I have been remiss and haven’t been posting new updates or case studies to the MOU site lately, but there is a good reason! I have been awarded a Rotary Peace Fellowship and have been immersed in peace and conflict resolution classes (in Bangkok, Thailand) since mid-January. The program lasts until early April. Besides learning a lot, I am making some new connections and I hope this will lead me to finding some great new case studies to put on the site. The Rotary Foundation really wants to promote this program for mid-career professionals. Click on the link above to find out more, and pass the word around!
Quite a few of my friends want to see “stories of transformation” on this site and I would love to feature more of those. I think this will happen in time, but it is sometimes difficult to unearth these stories from the grassroots. Most of my information at the beginning of this venture is still coming from international non-governmental organizations. Sadly, I am not in a position to make trips all over the world myself to collect these stories—wouldn’t that be nice?! I rely on the Internet and Skype calls to do most of my research, but am aware that so many people are still without such access. As part of the models featured on the site, I’d love input on getting more of those critical “heartfelt” stories! Do you have experience with the models featured to date in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, the Philippines, or the DRC? Add them to this blog!
I had interviewed Maurice Healy for the just-posted story on “Building Trust on Irish Borders.” Maurice spoke about a lot of the historical grievances and pain that still affect people in many communities there. “People talk about things that happened 200 years and they are still aggrieved,” said Maurice. These feelings move across generations and the young people too will bring up sectarian divides—even though, on the surface, they just seem to care about their I-pods. Religious differences, he added, are part of everyone’s DNA. Having heard this input, I wondered if the project featured in Newtowncunningham could really be called a “Model of Unity.” But, this site is not about “perfection.” Small steps matter and people have crossed divides to better the village as a whole.
Eight years ago in Newtowncunningham, for example, no one would even use the halls of other groups, but now that is more common. The Gaelic Athletic Association, once known for its nationalist loyalties, has opened its doors to larger membership—including British security forces. And, contingents of youth have had enough positive experiences with cross-community activities and peers that they are getting adults to cross the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland borders for the first time. Erenrefvenan The case study shows that this bridge-building work is not easy, but it has to start somewhere. “Unless someone starts things moving” noted a Community Foundation for Northern Ireland report, “these communities will remain excluded and become further alienated at considerable social and economic costs to themselves and to Northern Ireland.”
Do you have experience in Northern Ireland? If you do (or even if you don’t), share your thoughts!
I came across a fun story recently in the Christian Science Monitor about a community in Second Life called Al-Andalus. This virtual community has historical links to the real nation of Al-Andalus—where coexistence between Christians, Muslims, and Jews created a vibrant scientific and intellectual community in the Iberian Peninsula from roughly the 8th to 12th centuries.
Like its historical counterpart, the virtual community in Second Life is “forging new relationships across the chasms of nationality, religion, and language.” See: http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2010/0910/A-virtual-world-that-breaks-real-barriers The article prompted me to go to the library and do some of my own research. While Al-Andalus was a model of collaboration in many ways, others point out that Jews and Christians still had to pay a special tax and there were a variety of other conflicts in Spain at that time (including within Muslim and Christian communities themselves). It wasn’t perfect, but I don’t think that takes away from what we can learn from that time and the efforts being made in our own time to bridge divides in virtual space!
Here’s my first blog! My goal is to post every 2-3 weeks. Hope you’ll join in the dialogue …
I heard recently from a woman (Cynthia) who raised some questions about the goals of the Models of Unity site. Overall, the site is about what is working to bring people together across divides so it is primarily positive. Cynthia admitted that, for the purposes of “motivation and hope,” it was a great goal to “talk about what works” and she encouraged this effort. She added, however, that, if the “purpose was to understand how to improve what we do, using only what works is not as useful as using what works and what doesn’t together.” While the main objective of the site is to offer hopeful stories in a disillusioned world, I also want it to be a learning portal so it’s important to know about the challenges that various projects have faced. Thus, in the models featured, you will find “lessons learned.” Granted, I’m well aware that what works in one country may not in another, but it’s helpful to see what has been successful and what has been difficult. You’ll see these reflections, and a new “challenges” section, offered in the case study just posted on Good Water Neighbors.
If you have thoughts about the balance between reporting the positives and negatives, please share them! This discussion reminds me of the debate over “appreciate inquiry,” an organizational development model that primarily gets groups to focus on what works in an organization, but critics say this is wearing “rose colored glasses.” Then again, when it comes to conflict resolution, I think too much attention has gone to the problems vs. what actually works to bring communities together so this website is an attempt to build in some of that balance. As my friends all know, I am no “Pollyanna,” but, with negativity just seeping across the Internet, seems like there is a need for refocus.
What do you think? Click the “Comment” button at right to share your thoughts!