Yesterday was a significant point in my nation’s history as it marked 100 years to the day since the outbreak of the First World War, and I joined with many others in remembering and paying my respects to those who lost their lives in this conflict. Few at the time expected the War to last anywhere near as long as it did or anticipate the devastating effects of the War due to the great and tragic loss of lives of those involved in it, from countries all round the world. It was seen as the war to end all wars, yet twenty-five years later we had the outbreak of the Second World War and, right up to this day, there have been numerous conflicts taking place throughout the world.
The experience of the First World War led many to say never again. While history’s verdict is that at the time what he thought he had achieved was not the case, when Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Germany in 1938 with a piece of paper, which was the agreement that had earlier been made with Adolf Hitler that the two countries would not go to war, most hoped and believed that it would lead to “peace in our time”. While Chamberlain’s efforts were laudable, they were also naive insofar Hitler was not someone who could be appeased and a year later the countries were at war. The salutary lesson is that however noble one’s intentions are, there is a lot more to peace making than is often realized and sometimes it is necessary to be prepared for war in order to achieve peace.
All this makes rather grim reading when it comes to trying to reaffirm the teaching of one of the beatitudes of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”, Matthew 5:9. As we once again survey the situation in Gaza, it is hard to find anyone from any of the interested parties that spring to mind that might effectively fulfill that much needed role as peacemaker, yet this is what the situation calls for. In an earlier post I reflected on the unlikely duo: Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley, who despite being poles apart made a significant contribution to the Northern Island peace process, because of the trust and respect for each other. I also recalled Nelson Mandela, who after release from 27 years of imprisonment found it in his heart to forgive his captors and unite a nation on the basis of forgiveness and reconciliation. One of my particular peacemaker heroes is Terry Waite, who undertook the role of hostage negotiator and was himself taken hostage for four years while carrying out that particular role.
One of my desires is to be a peacemaker and do so based on the principles of truth, justice and righteous, peace and reconciliation, and I would want to reflect on some of the qualities needed. Despite holding (according to some) extreme views and managing to upset a number, I see the importance of this role. I have found that when adopting a middle of the road position and trying to see the good in all, as one needs to do when trying to understand both sides of an argument, one is liable to be knocked down by traffic coming from either direction. That has been my experience. The role of peacemaker can be a thankless task but it is also a worthwhile one and the following is what is needed and what I am seeking to do.
- Understand the facts; include all perspectives; avoid prejudice.
- Don’t give way to hate but rather learn to love and forgive; respect those you deal with and don’t bear grudges.
- Build a reputation as someone people can trust.
- Seek to engage with all parties involved in a dispute and don’t be discouraged when rebuffed, as that will surely happen.
- Try to establish common ground and look to find ways forward based on having agreed that common ground.
- Learn from the experience, admit mistakes and keep learning.
I believe today, more than ever, there is a place for peacemakers. It could be trying to bring together opposing factions, such as the Israelis and Palestinians, to negotiate a peace settlement or reconcile two disputing neighbours or in my case trying to improve the lot of my rough sleeper friends with those who can help. Given the world is as it is, conflict is nigh inevitable but if peace can be brokered then that has to be good and well worth the cost and effort.