Saturday, August 25, 2012

To be at peace

What does it mean to be at peace? It means nothing, zero, which is perfect balance. However we live in a reality comprised of everything. Our only vehicle to achieve peace is through our minds.
Each one of us has a dream. No matter what you do to earn a living, you are supporting each others dream. You can counter that understanding because that is your own choice. However, if you believe in that, you will see the vast potential of a support network. Life takes on a new vibrancy when you feel the reality that everyone is there to help.
If you do not believe that reality, every moment is a struggle. You have to fight every one because you believe you must. The only reason to fight rests in the fact that you believe you must. 
Many people view peace as being obtained through sacrifice and difficult work. Such a mentality can have negative impacts. Negative ideology in the mind has come to be understood as bad. However when peace is truly in the mind good, bad, right, wrong are indicators of your own personal directions.
The knowledge of right, wrong, good or bad are there to inform you of patterns/methods of understanding. Being at peace does not mean you will no longer feel anger, frustration or confusion. However it does mean that you will be more at ease with those emotions. You will develop different patterns of venting such thoughts and emotions in a more balanced manner.
One of the toughest parts I have found is that there is a constant need to be mindful of others emotions more than your own. There are times when others actions are so selfish that an entire relationship or society is harmed. Even though the person may not have the intention of causing great harm, the selfishness in itself is an indication that peace is far away in that persons’ world.

Serious about peace

At the moment I am preparing to go back to East Africa. As I prepare I have to project the path for peace. Often there is so much noise from those that think they know what is going on that I must turn off the world just to see reality. One of the largest distractions I have witnessed is the behaviour from those that arrive in fragile countries and do next to nothing. For the most part such behaviour is unintended but the lack of seriousness has compounded the degree of difficulty for those that can do the job and do their work.
In some countries where chaos has reigned for decades there is a culture of chaos, corruption and violence. The Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) is the flag bearer of such a situation. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Columbia also have a similar situation.  Newly added to the list of chaos culture is Iraq. There are many others which can be put on this list.
The work to rebuild a society is hard work, in reality it is more frustrating than difficult. The bottom point is that to rebuild you have to change each time to some degree. As much as the work is to assist in rebuilding a society it is also about building yourself. Each situation is different and there is no set playbook. There is no set plan for peace because peace is human ideology and everyone sees the world through their unique point of view. In any given society there are thousands of people and each one has to evolve from a violent/corrupt reality to a peaceful reality in some degree.
Even though I just wrote that there is no one way, all we have is education. From there comes the trust and desire to be peaceful. As the work to rebuild moves along there are times when trust is killed, I have had the horrible experience more than I care to remember. Such an experience really does put a hole in the heart. Each time hurts just as much, the only difference is you know how to get through it. Then you sit back and rework the path to peace. For example, what is taking place in DRC right now is horrible.
The United Nations is taking a huge hit because it is seen as failing. In fact it is not the United Nations but the people within these countries and the power holders that ensure chaos remains. The average people in these countries are dying because of a lack of seriousness in peace efforts.
It is not just the large organizations that hinder peace operations, sometimes it is the individuals that hinder progress. These people come into the area and basically act like semi tourists. They spend more time on busses and traveling than actually doing their job, although it is easy to blame the harsh conditions along with the enormity of the task.
As I prepare to leave I go through all the past points of where it seemed a lost cause. I think of those that helped and those that hindered and you never know how it will go until it is over. At this point all I am hoping for is a situation where people are really going to work.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Defending culture

Culture is a wonderful part of life. Unfortunately it is also one of the main sources of violent conflict. Even from one generation to the next, culture will evolve, which will cause societal friction. Yet there are a few grounding elements to every culture that permeate throughout all facets of life. I recall the sadness I felt when I could not smile for my passport photo. Although I have known others that got away with a slight smirk. It is very interesting how culture impacts every part of life, even in the world of economics.
Money has no culture yet how we obtain money does. Being Canadian I have come up against many people telling me that Canadians should change how we do business. We are not aggressive enough or we do not sing our praises loudly or often enough. The culture we have developed is one that exalts the humble person. I do not know why we have developed this way but it is an identity/culture that is trusted, revered and yet constantly pushed to change.
These past few weeks, as I have been working with others in emerging markets, the Canadian culture is always a factor. The comparisons I have heard in relation to other cultures often highlight differences in a better/worse frame of understanding. These comparisons had started to really bother me because the ideology behind them were rooted in making Canadians more like someone else. The whole reason Canada exists is because there was no other country that we thought was worth joining so, we forged our own path.
Ever since I started to travel, the image people have of Canadians has not changed much. We are the polite ones, honest brokers, humble, quite, easy going people and the best part is, when there is serious work we are there to help. Here we are, unique in a world that has few trusting governments or businesses. However, this culture is bombarded with aggressive chatter seeking to change it.
We are being told to wear the flag, speak out, demand recognition and push for more on the basis of our good image. How long do you think that good image will last if we bow to such pressures? Our character of being humble has the solid reputation of honesty, integrity and a caring society. Sadly I am noticing the death of that culture as we project our image through symbols and imagery. More and more I hear people asking with a questionable tone if this or that person is Canadian. A few short years ago the same inquiry was heard with more certainty. Canadians were noticed because of our actions not through some shallow, boisterous propaganda.
Canada has a deep, rich, trusted culture. Canada has a culture that can endure if the people today have the courage, character and wisdom to embrace it and stave off the perils of overt patriotism. Wearing a flag and telling everyone you are Canadian is a cultural oxymoron for a Canadian. Let others know you are Canadian through your actions of being polite, courteous, intelligent, welcoming, understanding, caring, tolerant and hard workers. Lastly there is one more component to our culture and that rests with our ability to defend. If need be, Canadians have a reputation for being the most unwanted opponent.
Cultural diversity is a wonderful part of life. They are social groupings for the entire world to grasp a knowledge of eachother. Just like we have a wide variety of friends. Some of those friends just piss you off more often yet underneath is a trusting bond that you defend. I really enjoy all the different cultures of the world. More so, I feel a great sense of appreciation when I am confronted with the realxed joy of someone saying, You must be the Canadian.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Working in emerging markets

During the past two days I have been working on an issue which seeks to increase and strengthen trade/economics in emerging markets. By way of definition an emerging market is often fraught with many risks. These risks can be summed in the broad terms of corruption and violence. One of the few ways to combat these risks are through documentation, paper trails, law and regulations. Within the last decade the world has developed a number of agreements and protocols that speak to fair business practices.
One such initiative has been the Global Compact which deals with corporate social responsibility and global trade. The basics of such initiatives are that universal business practices will make trade and commerce easier, more predictable, and be a greater benefit to society. In theory such a set of policy is easily agreed to, however the practice is different.
Emerging markets such as Russia, India, South America, Africa and China all have their own issues. Going into these markets increases the risk factor exponentially. In the realm of peace and security, a strengthened economy will provide employment, which in turn eases the psychological stress as there is hope for the youth to gain an education, health care and stable society.
On another twist of reality in emerging markets we have situations such as Libya and Syria. Just two years ago both were seen as markets to invest in. With the violent replacement of leadership the Syrian market is now seen as “no go zone” and yet Libya still retains its allure. As we look at these two markets we quickly see how important social and political cohesion is to economics. Without broad societal support of government, there is little to no peaceful economy. However, what is available in such an economy is the need to rebuild, educate and prepare society for the coming peace. At the moment we can look to Libya as an example of how a society goes through such a phase.
The moment Gaddafi fell, there was a sigh of relief. Not long after that moment the tribal composition of Libya became very clear. To this day the tribal friction has brought Libya further away from a peaceful society. As the economy weakens due to the unrest, we can expect a downward spiral. At this very moment there is only one market that is of the utmost importance and that is the political economy.
The political economy has many components. Its basic function during violent conflict is to negotiate peace/education. A vast amount of money needs to be spent on brainstorming ideas and rolling out programs which speak to the ideology of peaceful societies. In terms of economics at this stage political/societal education and negotiation is an investment with very little tangible return. However, such a phase is the crux of corporate social responsibility.
In times of chaos the way out is to have a clear and convincing plan that has the widest possible support. In Libya such a situation is increasingly in need. There has to be a larger effort to secure all the ideology of peace which each tribe has. At the moment there is no ideological security, it is more of a take what you can now at all costs and that sentiment is growing.
Now the positive part is that the situation in Libya is not in complete chaos. We have some time to prepare for and deliver a stronger front to secure the overall peace within Libya. The recent elections have not produced a unified front as hoped. Due to that we can look back and ask why that is and retool for the next wave of programing.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Syrian spread of violence

Ever since the Syrian conflict began there has been the question of violence spreading into neighbouring countries. As I look back in my own writings I have made note that such a case is possible. Now, I must take a different stance and say, violence can not spread because it already spread from outside into Syria and is still in the neighbouring countries.
The border along Iraq and Syria has been an open road for weapons and soldiers from day one. Therefore the fighting has been crossing this boundary. The same situation is taking place along the Turkish border. The fact that weapons and forces are crossing the border supports the reality the violence has already spread.
As you think about this conflict, think about this, the spread of violence will follow the acts of the rebels. The escalation of violence also rests upon the acts of the rebels. It is okay for the rebel forces to fight, shoot and destroy because they are the oppressed. The math of such a conflict goes as such, one shell from a tank is far worse than four hundred bullets from an assault rifle.
The sad part of all this is that we are still at the same point of resolution but moving faster towards complete chaos. If any international forces deploy on the ground it is best to use them to secure and lock down all border entries.
In reality both sides are equal in responsibility for each death. The blaming of the other is a lost venture. The complete reality which is always forgotten is that no one wanted a peaceful transfer of power. If peace were the true goal, there would be a new government in Syria right this moment. That road was spelled out in the 26 Feb referendum.
Here we are looking at a government falling slowly, an opposition group that is disjointed with no clear leadership structure and a future of more violence as the power vacuum is beginning to build. The future in Syria looks to be more of the same. Outside countries will support one side or the other, extremist groups will pour in just because they need the definition of turmoil and the average citizen will suffer greatly. The large scale civilian suffering will support the psychological reasoning to act violently in the minds of the children, thus prolonging war, building greater hatred of others who hold different ideology and costing generations of untold harm.
Even at this stage there is a great opportunity to end the violence before 2012 is over. However unlikely, to have peace, will take great patience, determination, wisdom and courage. We needed this a year ago and all we have gotten is hot headedness, rhetoric, propaganda, cowardice and immaturity. Such a reality is no surprise as we live in a world that demands instant gratification.
Peace is for the long term. It takes a great deal of strength to be faithful to a long term commitment such as peace. Also such commitment is easily lost when faced with the reality of instant gratification. As the subject matter is drawn out you see that, in the end, courage of peace has the quickest ending.
For example, we can look at the Czech Republic. They separated from two countries within a few years. The current situation in Syria will be lucky if they are living in conditions as they had just 18 months ago, five years from now. The difference is knowing what peace is worth and the resolve to carry it through.
Just easily as violence can spread, peace can also take root.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Conflict ethics

Each year I have to have training to retain professional status as a Mediator. The most recent session concerned ethics. The wonderful part of talking about ethics is how quickly situations can become absurd. Ethics deals with how you act and the impact awareness of those actions. Right off the start my first question dealt with Syria.
Does a country that is supplying equipment, training and money to groups that are causing a great deal of destruction have any responsibility to those that are being killed? That question quickly moves into another area, are weapon manufacturers responsible as well? Then there is the situation with Viktor Bout, who is has been in jail for years, who supplied weapons and assistance to others.  
To add a twist to this ethical debate, why are drug companies responsible for the deaths of people who use their product yet if you eat junk food and die as a result there is no such responsibility? One of my favourite questions in ethics deals with the invention of the remote control and the advent of the couch potato, let your mind wander on that.
At first these situations are easy to push away as personal choices. As you dig deeper and look at society you have to be very aware of how gullible the population truly is. How far can you take advantage of the gullibility before it becomes unethical? For example, we have just witnessed some of the largest ponzi schemes ever and the result is bringing the European Union to its knees.
In the area where I live most mediations deal with family disputes. Naturally the issue that was raised dealt with the children and who is best to raise them. It is very common for these children to be used as bargaining chips, shields, spies, and subversives. In truth I have seen child soldiers go through less trauma.
Looking at all of these examples there is an element of prevention versus cure. For most of my life I have focused on prevention of chaos. Such a view has trained me to look at an issue and project that situation as far into the future as possible. Due to that I can see a way through most issues that I look at. Getting back to Syria, it really pains me to see how terribly we have dealt with that situation. The country is in tatters because no one had the courage to apply the ethics of nonviolence.
Here we are with a country in tatters, massive loss of life and still no end in sight. All that has been achieved in the past seven months is turning Syria into garbage heap. The people who just want to live peacefully are caught in the middle of idiots arguing over who is more destructive. As I think of that I must ask, how do you rectify idiocy with ethics?
The quick answer is education and that will only work if the people are willing to learn, change and co-operate. As brutal as it seems, there are times when you have to let the war rage on as you work to contain the damage. That is what is taking place in Syria.