by Jane Anderson, Columnist & Featured Contributor
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]J[/su_dropcap]UNE 2015 – Conflict in high places, conflict in low places. There is no escape from intolerance within that becomes battles without. The world needs to practice what is conveyed in this book.
Fostering peace is a heart level strategy.
When a friend gave me a copy of this book she told me it was life changing. I wondered what was in it that impressed her with such cogency. Through the pages of this book, I came to understand why she said with unwavering conviction that this book had undeniable truths that could make a difference in whether relationships were built or destroyed because of how conflicts were handled.
Written in almost the style of a novel, this volume is packed with realism and authentic wisdom. Early in the book I caught this quote, “The secret to war is to have a heart at peace.” The conflicts in this country and around the world seem staged to implode at any moment. This key point was driven home throughout the book. It gets into the underlying current of behaviors in conflict and the ensuing patterns that escalate like kindling placed beneath logs of a fire.
This book is so rich in content, I’m taking a unique approach to summarizing what the authors convey. In fact, there is so much to share, I’m selecting something from each chapter that spoke most clearly to me. When you read the book, it’s likely that your takeaway will be different from mine. As you will see, one of the first revelations in the book is that we are autonomous people and we are different.
The Heart of Peace
Enemies in the Desert
The storyline involves individuals who are parents of drug addicted kids, but they could be anyone because they are representative of ordinary people. The important thing to remember is that the internal workings of peace are taught by two individuals who have formed an unlikely alliance. Avi Rozen an Israeli man and Yusuf al-Falah an Arab man, 15 years his elder. These men host a group of men and women who learn about the elements of peace while conveying what they learn through the storyline of the book. Al-Falah and Rozen take these students of life through normal events and emotions like justification, resentment, betrayal, honor, memory, apology, forgiveness, all the way through seeking peace and strategy for action.
As parents discuss the ramifications of their children’s poor choices, Yusuf and Avi begin to construct a strategy to teach these parents how they can help others change. The problem is, as Yusuf says, “We have the same problem in families, with co-workers and throughout countries. We are all surrounded by other autonomous people who don’t behave as we’d like them to.”
Peace in Wartime
Yusuf chronicles the years of the Crusades in the period of 1099 – 1187 when Saladin was a leader in charge of battle. He did some amazingly benevolent things that some thought represented soft and weak leadership. Saladin went down in history as one of the most successful warriors. “The secret to Saladin’s success in war, was that his heart was at peace.” This isn’t just true in times of war. As Yusuf points out, a heart at peace is the secret to success in business and in family life. The most important factor is the state of your heart – whether at war or at peace. That’s what will determine the outcome.
In this chapter, through a diagram and personal anecdotes, two methods of dealing with behaviors are presented. What we do and how we see things is a deeper aspect of behavior. With a heart at peace ‘others’ are PEOPLE. With a heart at war, ‘others’ are OBJECTS. It makes a difference in how we treat them.
The Pattern of Conflict
When we see others as objects, we begin provoking them to make our lives difficult and even make us miserable. How we disagree about things makes a big difference. When anger brews, it’s a warring heart that threatens thoughts and emotions. When we see each other as objects we also see each other as disagreeable instead of simply disagreeing. Collusion instead of conflict occurs. Collusion is a conflict where the parties are inviting the very things they are fighting against.
As I read this chapter, several incidents sprang to my memory. I have often had to excuse myself from a conversation at work by saying I didn’t see any point in sitting around feeding each other’s anger. What is conflict between two people can spread like fire until many people are engulfed. You’ll want to read this book for the historical understanding rendered on the pages.
The Right Thing and the Right Way
The best way to summarize this chapter is to quote the wisdom of Yusuf. “If we are going to find lasting solutions to difficult conflicts or external wars we find ourselves in, we first need to find our way out of the internal wars that are poisoning our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes towards others. If we can’t put an end to the violence within us, there is no hope for putting an end to the violence without. In order to understand how to improve our peace, we first must understand how and why we have turned toward war.”
From Peace to War
At this juncture in the book we learn what lies beneath. In other words we learn that we have deep seated character traits that rise to the surface when the normalcy and reality of life surrounds us. We may think we have the tools ready to use, but those things that have scorched us in the past and ignited conflict are still there.
The Beginning of an Idea
Up to this point we’ve learned about seeing people as people or seeing them as objects. The truth is we move in and out of these two experiences in varying degrees. The heart at war sees people like objects and therefore don’t feel the obligation to understand them or warm up to them. We are never forced to despise, to rage, to denigrate, or to belittle others, but we choose that when we have a warring heart.
By the time I got to this chapter I was intrigued. Well, more intrigued than before. Through the storyline, we come to understand that we often don’t do those things we know we should do. This is self-betrayal and when we choose to betray ourselves, we choose to have a warring heart. It all starts with how we view ourselves, how we feel, how we view others and how we view the world. Once you read the stories told through the book this all makes sense and provokes a sense of understanding of how our responses are generated and the impact they have.
A Need for War
We often feel justified in our negativity and hateful feelings for others who have mistreated us. Yusuf explains the seeds of war but then offers this. “The outward wars around us start because an inward war goes unnoticed: someone starts seeing others as objects, and others use that as justification for doing the same. This is the germination of war.”
Germs of Warfare
Signs of justification include blaming, exaggerating the importance of things we think will justify us, amplifying offenses, and playing the victim. We feel superior and that we deserve or are entitled so we lose our spirit of benevolence or desire to help those who need our help instead of our disdain.
More Germ Warfare
Expanding on the germs of warfare, the story continues with character traits of prideful individuals who think they are better than everyone else. These superior individuals see themselves as important, virtuous, right, impatient, disdainful, indifferent, and everyone else is inferior, incapable, wrong, and beneath them. Superior people are angry people with a heart at war. By identifying these offenses we are able to turn them around and overcome the drivers away from war and toward a heart of peace.
From War to Peace
Recognizing wrongs and admitting them to everyone who has been the subject of those wrongs is a good first step to finding a path to peace.
A Gift in Wartime
Avi, in his youth, had attempted suicide two times because he was so full of hate. He came to a heart of peace through the experience of 45 days in a survival program lead by Yusuf al-Falah. This was his gift of life that changed his heart of war to a heart of peace.
It’s at this point in the book that the lessons learned start to crystallize, start to come together and solidify. Realizations, putting pieces of life events together, confession, and experiencing the humbleness of reconciliation lead into the final chapters of the book. By now, I understand why I was told this book is life changing. It’s a documentary on real life and how choices really are at the fulcrum of our existence. Will we choose a path to war or alter what’s in our hearts and choose peace?
Encapsulated are four parts to recovering inner clarity and peace. In essence these four parts are 1) recognizing a heart at war (blame, justification, superiority, etc); 2) finding a place to start overcoming those destructive feelings; 3) thinking, pondering, working to change, reacting appropriately, supporting people; 4) acting on what you know in your heart you need to do
A Strategy of Peace
As in all things we need to change, there has to be a plan, a strategy, and a conscious act to make the change.
This is where I end this book review. There is so much that can be learned from the entire book that’s obscured in a book review. But I was so impressed with the Influence Pyramid which is designed to help things go right, I hope I can share it adequately enough to impel you to read the book for yourself.
At the lowest level of the pyramid is the fact that we have to get out of our box and obtain a heart of peace. Next level up is building relationships with others who have influence. Then keep building the relationships. Upward from that level is Listen & Learn, followed by Teach & Communicate, and finally Correct.
In life at home and life at work, we can never accomplish anything conciliatory if we get the pyramid mixed up. For instance, at the top of the pyramid is “Correct” while in the lower portion is “Relationship”. We can’t Correct anything peaceably if we don’t have a strong Relationship.
In these trying times, seemingly fraught with conflict waiting almost in ambush, this book is a field guide to understanding the playing field and fostering a heart for peace because that’s the foundation for living peaceably.