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Peacebuilding as Energy Transfer

The theories of John Paul Lederach have helped usher us in to an era of web thinking. We no longer conceptualize peacebuilding in terms of projects, but in terms of building and strengthening webs. John Paul has said, “Peacebuilding is about infusing energy into the web.” Essentially, peacebuilding is energy transfer.

When I first heard this statement, it struck a deep chord. This is what I had been feeling for years but had struggled to elucidate. It was why other explanations of holding space, accompaniment, facilitation, and capacity building somehow seemed to fall short of my experiences. None of them spoke to the energy transfer I experienced, until: “Peacebuilding is about infusing energy into the web.” It also helped me better articulate how what I do is peacebuilding. I always knew it was, yet at times it has been difficult to define under the more traditional framework of project based thinking. Web thinking helped. “Peacebuilding is about infusing energy into the web” took things to a whole new level.

So how do we do this? First, you have to be connected to the web. Whether you are a full fledged part of it or holding on loosely from the outside, somehow you have to be connected to the web. Peacebuilding needs community and connection and you can’t infuse energy into the web while remaining disconnected. Second, you have to bring energy. As Mary Anderson says, people don’t want or need you to show up tired, down, and dragging. What they can use is someone who brings what they need with good energy. As paraphrased by Irene Santiago, “If you can’t inspire hope, go home!” And that gets me thinking. What is the most important commodity in peace and humanitarian work? Is it money or supplies? Or is it actually human energy? And if it is human energy, how do we ensure the longevity of this renewable resource? Because, while human energy is a renewable resource, it needs some care in order to be renewed. Like batteries, we humans also need to be plugged in to recharge and renew. But how often do we pay attention to our energy levels and when we need to recharge? And when we do notice our own energy stores are low, do we actually act to recharge? When we want to recharge, where do we turn? From where do we replenish our own energy? This is one of the key topics I continue to explore through my work and life. It is a key to resilience and sustainable, meaningful engagement in the peace and related fields. And in some ways it is both crystal clear and enigmatic. If we pay attention, we know when we are tired, and we know what energizes us. Yet how much energy we have for different activities, what drains, and what renews is different for each of us. We each have a unique energy formula that takes a bit of attention and reflection to discover. On top of that, our unique energy formula often changes over time, thus requiring an ongoing journey of discovery and attentiveness. How to keep our batteries charged so we can continue to infuse that energy into webs for peace is the primary focus of the resilience retreats we facilitate around the world every year. And both during those events and beyond, I find myself paying more attention to energy and, more importantly, energy transfer. Now, when I see or feel it, recognition comes and I think, “Ah! Peacebuilding is happening there…” Want to explore more about how to keep your own batteries charged? Join us at our upcoming resilience retreat, 14-18 November, on the beach in Phuket, Thailand. Spoiler alert: nature is a great recharger…

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