Fairness in an Insider Role

John Paul Lederach

Professor of International Peacebuilding, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: ... Okay, but how do you guarantee any fairness if these people are partial to insiders?

A: Well, the discussions that we've pushed in some of the writing and in a lot of the concrete things is that no matter where you fall in a spectrum of these things -- and you can actually see it as a spectrum of different kinds of options you continually construct and find the best way forward in a given situation, from outside to inside -- is that everyone of them comes filled with their sets of challenges. So the challenges, I believe, of the outside neutral-impartial model is not only how do you gain access, but how do you know you've actually touched the deeper meaning structure of what's going on? Because you often see it in ways you attach meaning that may not be the ones that are really there. And your "trust" is often a trust that has a thin veneer to it. We trust this outside thing as long as it appears to be somewhat beneficial for where we're headed. But it's often in reference to our relationship exclusively at the level of sort of professional connection we have for the work that I'm doing. So our relationship won't really go on beyond me providing the service to you.

That's kind of a curious understanding of trust, from a lot of people's view. It's trust in order to accomplish a particular service that's being provided. So what comes with the challenges on that side is numerous things, but among them a question of sustainability. You are, in essence, in and out of the lives of people. So how do you know what you've done may have moved things a certain way, how does this look across five or ten years? (interruption) The challenges on the other side is that you're embedded; you're hooked. So what you have happening is what's on your doorstep everyday. So it can be overwhelming in terms of the amount of request and demand that's put on you, but it's also true that you walk an extraordinary fine line in reference to the polarization that exists in society. That polarization has a tendency to pull you to one side or another, push you to join, rather than to bridge. So how do you sustain? And in settings where there is violence, how do you sustain a space in keeping close to .. I'm hooked to this family, I'm a member of it. But I'm bridging across to the enemy who's in my same society.

In the Nicaraguan case you can see it so clearly cause there's so many of these kinds of these relationships that exist, but it's extraordinarily dangerous. So there is an element of danger, there is an element of how much can you actually handle because the burnout factor can be significant, and at any point in time, the pressures of the polarization can accuse your partiality of having turned from a resource into an obstacle. That is, "we thought you were a good person, but now we know you're not." What I would argue, is that no matter where you fall, one end or the other, you going to have to face a variety of challenges. And I don't think that the challenges of the outside-neutral-impartial thing are any less or greater or have a higher value than the other thing. In fact I think the other one has some very interesting long-term contributions to make, cause I believe it's from there that infrastructure emerges for sustaining long-term change. But the literature, essentially, of the academic world, because it's emergent mostly in the US and Europe, especially in the practice formulation of this, places a much greater emphasis on sort of the notions of the professional side which give a higher value base than the others. So I've always been an advocate of trying to get a little balance there.