To See. To Lift Up the Connectors.

As many of you know, Outward Bound Peacebuilding is already deeply engaged in the work of non-violent conflict transformation. Our innovative tools have never felt more needed than now.

I began this day with a long-standing Outward Bound Peacebuilding ritual – “Take 10” – a few minutes to re-center myself, to breathe and to just be.

A few years ago in Ramallah, I was reminded that many of our participants remember this tool long after their expedition. I was sitting with two Palestinian alumni, both Muslim educators, from our 2012 Religious Leaders group. We had not heard much from either one of them since their program and I was curious about what, if anything, they still found relevant. “Take 10!” they said in unison. They told me how they teach it to each new class of religious students. Take 10 also encouraged them to explore the role of meditation in their own faith, uncovering a rich history of Islamic contemplative practice, a history that overlaps with Judaic contemplative practice. Both inspired by Abraham.

That is the spark that inspires me. These days, it often feels hard to imagine people with different views ever moving beyond acrimony. In every community, there are things that divide and things that connect. We all tend to focus on the elements of division. Particularly when accompanied by violence, divisions ignite our fears and biases, they fuel rumor and sell headlines. All too quickly, we sink into the language of intractable, irreconcilable, entrenched and unimaginable.

Yet in every community, even in the midst of violent conflict, connections endure: valued elder wisdom, art, sport, food, traditions, and our shared natural environment. The challenge of peacebuilding is to see the connectors and to lift them up.

This is the work of Outward Bound Peacebuilding, to bring people together in the unique environment of an expedition, to create opportunities for them to (re)discover connection, and to inspire them to join together to expand the space for peace when they return to their community.

I am proud to share that our plans for the year are already engaging communities that seem most vulnerable today. In April, we will return to Mexico to build capacity and resilience in social justice workers on the frontlines of violence and conflict in Mexico; in June, we will deliver an InterFaith Dialogue Expedition for college age students in the USA. We remain committed to support and sustain the alumni network of our 7-year program with Israelis and Palestinians. Their spirit and achievements in the face of constant adversity provide continuing inspiration for all of us.

This year, Outward Bound Peacebuilding welcomes a new partner in the Middle East: EcoPeace, a regional environmental peacebuilding organization with a long history of amazing work. One of my favorite definitions of peacebuilding (and yes there are many), is to help members of a community recognize the interdependence between themselves (Mary B. Anderson, Do No Harm). For Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians access to water is the crucial interdependence that crosses all political, religious and cultural boundaries. We are thrilled to advance EcoPeace’s vision of engaging communities that share watersheds as the organizing principle for a new generation of collaboration and trust in a place where it is all too often written off as impossible.

I anticipate that this year will continue to throw up challenges to our sense of ourselves as humans, global citizens and peacebuilders. I urge you to Take 10 and breathe with me; see past the divisions and lift up the connectors and work with us to expand the space for peacebuilding.

In peace,