I haven’t written a blog post in a few weeks because I’ve been obsessing about two things that did not seem to have a lot to do with each other until I realized that they everything to do with each other which only became clear to me in an epiphany that unfortunately occurred in the middle of the night and kept me from falling back asleep.

First is the April 15 release of the book on Rondine which I edited with its founder, Franco Vaccari and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz. You’ll hear more about the book when it comes out. For the moment, I’ve been obsessing about marketing a book that deals with heavy personal subjects and abstract psychological concepts.

Second, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of personal growth both in peacebuilding and in my own work with my therapist. Last week, she led me to see that, in fact, the very topics that Franco raises in his half of our book get at something that we peace builders pay far too little attention to in our own work—the way that we need to bring our best selves to our work.

Two Way Harmony

Let me start by building off of a point Franco makes on p. 70 which is the next to last page of his half of the book. It raises an important point about peacebuilding which I’ve thought about for as long as I’ve known about Rondine and its work. Here, though, I want to take off from that point and suggest that it is opens the door to a whole lot more, starting with the rest of this post.

To coin one last term that might never find its way into everyday English, we can think of all of this as nurturing “two-way harmony,” which is very different from the kinds of relationships we see in conflict settings today. Its definition in our hypothetical dictionary would run something like this: Two-way harmony describes the relationship between people who first decided to have a relationship that was based on believing that unconditional and respectful listening to the other and dealing with painful feelings that get left behind by intractable conflict can bring people together in the “interstitial time,” or the time and space between people in which genuine human interaction can take place.

As you will see when you read The Rondine Method, it occupies an entire village in Tuscany where it brings about 20 young leaders from war torn countries for two years of living together, training in conflict resolution, therapy, and a masters degree. While living in Rondine, the students also spend a lot of time developing projects that they will implement when they return home.

Typically, they recruit students in pairs—one from each side of an intractable conflict. They help those “couples” and their students in general develop that two way harmony by putting them in a situation in which they both get to know “the other” and themselves better. In other words, what he thinks of as harmonious relations between two former enemies is as dependent on each individual’s personal growth that grows out of their grappling with their own inner turmoil as it does on the ways they learn to interact with each other.

That, in turn, took me back to my own work and to something my wife picked up at the first Alliance for Peacebuilding retreat we went to when I joined its board in the mid 2000s. She was not a peacebuilder at the time; rather, she was nearing the end of her career as a senior manager in the intelligence community. So, it was with some surprise on my part when she pointed out that my colleagues and I could learn a lot about how we go about dealing with our own conflicts. At the time, her daughter was beginning her career as a clinical psychologist and had undergone therapy herself as part of her graduate training. That led Gretchen to wonder why we didn’t require our own students to get training in how to handle personal conflict in their own lives as part of their graduate education.

That question has stuck with me ever since. It has occasionally left me frustrated with my colleagues and kept me in therapy because I sensed that Franco was right—even before I learned about Rondine. There is a direct connection between my ability to build peace and my own self-awareness.

Real Self Care

That got driven home through two growth experiences I literally stumbled on last week.

First, I decided to read Pooja Lakshmin’s, Real Self Care after I saw a couple of reviews of the book. It wasn’t an obvious fit. Lakshmin is a psychiatrist who whose patients tend to be young women (which I[m obviously not) many of whom have been drawn into the world of self-care through spa days, fad diets, and the like (which is also not me). This is work she began in her private practice and while she taught at George Washington University Medical School and now continues with her new organization, Gemma, as well as in her work with patients.

‘But the more I read, the more it resonated with the question Gretchen raised and my fascination with Franco’s notion of each individual’s role in two way harmony.

Her chapters on what’s wrong with the self-care industry did not resonate all that much with me in large part because the parts of it that appeal to her target audience just don’t have a lot of relevance in my life.

Instead, it’s the positive ways in which what she calls real self-care did grab me because she combines the fact that it has to deal with both individual health care and social justice more or less simultaneousl . It combines the two because the deeper you dig into what gets in the way of your doing your best, the harder it is to miss the realities of our inequalities, including the fact that the system makes it hard for most people to have access to professionals like my therapist who can help us with real self-care.

Real self-care starts with the fact that she sees it as a verb. Like peace in my own lexicon, it is not a goal that sits way out there somewhere on the horizon. Rather, it is something we do, practice, and keep getting better at. With or without the help of a therapist like mine, it involves what she calls an “invisible, internal decision-making process that allows you to get your needs met in your relationships, and can change things in your family, workplace, and larger systems (19).” That means looking at yourself and your networks in a context that turns you into an agent of personal and social change because you can’t really separate the two. As she sees it, people do self-care so that they can take more control over their lives, including having an impact on the larger systems of which they are a part.

To see the specifics of her approach, you do have to read the book and interpret her findings in the light of your own lived experience. For our purposes, it is enough to see that one key point that she laid out in the book’s introduction.

Real self-care is revolutionary precisely because it has the power to change the root cause of our problems—the system (xxii)

Or, check out her new startup, Gemma, which has brought together a team of like-minded mental health professionals to promote real self-care especially among younger women with whom they have been working for the better part of a decade.

Six Seconds and Emotional Intelligence

While I was reading Lakshmin’s book, I got an email out of the blue from my former editor at Rowman and Littlefield who wanted to reconnect around work she is doing that could take peacebuilding into communities we don’t typically reach. In the course of a delightful conversation, she told me about Six Seconds, which, among other things, runs training programs to help corporate and other clients learn how to include emotional intelligence in their work.

She then arranged a Zoom call with its CEO, Josh Freedman, so I decided to at least start his book, At the Heart of Leadership (which is available for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited account) before we met. As someone who had long been fascinated by the topic, I was delighted to see that his organization had done amazing work getting clients as different as branches of the American armed services and corporate giants to incorporate emotional intelligence into their day-to-day operations.

And, I was mortified that I’d never heard of them.

To make a long story short, Gretchen and I met with Josh and began exploring ways we could work together. We also were inspired by something Josh said about their work that took us back to her reaction after her first AfP meeting. Josh differentiated his work from that of, say, Daniel Goleman by stressing that he focused on the ways emotional intelligence can change your own life rather than “just” your ability to lead others. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that we can’t effectively lead others unless we have our own act together along lines that he and Goleman and others who work in the field would acknowledge.

I would go farther and suggest that we can’t do much of anything effectively without dealing effectively with our emotions. I suspect Laskhmin would agree.

He starts by debunking the notion that emotions only get in the way of acting effectively. Instead, he argues that “emotions are assets … if you manage them intelligently.” (27) In other words, unlike other books that focus on how you can teach other people about emotional intelligence, At the Heart of Leadership helps you look inward to the ways you can take advantage of your own feelings an emotions and stretch out those “six seconds” between the time something stimulates our emotions and we act in response.

As the good social scientist that he is, Freeman provides tons of evidence that the more you become emotionally intelligent, the better a leader you become especially in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. As was the case with Lakshmin’s book, you need to read it in order to get the most out of it, For our purposes here, it’s enough to see Freedman’s three core points (120):

  • Know about your own emotions and become as self-aware as possible.
  • Choose the emotions you want to base your actions on in ways that allow you to hold yourself accountable
  • Give yourself a purpose around which to align all of your everyday actions, whether you are a leader or not

Like Lakshmin, too, Freedman is interested in broader social change. In his case, 6 Seconds is seeking ways to better turn the money it earns from working with its organizational clients into a movement that would provide emotional intelligence training to billions of people around the world.

Adding to a Whole Lot More

As regular readers know, I’m working on a book tentatively entitled Peace is a Verb … and a Whole Lot More. We will be making the case that if we expand peacebuilding to include other social problem like racism, economic inequality, climate change, and the like we can forge a movement that can take our efforts to scale. We had already planned to argue that doing so requires going to scale internally by changing ourselves along the lines Gretchen and may therapist have had me thinking about for more than a decade. Now, however, some version of Franco’s two way harmony, Lakshmin’s real self face, and Freeman’s six seconds will structure much of the book from the beginning because, in the end, they and Gretchen are right.

You can’t build peace in the world unless you are building peace in yourself at the same time.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.