On the weekend of May 21-13, I was privileged to be part of a special weekend “consultation” hosted by St. George’s House on the campus of Windsor Castle in England on the theme of “Effective and Sustainable Reconciliation”. This program—which was a partnership between St. George’s House and Winchester Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace, supported by the Comino Foundation—brought together 25 scholars and practitioners in the field of peace and reconciliation from the UK, Northern Ireland, Israel, Sierre Leone and Sri Lanka for 2 days of intensive discussions, dialogue and dining together in friendly fellowship.
I was invited to this special “consultation” due to my ongoing professional relationship with the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in London over the past 2 years. At first I didn’t pay attention to the invitation a few months ago. But when I opened the e-mail, I was intrigued by the protocol of St. Georges’ House, which has been hosting these “consultations” for small groups of people since the 1960’s. Among other things, the protocol announced the special nature of the discussions that were to take place there:
- You are free to use information received while at a Consultation
- Reports of the Consultations are published only if that is the collective decision of the participants
- You may not divulge the identity or participants
- You are encouraged to speak openly
- You are encouraged to listen carefully
- Respect must be shown to all participants at all times
- You must be open to the possibility of changing your mind
It seemed to me that this was going to be an atmosphere which encouraged genuine dialogue and responsible reflection, and I was right. It was a fascinating experience, one that I will never forget.
Since I can’t mention any of the names, I can only share with the readers of this blog some of the contents and spirit of the discussions.
Firstly, various people shared their personal experiences of dealing with complicated conflicts in different parts of the world. In some cases, the violent phase of the conflict has actually ended, but education for peaceful coexistence remains an ongoing long-range task, and often the conflicts revert back to a violent phase. Many systematic changes need to happen to prevent this.
Secondly, we had the opportunity to get to know each other not just as “peace-builders” but also as people. In so doing, I met some extraordinary people who have done—and are doing –pioneering local and global work in this field in significant ways. I’m sure that I will keep in contact with many of these people.
Thirdly, I left this unique consultation with some hope for the future. While the global, regional and local conflicts we encounter are daunting and frightening, I came away with a feeling that much good strategic thinking is being done in many places in the world to deal positively and productively with the challenges we face in the field of peace and reconciliation.