Opportunity for Deeper Dialogue

Andrea Strimling

Commissioner, International ADR, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; also a founder of ACRON (the Applied Conflict Resolution Organizations Network)

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 ???).

Well the two other stories I have share with you, it's very interesting to me actually just reflecting on why these, why I am choosing these stories right now because they are not necessarily exactly the set that I had in mind when we were speaking. The next one that comes to mind is a training that I did with the US Special Forces at Fort Brag that was one of the most interested training programs that I ever put on. And I did this in cooperation with Pete Swanson from FMCS, with Louis Rasmussen who was then at US Institute of Peace, and a man who was with the FBI, who specialized in hostage negotiation. We did two days of training for US Special Forces. You know, all men and most of them from US Special Forces, but they also had about, I would guess a dozen visitors from around the world who represented foreign militaries and they were there learning and studying with them. All of them were incredibly bright, incredibly talented, incredibly type A, you know just soaking up all the information that they could get.

We decided to set aside any value judgments about war and peace because we felt that wasn't our place. However, we really did focus on giving them additional, as we put it, tools for their tool kit, alternatives to drawing their weapon, especially if they are in another country and there is some kind of dispute that emerges between warring factions or between people of the same community. Focusing on how they might handle it without having to rely on force. So we gave them several days of training and at the end two or three of these men came up to me and asked, "How do we get into your field?" Now, I don't actually believe or think that they were going to give up their career in the military, but it wasn't totally a joke either. There was some degree of seriousness. There was something that had really pulled them from this work, and to me that was so incredibly inspiring. But it was also that the whole experience highlighted for me what I think the limitations of this work are in this kind of setting because this was a two-day program in the midst of years of training on how to kill and in the heat of the moment.

Realistically, if emotions are really surging and there's real stakes involved maybe the best and the most able would be able to draw on some of these techniques, but it would be a stretch. Part of what this really highlighted for me was the fact that it takes a while to really internalize and be able to draw on these skills. I would love to do a follow up evaluation and find out to what extent, if any, they actually have used these when it really comes down to it on the ground. This experience also forced me to look at some of the emotional aspects of conflict and conflict resolution work. I think so often in our work we focus on the analysis and we focus on the linear processes for resolution and this isn't across the board. I mean there are people who focus explicitly on the emotional and psychological aspects of conflict and I think their work is important, but in a lot of this training we assume that people will be able to draw on these skills in a heated moment.

When you look at the Special Forces for example and you think about the stakes that are involved and what might be going on in the moment for them internally, it really caused me to wonder. Even these men who were totally captivated by these ideas, who asked about getting into the field, whether they would have the presence of mind, enough knowledge, enough skill to really draw on that. So again I sort of emphasize the emotional or psychological dimensions of the work, but also the importance of follow-up and evaluation. That was a very, very, just incredibly inspiring experience for me because of how receptive they were and also because of the limitations I saw inherent in this program and a very thought, a sort of inspiring in terms of thinking about this work as well.