It is not the absence of violence but restoring right relationships that brings about an end to a specific conflict.
Forty years ago, I engaged in dialogues addressing the violence that was being perpetrated around me and my family in Belfast in Northern Ireland.
I had no training or knowledge of Restorative Practice, but I felt that there must be a better way to address our situation.
Quakers held a series of sensitive dialogues within the community, that gave me an opportunity for my voice to be heard.
I soon learned that listening at these meetings was more important than speaking.
This was my key to gaining an understanding of others and their political thinking. I was learning to look beyond behaviours and attitudes to see the person, not condemn them, or feel superior in some way, but still be able to challenge the use of violence.
As a parent, foster parent, and a children’s worker I observed that children who witnessed heavy handed security actions, such as the damaging of their homes during searches; witnessing punishment beatings by armed groups; or, unfortunately, those who had seen a family member murdered, suffered deep traumatisation. The children living with me would waken with night terrors and would bed wet. They had a tendency to be hyper-vigilant.
These children needed friends, these children needed Listeners.
Children within our family came from across the political and religious divide. They talked about their culture and faith. They shared openly, disagreeing at times whilst not losing their relationships. At home we encouraged communication. Every child had one to one time with me, a special space where we used their favourite activity enabling them to share feelings and concerns. An example was when my natural 6-year daughter used her time to demand a social worker. She felt foster children got more pocket money and it was unfair “I know Mum you are big, but everyone makes mistakes, I still love you”.
Years later I was trained by the Mennonites in mediation and restorative practices. Totally surprised, I thought this is how my children and Quakers dealt with differences. I learned the art of deep listening from the children and how to ask difficult questions.
Quakers taught me the importance of quiet, sensitive back channelling work.
I am privileged to share and use these lessons in building peace in Northern Ireland, Bosnia Herzegovina, Cyprus, Middle East, Africa, South America, and Asia.
Ending violence is a step towards peace.
The difficult part of the journey is restoring the relationships within societies. Restorative practice, with its emphasis on listening, building understanding and recognising each other’s humanity, may not be the only tool for peace building, but it certainly is one that if used effectively can make the peace sustainable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Montague has 40 years’ experience peace building in Northern Ireland and Internationally. She has delivered Mediative & Restorative work supporting the transition of armed groups and societies towards peace. As European Representative for Mediators Beyond Borders she trains and mentors Women Peacebuilders across the world.
Book: “The Moral Imagination” The Art and Soul of Building Peace
John Paul Lederach.. ISBN 0-19-517454-2.
PETA BLOOD 5 Apr 2021 15:54
Many thanks for sharing your personal account of how you came to this work Mary. I think listening is one of the most underrated skills in conflict resolution and peace building. Being able to suspend our judgement, listen for the other and to see the unique person we are interacting with. Not always easy!
MARG THORSBORNE 5 Apr 2021 16:09
Thanks Mary. The listening piece is so important for all of us, all the time. I am reminded of a quote I read when I was looking for something in particular – one of Stephen Covey’s – listening to understand, not listening to reply. One of the hardest bits of facilitation is creating the space for people to relax enough so that they can truly listen, and put their own assumptions and “truth” to one side….
How wonderful to have used your skills and influence to bring these skills to so many.
CHRIS STRAKER 6 Apr 2021 16:16
Having been privileged to talk to you over several coffees I know this blog is just the tip of the iceberg of the work you and others did in theTroubles, and continue to do in the present. The Lederarch book is inspirational and will take my thinking even further.
LINDA JANE SAYERS 8 Apr 2021 00:51
The power of gentle silence is so important in helping people to say more about what happened. It is great to see someone from “my own neck of the woods” here contributing to the international discussion. Over 20 years ago, working in child protection and adoption and fostering I remember working with a foster couple I would have loved to have cloned. They used to have family meetings and what they called “just me” time. They did a form of restorative work not because they were trained but simply because they understood the art of uninterrupted story telling. I learned a lot from them and look forward to learning more here too.
CLARE NOCKA 22 Apr 2021 04:55
The art of clearness committees, also from within the Quaker tradition, use deep listening to support the finding of inner wisdom. Listening is the cornerstone of building empathy and connection. Good to have this reminder of its role in peace building and healing. I love the story about your six year old!