Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Subtle Art of Peacemaking

Let me begin with a story of one man's brilliant expression of creative dialogue when faced with a very threatening situation. One morning I was having breakfast in my high-mountain Colorado home listening to the radio when my attention was arrested. A person of no special notoriety and not a professional peacemaker was describing a riveting incident in which he was involved.

Julio Diaz was getting off a subway train in the Bronx intending to visit his favourite diner for a late-night meal when he was accosted. A teenager came up to him brandishing a knife and demanding that Julio hand over his wallet. Without hesitation, Julio gave the youth his wallet, and the young man started to bolt toward the stairs when Julio called after him. He asked his youthful assailant if he also needed his coat, as it was a cold night. The youth came to a halt, flabbergasted.

Julio told him that he thought that if he was so desperate to steal this small amount of money, maybe he also needed a coat to keep warm. He also said that he would be happy to invite the young man to have dinner with him at his favourite diner, because he looked as if he could use a good meal and company. Hesitantly and suspiciously, the teenager agreed to have dinner with Julio.

When they got to the diner, Julio was greeted by the people, who knew him, and throughout the meal the waiter, the chef, and others came by to chitchat. The young man was amazed at how friendly people were and how much they loved Julio. When it came time to pay the bill, Julio indicated to the young man that he could not pay for obvious reasons, and the teenager responded by giving him back his wallet. Julio paid the bill and then offered to give the young man twenty dollars, which he obviously needed, but on one condition: that he trade in his knife for the money. Julio had disarmed his assailant with skill and great compassion.

Now that is how to make peace! Julio did not allow himself to be triggered. He kept himself centred in the other person's need. And he responded with courage and creativity to affirm his own deepest values of human solidarity. Perhaps there are a number of ways to protect oneself, disarm an assailant, and even give him a lesson in humanity, but this approach to centring one's energy and establishing dialogue deserves the attention of anyone called to be a creative peacemaker.

(James O'Dea, Cultivating Peace)

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