An Analysis of “The Moral Imagination” – J.P. Lederach

A smile is the beginning of peace, said Mother Teresa. I agree. It is the simple act whose visual flourishing represents a harmonious and joyful internal dialogue.
Whenever there is a conflict, the find step towards reconciliation is to open the channels and spaces for communications among those involved. The capacity in people to create such spaces has its roots in our capacity to “talk-to-our-selves” – in our capacity to have an internal dialogue. It is only when we are capable of creating a space for dialogue within our selves, that we can think of creating a space of dialogue outside ourselves.

Internal dialogue nourishes reflection, the search for personal acceptance and the desire for a harmonious living with our own nature (our dharma). Conflicts that are not personal are just the external representation of our internal conflicts; which is why the process of reconciliation has the same beginning. We need society to start dialoging within themselves.

Peace process start when we dialogue – it is when we start smiling that we sparkle the possibility of change.

What is the moral imagination?

The moral is the capacity of the mind to think and imagination the art of conceiving and creating what does not yet exist.

The moral imagination is the spark of the intuitive and active mind which grounds itself on the challenges of the real world (day to day challenges of conflict and violence) is yet capable of giving birth to the imagination which conceives the non-yet existing connections in the web of relationships (breaking away from the pattern; imagining that which creates the change)

The word ‘moral’ must not to confuse for morality, says Laderach, . Moral relates to the mind, it is the act of the mind to reflect, think and act (create). He conceives of the moral imagination to have three main characteristics:

  • Develops the capacity to perceive things beyond and at a deeper level than what initially meets the eye. It is the power to see into the very nature of things
  • It is a creative act. The capacity to give birth to something new that in its very birthing changes our world and the way wee see things. Creativity and art makes moral reasoning possible.
  • Has a quality of transcendence. It breaks out of what appears to be narrow, shortsighted or structurally determined dead-ends. The moral imagination breaks out into new territory and refuses to be bound by what existing views of perceived realities suggest. Finds a way to transcend the seen and the common.

The moral imagination does not just think out of the box; it is willing to take the risk to live outside the box. It imagines and visualizes the catalyst of change, to enable the turning point in conflict.

Turning Points

How does constructive social change happen? How do turning points that sparkle change happen? Laderach says that the first thing to be capable of thinking about the nature of turning points requires a capacity to locate ourselves in an expansive, and not in a narrow, view of time.

How long is this expansive time? Boulding suggests that we calculate the present by subtracting the date of the oldest person we have known in our life from the projected age of the youngest person we will meet. “This is my 200 year present; this is my lived history”. It is in this sense of ‘the present’ that that we need to locate ourselves in order to understand the nature of the turning point.

In the field of conflict resolution there is a tendency of looking at change as something that should occur within the next couple of years. Change in this field is more like agriculture; the effect of the work you do today might be seen in the next harvesting… but this is not sure, they might just appear much later. This mistake is then carried to the process of change that we enact. We technically analyze political, economic and social structures; this is important… but turning points occur when we ignite our moral imagination, not when we switch on the computer. Change is a process of life, and just as life is, the moral imagination suggests that turning points and a journey towards a new horizon is possible, though based on paradoxes; just as life is. The journey in the nature of the world will have seas of ‘complexity’, days of ‘duality’, jungles of ‘co-existence’ and bumps of ‘opposites’. This journey is not a technicians manual… it requires us to explore the art and soul of social change.

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity”, said Oliver Wendell Holmes. This sentence expresses the simplicity that lies behind the complexity, which the moral imagination appears to be.

What are then these simple factors? In answering this question, Laderach first explores what some scientists in the 1980s tried when they decided to create a computer program that would create complex behaviors from a few simple rules – the program was called BOIDS. The question these scientists wanted to answer was: can we create a program on a computer that can emulate a complex natural system on its own? The idea was to emulate the flocking of birds with a few simple rules based on binary codes. When the program was made it was fascinating for the scientist to see how no pattern of the flocking birds was predictable, but patterns emerged. From simplicity came the complexity of beauty. The beauty of this complexity lay in the creative act of the unpredictable and unexpected response created from simplicity.

Like the pattern of flocking birds, peacebuilding is endeavor. The challenge then for peacebulding is this: how do we create creative responses to this complex system of violence? To do this we heave to go beyond the apparent complexity and ask ourselves… what is the essence behind this veil of complexity? According to Laderach, these are four:

  1. Relationships
  2. Paradoxical curiosity/thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. Vocation – willingness to risk

Relationships: the Web

Have you ever asked yourself, who are you? How are you, you? We are both your internal relation and external ones. Nothing in the universe exists as an independent object… we are all a product of causation. Faced with violence, what sparkles the creative imagination is the capacity of humans to have the humility of recognizing the web of relationships and their centrality in human existence. Peacebuilding must envision, feels and experience the web of relationships.
In conflict areas the first question people ask to find solutions is not “what is the solution?” But, “who do I know who knows the person with whom I have the problem? Who do I know who can help to create a way out?”. Solutions emerged from relational spaces, connections and obligations. The art of know-who lies in what we look for and what we bring into focus. To see and locate change in both a physical and social geography entails careful observation for that which is present but not always immediately visible: the web of relationships.
What are webs? And what does It mean to have a relationships-centric approach to social change?

Vertical spaces are those that connect the leadership of local communities with people who are guiding the higher-level processes. Horizontal capacity on the other hand refers to relationships among people and groups that cut across the identity divisions that may exist in a given location, be those ethnic, religious, racial or linguistic. Interaction is the space where vertical and horizontal linkages come together at the centre of things. This is the web – the space of interaction and relationship building.

When I talk of webs, what comes to your mind? What do webs remind you of?
Have you ever looked at a web carefully? What can spider’s web-making teach us, peace-builders? Have you ever thought of how spiders make a web? These are half blind creatures which must fist conceptualize space and strategically decide the anchor points. From these points they weave silk stands that criss-cross each other though a centre point – the hub. They then reinforce the anchor point along the outer edge creating an outer circle and weave concentric circles and radii. The whole process then revolves around strengthening the web.

This whole endeavor of making a web requires a deep commitment to innovation and flexibility. The spider’s genius lies in its ability to adapt, reshape, and remake its web of consecutiveness within the realities presented in a certain space. Constructive social change, like web making, is the art of seeing and building webs; an art whose complex creation lies in three simple principles:

  • Understanding the social geography: the capacity to visualize strategic anchor points that think, feel, and follow relationships. Relationships are the heart of social change and they require that we understand how and where things connect and how this web of connections occupies the social space where processes of change are birthed and hope to live.
  • Always think intersections: a relationship-centric approach must see spaces of interaction, both those that exist and those that can be created. This means we means we must develop a capacity to recognize and build the locus of social change – markets, hospitals, schools, cafés, street corners, etc. Always think of spaces where relationships intersect without overlooking the hub – the spider always comes back to the centre to catch the pray.
  • Be smart flexible: The key to sustainability is not massive strengths or great force. It is adaptability and creativity. To be smart flexible is the capacity to visualize, adapt and creatively respond to context-based challenges. Peacebilding is the art of creating platforms to generate creative responses more than creating the solution itself. The permanence of change and sustainability is not permanence of platforms, but the permanence of creative adaptation of platforms. Our greatest weakness is to lock onto a particular process, which binds us to both the possibility of innovation and the horizon of desired change.

Peacebuilding requires a vision of relationships. If there is no capacity to imagine the canvas of mutual relationships and situate oneself as part of that historic and ever-evolving web, peacebuilding collapses. The quality of our life is dependent on the quality of the life of others. The moral imagination realizes that the well-being of our grand-children is directly tied to the well-being of our enemy’s grandchildren.

The challenge of our failures is that we have been unable to understand the interdependence of different sets of people and processes and recognize how they may interact constructively. We have, in essence thought too much about “process management” and “solution generation” and too little about social spaces and the nature of interdependent and strategic relationship. This is the key role of the moral imagination: to envision the canvas that makes visible the relational spaces and the web of life where social change is located.

When we recognize and establish this web, we smile… we begin the process of reconciliation.

Paradoxical curiosity/thinking – The art of living in Anekandavada

We are right, they are wrong. We were violated, they are violators. We are liberators, they are oppressors. Are you with us or against us?

The western philosophy and thought process that we are taught in the western educational system derives mostly from the Aristotelian understanding of logic. According to Aristotle, a premise either asserts or denies the predication of a subject. In a sentence when we attribute the subject of a quality we can either say “the apple is green” or “the apple is-not green”. Saying that “the apple is green and is-not green” would automatically become a fallacy. The predicate of a subject either IS or IS-NOT, it cannot be both. This understanding of logic is called two-valued logic. But is this true? Is it the only one? Somehow (Syat) yes, would say the Jaina… and somehow no, they would assert.

‘Is the world eternal or non-eternal?’ a student asked Mahavira, a Jaina Tithankara. He answered; “the world is non-eternal. It did not cease to exist at any time, it does not cease to exist at any time and it will not cease to exist in any time. It was, it is and it will be. It is constant, permanent eternal, imperishable, indestructible, and always existent. The world is non-eternal. For it becomes progressive after being regressive (in a time circle) and it becomes regressive after being progressive.”

There is a other interesting Jaina story to explain they philosophy. There were five blind men who had never seen an elephant. When one day an elephant was brought to the village, the five approach, touch and attempt to describe it. One man, who was standing by the trunk, described it as a thick branch of a tree. The man who felt the tail disagreed, insisting that it was a rope. The man who touched the side, in turn, submits that the elephant is actually like a great wall. But the man at the elephant’s leg said it is like a pillar, and the man who gets hold of the ear described it as a huge fan. Luckily, a wise sixth man is nearby to mitigate the dispute. He proclaims that, in fact, all are right, but only partially right. An accurate description of the elephant lies in combining the various partial views. Consequently, a complete understanding of any truth requires the consideration and acceptance of a variety of viewpoints.

To say that the world is only eternal or the world is only non-eternal is for the Jaina an Ekanta (a one side view). The extremes are as both true (eternal or non-eternal) as is also the middle path (eternal and non-eternal); it all just depends from which standpoint we talk about the world. The philosophy of asserting multitude realities is called by the Jaina as the Anekanta Vada – “An” meaning not ad “Eka” meaning “one”. Jainism believes that it is the Ekanta (one sided view of reality) philosophy, which leads to violence. Each person asserting its thesis and claim of the absolute truth, rejects all the other Nayas (standpoints or viewpoints), leading to dogmatism and intoleration; which when further aggravated leads to violence.

With this reasoning, Mahavira carried the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) from the domain of practical behavior to the domain of intellectual and philosophical discussion. Non-violence was the goal; Anekanta-Vada became the tool to achieve the goal.

Peace-building requires the capacity to live in anekantavada. To rise above the cycles of violence we must live and accept duality. The gift of paradox is its capacity to hold together seemingly contradictory truths in order to locate a greater truth. The paradoxical curiosity that Laderach speaks about is the capacity to visualize the truth in the different and usually opposing viewpoints. It is a curiosity, which seeks something that is beyond the visible, to something that co-exist with the visible. Far from being paralyzed by complexity, paradoxical curiosity relies on complexity as a friend not an enemy. Paradoxical curiosity sustains and provokes the moral imagination.

Serendipity – the gift of accidental sagacity

It is exiting for the mind to understand how living in paradoxical curiosity, as Laderach calls it, or in Anekantavada, as Mahavira would call it, umbels us to conceive of the creation of harmony and peace in difference and conflict. But what exactly does this paradoxically curiosity give us? What capacity do we get by living in paradoxical curiosity? Laderach would say, it gives us the capacity to serendipitously sparkle the moral imagination.

Serendipity has in it a meaning of accident, of casualty, of luck – something that was discovered while trying to find something else. But it is not luck which just falls on you, it is the luck of having a moment of moral imagination which comes from an aware and open mind. The apple fell in front of Newton, that was luck; but understanding gravity was not luck, it was the act of an attentive mind. Serendipity in peacebuilding requires a mind focused on the goal but living in the paradox of reality. Serendipity is not caused by chance; serendipity is the luck of the imaginative and creative mind to visualizing that which was still invisible but whose reality was conceivable and could sparkle the change which we want to achieve. Serendipity is somehow accidental, but the solution that springs from it is not; it is the act of the moral imagination.

In conflict resolution studies, from universities to professional training courses, preparation is focused on a set of skills to analyze substantive problems, solve them, or conduct communication processes to facilitate face-to-face dialogue by which those who have problems solve them. These skills are important but when one looks at the most critical shifting points of change that made a process possible it, most often than not, comes from the serendipitous things nobody teaches you in school. Moral imagination cannot be touch, moral imagination is cultivated and it’s serendipitous appearance lies in the capacity to (1) think peripheral, (2) to nurture creative learning and (3) to have flexible platforms to nurture this creativity.

Peripheral Vision: Serendipity is not an act of random chance that somehow resulted in a good outcome. Serendipity is involved and engaged observation that a path discloses. This notion of attentive eyes along-the-way is the core of peripheral vision. Peripheral vision does not frame the processes or decisions in either-or choices. It holds connections and choices within a wider frame. When one avenue offers resistance, peripheral vision does not force forward, but moves like water. It sidesteps and looks for other avenues, and watches for openings and indirect channels. Think of football. A wide field, 22 people, one ball and one person with the ball. Most of the players keep moving in different directions to create opportunities and the person with the ball has to look beyond what he sees, to what his extreme sides of the eye see and infer movements which can only be imagined. To think peripheral you must not only see beyond the usual degree but also be capable of understanding what you see and infer possible changes. Another element very important to peripheral vision, which we tend to overlook, is common sense – the simplicity on the other side of complexity. In peacebuilding processes never talk only to politicians and militia leaders. Talk to taxi drivers, talk to construction workers, elders, and always talk to children. A simple straightforward statement of how things are, how they look like, can offer greater clarity than a complexified analysis.

Creative Learning: There are some things in life that cannot be taught, they can only be facilitated. A technician is taught a process and she is content in repeating and perfecting what someone else has discovered. Pecebuilding instead, searches for that creativity and imagination which made the discovery possible – it searches for the artist of social change. The artist is not a person who cannot repeat a process, but a person who does not look at one thing in two different points of time and say, “it is the same”. An artist has never bumped into the same problem twice, just like a brush has never painted the canvas twice in the same way. Curiously, you can find artists washing dishes at restaurants and cleaning the garbage; and you can find technicians managing universities and making government policies. To be an artist is an attitude, an approach, and a mental openness towards life. “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up” said Picasso. In the field of conflict resolution we have for far too long taken art out of education and learning. Without art the former becomes training and the latter evaluation. Creative learning is the road to Serendip, only an artist shouts “eureka”, a technician will always say “work done”.

Smart Flexible Platforms: Creative learning, peripheral vision, awareness of the mind, artistic creativity… unfortunately, don’t just serendipily happen. These capacities need a platform where they can find space, expressions, and the foundation for generating responses. Conflicts are never static; the mistake we usually do in peace building is to build static platforms for change. The change might be ignited but it never lasts, for the platform never changed with the changing time and conflicts. A smart platform is a flexible one. It is platform that has permanency of purpose but flexibility to generate new responses to emerging challenges. Structures in themselves are not bad; they provide a sense of direction, meaning and a base for change. However, structures alone are not sufficient. Social change needs dynamic adaptive platforms that respond to the nature of the environments where they must live. But, at the same time, processes that are adaptive without purpose create. The challenge of social change is precisely this: How do we create smart flexible platforms, process-structures with purpose and the constant capacity for adaptation?

Serendipity is a gift of life – it keeps us alive to constant growth and unending potential. Above we have listed some key ingredients of serendipity; ingredients whose essence lies in humility. To be capable of humility is to be capable of knowing that there is still much to learn, even from a child, to be capable of observing nature and its artistic unfolding and creativity. Humility gives “trueness” to the platform for change and vision to the eye that wishes to see that change. It is only through humility that we can think paradoxically, for otherwise we would always be right.

Art of Creativity and Spaces for Creativity

There once was once a town infested with rats. The town tried many different solutions, experts came and left, advisors came and left, but the rats never left. One day a stranger showed up, and he said “If you want I can get your town clean of all the rats, but I will do it for a considerable reward”. The mayor agreed. The following day the stranger, who was a piper, came to the centre of the town, lifted the pipe to his lips and started playing a melody that floated across the streets. The rats began to hear the music, a music they got mesmerized to and started following. Once the saw that the rats had started following the music, he got up and walked out of the town towards a river. Blinded by the music, all the rats drowned. Back in the town celebrations started breaking out everywhere. Pleased with his work, the piper went to the mayor for his due compensation. With the problem now out of the town the mayor took a step back on her promised words and turned away the piper without a single coin. Disappointed, the piper came back the next day, picked up his pipe and started playing a new melody; this time it mesmerized all the children of the village. The children followed the music and the piper disappeared in the woods; the town now left without its rats and without its children.

What do we learn from this story? At first we think of the importance and ethics of keeping one’s own word. But if we look beyond the surface, if we look at the instrument that the story used for conveying the moral; the power of music unfold on us. The power of the flutist to move a town, address an evil and brings the powerful to accountability. Without any visible power and without any weapon, the flutist transformed the town – he unveiled the non-violent power of music and the creative act of art.

In a larger picture of politics and social change many would say “So what?” “A nice and warming story, but what difference does it make in real life politics? “Politics is not storytelling, politics and social action is practical change”. But let us try looking at the other side of the coin. Entertainment accomplishes what most politics has been unable to attain. The question to ask here is “how, when, and why did politics and social change come to be seen as something outside and separate from the whole human experience?” It is through the return of the humanity in human, through creative acts like the moral imagination, that we can build a sense that we are, after all, a human community with very simple desires behind this veil of complexity.

“Reconciliation gets complicated and compounded when we try to address it purely on the intellectual level. Somewhere along the way we came to think of hurt as lodged in cognitive memory. Hurt and brokenness are primarily found in the emotional memory. The reason I like arts – music, drama, dance, whatever form – is precisely because it has the capacity to build a bridge between the heart and the mind” (Weaver, 2003). I would go a little deeper and say. Art does not create a bridge; it recognizes that there is a place where both of them meet. That is the soul from which we can create change. Art talks to the interaction of the mind and the heart.

On May 27, 1992, in the centre of Sarajevo, ex-Yugoslavia, a bread shop opened for few short hours every day. A long queue formed at the shop that day. People waited, anxious but patient, for a loaf that had become a scarce commodity during the horrific days of siege in the city. On a hill, miles away, snipers spotted the bread line and a shell exploded. Twenty-two people died in their attempt to buy bread. In the same neighborhood a renowned cellist used to live. He rushed to the square the same afternoon and passed a restless night filled with sorrow. Not knowing what to express his grief on what had happened, he went back home and picked up his cello, returned to the square and did the only think he knew how to do well; he played the cello. People slowly gathered to listen and one of his friends later in the day told him how the music had made him feel better. “it was then that I understood that music heals and that that this was not just a personal issue”. The cellist, Vedran Smailovix decided to return to the square for twenty-two days in a row, one day for each person killed in the massacre. Shelling never stopped in those days, but neither did the music. On one occasion when both shelling and music were being played at the same time, a TV news reporter approached the cellist and asked “Aren’t you crazy for playing music while they are shelling Sarajevo? Smailovic responded, “Playing music is not crazy. Why don’t you ask those people if they are not crazy shelling Sarajevo while I sit here playing my cello”

The moral imagination gives hope and strength to resist violence; it is a creative act of art in the form of love; it transcends the madness of violence and finds beauty and connection in whatever we do. To believe in healing is to believe in the creative act.

But what does it mean to be an artist when it comes to peace building? “Don’t think of words when you stop, see the picture” wrote Jack Kerouac. The hardest challenge of peacebulding is to see the essence. If you are blocked, if you see no way forward, stop, take time out try an envision the picture. Imagine yourself as an artist; to be an artist is to be capable of conceiving that which is not yet pictured. When you see the picture better, then work towards making it visible on the canvas for everyone to see. The key to complexity is finding the elegant beauty of simplicity.

In Japan a form of poetry was started, known as Haiku. Structurally haikus consists of three pera, the first with five syllabus, the second with seven and the third again with five. Conceptually, haikus, are intuitions of the mind which sees beyond the complexity of life and bring out the simplicity which lies behind. The core practice of haikus is to embrace complexity through simplicity and to do this it believes in ‘intuition’ – the ‘ah-haa’ moment, the ‘eureka’ moment.

Intuition is a funny thing; most of us don’t trust it. In fact most training about conflict resolution and peacebuilding seems to be built on skills that reduce or ignore intuition. But if you talk to people working in setting of violence they will tell you the opposite, they always follow their gut – they always follow their aesthetic. Etymologically, the word aesthetics come from Greek and is defined as “being sharp in the senses”. That is being capable of grasping the connections, the web, the beauty of relationships, to see the picture and draw the change. It is this type of intuition that Haiku is after; it is the aesthetical intuition that Kearouac said “sees the picture better” and it is this very same intuition that sparkles the moral imagination.

In conflict areas people rarely talk about conflict analytically, they talk in images. Always listen for the poetry in conversation and for the aesthetics of the picture. The true genius of the moral imagination is the ability to intuit the art and soul of conflict – to see the conflict aesthetically.

Vocation – willingness to risk

People living in the setting of deep-routed violence are faced with an extraordinary irony. Violence in known, peace is a mystery. Belief that change and creativity can actually happen, is a risk. Risk means we take a step towards and into the unknown. Into a place where you are not sure what the consequences of your action will lead to.

Reflecting on Northern Island’s problems, John Brewer, an Irish researchers, gave a very interesting insight. “In our context of thirty plus years of the troubles, violence, fears and divisions are known. Peace is a mystery! People are frightened of peace. It is simultaneously exiting and fearful. Peace asks a lot of you. Peace asks you to share memory. It asks you to share space, territory, specific concrete places. It asks you to share a future. And all this you are asked to do in the presence of your enemy. Peace is a mystery. It is walking into the unknown” (Cejka and Bamat, 2003:256)

To believe in vocation, is to believe in taking risks that are guided by the moral imagination. Nothing has ever grown out of nothingness. Change requires us to ignite and sustain a process, a process that never existed before. Any discovery requires risk, any process requires the willingness to take that risk. Vocation is the source of the courage to follow your moral imagination and act on it. To risk is to believe in yourself and follow the path you have imagined. To mould the future we need to take intelligent risks today.

Risk, vocation and moral imagination dig into a special kind of soil; the soil of finding your own voice; finding a way to speak to ourselves and to hear ourselves. “Vocation is not a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I can do with it, I must listen to life telling me who I am”. Vocation needs an internal dialogue, knowledge we have investment little energy on. To be a peacebuilder you must be capable of listening and to be capable of being a good listener you must first learn to listen to yourself.

In life we often mistake vocation with job. Vocation is not a profession, is a sense of purpose and place in this world. Very interestingly, in Sanskrit, “work” and “pleasure/the act of love” are the same word “kama”. To work is to have “mithuna”, a bodily and spiritual union though the work. The ‘self’ recognizes itself with the work; this is Vocation. It is the art of having love with your work and Laderach calls such people Voicewalkers.

Voicewalkers are people whose life speaks, whose presence narrates a story. Vicewalkers, according to him, rarely stand out in the middle, for their lives do not speak to an inattentive mind in a one-time conversation. Voicewalkers speak over time. At first you may notice them for the things they don’t confuse: they don’t confuse criticism for an enemy, credit with success, recognition with self-worth or truth with political power. It is not so much what they do but how they do it. They respond more from love than fear. They laugh at themselves. They cry with other’s pain but never take over their journey. They know when to say no and have the courage to do so.

For Voicewalkers work is Kama; they risk for the change they want to ignite, they are change they want to see.

Simplicity creates new understandings of complexities.

When we try and understand the simplicity that lies behind the complexity, we discover new ways of approaching problems and new ways of looking at them. Every new word we learn, every new standpoint of thought and perception we discover makes our mind and heart capable of seeing things and spaces with new and broader prospective. It makes the mind capable of establishing new ways of connecting things.

In his book, Laderach, explain how the moral imagination, by its capacity to transcend the reality and grasp relationships, understand paradoxes, explore creativity and risk vocation, slowly start (1) understanding that it is the ingredient rather than the quantity which enables change, (2) perceiving a different dimension of time of life and change, (2) understanding the pessimism of people as a gift for change, and (4) always looking for the soul of place in people and in relationships.

Mass and Movement

“That which counts can rarely be counted” said Albert Einstein. In settings of violence, movement away from fear, division and violence requires awareness, action and broad processes of change. In this sense numbers are important and they count. But experience in the field suggests that what lies behind the numbers count more. To create change, numbers are important, but to sparkle the change it is the authenticity and the quality of the platform that sustain the shifting process that matters. Ironically, the focus on numbers has created a misunderstanding and misapplication of the concept of critical mass – the amount/number of an element to ignite and sustain the change.

Moments of moral imaginations happen serendipitously, and it was in a meeting in Africa that Laderach said, “What is missing is not the critical mass, it is the critical yeast”. Critical mass is a concept that comes to the social field through nuclear physics. In physics they were looking for how many particles of an ingredient would ignite and sustain a chain reaction, a change. The critical mass looks for “how many” question, the critical yeast instead, says Laderach, is seeking the answer of “who” can ignite and sustain the change. Who, through not like-minded or like-situated in this context of conflict, would have the capacity, if they were mixed and held together, to make other things grow exponentially, beyond their numbers?

What does Laderach mean by critical yeast? Yeast is the ingredient used to bake bread and without it, howevever amount of flour we may have, we would never get the bread. There are five principles, according to Laderach, which we learn from the baking bread:

  1. The most common ingredient for making bread is flour, the smallest is yeast. A few strategically connected people have greater potential for creating the social growth of an idea or process than large numbers of people who think alike. When social change fails, look first to the nature of who was engaged and what gaps exist in the connections among different sets of people.
  2. Yeast, to do its thing, must have at first a process of its own growth by mixing it in a bit of water, and then be poured into the wider mass. Mixed directly into the mass without the initial process, yeast dies and does not work.
  3. After mixing the yeast in water, we must add a little bit of sugar and keep it in a slightly warm place to make it stronger and more resilient. Social change requires careful attention to the way people in their environment mix in relational spaces that provide a warm, initially a bit separate, and therefore safe space to bring together what has not usually been brought together with enough sweetness to make the space conductive for the growth of those merged.
  4. The yeast must be thoroughly mixed into the mass. To me authentic, growth must find a source that rises, again and again, in spite of everything that pushes it down.
  5. Don’t forget to preheat the oven. While one set of things is set in motion in one place, attention must always be given to the related and necessary platform for change.

In this situation, the largest ingredient, four, is an analogy for the critical mass. However, the smallest ingredient, yeast, is the only one with the capacity to help the other ingredients grow. The place where the critical mass and the critical yeast meet in reference to social change is not in the number of people involved but rather in creating the quality of the platform that makes exponential growth strong and possible, and then in finding ways to sustain that platform.

Constructive social change requires a different image of strategy. In peacebuilding, when we think strategy, we should think about what gives life and what keeps things alive. In the simplest terms, to be strategic requires that we create something beyond what exists from what is available but has the potential of creating new and sustainable spaces for change.

Time – the past lies before us

Time flows, we cannot stop it. Work must be done, time flows, we must do it fast, things must happen now! We always want to control time, what we don’t understand is that we can only control watches. “You know the difference between you guys up north and us guys down south”, told an African man to Laderach “you have watches, we have the time”.

Time cannot be controlled, it can only be owned. Owning is the liberty of choosing to do something. The only decision we have in life is what we want with the time we have, but this does not mean we must hurry up the change we want to see. It means we must not waste time, ignite the change but not be obsessed to see the change fast and see it linearly. “I will do this now and the change will appear in front of me in the future”. But what is this future we are so obsessed about? We say the future is in front of us, but can we see it? No. Then how can it be in front of us… for anything in front should be visible.

In Africa “people say that the past the past lies before me and the future lies behind me. They point ahead of them when they talk about the past. They point back when they refer to the future”. JB, an African lady working with Laderach, after saying this stood up and began to walk backwards “the pars we see before us, but we walk backwards into the future”.

The past is not dead. It is alive and present. In a meeting in Africa a between the Mohawk community and the state, a community member stood up and said “ You take our place away, you take away our past. You take our past we cease to be. That is what people don’t understand”. “Decision made seven generations ago affect us today. Decisions made today will affect the next seven generations”. For the representatives of the government the relationships at the negotiating table were defined by the nature of the immediate issues. The entire time span of the present was, for all practical purposes, several years at most; for the Mohawk the present was fourteen generations. For one group the past lay before them; for the others, pragmatic politics demanding immediate decisions for stability in the immediate future.

We have the capacity to remember the past, but not the capacity to change it. We have the capacity to imagine a different future, but no formula to predict it, much less control it. Nobody controls the future, but we all own our time. The web of life is juxtaposed between memory and potentiality. Peacebuilding requires us to develop the art of living in the multiple time and space spheres. The past is a generative energy. To live between memory and potentiality is to live permanently in a creative space, pregnant with the unexpected. But it is also to live in the permanency of risk, for the journey between what lies behind and what lies ahead is never fully comprehended nor ever controlled. The artistic process has its own sense of time, and it is not chronological. Healing processes, are artistic endeavors which cannot be programmed. Communities have their own clocks; we must work in today’s clock but envision change in their clock.

Gift of Pessimism

We have conflicts; we go to war. We try to negotiate; if we manage we have peace accords. But accords are never the solution for conflict, for they suggest the ingredient of forgetfulness of the past and not acceptance of it. Forgetfulness is not an absence of memory; it is a forceful suppression of memory and it makes processes of violence and peace as something to be thought linearly rather than in systems.

Over the years, says Ladearch, while working in areas of protracted violence he has seen people being very cautious of change and promised peace. Often they would say “Change to move away from violence does not come easy. Anybody who says that has not lived here”, or “The more things change, the more they remain exactly the same. Just ask my granddad. And it is what I teach my grandchildren. Never judge a change by months or a year. At a minimum, judge the change by decades, if not generations.” Or “Words are cheap. Don’t believe promises. Don’t accept offers. Don’t accept a piece of paper signed by politicians to change your life” among others.

Why such negative approach to change, we could wonder. But this is not negative attitude; this is realistic approach to sustainable and real change. Many have come, promised, gone. Others came, promised, and were not seen anymore after a few years. People who live in violence have lived through many words, many signed papers. More than pessimism, this is cautious and realistic living. They say, “We believe in change and want to see change. What we don’t believe in, is words and papers; what we believe in, is true action over a period of time”. Their pessimism is not an obstacle for peacebuilders; it is a test to verify the validity, trueness and sustainability of the proposed process.

According to Laderach there are three main gifts of the pessimism which people in deep-routed violence posses. (1) Their pessimism puts forward the dilemma of giving birth to something new that must embrace a history that is present and alive. (2) Authenticity of change is not is not located in campaigns, images, words publicly by national or global leaders. The authenticity of change is tested in the public arena of greatest accessibility and proximity: the local community. And lastly, (3) it must pass a test of authenticity. Did behaviors of people and communities actually change?
Grounded realism and constructive pessimism require a type of imagination capable of transcending violence while engaging the immediate and historical challenges that continue to produce it. The land of forgetfulness creates communities without vocation. The challenge of linking memory with vocation lies primarily with the vocation of the moral imagination, which can only be exercised in that place which lies between the local and the public, between personal biography and shaping the responsive social structure.

Finding the Soul of Place

Enabling peace process is weaving or re-weaving webs of relationships: both internal and external. “Watching spiders, Conniff, a scholar of spiders, writes, “means narrowing the scope of your world and moving in millimeters”. Web watchers have a two dimensional sense of travel: one, which transcends reality and looks for the “what can be” and the other which grounds itself in the very same place of reality to locate and watch entire creations with very little movements. Webwatchers practice of the “Zen of going nowhere”

How we look at the web entails how we choose to be in the world. This involves a choice of how we enter into relationship with what exists and the degree to which we keep our senses attentive to the authenticity of these relationships. The geographies of violence, noise and busy-ness, dominate our immediate senses. The moral imagination, if it is to penetrate and transcend must find the soul of place. Finding the soul is to look for the core. As the Kena Upanishad would say, “it is the ear behind the ear; the eye behind the eye”. It is not eye, nor what the eye see; it is that which makes the eye see. To look for the soul of place is to look for the voices behind the noise, the patterns hidden behind the symptoms, the rhythm behind the chaos.

The art of the moral imagination emerges from the soul of place; for we must first ground our feet to let the mind transcend. To be a searcher of the soul of place is to always ask oneself: Who am I? Where am I? Those who invite such questions and learn to live with such questions invite the moral imagination. Those who don’t invite these questions and decide that they are not really useful in this practical world will always see the discipline of peacebuilding as a scientific methods or a practitioner’s field.

Being capable of finding the soul of place requires three disciplines, according to Laderach: stillness, humility and sensuous perception.

Stillness: To be still is to be capable of going out with the mind without moving. It is not inactivity, it I the presence of activity without physical movement. Activism says “Don’t just stand there, do something!” Stillness says in response “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Slow down. Stop. Watch what moves around you. Feel what moves in you.
A Chinese proverb says, “ It is not the size of the mountain that obstructs our way. It is the pebble in our shoe.” When we focus on the really big things, we often miss the greatest potential of resources, insight, and change that is present right in the location where our feet are planted.
The practice of stillness focuses on authentic observation, the continuous nurturing of a platform that makes listening, watching and learning possible.

Humility: Humanness lies in humility. The deeper search for the meaning of identity, relationship and geography is the birthplace of humility. For here is the place where we encounter, where we come to recognize our sense of self and our sense of living in a much greater web.
The above discussion, says Laderach, suggests two essences of humility. The first (1) is the acknowledgement that I am a small part of something really big. To acknowledgement is the key word, for it requires a transparent and active recognition and internal choice. The second (2), essence is to understand that learning and truth seeking are lifelong adventures. Humility ends when seeking truth is no longer needed and learning is over. Peacebuilding requires a type of humility that recognizes that no matter how much I know or have learned, there is always more. Social change without humility is an exercise of the machine.

Sensuous Perception: To sense is to perceive, to be sensuous it to be capable of perceiving. Sensuous is to be “keenly alive to the pleasures of sensation”, says the Oxford Dictionary. When the two words are linked, says Laderach, “the phrase points towards a way to be in the world. Sensuous perception is the capacity to use and keep open a full awareness of that which surrounds us by use of our complete faculties.
Sensuous perception suggests that attentiveness to process, the construction of meaning and the understanding of place requires a full engagement of all our senses. Web watching, the Zen of going nowhere, attends to whole universes with gentle movements of full awareness; it touches the soul of place.


The important thing is to question. Having an answer is not important. Answers can often be implicit… we can have an understanding of it but cannot express it. or as the book says, we might serendipitously get an idea. But how do we get the idea? We first question.

The essence of the moral imagination is the capacity, willingness and desire to question. The questioning, however, must be true; it must be honest. Be honest in your experience, ahead of correctness of perception. To enable change be honest early, be honest always. In healing processes there is no substitute for honesty, even when it hurts. Be a purusha, have the courage and desire for being virile.

The challenge for invoking the moral imagination as a peacebuilder is not found in a perfecting or applying the technique or skills of a process. Since far too long we have emphasized on the technical aspect as the process for giving birth to sustainable change, a failure we have failed to recognize. Technical processes do not sustain without the artist, but neither can the artist create if she does not have the techniques to do so. Just like life and conflict, change is never created by one force, there are and there will be at least two forces – the art imagining the change and the technique taking it from theory to practice.

The process of reconciliation sparkles when purusha’s virility embraces prakriti’s creativity. This is the moral imagination.

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