are going through the same process of growth and need each other.