Helen Chauncey

The Coexistence Initiative

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 ???).

Here's what we mean by coexistence as things now stand. This is a work in progress. We are defining coexistence by twinning coexistence with diversity. Then we look at diversity and ask what are the different causes of diversity. There is a long list. That list includes gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and political beliefs. It can include a variety of ideological differences.The argument is that much, not all, but much of the conflict in the world today, is in one way or another, either caused by, or exacerbated by the misuse of identity, the pitting of different ethnic identities against one another, the pitting of different religious beliefs, communal faiths against one another. For that reason, because we think that so much of the conflict that we have in the world or around us today is tied to that particular subset of the list of things that defined diversity, it's that subset that we are working on. What is coexistence on the basis of defining diversity through ethnicity, religion and gender? We want to argue that diversity should be viewed in a constructive way. Resolving conflict in some ways can be defined as creating a neutral space in which you park your identity at the door. It is our argument that that may be necessary at a certain stage of a conflict because it is so heated or so violent that you need to have a cooling off period, but you can't leave your identity parked at the door indefinitely.

One of the short comings of a very rich, very committed field of conflict resolution and peace building is that it doesn't have a full set of tools or a full theoretical awareness of how to bring identity back in. The argument is that you cannot strip people of their identity. So we wouldn't want to create some sort of very homogenized thing where everybody was the same color, or some how the same gender (who knows how that would work?). There would be no sense of identity. It is part of the human condition to have identity. Our goal is to create the tool kits, the technical mechanisms, but also the embrace of the values that leads us to the point where everyone will say, "We want to know how to embrace diverse identities constructively", or "We don't want to park our identities at the door."