A proposal for getting peace right in 2003

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 31, 2002

When Cochrane RCMP Sgt. Mike O'Rielly delivered the convocation address at Royal Roads University in Victoria this past October, he spoke as a prophet of hope.

Though, for Mike, his words were the final step in his Master of Arts program in conflict analysis and management, for a world teetering on the brink of war they are a first step toward getting peace right in 2003.

Winner of the RRU Chancellor's Award for highest academic achievement, Mike is also widely respected for his visionary thinking on the job.

He was part of the RCMP's management team that oversaw security planning and community relations for the 2002 G8 Leaders Summit held in Kananaskis last June. He strategized a peacekeeping approach that has become a model for policing similar events in the future.

You no doubt remember how public anxiety was running high in the months leading up to the gathering of leaders of the world's most industrialized nations. Violent clashes between protestors and police, and images of fires, shattered windows, tear gas, and death had characterized such meetings elsewhere. It was assumed by many that we could expect the same here in Alberta.

Mike and his colleagues were not happy with that expectation. They could either "prepare for a continuation of the battles that had rocked city streets throughout the world," Mike wrote in his master's thesis, "or find another means for ensuring the safety of delegates, demonstrators and citizens during the Summit."

His thesis is about that other means. It's his position that, "if an appropriate system of relationship building can overcome mistrust between conflicting parties prior to an actual crisis, then those prenegotiation efforts are more likely to lead to successful interactions prior to, during and following a conflict, and could in fact prevent a conflict."

The system of relationship building implemented at the Summit, as described in his thesis, consisted of three methods: consultation, constructive engagement, and negotiation. These processes aimed at showing respect to all stakeholders, whether delegates, demonstrators or citizens.

Put another way, as Mike explained to me last spring, his goal as strategist was to answer the question: "how can people be brought together to seek resolution to a conflict when the conflict is the very issue that defines a person's self-conceptualization?"

Obviously, Mike and his colleagues found some pretty good answers to that question. The dreaded violence around the Summit never came to pass. Indeed, there was nothing but praise from all sides for the non-confrontational way policing was handled.

Which brings us back to the convocation address. With the G8 and graduate work behind them, Mike asked the assembly, "Now what?" His response has implications for all of us:

"The challenge is to learn how to apply our experiences within our sphere of influence, that part of the world that touches us, and that each of us affects in turn....

"We were challenged to create conflict resolution systems, to understand conflict, to seek means through which to proactively prevent disputes, to attain some grasp as to why the human race just can't seem to get peace right.

"Everyday, the papers, TV news, are rife with examples of people embroiled in disputes of varying intensity. Sometimes the world seems to sit on the cusp of disaster, waiting for a push....

"I would like to suggest that we can give that push. But not over the edge of the precipice. Rather, let's gently nudge back away from the edge, towards understanding, and the actualization of peace. Conflict, violence, misunderstanding, interpersonal angst -- these do not need to be inevitable.

"We have a responsibility to help others learn how to resolve their issues," Mike stressed, "and as such journey from the personal to the social, ultimately contributing to the improvement of the human condition.

"We must remain committed to this task."

And so must we, my coffee companions, as we enter 2003. Taking Mike's lead, let's put this at the top of our list of New Year's resolutions:

Get peace right.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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