Over the years I have had the opportunity to travel to regions such as the Golan Heights and Kosovo; places where there is a large contingent of peacekeeping forces present because of past conflict. Basically, the role of the peacekeeping force is to keep the opposing parties apart. Essentially they serve as a buffer between the two parties, and often are enforcing a “cease-fire”. But the peacekeeping force is needed because it’s evident that true peace is still a long way off. Although the fighting may have stopped (at least for the time being), the underlying issues and points of contention have not been resolved. And to be honest, in most cases, if the peacekeeping force left, the parties would be right back at it. A cease-fire does not mean real peace has been achieved.
This is true not only in the world of international diplomacy, but it is true in our relationships as well. In many ways, a peacekeeper can be defined as someone who will do anything to avoid conflict and maintain the status quo. The primary objective is to keep the peace, and “peace” is defined as the “absence of conflict”. While that might sound desirable, even noble; it can be very unhealthy. These are just a few of the ways that unhealthy “peacekeeping” can show up in our personal and professional relationships:
The spouse who is willing to tolerate their partner’s unhealthy behavior because they don’t want to “rock the boat” and put their marriage at risk.
Reluctance on the part of a supervisor to talk to an employee about an issue that needs to be addressed because they are afraid of how the other party might respond, and so they let things slide.
Parents who have grown weary of continually butting heads with a strong-willed toddler or a moody teenager, and have determined that “it’s not worth the hassle!” so they back off on enforcing rules and expectations.
A peacemaker, on the other hand, is someone who is committed to seeing real peace achieved. A peacemaker understands that conflict cannot be avoided. In fact, it should not be avoided. At times the conflict is necessary, even helpful because it identifies the issues that need to be addressed. Conflict can be the catalyst for much-needed change. The question is not “how can we avoid conflict?” but rather, “How do we work through this conflict in a way that actually improves the situation rather than making it worse?” peacemaker understands the importance of listening to the other party’s position, and working hard to see things from their perspective. They ask clarifying questions rather than becoming defensive. They are willing to accept responsibility for what they have contributed. Above all, a peacemaker is willing to negotiate in good faith and at times compromise so that a mutually acceptable and sustainable agreement can be achieved.
There are times when the peacemaker is a neutral third party who facilitates the discussion. A highly skilled mediator can work with both parties and help them reach that agreement. The mediator is not emotionally vested in the issue on the table and therefore can maintain an objective perspective. He or she can ask good questions that keep the dialogue going; and at times, can help both parties identify and explore the underlying issues that have contributed to the conflict. Once the parties have a better understanding of what the other person really wants, or why they are reacting in this way, they are in a much better position to consider possible alternatives. A skilled mediator can create an environment where real peace, in the form of a mutually acceptable, sustainable agreement can be achieved. Many individuals and organizations have discovered they are truly “blessed” or fortunate to have a skilled mediator there to help them work through conflict in a way that not only preserves relationships but actually produces much-needed change.