by Susan Skog
Reviewed by E. B. Farkas
Susan Skog wastes no time beginning with a bold challenge: “We can no longer cling to the illusion that peace will somehow be delivered to us by leaders wiser and more powerful than we are. We’re the wise and powerful ones. We will know the blessings of peace when we learn and practice the ways of peace.” Just as we are tempted to rush out with banners and posters, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, sets the tone by saying, “The first step is to come home to ourselves. You don’t need to become a Buddha. You need to become yourself.” And from here the book takes the reader on a remarkable journey.
Using real life stories of peacemakers, from famous negotiators to ordinary people, Skog shows how it is possible to wage peace. What makes her book fascinating is how individuals in various cultures–from those who have lost relatives in war-torn Africa to those who lost loved ones on September 11–create peace out of conflict.
Peace in Our Lifetime tackles the issue of conflict resolution in a multitude of contexts that range from the local PTA to international terrorism. She begins with the premise that it all starts with a sense of personal responsibility. Skog further challenges the reader to acknowledge that Step One is having peace in one’s own life. Fair to say she does not shy away from the tough stuff. So, be prepared. This is a book well worth reading.
The author provides moving examples of how individuals made bold decisions to move towards peace and reconciliation. “My environment seemed filled with unresolved conflicts. They took all my energy just to avoid them, to please the ones who were conflicting with me, to rescue those in need. The number of conflicts appeared to be building, getting out of control. My family, my job, my work, my community seemed filled with conflict,” says one of her peacemakers, a man called Wicklund. The author then proceeds to explore, starting with this example, why conflicts make us uncomfortable and how and why we ought to look at them differently.
The book provides simple yet powerful and inspiring examples of conflict resolution. In one neighborhood hostility was growing towards a homeowner to the point where the police were called in to meet with some of the families. After a great deal of tension had been expressed, the officer asked, “Why don’t we ask them what’s going on?” The author describes how the silence that followed that simple paradigm-shifting statement resulted in the initiation of a dialogue. The dialogue engendered empathy. Empathy, in turn, helped resolve the conflict.
While all this may seem warm and fuzzy, Susan Skog does not shy away from addressing, head on, some tough issues. “We can be achingly beautiful one minute and horribly ugly the next.” She forces us to look deeply into ourselves to see that while we have potential to grow and love, we also have other elements that can feed into conflicts.
She provides a roadmap of how to work with the tendency to demonize, and with our inner anger, fear and grief. Skog then moves on to show how we can pick up on opportunities to “wage peace” in settings that can be personal or perhaps go beyond just the personal.
To illustrate her belief that during conflict you should share what lies in your heart, the author describes a meeting between Turkish and Kurdish leaders who had been fighting in a bitter civil war for a quarter century. After a moving quote from a Turkish Admiral, she recounts, the room suddenly became still. “You could have heard a pin drop.” I could go on, but if you want to know the end of this story you will have to read the book yourself!
Susan asks us to forgive, love and become peacemakers. Fortunately her book provides practical tips that can help readers along the way.
For information about S. Skog’s work and to obtain a copy of Peace in Our Lifetime, go to www.susanskog.com.