Inspiring People

Guy Burgess

Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium and the Beyond Intractability Project

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 ???).

The roster of Nobel Peace Prize winners, though it has some strange people on it from time to time, tends to feature folks who fought for social justice in a nonviolent and constructive way somehow. That's a good window into what's possible. A lot of these are small-scale things - this campaign to ban land mines. There's a Margaret Mead quote that goes around, "Never underestimate the power of small groups of dedicated people to change the world. For in fact only small groups " I forget how it goes. But I think the real frontier is to think big and the conflict resolution peace field thinks of itself as folks who think small.

Time and time again these really very compelling arguments about how it is so important to stay with the community, none of these things where you parachute in, fix things then parachute back out again, you've got to be there. And you've got to spend time and you've really got to sit down and you've got to understand people. But when you think about the scale, you've got to do something more than that. One of the reasons we're so fascinated by the Internet, is that it has the ability to eliminate what we call information friction.

John Paul Lederach has been running around giving speeches about what he calls the moral imagination. These are folks who, in a broad range of social roles that are confronted with destructive conflict, decide that they're just not going to take it any more. They taken an often very courageous and personally dangerous stand to stop things somehow. Whether it's a group of women in a third-world country that band together to defend the market place as a place that women in every ethnic group can come, or he talks about a college professor that became an intermediary, and put his life on the line to bring together two sides of a civil war. But there are lots of stories like this, and the problem is that when people get involved in terrible things, they want to do something different. You can just sort of invent it yourself but this is a difficult, dangerous thing to do and it's fraught with traps and most people who try will in some way or another fail. So there is a real need for people to hear inspirational stories from other folks in similar circumstances about what they tried, what worked, what didn't work. To reduce this really difficult process of essentially reinventing the wheel that conventional education and training programs just can't do it.