Excerpt | New Approaches to Healing Collective Conflict and Trauma: Our Responsibility as Global Citizens

by William Ury and Thomas Hübl

Ury: Many years ago, I was facilitating (very quietly and confidentially) a conversation between Turkish and Kurdish leaders about a war that had been going on for decades. Thousands of villages had been devastated by this conflict. It was hard for some of the people to even sit in the same room together. A retired Turkish admiral stood up and said, “As a member of the Turkish Armed Forces, I want to acknowledge and apologize for all the suffering that innocent villagers have experienced as a result of the war and the actions of the armed forces.” There was an intense moment of silence. Spontaneously, one person started clapping, and then the whole group started clapping. It was a tiny moment, but there was a psychodynamic shift in the room that allowed us to talk about how both groups could cooperate and produce a more productive dialogue back in Turkey. The power of a human apology from the heart to victims cannot be underestimated. It all comes back to, somehow, seeing the other, acknowledging the other and their basic human dignity. A lot of these traumas arise from violations of people’s dignity that create humiliation. Humiliation is a cause of a lot of violence. So, how can we cleanse the trauma of humiliation if not by showing someone fundamental human respect?

Hübl: That’s beautiful. It’s also one of the visions of The Pocket Project. What is the work that ends up in the deep need to apologize? I think that it is a natural consequence of a felt sense of the other, where we feel so reconnected to each other that the fabric, the tissue of life, has again a feeling awareness that we are interrelated and not separate. I think we all know this from intimate relationships, from any kind of personal relationship if we are not in war zones; that we can say or receive ‘sorry’ is a deep acknowledgement and deep healing in itself. That’s a beautiful principle. The other thing I sometimes hear is that people might think we can forget and just move on. But to actually heal we need to acknowledge the trauma, give it space, and really hear and receive it. This is a key aspect in restoring our world.

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About the Authors

Thomas Hübl is a contemporary spiritual teacher who brings the radical fire of the timeless wisdom traditions into a modern context. His work embraces and integrates both the highest levels of consciousness with the most wounded, traumatized levels. He has led large-scale projects on collective trauma, particularly with Germans and Israelis. The Pocket Project is a new initiative to take the work of collective traumas and collective shadows onto a more formal and global platform, to train and enable groups worldwide to work with collective trauma.

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, serves as a negotiation adviser and mediator in conflicts ranging from Kentucky wildcat coal mine strikes to ethnic wars in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. He helped end a civil war in Indonesia and assisted in preventing one in Venezuela. During the 1980s, he helped the US and Soviet governments create nuclear crisis centers designed to avert an accidental nuclear war. William is co-founder of the Climate Parliament, which offers global members of Congress and Parliament an Internet-based forum to address solutions for climate change. He is author of the world’s bestselling book on negotiation, Getting to Yes.