For one thing, it seems resistant to market forces. After all, on the basis of its scarcity, it should be a highly desirable commodity.
And that’s part of the problem. Peace isn’t a commodity. You don’t have peace. You do peace.
This shifts the emphasis from something that can be acquired, to something that exists only as a practice. The cost of a practice isn’t monetary, the relevant currencies are awareness, effort and discipline. And if you aren’t willing to pay this price, then peace is unlikely to be available.
Nor is peace a one off-purchase. You have to continually top-up. Responding with compassion and courage to a contentious situation doesn’t earn peace credits that can be spent next time round. The next time round may well bankrupt every bit of empathy, kindness and understanding we so proudly saved up. Peace is very much a pain in the ass.
Especially when compared to conflict-resolution.
Conflict-resolution is a much easier sell than peace. After all, it is easy to demonstrate the negative impact that on-going organisational conflict has on the bottom line. Conflict costs organisations time, money and efficiency in the form of broken relationships, internal battles and corporate divisiveness. That they take this seriously is reflected in the fact that they will pay significant amounts of money for someone like me to help sort it out.
The economic truth is that it is always easier to sell problems than practices. Problems imply solutions. Conflict resolution is sold as a repair service to fix what is broken. Those who are footing the bill are not necessarily interested in long term capacity building. That the conflict might well reappear unless those involved learn to think and behave differently is often seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential purchase.
This is very much downstream work. By the time people like me get involved, a great deal of murky water has usually flowed beneath a succession of bridges. The dispute has become swollen and polluted. The people involved are swept along by forces they no longer choose or control.
Peace, on the other hand, happens upstream. This isn’t to say that difficult and disagreement disappear, or that relationships aren’t stretched or strained. All that still happens. The practice of peace doesn’t stop us from being human, from still doing stupid stuff.
The difference between peace and conflict-resolution is that peace helps us to name our individual and collective stupidities, so that they become a conversation rather than a conflict.
Selling peace isn’t about making claims for a new, improved version of human behaviour. Peace can never be sold on the promise that it will end our predilection for getting across one another. Peace doesn’t stop us from disagreeing. The aim of peace is to be able to disagree constructively, without the need to diminish – to either give ourselves away or to try to demolish the other.
The only way we can sell peace is by advertising its capacity to keep our humanity intact. That even in the midst of difficult, conflictual situations, we won’t shut down, close off, or run away. That trust, respect, and communication are still available. That we won’t give up on each other.
Peace isn’t panacea. Peace is and will continue to be, a pain in the ass. And rather than have this be a reason not to buy, it is actually its unique selling point. We need to buy peace because we know all too well that it is a false economy to believe we can stay fully human without it.
Juliana Birkhoff believes the parties she works with in environmental public policy disputes are always acting rationally by having motives behind what they decide.By Juliana E. Birkhoff Ph.D.