Peace in a world of self

We all have conflict going on somewhere, somehow in our lives. And we identify ourselves with groups, communities, political parties, peoples or nations that also have it going on.

Conflict is everywhere and is surely a candidate to be the third of life’s proverbial certainties alongside death and taxes.

Ken Sande has dedicated nearly 30 years of his life to addressing conflict through his Peacemaker Ministries organisation, which trains people to become peacemakers and Christian conciliators, equipped with biblical principles to help bring conflicted people together.

It also provides conciliation services – including mediation and arbitration – for individuals, groups, communities and organisations. The organisation has 28 full-time staff and 50 trainers.

Before forming Peacemaker Ministries in the 1980s, Sande had experienced a working environment most of us can relate to: people competing to get priority for their projects, personal offences being freely given and taken, office gossip, jealousy about promotions and pay rises and so on.

Sande came to believe that this normal, adversarial way of operating fails to resolve issues in almost any area of human interaction; personal, professional, or even legal.

As he grew in this awareness his desire to spend a lifetime in Christian ministry began to find its focus.

That’s when he decided to start the Peacemaker Ministries organisation.

To the more hard-bitten it may sound a little naïve to talk of the failure of the adversarial system, but Sandes has lots of examples to back up his assertion.

For example, his father was a district court trial judge for 25 years and he saw that when one party emerged victorious after typically months of legal conflict, more often than not they said they wished they had never gone to court.

Legal battles played out in court are an excruciating process, Sande said.

At this point in our conversation I couldn’t help thinking he was over-simplifying and advocating an approach that would lead to getting trampled over.

After all, in cases of professional negligence, particularly in the medical world, surely the opportunity for victims to sue ensures hospitals are as rigorous and effective as they can be? Wouldn’t you be letting hospitals off the hook if they knew they would not get sued?

Apparently not.

When there is litigation, hospitals are reluctant to fix things because it is seen and used against them as an admission of guilt, besides which any lessons learned tend to be lost by the end of a legal process that often takes three to four years.

Similarly the person who made the original mistake is highly unlikely to express any sorrow or engage with the victim, which just increases the bitterness, resentment and anger felt by the injured party.

However, Sande said studies have shown that when hospitals quickly reach out to make restitution to the victim and plan and provide for helping people back to health after the mistake, the patients actually heal more quickly and hospitals learn better how they can improve their care.

Sande has seen those same principles of honesty and accountability hold true in business. He gives the example of a real estate developer who watched his peers hunker down and lawyer up when the recession hit, ready to defend themselves against the litigation they knew was coming as they found themselves unable to deliver on projects.

This developer took a different path, proactively approaching his clients and creditors about his problems and challenges, including where he was going to fall short of his contractual obligations and worked with them to get back to where he needed to be. None of them sued and his business is alive and well today.

Much of the problem, Sande has found, lies with a peculiarly male version of pride:

“There are a lot of men who just have a hard time admitting that they can’t deliver on a project; that they don’t have the money to follow through. And so they’ll keep up a façade that they can still deliver on things when in fact they can’t. And they’ll keep living out that façade for weeks and months until something just goes over a cliff.”

Part of the challenge, in Sande’s view, is the relativism in our society, where he sees ideas of independence, autonomy and the entitlement to good material things being promoted at the expense of serving God and others.

Hence, what you typically see in efforts to make peace between parties is not honesty, accountability and a concern for others, but a focus on trying to ensure that everyone can get as much of what they want as possible.

Sande’s focus on God begs the question how his approach can be effective with people who don’t share his religious convictions. Sande responds,“Gravity applies to everybody regardless of their faith. Apologies and forgiveness affect everybody in very similar ways regardless of their faith.”

It is not difficult to see how the same principles can apply as much in personal as professional situation.

Does Sande practise what he preaches in his own home life? Sande laughingly replies, “God gives me lots of homework with my wife and two children.”