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A growing number of business leaders in the gun community are seeking ways to connect with people outside it, as civil discord grows in the United States and gun rights continues to be a lightning rod issue.
The people reaching across divides include Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who broke ranks on the gun issue and resigned from the nonprofit he’d founded, celebrity hunter Jim Shockey, and his son-in-law, Tim Brent, who urged his Twitter followers to take time to talk to people who think differently from them. A handful of gun dealers and others have reached out to me privately to talk about their worries.
“My desire is to have conversations and keep our country as one,” competitive shooter Dianna Muller said last summer. “More and more it seems my effort is one-sided.”
This month, I had the chance to talk to a world-renowned peacebuilder, who agrees with the danger. John Paul Lederach recently won the Niwano Peace Prize, which is given to a person who uses religion in peace-building. A Mennonite currently affiliated with the Omidyar Network’s Humanity United and a professor of peacebuilding at Notre Dame, he has worked in conflict zones all over the world, including in Colombia, West Africa and Myanmar.
He sees similarities between those conflict zones and today’s United States, and is worried about armed conflict and the number of weapons in the United States.
“We really are experiencing deep challenge not to just the historic democracy but the fabric of our relationships,” he said. “There are patterns of separation and division.”
“We actually a facing quite an extraordinary moment. There are a lot of signs that add up: Not only is language weaponized. We have a rather robust protection of weapons, which makes weapons more available and a greater accumulation of them.”
I asked him to apply what he knows to the United States, to offer advice to people who want to build bridges across political divides. How do you engage with people whose values are so fundamentally different?
First, he said, let go of the desire to change anyone’s mind. Go into a dialogue with someone different expecting to have coffee with them every month for the rest of your life.
Understand that social change does not happen by only gathering those who think as you do. “The challenge of building peace is how you enter into meaningful conversation with people who are different from you,” he said.
He called those improbable dialogues.
Be open to surprise and curiosity. “You’re looking for kind of a surprise factor,” he said. In a situation where there is civil discord, or civil violence, “people have been pigeonholed by who they are associated with. People interpret based on what the mouth is, not the message.”
To create a dialogue, you get people together that you can’t pigeonhole. “If they cohere around a minimum level of trust and respect, the surprise factor creates a pause of curiosity. The curiosity allows people to listen. ”
Listen for deeper truths. When I asked for the example of a person who had inspired him, he told the story of a Colombian leader, whose stance against guns would likely be anathema to many people in the United States. He told this story:
In the north of Colombia, in the 1980s and 90s, people were faced with pressure to declare themselves allied with one armed group or another. But there was a peace movement born out of that pressure in a town square with a speech by a man named Jose Vargas.
A group of a few hundred people had been rounded up by an armed group. The commando in charge of the group gave the citizens choices: Ally with an armed group, leave their homes for ever, or be killed on the spot.
“In that particular moment, Vargas somewhat unexpectedly gave a speech,” said Lederach. “He said, ‘Commander, we are not going to take your weapons. We’re not going to join (the other side). We’ve decided to think for ourselves.’
Most of the people in the plaza had been only hoping to emerge with their lives. But the commander let them go, and Vargas, whose speech is now a legend in the area, helped found what eventually became a peace movement in Colombia. There were principles, Lederach said.
“Weapons wouldn’t serve their needs. They would not leave their homes. They had no enemies, and they would seek to understand those who didn’t understand them. And, they agreed to die before they killed.”
March 1, 2019 at 12:58AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs