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The Practice of Peace (2nd Edition)

by Harrison Owen

Notes by the Author

And Details of Purchase

 

It was never my intention to get into the "Peace Business."  Nor was it my intention to write another book. But in the course of my life my intentions are often overlooked, and happenstance rules. So much for a life plan. And now, the book - The Practice of Peace - is available in a 2nd edition.

Happenstance, in this case was a fortuitous journey to The Middle East several years ago.  I went to that troubled part of the world lacking any clear understanding of what I might usefully contribute. To say that I was confused would be gross understatement. But confusion, as I have learned, is often (always?) an essential precondition to deeper insight. Confusion rids the mind of all you thought you knew, and thereby opens some space for new ideas. The new ideas, in my case, were perhaps closer to a blinding flash of the obvious. Twenty years' experience with Open Space Technology in over 40,000 iterations in 83 countries had demonstrated to myself and thousands of colleagues, that every time space was opened, a most remarkable and unexpected result occurred. I called it Genuine Community, the sort where differences (of opinion, ethnicity, economics, politics etc.) were if anything amplified AND those involved found it possible to treat each other with respect, often coming close to real affection. It seemed to me that another word for this phenomenon is Peace. Further more, the deeper the original conflicts, the more intense was the sense of community.

Why all this should be happening and what might be done with it remained hidden in my cloud of confusion. Hence the book, which began life as a set of confused notes to myself in search of clarity and understanding. Anybody who says that they write a book does not fully understand the process, I think. And certainly in my case, the book wrote me. As those of you who have shared in this little odyssey will know, confused notes eventually yielded to some form of connected text, which in turn was shared with some 180 colleagues for their critique. And critique in full measure was given and gratefully received - yielding a book which was published collaboratively by the several Open Space Institutes around the world with the title, The Practice of Peace. In the intervening period since publication, there have been multiple workshops and conferences around the world, each contributing to a deeper understanding of Open Space and the possibilities of Peace. Now, I am pleased to announce that a 2nd Edition has been published by The Human Systems Dynamics Institute.

In substance, the 2nd Edition is not radically different from the 1st, but countless hours of concerned conversation with colleagues and friends around the world have tightened the focus, enhanced the flow, and brought to mind a number of facets that had been neglected in the first attempt. In short it is a much better book.

As an author, I have always found it difficult, not to say embarrassing, to recommend my own books. However, in the case of this book, The Practice of Peace 2nd Edition, I have no such qualms. This is not theory in search of a practice, but just the reverse. The practice required the theory simply because the practice works. Every time Space opens, Peace seems to break out. And the application is not only in the global arena of conflicted people, but also in the multiple arenas of human life were Peace appears in jeopardy, including families, community organizations, and businesses.

Such qualms as I may have about apparent self-serving advertising are also mitigated by the fact that even though my name appears on the book (and I take full responsibility for all errors of omission and commission), this book is in truth a communal production. Literally thousands of people all over the world have contributed great thoughts and ideas. So this is not so much an advertisement for my book, but  our book.

Harrison

 *************************************

To receive a copy for yourself, or to pass along to a friend, you may contact the good folks at the Institute --   www.hsdinstitute.org/dept_press.asp. Also the several Open Space Institutes can provide copies. See Below. Last, but not least, I believe that www.amazon.com will be carrying this book as they have also carried my others.

Germany / Michael M Pannwitz mmpanne@boscop.de

United States / Peggy Holman <sales@openspaceworld.org>

Canada / Larry Peterson <larry@spiritedorg.com >

Australia / Brian Bainbridge <briansb@mira.net>

Sweden / Thomas Herrmann <thomas@openspaceconsulting.com>

Denmark, Netherlands / Gerard Muller <gm@openspace.dk>

Haiti / John Engle <englejohn@hotmail.com>

Taiwan / Gail West <icataiw@ms69.hinet.net>

Israel / Tova Averbuch <averbuch@post.tau.ac.il>

Austria / Eric Kolenaty <e.kolenaty@transformation.at>

And for a brief sample of the book ... Read on!


Chapter I

Peace, and The Practice of Peace

 

Peace. It is a wonderful word in just about any language. And strangely, it seems to be most commonly used in that part of the world where there is no Peace, by whatever definition. In the Middle East, virtually all parties greet each other with "Peace." Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic. At time of meeting and again at departure, both Jew and Muslim invoke Peace. And they are not alone in the practice. Christians know The Kiss of Peace, and politicians run on Platforms of Peace. And people everywhere have gone to war in search of Peace.

Obviously the word, and what it connotes, has great importance in our lives, but its meaning, at least in common usage, is more than a little elusive. It is possible to understand the universal Semitic practice as more in the nature of a hope or prayer than a confirmation of present reality, but the meaning of the word remains a will-of-the-wisp. Like the word Love, the meaning of which stretches all the way from raw fornication up to and including "the essence of divinity," so also Peace seems patient of a multitude of interpretations.

For many of us Peace is defined by the absence of its opposites, such as chaos, confusion and conflict. Absent any, or all, of these and we have Peace, and the way to Peace would obviously be the elimination of this unholy trinity. But what sort of Peace would we have? Unfortunately, I think the answer would be, pretty boring and quite dead. Peace under these terms would amount to some static, frozen, idealized state. In the hot moments of living, we might look at such a state with envy, but as a long term reality, we may just have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In the name of preserving life, we have removed precisely the elements that make life possible.

The temptation to desire a life devoid of chaos, confusion and conflict is quite understandable, if only because all three produce circumstances that are decidedly uncomfortable. Given any reasonable choice, who would want such a life? Unfortunately, I suspect all three come with the territory, and are not to be considered under the heading of unnecessary nuisances. For the truth of the matter is that chaos, confusion and conflict are integral to the process of living, and each brings its own special gifts, without which life, in the fullest sense of the word, is scarcely worth living. Heresy, I am sure, but let us look more closely, starting with the "biggie" – Chaos.

Chaos

From ancient times to the modern day, Chaos has definitely been "off the list" in polite society. And for good reason, Chaos makes a mess. Chaos comes in an infinite variety of sizes and packages, but all share a common trait. They do violence to the established order. Rather like a skunk at a garden party, or a bull in a china shop – when chaos raises its head, the old order stands in jeopardy, or worse.

Human beings, as indeed most of the critters in nature, become very attached to that old order, which provides the shape and structure of our lives, gives us meaning, and allows for the orderly planning of our futures. Should the agent of chaos be a rampaging river, our response is to raise the levies and protect our towns. Change "river" to "volcano" and the response is rather the same, but usually much less effective, for molten lava usually runs its own way. Contemporary corporations are no less adverse to the appearance of chaos, and when one implodes due to competitive pressures, change in consumer interests, or because of internal corruption and greed, the response is not unlike ants when their hills are under attack. At first they scatter and run, but soon they may be found attacking the invaders and rebuilding the ruins.

No news here. Chaos is not a welcome guest, now or ever. But it may be important to notice two components of the chaos laden situation for human beings: outrage and control. Indeed these two go together, for the basis of the outrage is often the loss of control. Somewhere along the line we humanoids developed the notion that we are supposed to be in charge, and when things go contrary to our expectations, we are not pleased. I grant that this idea seems to have some validity, if only because our dominant position is carefully written into some of our oldest and most revered sacred texts. For example, in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament (for Christians) or Torah (for Jews), it is specified by God, no less, that Mankind shall have dominion over the earth and all her creatures. Definitely in charge, or so it might seem.

I leave the detailed exegesis of this text to the experts, but I would point out that this idea of being in charge has its limitations, not the least of which is that it never quite seems to happen. Despite our best efforts, some river rampages, some volcano explodes, our business goes kaput, and the ants invade our picnic. If we are supposed to be in charge, something is definitely wrong.

Part of what’s "wrong," I think, is our inability to comprehend the enormous complexity of the cosmos in which we reside, albeit in a very small and insignificant corner. Being in control, or in charge, requires that you have some idea of what’s actually happening, "get a number on it," so to speak. True we are gaining some knowledge, and perhaps even have a general idea of the forces at work and the elements at play. But it seems that more we know the more we discover our ignorance, and when it comes to turning knowledge into power, we are definitely playing catch-up ball. After all we can’t even accurately predict the weather on this silly little piece of solar driftwood we call home – let alone control it. But someday. . .

And then we come to the matter of outrage. Somehow it seems that the universe is not treating us correctly. When a river takes out a town, a hurricane batters the East Coast of the United States, a typhoon swamps a Pacific isle – or our business goes bump, something inside us demands that the Ruler of the Universe take counsel with us, for clearly there has to be a better way.

But it could be that the way chosen has not done at all badly. After all, with the passage of typhoons and hurricanes rock crumbles into fine sand – without which it would not be possible to have a nice day at the beach. And the passage of our favorite business typically opens up space in the competitive environment for new business and new ideas. Painful for us to be sure, but not all that bad for the consumer and the world at large. There seems to be a rhythm here. You have to plow before you can sow and reap. Breathe out before breathing in.

Chaos appears in multiple forms. It is always painful if you happen to be caught in the path, but for all that pain there appears to be a purpose – opening space in the old order so that the new may appear. It might just be that this life we hold so dear is less about the established forms, and existing order, than the journey itself. In which case the chaos we experience is by no means just a painful incidental, but rather an essential component, for the journey would clearly cease without open space in which to move forward. And when it comes to our notion of Peace, I would suggest that Peace without chaos would be no Peace at all.

Confusion

Confusion is the intellectual equivalent of chaos. Just when you thought you had it all figured out, the path straight, the map set, suddenly the world changed, and somehow it did not match what you were planning on. Surprise, and definitely not a nice one, particularly for those of us who take pride in our rational capacities, our ability to look the future dead in the eye and come up with a winner.

Plan makers everywhere fall prey. The general whose carefully crafted battle plan gets lost in the mists of war. The CEO, whose business Plan looked great on paper and in all the Power Point presentations, suddenly discovers that the yen has fallen through the basement and "The Plan" was directed towards the Japanese market. And the dissolution of nice plans is not an experience limited only to business folks and generals. Lovers have the same dilemma. That great life plan which included graduate school, building the business reputation, creating a little capitol for investment – all go out the window when "she" appears and whisks you off to Bali. In all cases, it’s confusion.

The consequences of confusion can be real and painful, but the major pain, I think, is to the ego. We really thought we had it pegged – but we didn’t. Our problem, it turns out, is that we had forgotten Korzybski’s famous dictum, "The map is not the territory." To be sure, maps are useful, but never to be confused with the land they depict, even as menus are not the meal, nor is the book the experience.

The cloud of confusion, however, holds a silver lining. For as the faulty maps of our of our fertile minds are dissolved in the acids of experience (life), we find the page wiped clean so that we can begin again. If we are wise, we will remember the lessons of our confusion, even as the good general recognizes that The battle plan goes out the window when the first bullet is fired, but the activity of planning is still a valid one. Its validity, however does not come from the plan’s capacity to create the future, for the future almost inevitably has a mind of its own. But the plan is a great place to start, and a wonderful checklist of things to notice along the way.

In a word, confusion clears the mind of all we thought we knew, or suspected, so that we can truly appreciate what actually transpires. Without confusion we would be condemned to live in a world of old maps and outdated plans which quickly become dogmatic pronouncements. And the dead weight of dogma is something a vital mind can live without. If wisdom begins with an acknowledgment of our limitations, confusion may be an essential first step.

Conflict

If ever there was a true opposite of Peace, conflict would appear the natural culprit. Even Conflict, however, has its positive side. The presence of conflict in the human community means quite simply that people care. Show me any organization or situation where there is no conflict, and I will show you one where nobody cares. And without caring, some real passion, the long term vitality of that organization is in jeopardy. Conflict only becomes a problem when people run out of space.

The appearance of conflict in our lives indicates the hot points of growth. In the realm of ideas, philosophies and paradigms, to which might also be added social systems and technologies, conflict not only indicates the points of growth, but is also essential for the growth process.

Thomas Kuhn, in his seminal work, The Structures of Scientific Revolutions, describes the progress of science in terms that many at the time, and still, find quite uncomfortable. In the place of the nice, neat, linear, rational rolling out of scientific discovery described in many high school and college classrooms, he relates a tale filled with explosive jumps and massive conflicts which not only characterize the process, but are seemingly essential to its progress. As paradigm succeeds paradigm the process is characterized by discomfort at the beginning (things just don’t seem to fit anymore, and confusion abounds) and culminating, more often than not, in massive confrontation, as an older view of the established order gives way to a newer, and usually more adequate, one. Along the way, the presence of conflict gives rise to a clarification of vision as differences are perceived, formulations rationalized, and new data considered. At the end, a new paradigm emerges, a new map of our world. And then the process begins again, for it remains true that the map is not the territory.

The world of scientific inquiry may seem abstract, and far removed, from the everyday world of our common experience, particularly as we witness the bloody consequence of conflict in the hot spots of The Middle East and elsewhere. But it is probably worthwhile noting that even in the temple of science things can become very heated, and sometimes result in disastrous consequences, as Galileo discovered in his struggles to articulate his new map of the cosmos. It would be very nice, of course, if such disastrous consequences could be avoided, but not through the elimination of conflict through which ideas are sharpened and clear positions formed – until the next time. It turns out that physicists and astronomers are passionate too. They care deeply about what they do. Absent the passion, and we would probably still be living on a flat earth. When two passions collide there you have conflict, but you also have the intellectual heat and desire that transmutes half formed ideas, clouded in confusion, into blinding new insights. The problem, I suggest, is not the conflict, but rather that there is insufficient space to work things out. Destructive conflict occurs when you run out of room – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. And the answer would seem to be – open more space.

The applicability of Kuhn’s insights to the broader world of human affairs is amply demonstrated by the rapidity with which his notion of paradigm and paradigm shift have found a place in the thinking and vocabularies of those in business, government, non-profits, and the whole broad range of human institutions. As a testimony to the pervasive impact of his thinking it appears that many folks have forgotten (if they ever knew) that it was Thomas Kuhn who started the whole thing rolling. No discussion of organizational change seems to move very far without the magic word paradigm putting in an appearance. It is interesting to notice, however what is typically not a part of such discussions: conflict and its potential consequences.

As Kuhn’s thinking has moved into the public domain, it has seemingly become domesticated and sanitized. Shifting paradigms becomes a matter of rational choice, or executive dictate – as in "We will have new paradigm thinking." Or, "Our business will operate according to the new paradigm." Doubtless there are elements of rational choice and decision making in the shifting of paradigms, but that, I think, is just the tip of the iceberg. In truth, people care deeply, and have great passion for their old paradigm. No matter how attractive a new paradigm may sound, at the end of the day, it is not me. The passage from old to new will only be negotiated with chaos, confusion and conflict. It all comes with the territory, no matter how many consultants offer Programs for Painless Paradigm Progress. And there is even a more bitter pill to swallow. There is an end to the old paradigm. It dies. In rather dry tones, Kuhn says as much.

 

"But if new theories are called forth to resolve anomalies in the relation of an existing theory to nature, then the successful new theory must somewhere permit predictions that are different from those derived from its predecessor. That difference could not occur if the two were logically compatible. In the process of being assimilated, the second must displace the first. (Italics mine)"

 

The ending of anything, be it a theory, a paradigm, a way of life, or life itself does not take place without trauma, and even on a good day, trauma is not something that most people look forward to. And yet the old dictum holds its truth: In life only death and taxes are inevitable. Actually, taxes may be avoided, which leaves death as the inevitability of life.

Not wishing to dwell on the macabre note of ending and death, I think it important to point out that even as chaos, confusion, and conflict must have a place in our understanding of Peace which may be painful, but also positively contributory, so also ending and death. Peace on earth which does not include, and also transcend, all of these apparent negatives is bound to be a very shaky Peace. And a Practice of Peace which does not effectively deal with these realities is, at best, naive.

 

Peace

How shall we understand Peace in ways that allow the inclusion and transcendence of the harsher realities of our lives? Peace without chaos, confusion and conflict is no Peace, not because we would not prefer it that way, but because each member of this unholy trinity makes a positive contribution to the process of living. Equally, Peace without ending and death is productive of an idealized, static life, stuck in its ways – precluding the possibility of any sort of evolution.

Had the Ruler of the Universe taken our council at the start, perhaps we could have suggested a better way. Indeed it seems that He or She almost had it right in those halcyon days of The Garden of Eden (or whatever primal/primitive vision of our initial utopia). But then something happened. Some folks will see the departure from that happy place as the beginning of the end, and the source of all our problems. Personally, I see it as the end of the beginning, the starting place of the incredible human journey. In a word, we were kicked out of the nest and forced to fly. Like young eagles, we have been screaming ever since, and for sure our initial wing beats were frantic, verging on comical. But we have learned. Not without a multitude of rough landings, ill advised take-offs – to say nothing of more than a few "crash and burns," but we now know something of the joys of flight. For those who desire a return to that idyllic state, I say lots of luck. And when the going genuinely gets tough in this thing we call life, I can certainly see their point. But at the end of the day, and indeed on most days, I choose to celebrate the rich heritage of Homo sapiens, crash landings and all. The flight of the human spirit is, for me, truly awesome. But you do have to leave the nest, and that departure has its consequences.

As for Peace – I like the metaphor of flying – all of flying, including first flights, last flights, and bumps along the way. Peace then is a process, not a thing, a journey and not a destination. It is flow and not a state. Peace is the dynamic interrelationship of complex forces productive of wholeness, health and harmony. The Practice of Peace is the intentional creation of the requisite conditions under which Peace may occur. Peace, as far as I am concerned, is infinitely more than the cessation of hostilities, which often takes the form of bombing the offending parties into submission until they can no longer fight back, or each other. And Peacemaking neither starts nor ends at the negotiating table, for the objective is not just a set of treaty terms acceptable to all parties, but rather the renewal of meaningful and productive life for the planet, the nation, businesses, social institutions, the family, and each one of us.

Please do not expect a radical, new approach. In fact, I believe each and every one of us already has both the knowledge and skills necessary, and the fundamental mechanism is essentially "hardwired" into our being. We have only to remember what we know, and practice what we are. I concede that the apparent simplicity of these affirmations verges on the naive. It may also be true that a blinding flash of the obvious may be good for the soul.

The core mechanism referred to above is the phenomenon of self-organization, and the core practice is what we now call Open Space Technology. I will suggest that self-organization drives towards Peace and, when freely operative, is generative of the dynamic interrelationship of complex forces productive of wholeness, health and harmony. Open Space Technology (OST) is an extraordinarily simple approach which enables groups of people, large and small, to engage complex, chaotic, confusing and conflicted issues in a Peaceful fashion. Further descriptions of the approach, and its various applications are presented in the following material (see especially page 51ff), and for a complete account, please consult my book, Open Space Technology.

First utilized in 1985, Open Space Technology has now been applied thousands of times, all over the world, with virtually every imaginable sort of group. It’s effectiveness as a tool for meetings is a matter of record, but many continue to find it strange, if not shocking. The reason is not hard to ascertain, for Open Space apparently violates essentially all theory and practice of group organization. The notion that large groups of conflicted people could virtually instantaneously organize their affairs and pursue their tasks without elaborate pre-planning and a host of facilitators flies in the face of what appears to be the accepted wisdom. And yet the global experience demonstrates that every time a group of people gather of their own free will, around an issue of strong common concern, the experience is repeated – provided they sit in a circle, create a bulletin board on which to identify issues, open a market place to arrange time and place particulars – and they are on their way, typically in something more than an hour. From the point of view of what I might call "standard" theory and practice, what happens not only should not happen, but could not happen. But it does. However, when viewed from what we are now learning about the power and function of self-organizing systems, the unbelievable becomes the predictable.

In truth, I find the Open Space experience much more interesting as an ongoing natural experiment in which we can both experience the reality of self-organization and learn to support and enhance that experience. The phenomenon of self organization is a relatively recent discovery, and not an altogether comfortable one for those who have understood that order in our lives can only be the product of humongous effort. Recently, we have been learning that, given certain very simple preconditions, order just happens. We will be taking a look at some of these new learnings in Chapter IV.

From where I sit, Open Space does not contribute anything new, but rather helps us to see what is already quite functional in our midst as a naturally occurring phenomenon. But just because it occurs naturally does not mean that we can’t learn to use it, and learn to use it well, even as the natural occurrence of gravity can be used to our advantage. To the extent that self-organization in general, and Open Space Technology in particular, is productive of Peace, this is an experiment we must run. I hope that you will take everything I have to say as a testable hypothesis, which of course is a critical part of any experiment. Don’t believe a thing, and certainly not on my say so. Do it – and if the experimental results are replicated, do it again and do it better. It could just be that Peace will break out.

Two Stories to Set the Stage

In the early ‘90s, I happened to be in South Africa a few weeks after Nelson Mandela was released from prison. For the vast majority of the population this release was an occasion for celebration and joy, others were not so sure, and everybody felt the deep anxiety characteristic of the onset of massive social change. With the approaching end of Apartheid, a dark period of the human story was seemingly coming to a close, but how it was going to play out remained a total mystery. Some saw only bloodshed and disaster. Others envisioned the dawning of a new golden age. And somewhere in the middle, reality would set its marker. For all of the uncertainty, one thing was crystalline clear – people needed to talk to each other, quickly and very deeply.

In Capetown, where I happened to be, the situation was nervous, to say the least, made all the more so by virtue of the fact that Mandela’s island prison, lay just off the coast. My hostess, Valerie Morris and her associates managed a hotel, and when they had sensed the moment, they immediately volunteered their facility as the site of potential conversation. Who, what and how remained to be determined.

Their decision was made on a Sunday, and by the following Wednesday a hundred or so people had agreed to show up several days later. And it was quite a group ranging from the mayor of Capetown to young residents from the local township (Black area), with others coming from all over the local society including the ANC and Afrikaners. They all shared a common concern for their country, but most did not know each other, and certainly had had little occasion for intimate conversation up to that present moment.

We met in Open Space. One hundred people sitting in a circle were invited to identify their passions and concerns for the future, announce them on sheets of paper, and take personal responsibility for their discussion. Within 20 minutes from start, multiple issues were posted on the wall, and one hour later discussions were under way. The issues were not the easy ones. Land reform, reparations, education, housing, employment – all made a showing. But the last one posted said it all. A young man from the township said, "I have one issue. Fear. My fear and our fear. And how do we get through it all."

And it started. For 8 hours the discussion groups ebbed and flowed. Sometimes in anger, sometimes in silence, and occasionally with laughter. By the end of the day, we stood silently in a circle, and then shared with each other what the experience had meant. There was anger, fear, hope, despair – and at the end silence, broken by a single voice saying, "I think we are the new South Africa, and we have a lot of work to do."

Final Peace did not arrive that day in Capetown. But in a very powerful sense, Peace was already there. Amidst that chaos, confusion and conflict, there was also a sense of connectedness, and people sang the songs of their homeland in the tongues of their birth. It is noteworthy that the whole enterprise was created in four days. There was one facilitator who spoke only briefly at the beginning, and never intervened in any way with any of the groups. The people did it all by themselves.

A Different Tale – USWEST

From a very different world, and slightly later in time (mid ‘90s) comes this story of USWEST (now known as Quest), an American local phone company which found itself in some degree of difficulty. The sources of its difficulties were multiple, including the fact that a massive "Process Re-engineering" project had failed to take into account a major shift in their market. After several years of effort, costing many millions and involving massive amounts of executive time, the new organizational design was revealed. Unfortunately, there had been an unforeseen event – major earthquakes in California, This caused many nervous Californians to seek alternative habitation, which they did in such places as Washington State, Oregon, and the American Southwest – all of which constituted the service area of USWEST.

The net effect was that projections for customer growth were off by wide margins, and the demand upon the system was almost more than it could tolerate. Installations of new phone lines, even emergency ones, could take as long as six months. Added into the muddle was the fact that a major part of the "re-design" included a substantial reduction of the work force – downsizing, as it was known. The net effect was a most unhappy situation, made even worse in the State of Arizona by the occurrence of a major flood. As most people know, floods are not supposed to happen in the desert, and when they do, the damage can be severe, particularly if you happen to be a phone company.

For the 5000 employees of USWEST in Arizona, "unhappy" was too mild a term. Angry, frustrated, confused would come a lot closer to their reality – to the point that the union let it be known that unless there were some serious conversation with management, prior to the beginning of contract talks, it was their stated intention to "have the company for lunch," as one Union representative explained it to me. The union suggested Open Space as the means.

Barely 6 weeks after the union suggestion, 160 representative of the company, including the full management team and people from all the skills, trades and geographical areas in the company found themselves sitting in a circle at 9 a.m. There had been no warm-up, no training, no agenda building, no caucuses. There was only a focusing issue, stated as "How do we fix Arizona?" And nobody had any question that it was broke. There were obvious questions, however, as to whether anybody could be civil enough, or even wanted to be civil enough, to work together for a resolution. Looking at the surrounding faces, it was apparent that most people could not figure out whether they were attending a funeral for the company or the opening rounds of civil war. Peaceful it was not.

Following a brief 15 minute introduction, the assembled body answered the invitation to identify the issues and opportunities for fixing Arizona with a curious enthusiasm. Within 45 minutes, 60-70 issues had been posted on a large blank wall, people had signed up to participate in the multiple discussions, and it was off to work.

The first day was intense, to say the least. Discussion raged, people came and went, and as one participant said – there was an incredible amount of anger and bitching. But it all held together, and on the second day the same participant said, "I think we are finding solutions for what we were bitching about yesterday."

By the morning of the third day, it was quite a different world. Issues were prioritized, actions identified, and people accepted responsibility for carrying them out. But that was just the business side of things. Perhaps more significant was the atmosphere of the final gathering. One more time 160 people sat in a circle, but this time they were thanking each other for the opportunity to work together, and for the steps that were being taken. A final participant rose to address the group, a large union guy with tears running down his cheeks. He said something like, "As some of you know, I have had some trouble with my family. But I just want you all to know that I have found my family, and it is you."

When a group traverses the treacherous ground from incipient civil war to addressing each other as members of a family, it is clear that a profound shift has taken place. It was also clear that massive amounts of chaos, confusion, and conflict remained to be dealt with, but the assembled folks had demonstrated, most importantly to themselves, that they were up for the task. Indeed, they had already been doing it. And they did it essentially all by themselves.

A Starting Point

It might appear from the two stories told above that Open Space Technology represents the magic bullet for Peace. That would be a profound error. It is only a start. The true power lies with the incredible capacity of self-organizing systems to create Peace for themselves and with their environment. Not all the time, not always perfectly, and not without continuing problems, but Peace, none the less. This power is owned by no one, and is available to everyone. We have only to use it.

Unpacking all of this, and making it quite practical, is our task for the balance of this book. There is little need for yet another theoretical discourse on the nature of Peace, even less for impassioned exhortation. Theory is useful, and the temptation for exhortation understandable, but given the state of our world, practical application is essential. The manifestation of Peace in our personal lives, with our neighbors on this shrinking planet, and with the planet itself, is the first order of business, indeed it may be the only business – unless, of course, we choose to go out of business.