Breathe a Small Prayer

As I began this series of articles, I was laboring under the burden of what should have been a blessing. Last year, as I approached my sixtieth birthday, I began having those soul-searching moments. Where had the time gone? What do I want to accomplish in the next few years? And a more sobering inquiry, How much time do I have left?

Wandering through this morass of thoughts, I began to wish for one thing — a clear vision of the opportunities around me. Surely, by knowing what was out there, I could arrive at a plan and enjoy a productive season.

Frighteningly, I was granted my wish. One by one, openings for learning, service, and relationship were being unmasked all around me. And I sat, bewildered and overwhelmed. It was during that time that, as an answer to my unfocused prayers for help, a new strategy emerged. In the face of some pretty big opportunities, I decided to narrow my attention to the small things.

Yet, even with that strategy, I realized that I would need help in dealing with the smallest of things. I needed discernment in choosing the small things to be done. I also needed protection from the thorns and the sharp edges that small things wield against their handlers.

2014-04-29 09.47.52So, I invited a higher power to the party. At first, my prayers were long and filled with detailed accounts of my challenges and the things on my to-do list. My prayer life became bewildering and overwhelming as a result.

In one of those marathon sessions, I paused, took a long breath, and slowly released it. At that instant, I felt at peace. Subconsciously, I petitioned for God’s presence and intervention for the moment. Nothing more. I just asked Him to show up.

It was then that I recognized what peacemakers have known from the beginning of time. God — your Higher Power — is right beside you and He is enough.

Grand visions and intricate plans have their place. But I’m convinced that God chooses to work through even the smallest of us as we achieve the smallest of things, create small spaces for people to come together, and constantly breathe the small prayers of peace. There is an abundance in the smallest of things.

Whatever is before you, breathe a small prayer.

Create a Small Space

In my last post, From the Smallest of Things, I asked you to consider taking on the big things around you without fear — like making peace in a world torn in conflict. Indeed, as I looked at my own shortcomings and wondered what I could ever achieve, I suggested that we all most be willing to do small things.

I believe the first step is learning to create a small space.

In 2007, our Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution hosted the first Residency Session for our graduate students. Over the course of a week in Dallas, we guided and encouraged our new peacemakers to trust their training and their life experiences. We provided opportunities for practice and linked theory to application. And we did not separate the role that our higher power has in bringing and sustaining peace.

On the last day of that session, we gathered our students into a beautiful room with windows that magnified the light of a bright summer day. This place had been designed and used as a church sanctuary. Shortly before that closing ceremony, I had been in that room alone. I was caught up in the idea that this was the perfect place for individuals in conflict to come together, to be joined by something greater than themselves, and to find a resolution that would mutually benefit all.

Yet, as the students and my colleagues made their way in and I saw each of them anew, I realized that the perfect place for peacemaking was anywhere that individuals could create a space — no matter how small — to allow each other room to work together with the other.

And I also discovered that a spiritual moment surfaces in that same place. Even the smallest of places can be blessed with the presence of a higher power — God, nature, a principled system. This presence brings weight to the occasion and, more often than not, the lubricant that allows people to move past their differences in quest of peace. In this space is introduced time for thought and consideration, time for conversation, and a time for building relationship.

maria mena:i miss you loveCreative Commons License Lali Masriera via Compfight

As I’ve thought more and more about this holy place, I’ve realized that every human has the capacity in her or his heart for such space. The worries and demands of our lives often crowd into this sacred territory, but it remains there . . . waiting for its ultimate purpose.

If you can create a small space in your heart and encourage others to do the same, peace will fill it. More importantly, peace will spill from it, spawning greater and greater possibilities.

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From the Smallest of Things

Have you ever wondered about your own significance?

I realize that’s an enormous philosophical inquiry, but I’d like to pose it through a much smaller, more manageable question and shape it in a more practical way.

Have you ever wondered if you could do anything significant about a really big problem?

As I have attempted to be more sensitive to the challenges and opportunities around me, it’s not surprising that I am seeing . . . a lot more challenges and opportunities. The world is filled with things that could and should be done. We are constantly presented with opportunities to make a difference.

I have been presented an opportunity to travel to a third world country. Plans are still underway and the political conditions are such that even the best of plans may have to be put aside. My hope and my commitment is to make that trip and to work as a peacemaker.

Yet, I have doubts. When I look at the enormity of the problems in that place, I wonder what, if any, positive effect my going will have. What difference will I make in the quest for peace among those good people?

In some of my readings this morning, I was reminded that most great accomplishments begin with the smallest of things.

Whatever your challenge or opportunity, I hope that you will not grow weak thinking about how great the hurdle may be. Instead, I trust that you will grow stronger with each and every small movement you make toward your goal.

You can contribute in a significant way to world peace by doing these small things:

One small stepCreative Commons License photophilde via Compfight

You will be surprised by the way that peace will ripple through your relationships, your communities, your world.

In the coming weeks, I will take a closer look at each of these small things. Until then, remember that you are uniquely equipped to do significant things about big problems.

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Choosing Leaders

Even though I’m writing this post on the brink of a primary election, it’s not really about politics. The thoughts are transferable to that realm, but my mental processes were stirred by other experiences.

I’m a conflict resolution professional. I wade around in personal problems and organizational messes on a daily basis. Most often, the challenge to relationships or to the well-being of a group of people is directly linked to leadership.

What if we chose leaders based on elements other than power, prestige, and marketability? What if we looked to the humble servant?

I know. We have a system that rewards loudness and big promises. That reward structure is odd because we generally detest the loudness and the promises are rarely fulfilled. But our history is such, not just in politics, but in our personal relationships.

As you choose who leads you — in politics, in your workplace, in your personal life — consider those who quietly serve and humbly offer what they have. Their power is not based on their position. Yet, their influence is heard far above those who shout loudest.

Choose well.

When Conflict Systems Fail – an editorial

As I teach and train on the topic of mediation, I extol the virtues of process. I repeatedly emphasize that, to be successful as a peacemaker, individuals need to study and adopt a process that will help them and the parties at their mediation table step forward through the conflict. I believe this. I’ve seen it work more often than not.

But the practice of mediation is part of a larger system that is built on the following framework:

  1. Attraction and recruiting of individuals with a heart open to resolving conflict on a personal level
  2. Effective training of potential mediators in process, communication skills, and techniques coupled with the willingness of the trainees to adopt best practices
  3. Refusal of mediators to take shortcuts in the mediation process and a dogged determination to keep ethical practices in the forefront
  4. When mediation participants refuse to honor their agreements, an enforcement mechanism to ensure the integrity of the resolution

Thus, we need the right people with the right training to do the right thing at their mediation tables. And, if the parties renege on their agreements, we need a ready way to bring them back into compliance.

From time to time, I receive calls from individuals who are displeased with their experience in mediation. In virtually every conversation, items 1 through 3 above emerge. If the caller is accurate in telling me their story, they had the wrong person as their mediator. That person was often trained poorly or, as more often is the case, refused to accept the wisdom of their trainers. As a result of attitude or lack of preparation, the mediator violated ethical rules — most often the one about allowing the parties to make decisions without coercion. The most common complaint I hear is that the mediator “forced me into the agreement.”

Yes, I’m a realist. I know that some of these people weren’t coerced into an agreement. But I do believe that most perceived that they were forced. If we expect mediation to continue as an effective means of conflict resolution, we must deal with those perceptions.

I would encourage mediators and those who train mediators to look carefully at those first three notches on the mediation door post. We need to ensure that our profession continues its evolution as one of the most effective resolution methods ever known. To do that, parties to mediation must be satisfied — not necessarily with the outcomes, but with the processes and systems that serve as the foundation.

Yesterday, I received a call from an individual who apparently was the victim of the failure of all four elements of the mediation system. Her last comment to me stung. “So you mean to say that I can’t do anything about the mediator? And, since I can’t afford an attorney, that I can’t enforce the agreement against the other party?”

After a little more thought, I will address the fourth element of this mediation conflict system — enforcement of agreements. It seems to me that recent moves from the Texas legislature and the Supreme Court have addressed the wrong side of a problem by allowing limitations on mediation. Perhaps we should all take a closer look.