"My interest in the conflict resolution field was developed from an early awareness of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict and the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. I raised awareness in my small community through research, showing documentaries and selling personally designed “PEACE” t-shirts. My early activism, albeit small in influence and mostly to sate my own horror at the crimes against humanity, sparked a fire of passion that wouldn’t be quenched. The journey has been exciting, full of pain, heartache and the most profound joy. It’s found me in the midst of the last divided capital in the world, crossing UN policed borders, embarking across military occupied territory ridden with checkpoints, in the homes of people who have lost all they loved, in overpopulated refugee camps so dense you can hardly see the sun, in the squares of revolution, in sacred spaces ridden with tragedy. It finds me in the classroom now, trying to answer the most difficult questions, to fulfill my role of making tomorrow just a little bit brighter for somebody somewhere. I believe deconstructive conflict is neither necessary nor inevitable, I believe as Mother Theresa said we can change the world, one person at a time."
Here is her interview with me:
In the spring of 2011 Sarah received her BA in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Communications from Vanguard University of Southern California.. She became a graduate student at George Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (SCAR) located outside Washington D.C. In her blog she writes of what inspired her journey to peacemaking:
"Before backpacking around the Middle East I wanted to be an anthropology teacher. After I couldn’t comprehend teaching when there is so much going on in the world that needs to be addressed. With education and knowledge comes responsibility, we cannot simply wash our hands clean from fellow members of humanity in need. The power in recognizing the hurt, violence and crime is the only way to reconcile and initiate any sort of dialogue of peace. Conflict resolution needs to begin and end in humbleness, in accountability and responsibility."
What I admire about Sarah is that she not only has a noble and inspiring vision for her future, she has developed the skills needed to realize her goals. She writes:
"I would like to integrate all I have learned and observed about conflict, both negative and positive, to help people heal and overcome it with both mediation techniques and counseling skills. Utilizing the knowledge I have gained from this field, it is my belief positive transformation is possible and I intend to see it through."
As these pictures taken in Israel/Palestine suggest, Sarah is off to a great start in becoming a world-class peace maker!
Me: I have some prepared questions but would love for this to be more of a conversation so I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about your life and work you have done in the field of peacemaking, like a summary?
A: Sure, great. So I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, from an immigrant family. My Mother was Scottish and my father is Greek, from a middle class, hard working family. I was talented in school but very rebellious. I was always interested in poetry and literature so I went to Boston University and got a degree in Literary Classics. I studies under Anne Sexton, a talented, amazing poet who received a Pulitzer. She later committed suicide but she was incredibly talented.
After college I had a transcendent, spiritual experience up in Canada. I walked into a church, opened a bible and the words I read were revolutionary. I was inspired but I didn't know what to do next. Eventually I became a Christian and went back to school. I received my doctorate in British Literature, I got married and divorced and finally at 35 I again felt lost. I decided to explore my spirituality. I was invited by a Quaker friend to a meeting and it changed me. I became a Quaker and found myself through contemplative worship with an emphasis on social justice. At that time, in the 1980s, the Quakers were involved with Sanctuary movements. We would help illegal refugees fleeing from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Once they crossed the border into the US it was very difficult for them to find help or sanctuary so we provided care for them.
Me: That's amazing! I'm sure it was a very rewarding experience to be able to help those people. Can you tell me a little bit about the first peace project you were involved in, among the many?
A: It was back during the Cold War from 83-89 that I started my first Quaker project. I met a Quaker woman named Janet Riley who wanted to dispel the myths in America at the time surrounding Communists and people in the Soviet Union by putting together a book of stories and poems by Russian and American authors. She wanted to help me edit it. At that time, there were many of same kind of myths surrounding Russians that many Muslims face today, damaging stereotypes bred out of ignorance.
Me: That is so true, so did you actually get to go to the Soviet Union?
A: Yes, we had a publisher there who wanted to meet. We got connected with some of the major writers in the Soviet Union.
Me: What was the book called?
A: "The Human Experience." It was about all human beings being human and not enemies. I still remember my first humanizing experience with a Russian. It was at party in Philadelphia. When I met my first "real live Russian, I had so many stereotypes it was so surreal. A woman actually asked him if she could 'touch him' because she had never seen a Russian before!
Me: Wow! So in the Soviet Union, I'm sure it was a very surreal experience, what was it like? Did you get to travel around?
A: It was very different. Yes, we went to Moscow, Leningrad, St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad). It was the beginning of Perastroika and Glasnost. Gorbachev was aware that Communism couldn't continue as it had been. The repressive Stalinist period was still prevalent. When we traveled we had to have a security guide. We amet a Russian historian who who had become a secret Quaker. We went to her house in private and had a wonderful experience of worship and fellowship. We tried to arrange a public meeting with her but had to get special permission. When we were finally granted permission we pretended like we never met and did the interview all over again. Later she told me that was what life was like under Communism- a public face that was a lie and a private face she had to hide. We met so many people who were curious about spirituality and religion, they wanted to know more about God, Quakerism and religion.
Me: That's amazing! What an eye-opening experience. What was your role as a peacemaker?
A: I believe peacemakers are bridge builders. There are two kinds of work, reconciliation and those who oppose all war. I believe in loving your enemy. I've been arrested numerous times for participating in peace demonstrations.
Me: I want to hear more about that, but first where else have you been?
A: Kazakhstan in 87' with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Like the Quakers, they had won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work. For a week we protested as peace activists at the biggest nuclear site there in a place called Semipalatinsk. There were about 300 of us.
Me: What was the primary purpose?
A: We wanted to raise public awareness to end nuclear testing.
Me: Wow, I'm sure that was an incredible experience! Where else has your work taken you?
A: I went to Israel/Palestine twice. The first was a tour of the holy sites, but I felt like something was missing. The second time I went was with Jewish woman named Leah Green, who was a protege of my teacher Gene Hoffman, a Quaker who applied the techniques of pastoral counseling to peacemaking. I edited a book called 'Compasionate Listening' inspired by her techniques and work. It's about how to truly listen. Sometimes our anger prevents us from hearing what the other is trying to say. So we stayed there for couple of weeks practicing compassionate listening, we took part in a training in Bethlehem. We traveled and worked in settlements, kibbutzim and refugee camps. We worked with both sides. I found that when I focused on the people there that was when I felt complete again, I felt like I was truly walking with Jesus, because I was doing the work he came to do.
Me: That is really beautiful. I love that, thank you for sharing. Can we talk about some of the times you have been arrested? What was that like, where were you?
A: Every year a group of us would go out to Nevada and protest a nuclear site there. Every spring during lent as an annual event we like to do. I was arrested there for peaceful protest. I was teaching at the time and when I went back and told my students about getting arrested it was the first time I truly realized the importance of my convictions. A little while I ago I was talking to someone and he asked me 'what do you do?' I told him I was a peace activist. 'you ever been arrested?' I laughed and replied 'actually yes, more than once'. 'That's good' he said. I thought it was very funny.
Me: That is funny. What was another time?
A: I've been involved with the Interfaith Community for Justice since 9/11. It's one the major religious groups here in LA, composed of all the major religious leaders from different faiths, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim. We are a very diverse group. We planned an act of civil disobedience at a federal building here in LA. We alerted the authorities and had permission to use the street till 12pm. At 12 mostly everyone dispersed, but a group of about 20-30 of us stayed. We were all arrested and taken to a local jail. It was so funny, there I was in a jail cell with other major religious leaders and Franciscan monks. We worshipped in prison, we sang hymns, I truly felt God's presence. While we were getting arrested people were supporting us and cheering us on, it was really an incredible experience.
Me: What an experience! That's amazing, so you are still involved with the group? What kind of work do you guys do?
A: We meet every Friday morning, we plan community interfaith activities and have vigils. Every year we have an annual event called the Peacemakers Award and we recognize key community leaders. Over 500 people come. We have luncheons in mosques, churches, all over to raise awareness and increase education. We have letter writing campaigns to elected officials and also meet with politicians. We have a very diverse group, from nuns, rabbis...it's really wonderful.
Me: Wow, what about as a Quaker, what other things are you involved with?
A: Every year I participate in Quaker Lobby day in DC. In mid November over 200 Quakers from 30 states gather to meet with elected officials and their aides. The Friends Committee on National Legislation is the oldest religious lobby in DC; they organize this event for us every year. They have a group of 20 interns who set up appointments with elected officials and organize everything for us. It really helps to have such dedicated interns; they really present the facts and do thorough research. If you ever get a chance to go there, they have an amazing building. It's all green-you can just go take a tour, I highly recommend it.
Me: That's awesome, do you mind telling me a little bit more about the Quaker tradition? As you know the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, what I am currently studying has its roots in Quaker philosophy. I am interested to hear more about it.
A: Great question! It began in the 17th century by a branch of Christians who believed that we can have a direct experience with Christ. For us scripture is secondary; the most important thing is worship and opening our hearts to Christ as our teacher.
Me: So as a Quaker what are your basic beliefs?
A: I believe God's light is in everyone. Some have turned away and others live in it. It's a philosophy of respect and love, which is the basis of our peace testimony. When the Puritans migrated to America they treated native North Americans terribly, while Quakers treated them with respect.
Me: What is the peace testimony?
A: Since 1660 Quakers have lived by the peace testimony. It espouses that we can love our enemies, God's light doesn't change, we are to refrain from war and violence, we are to volunteer our time and resources and services to help our neighbors. Unlike other branches of Christianity, however, we don't have required creeds for faith.
Me: Can you tell me a little about how the Quaker church works?
A: Well, there are many different branches of Quakers, just like there are many different variations of Christians: we are not all the same and we don't all believe the same thing. There are even evangelical Quakers who are a lot like Evangelical Christians. The Quaker Church, which is different than what I belong to, has a pastor, a set theology and looks a lot like Protestantism. I go to Quaker Meetings. We have no pastor, no set order of the service.We pray and worship in silence and if someone feels voluntarily led to lead a message they may do so. We have open worship in which people can sing, pray, and worship in their own way.
Me: Is there tithing?
A: No tithing is required. We refrain from anything coercive, we don't tell people what they need to do. We believe in letting the spirit lead you. When money is given it doesn't go to a pastor because we don't have one. It goes straight back to building maintenance or community projects and needs. We are a small group. There are not very many of us.
Me: I didn't know any of that, it's so interesting! How long would you say you have been a peacemaker?
A: About 30 years. Before I was a peacemaker I was an anti-war activist. People are usually anti-war because they are angry about something. Peacemaking is a more positive approach, I try to build a culture of peace. You know the ideals of the U.N were even founded on Quaker philosophies of William Penn?
Me: No, I didn't know that!
A: Yes, there is even a Quaker UN office in New York and Geneva. So what exactly are you going to use this interview for?
Me: It's really to hear about your work in conflicts as a peacemaker and reflect on it to draw lessons and insights. This was so interesting, Anthony, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really enjoyed learning more about you.
A: Yes, this was nice. I would love to hear more about you and what you are doing sometime.
Me: Sure, of course. Thank you, I appreciate it, it''s been a really wonderful experience for me. I've learned so much. I just hope to put it to good use. Thank you again, Anthony, have a wonderful evening.
A: You, too, Sarah, goodbye.
Immediate Reflections & Lessons Learned
It was so interesting to hear more about Quaker tradition and peace-building from a Quaker activist himself. My knowledge on the religion was severely minimal, so it was enlightening to learn more. I especially enjoyed hearing about Anthony's colorful experiences around the world from the Soviet Union, to Kazakhstan, Israel/Palestine and even here in North America. It's not everyday you meet someone who has been arrested for civil disobedience and I loved hearing his positive attitude on the subject. Especially resonant was his becoming aware of his convictions only once he was arrested and could truly understand what it meant to have them. I also loved how in touch he was with his 'humanizing' experience with the other after being fed stereotypes his whole life about Russians and the Soviet Union so that was all he knew. Some lessons learned include the fact I had no idea what I was talking about when I asked him about the Quaker tradition. It was quite obvious I hadn't done my research enough and didn't know anything about the Quaker tradition other than it's connection to the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. I could have been more prepared and if I was I could have gleaned more meaningful insights on the connection between his work in peace-building and the religion. I felt the conversation really flowed, but I would have liked to dig more philosophically into his beliefs, theories about conflict and those in conflict as he would have much to contribute on the matter. I wanted to hear about the turning point in his life when he decided he wanted to do peace-work. He did mention his 'spiritual experience' in Canada, but we didn't get into much more detail. I would have liked to hear more about what inspired him so much and changed him so much he was willing to get arrested numerous times for it, in short I would have liked to hear more about his convictions and how they were established. Overall it was a fascinating interview and I really enjoyed learning more about my subject and his work in various conflicts.
*While I did prepare a few questions in advance my goal was to start a comfortable, open conversational environment and build our discussion from there.
Can you tell me about your life? Family, childhood, school, how did you get to where you are now?
What peacemaking projects have you been involved in?
As a Quaker what are some of the cornerstones of your faith that directly attribute to your work?
What were some of the more 'eye-opening' experiences you have had in conflict settings?
What kind of work are you doing now?
What was one of the more defining moments of your career or that you are most proud of?
How do you see religion play a role in peace-building? Especially when you are working with those of a different religion?
Quakerism and its tenets have provided frames of reference not only for the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution but have even influenced the philosophical fabric of the United Nations. Quakers have been known for their social activism throughout history, from early abolitionists, aiding the Native Americans and as pacifists protesting war and violence. After giving context to the religious tradition, a liberal Quaker's perspective and experience in peacebuilding will then be anaylzed. Due to its affiliation with the field of Conflict Resolution various themes and insights can be taken from his viewpoint to gain invaluable wisdom on the practical application of conflict resolution theory in the field. The interview gives a face to the authentic practice of peacebuilding and activism while maintaining a realistic mindset that undeniable consequences may accompany such convictions. As Lucretia Mott, an early Quaker abolitionist and women's rights activist claimed: "My convictions led me to adhere to the sufficiency of the light within us, resting on truth as authority, rather thank taking authority for truth."
Also known as the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers first originated in early 17th century England. Although they have no specific creeds, their primary position dictates a direct, personal experience with Christ through religious display and through study of scriptures. The Society of Friends collectively agree to a peace testimony which captures their basic beliefs: they are guided by belief in a loving God, that the best way to serve God is to love him and his creation, that the inner light within all men is the means through which God reveals his immanence, that all men are capable of achieving an inner-light and finding salvation, that church should have no structure because all men are equally capable of religious experience and lastly, that the best way to love God is through humanitarianism. Just as in Christianity there are many different sects of Quakerism, from conservative to evangelical to "unprogrammed." Unprogrammed Quakers have no pastor or set routine of worship; they simply speak when led by God and reflect on each others messages. Speaking with an active Quaker sheds light on the integration of religion and peacemaking as well as gives breadth to conflict resolution practice.
Anthony Manousos did not become a Quaker until his mid-thirties. By that time he had already experienced so much of life, a marriage, a divorce, undergraduate school, graduate school and conversion to Christianity. Becoming a Quaker opened the door to so many rich experiences from traversing the Soviet Union, protesting nuclear development in Kyrgyzstan with a group who would later receive a Nobel Peace Prize, developing compassionate listening training in Israel/Palestine, being arrested numerous times for his non-violent social activism as well as authoring numerous books, notably Quakers and the Interfaith Movement: A Handbook for Peacebuilding. While delving into his colorful life experiences, several themes relevant to our field presented themselves. The power of holding genuine convictions and what one is willing to suffer, work, live and sometimes die for. The intrapersonal relationship that must be cultivated in order to be a successful practitioner. The art of non-violent activism and social protest for the marginalized; faith-based
educational initiatives that can tear down negative stereotypes and forge bridges. And lastly, the interconnection of all of humanity, who [are] equal and equally capable are endowed with the power of an inner light to transform relationships across boundaries.
educational initiatives that can tear down negative stereotypes and forge bridges. And lastly, the interconnection of all of humanity, who [are] equal and equally capable are endowed with the power of an inner light to transform relationships across boundaries.
Convictions as a peacemaker, as a practitioner, as a human being link one to one's beliefs and the extent one will go to protect or espouse those beliefs. Anthony mentioned the first time he truly became aware of his convictions was when he was arrested, when he underwent real physical punishment for them and what is more, felt joy for holding those convictions and standing by them in spite of his tribulations. Practitioners develop their practice and perform their work from a set of convictions, moral beliefs, ethical grounds whether they realize it or not. These convictions may vary from person to person, may be to a degree culturally or socially conditioned, may be influenced by academics or familial upbringing. Much like culture, one may not even be aware of their convictions till they are confronted with something which disagrees with them, only then becoming aware of where they stand. As a practitioner we can never forget where we stand and what we stand for. Whether its do no harm, not jeopardizing trust, not breaching confidentiality, not manipulating data, the practitioner has a very real responsibility to the people they work with. Long after one may have left the field or the community, how will they be affected? How have the been portrayed in literature? What will the legacy of the work or intervention be? (Quote)
The mind and the body and how they relate to the quality of practice have important linkages. The relationship one has with themselves, with the universe matters, especially in a profession where one has to give so much. Before Anthony was a Christian he felt lost. Personally, spiritually and emotionally lost he was awakened by a religious experience that transformed his life and ultimately led him to Quakerism. Being a Quaker fulfills him, it drives him, it inspires him, it guides him and gives him is lens through which he works and interacts with the world around him. He has become present with himself and his place in the universe and only wishes he would have been able to practice his beliefs sooner in life. He has been to Israel two times. The first as a holy site tour that felt fundamentally empty and the second where he was able to engage Israelis and Palestinians across the conflict and connect with people. He witnessed trauma sharing, empathy across the divide, healing and it was only then he felt connected to the religious/spiritual experience that exists in the Holy Land. The connection was literally an experience he could feel, it inspired him, made him fully alive. Should practitioners not feel the same way when they are working in the field? Being in tune with our relationships with ourselves, knowing when we need to indulge in self care, knowing when we feel fully alive informs us how we best work and how we can provide the best quality of work as our gift to others.
Anthony helped co-author a book called Compassionate Listening, which expands on the work of Gene Hoffman, an international peacemaker. This process can be masterfully incorporated both into conflict resolution practices as well as utilized as a tool in conflict transformation. "Compassionate Listening requires questions which are non-adversarial and listening which is non-judgmental. Listeners seek the truth of the person questioned, seeing through ‘masks of hostility and fear to the sacredness of the individual.’ Listeners seek to humanize the ‘other’. Listeners accept what others say as their perceptions, and validate the right to their own perceptions. Compassionate Listening can cut through barriers of defense and mistrust, enabling both those listened to and those listening to hear what they think, to change their opinions, and to make more informed decisions. Through this process, fear can be reduced, and participants will be better equipped to discern how to proceed with effective action." (compassionatelistening.org) Combining the skills of active listening, empathy, communication, practicing curiosity before judgement and articulation of grievances this process can be a powerful tool for sharing narrative. As a type of constructive dialogue the ultimate goal is that " human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn. Each makes a serious effort to take others’ concerns into her or his own picture, even when disagreement persists. No participant gives up her or his identity, but each recognizes enough of the other’s valid human claims." (Harold Saunders) Compassionate listening can pave the way for informed action between groups and build relationships across boundaries as barriers are broken down.
The last theme which will be applied to the field of conflict resolution is the interconnection of all of humanity, who [are] equal and equally capable are endowed with the power of an inner light to transform relationships across boundaries. Early Quakers broke bread with Native Americans, protected and stood by the rights of African Americans, gave sanctuary to immigrants from El Salvador, stand in solidarity with Muslims who are too often the subjects of prejudice and stereotypes. Quaker belief in an inner light that all men posses assumes a common bond of spirituality across all of humanity. While The Society of Friends likened it to religious salvation, the concept is beautifully applicable to practice. A humanizing concept, one that empowers men to be capable of creating relationships, of transforming them, of sustaining them, based on the acceptance we are all equals with equal capability. Respect for the fundamental bond of human society is lost where violent conflict occurs, where genocide destroys, where segregation is practiced, where dominance of one group over another manifests itself. In post-conflict settings the belief must be restored, respect for fellow human beings re-established. Whether it's through dialogue, compassionate listening, educational initiatives or non-violent protest, this shared bond connects, guides and involves us all; it is the hope for a better tomorrow and a less violent today.
Harold Saunders, "Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process," in Managing Global Chaos, eds. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson and Pamela Aall, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996) pp. 419-432.
Hoffman, Gene. The Compassionate Listening Project. <compassionatelistening.org>
Manousos, Anthony. Phone Interview. Tuesday, October 29th. 7-8:30pm. Interviewer: Sarah Boone
Mott, Lucretia. "Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer." Margaret Hope Bacon, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #234, 1980.