An Alternative Conversation Project

The last few weeks have been dominated by the United States political process.  We have watched as individuals launch into scorching tirades about the candidates and their positions. We’ve then been subjected to those who opine about the stupidity of those who launch into scorching tirades — thus, becoming as offensive as the original commentators.

We have witnessed the phenomenon of escalation as people’s hands hover over the “REACT” button — always seeking to be one-up or smarter or cuter or, even, more hateful.

Then there are the multitudes of people, including me, who ask people to be considerate. To some extent, our efforts simply add to the escalation. Others don’t want me telling them how to behave. The “REACT” button gets punched again.

So, why don’t others listen to rationale, well-meaning people like me?

Simple. I don’t really offer them anything positive in return.

What if we did offer something?

I’m convinced that people can talk civilly about issues and interests without attacking each other. The question is, “How is that best done?”

I am collecting ideas on an alternative conversation project — a different way to talk when we have diverse opinions and even beliefs. We trust that this could be a safe forum for sharing interests, explaining positions, and generating possible solutions.

What do you think? What would this look like? How could be be involved?

We want to hear from you. Please send your ideas to I’ll be sharing these ideas on and through the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution at Abilene Christian University.

I Want to Win

As much as I tell myself not to be concerned over who wins or who loses, I am concerned.

I try to show no emotion when I see others speed past me on the freeway, knowing that their intention is to push into my lane and delay my journey. Yet, I can feel my blood boil a bit.

I claim to be no great fan of sports. But I root for those teams I don’t claim publicly yet do secretly support.

The fact is, I want to win. I like to win.

I have friends who like to win, as well. Most handle it with dignity and respect. After all, a good healthy spot of competition can be invigorating and can even strengthen relationships between players and fans.

I worry some about other friends who like to win. Their “liking” to win evolved somewhere into “living” to win. The change of that one little letter is not a subtle change. It’s big.

Mediators see people whose lives have become burdened with the need to win — to prove that they are right, others are wrong, and that the scales of justice always tilt their way. Unfortunately, a steady diet of “I want to win” can be transformed into an “I deserve to win” attitude. When that happens, judgment becomes cloudy. Even when we are wrong and others are right, the quest to tilt the scales of justice in our favor doesn’t lessen.

The desire to win can blind us from reason and rational decisions. Even more disturbing is its ability to mask our emotions to the point that they aren’t recognizable. Self-promotion allows us to justify ourselves and vilify our opponents.

So, am I advocating a complacent, no-win attitude?

Not at all. What I struggle with in my life is not so much the need to win, but the need to be content.

I will have moments of victory where I compete and I win. If I’ve played fairly and if I have a heart of humility, those will be sweet times.

However, there will be other days when I’ve worked hard and yet I see others moving ahead of me. Those are the days I can win again through my contentment. I can be content, even in last place, if I view my life through what I’ve gained instead of what I’ve lost.

Helping others gain this same view is difficult. Peacemakers share the concept most effectively through actions, their own humility, and their willingness to be open to contentment.


Introverts, Peacebuilding, and Progress

Some researchers estimate that more than half of the people in the world are introverts.

I suppose that I’m pleased to be in a global majority in at least one category. Unfortunately, at least in Western societies, we are taught from an early age that extroverts win in everything they do. A great number of us live with some measure of self-disdain because we want to be more like the “popular” people and those who “light up a room” and energize a group.

Most dictionaries distinguish introversion and extroversion inappropriately. The definitions hang on words like “shy” and, in some cases, “socially awkward.” Others use the word “reserved” — a description that more closely taps into introversion.

Introverts appear to be more reserved because of the way they process thoughts and concepts. When they hear an idea, they want to hold it and then roll it over gently in their minds. They want to consider their responses and temper their opinions with good mental process.

That is not to say that extroverts don’t think well or contribute meaningfully to a conversation. Extroverts and introverts simply process thought differently. Of course, the margin for error increases for extroverts simply because they may “think out loud” more than the introverts, thus having those thoughts exposed before they are fully developed. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, introverts often lose the opportunity for comment and interaction. The conversation may flow past them before they are ready to speak.

I’ve had that experience. As a result, I find myself secluded a portion of my day, trying to think ahead about questions or theories or responses so that, when the conversation is in full swing, I can join in at the proper time.

Conversations aren’t all that predictable, though. I often return to my solitude with regret that my voice wasn’t heard.

It’s odd. When I draw a picture of a peacemaker, I color her bold and daring, outspoken, a leader without fear. However, when I encounter a peacemaker, I see her humble and meek. I watch the way others react to her words and actions and I realize, she could be either extrovert or introvert. The peacemaker has simply learned to work within the bounties and the limitations of style. And she has learned to maximize the tools she has in hand.

As we move forward, we need to involve every individual we can in peacemaking. I call to my fellow introverts to develop outlets for your thoughts. I encourage the extroverts to continue to use the vibrant energy they generate from exposure to others to excite and stimulate. At the same time, I plead with all to make room for the “other side.” The discomfort that arises in diversity is a blessing for growth. And growth — real growth — builds peace.


Subscribe to the PeaceBytes newsletter

Stuck on You: Attachment Theory & Resolution – Part 4

He stares across the table at her. Perhaps, glares is a better word.

She keeps her eyes down, watching her finger slowly trace the outside edge of the note pad in front of her. It’s hard to tell at this angle, but her eyes seem a little red at the rims and just a bit moist.

The words that had provoked this moment of silence had been his.

“I don’t understand, after all the time we’ve been together, how she can say she doesn’t trust me now,” he offered. “I mess up once in 25 years. I’m honest about it and I tell her. I ask — no, I beg — for her forgiveness. And, what happens? She has me served with divorce papers.” After a long pause, “I just thought that what we had was stronger than that.”

The mediator listened and watched as the words seemed to melt away. The ticking of the mantel clock was suddenly loud and distracting.

At one level, the husband’s dismay is understandable. If his story is accepted at face value and he and his wife have invested more than a quarter of a century into their relationship, is it right that one event, one admitted mistake, should end it all? How can trust that had been so carefully crafted be destroyed so quickly?

What we are seeing is an example of an attachment injury. A close bond is established over time and one person becomes attached to another. While, in many ways it is a mental and emotional choice, researchers tell us that it also has physiological structure. In the human brain, the amygdalae collect information from multiple sensory paths and actively signal when either safety or danger is present. When a person grows close to another and trust is established, the amygdalae encourage the body to relax and to feel safe. This is known as attachment. Even though the reactions people have with those to whom they have an attachment come quickly, the response is not totally automatic. In addition to the sensory input, the amygdalae also receive messages from the prefrontal cortex that arise from discernment.

When someone acts in an unexpected way, our response process suffers a tremendous jolt. When someone we’ve trusted and attached to suddenly acts differently, even in a sinister way, our brain immediately feels the jolt. Questions circulate constantly. What has happened? Why has this happened? Am I safe?

Those signals of trust and safety emanating from the amygdalae now shift to alarms. Our reaction now is to fear, flee, or perhaps fight. Not surprisingly, those signals are strong and raw and controlling.

For this reason, conflict between two persons who have shared an attachment is often much more severe than between acquaintances or strangers. The shattering of attachment presents a huge obstacle for the relationship and often results in impasse in even the most innocuous transactions. Conflict coupled with an attachment injury require special attention from a mediator.

Drs. Christian Early and Annmarie Early suggest that mediators can help parties overcome impasse from attachment injury by helping them to fashion affect narratives. They recommend that mediators be attentive to a party’s revelation of a shift in affect. In other words, at what moment did her feelings shift toward the other party? By exploring the instant of injury, the mediator may be able to facilitate a conversation to the parties that can help to repair and heal the rupture. This conversation helps develop a new story, the affect narrative, that is a foundation for building a new relationship or restoring a previous attachment.

Remember that attachment occurs when two conditions are present. First, the individual forming the attachment senses that the other person is accessible. “Will you be there for me when I need you?” Second, the other person must be responsive. “Will you provide me with the support and protection that I need?”

Healthy affect narratives center on these themes of accessibility and responsiveness. The mediator guides the parties to talk through the barriers to these elements and to work together to develop behaviors and processes that overcome them and their effect. If the parties invest in that conversation and mutual creativity, the impasse created by the attachment theory becomes externalized and a problem outside of themselves. As mediators have long-experienced, separating the people from the problem is a dynamic tool in bringing peace.

Please note that these affect narratives can only be effective if the parties are willing to share deeply and honestly. Mediators must be at the top of their game to effectively help the parties navigate through these moments of vulnerability. However, the results of successful navigation can be spectacular.


Early, C. & Early, A. (2011, Summer). Neuroscience of emotion: attachment theory and the practice of conflict resolution. ACResolution, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 9-13.


Subscribe to the PeaceBytes newsletter

A Champion Steps Down

If you are a church member, church leader, or minister, you have lost a champion.

At 7:45 a.m. on July 11, Charles Siburt passed from this earth. Surrounded by family, Charlie eased away from a three-year battle with multiple myeloma. A cancer of the bone marrow and thus a disease of the blood, this illness is a particularly vicious opponent.

Charlie and Judy, his wonderful wife, never retreated from their fight against this pernicious enemy. Often hospitalized for treatment, Charlie continued his life-long work of helping churches deal with conflict, confusion, and chaos. He was actively involved in teaching his classes to graduate ministry students even in the last weeks of his life. And calls to Charlie for help for churches continued to the end.

Two days before Charlie left us, I received a call from a minister who wanted to know if I could talk to Charlie on his behalf. At that time, Charlie had grown too ill for much conversation and I declined to carry the message. But on my way to the hospital to visit, the thought occurred to me that the minister could have simply walked the halls of his church and “talked” to Charlie there. You see, I have became convinced that nothing that was done or said in churches ever escaped him. More than anyone I’ve ever known or will ever know, Charlie had his finger on the pulse of churches.

The “finger on the pulse” metaphor is an appropriate one. Charlie was known as the “church doctor.” He could catalog symptoms, make a diagnosis, and prescribe proper treatment for ailing churches and their members and deliver an astonishing recovery rate.

He was also adept at preventative treatments. Charlie pioneered in areas of Christian leadership training. He and Judy were partners with other godly couples in giving care to fatigued and hurting ministers and their spouses.

Charlie was a practical man, as well. He devised process and procedure that has provided countless churches with the tools they need to effectively search for new ministers and to select new leaders.

Charles Siburt — preacher, professor, elder, consultant, firefighter, church doctor. All of those title are appropriate. Closer to home, we also knew him as an incredible husband, father, brother, and grandfather. Charlie understood family and the importance of nurturing those of the Siburt clan. That may have been his crowning achievement.

I was blessed to have Charlie as my friend. He was all of those other things, of course. Yet, when I sat at his table or heard his big, booming voice on the other end of that phone, Charlie was my friend. I would estimate that several thousand others could make that claim, too.

I’m going to miss him. But I’ll never forget him. You don’t forget a champion for peace.

Matthew 5:9 — “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”