Religion Peace CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: Training Secular Diplomats on the Religion-Peacebuilding Nexus

Image ‘Signing the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty‘ courtesy of Government Press Office/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.

The waters of international relations and diplomacy for peacebuilding can no longer be effectively navigated without understanding religion and its role in armed conflict. Some foreign ministries like those of Switzerland, Finland and Germany have started training their staff. However, many secular or non-religious diplomats who serve as their foreign ministries’ skippers in the peace processes their countries support are not equipped to deal with religion. This blog offers thoughts on why this is and where diplomats can receive the knowledge and skills they need.

Religion Conflict CSS Blog

Mediation Perspectives: What Monsters Can Teach us about Religion and Conflict

A cute Monster overlooking a crowd of people
Image: dylan Snow/flickr

One of my favorite group exercises in mediation training is the monster game. It begins with the participants forming a big circle and designating someone to be the first monster. The monster then speaks the name of one participant in the circle and slowly approaches him/her making a dangerous looking monster face and terrible monster-like noises. The rules are simple: when you are attacked, you are not allowed to move until you’ve said the name of another participant in the circle. You need to do so before the monster physically touches you. If you can’t give a name in time, or you start moving before you have given a new name, you are “dead” and have to leave the circle. The “survivor” then becomes the new monster and the game continues.

While the aim of the game is to stay alive, many participants don’t survive the first few times they get attacked. That’s because when we get scared, our brains don’t function the way they usually do and raw survival instincts take over. Our first reaction is to escape from the threat as fast as we can. That’s also why we regularly use the monster game in mediation training – complex mediation processes may take unexpected turns. For instance, participants might experience emotions such as insecurity and doubt, or even outright fear and panic. These emotions are neither good nor bad, but merely provide us with information that there is a (perceived) monster in the room. However, our immediate and instinctual reaction may set us back in the sensitive mediation processes we are involved in – just as they may inhibit us from producing the name of another participant in the monster game.