Pacifism, including peace theories that spring from philosophies of religion and ethics, can and should inform the way that mediators approach parties in conflict. One hazard in anchoring ourselves to the factual minutiae of conflict is to neglect the context of higher level desires for peace. We must always work to keep a holistic perspective on the parties we are trying to help, seeing them as psychological, social and spiritual brothers and sisters. Any aspect of our common humanity can serve as independent bases for wanting to make peace, over and above the practical necessity of resolving a specific conflict per se. Peace is psychologically enjoyable. Peace is socially freeing. Peace is spiritually life-giving.
Everyone desires peace for a variety of reasons and these reasons come up in mediation. Parties may be thinking first about what they want from the negotiation in terms of dollars and cents or a boundary line drawn in their favor, but they are usually also looking forward to having the process itself over and done with. It is easy enough to remind parties that one of the greatest benefits of settling a dispute will be peace itself; an end to conflict and a chance to heal. Though we may not think in terms of being “pacifists” always, there is a pacifism inherent in being a party to mediation, with the exception of the few people who show up to mediation for some untoward gamesmanship. The vast majority of voluntarily mediated disputes are convened by parties who want to make peace, and who are therefore pacifists in at least the broadest sense.
Of course, there are some very strict philosophical definitions of pacifism, which might require that peace not be “contingent,” of must be “universal” before we could call someone a true theoretical pacifist, but if we define pacifism more broadly as something that echoes out of history, and as it has been historically instantiated by exemplary pacifists, we could conclude that anyone who places a high value on peace could be called a pacifist. A pacifist could be someone influenced by Erasmus’ Praise of Folly or the philanthropy of William Penn.
If we define a pacifist as someone who simply places a high value on peace most people should answer that they are amenable to identification with the concept, and historically there have been times when pacifism was viewed this way, as a broadly inclusive term. If we go further still and define pacifism by looking to the most famous proponents of the idea, we find that there are few among us that would not be very happy indeed to be counted among famous pacifists. Who would not want to be counted with Martin Luther King Jr., standing up to racism, committed to an active resistance to Jim Crow laws; his bravery and success require us to see pacifists as no less than heroic. But we need not be a giant of pacifism to make a little peace. On a much smaller scale, through dialogue and negotiation, participants in mediation have this opportunity to work toward largescale harmony incrementally; to do as Otto Frank advised in his immortal words, “insofar as it is possible” in our own circumstances “to work for unity and peace.”
On the other hand, pacifists have sometimes been criticized by the warrior spirits among us as naïve and cowardly. Pacifists respond to this criticism by noting the salutary benefits of cultivating peace, the wastefulness of conflict and the bravery it takes to work for peace. But oftentimes it is the criticism of pacifists as unrealistic wishful thinkers that has stuck in the modern caricature. Rather than the heroic and nuanced version of who a pacifist is, from Ghandi the Father of India, to Martin Luther King Jr., and to our contemporaries like Rachel MacNair, we too often see pacifists through the lens of straw man scenarios, like the interchange between Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler, where the pacifist comes out with egg on their face in our 20/20 hindsight. Pacifists’ Quixotic undertakings seem doomed to failure in this light, even to invite war for which the pacifist is unprepared, as Teddy Roosevelt put it.
Some modern historians have concluded the opposite though. Even Neville Chamberlain can be seen as a nuanced historical character. Tongue-in-cheek, we might rehabilitate Lord Chamberlain for proving, if nothing else, that England had really tried everything before going to war. England’s attempts at appeasement gave World War II a moral sanction unique in modern history.
In hindsight it is not inaccurate to remember World War II as being justified by the predominating horror of the holocaust, which the world later discovered made Nazi Germany an extraordinary case of human rights violations. But some of us are tempted to misremember the holocaust as the most important justification for entering into World War II, which it may be that too in hindsight, but those atrocities had not begun to reach their worst, and would not be widely known and accepted until after the war was over. It was instead the aggressiveness of Germany and the Axis Powers that propelled the Allied response after the invasion of Poland in 1939. Hitler’s Germany being an aggressor nation against peaceful nations was the flashpoint, and Chamberlain’s desire for “peace in our time,” though ultimately perhaps naïve, was borne out of the pacifism that made World War II a cause worth fighting under just war theory. It made Chamberlain look a fool in some eyes, but Hitler a ruthless bully. This makes it difficult to identify with Neville Chamberlain’s arguably naïve pacifism, where that term is associated with being weak or a Judas goat qua appeasement. So the term “pacifist” remains almost a pejorative in some circles.
But there are many great reasons to want to identify with the historical pacifists. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ghandi and the Quakers (who ran the underground railroad,) were all deeply committed pacifists whose legacies are among the most important in modern human history. Instead of thinking of pacifism in terms of its historical blunders, we should recall its greatest successes.
Perhaps not in so many words, mediators raise the question of whether we are dealing with each other as pacifists at the outset of most mediations. We remind parties of their pacifism as we say something in our opening remarks to the effect that “we are all here because we want such and such a problem to be resolved amicably.” We want to make peace. Some mediators go so far as to expressly project pacifism as a part of their persona, naming their practice “Peaceful Mediation Service” or something to that effect.
Three Pacifists Walk into a Mediation
Taking the view that disputing parties are pacifists who place a value on peace can help us to appeal to the peaceable nature of those we encounter in conflict situations. Initiating discussion about what value each party places on peace invites parties to rediscover their own preference for peace and what that means for their dispute.
Alongside any practical or legal considerations that parties are contemplating are ethical and spiritual logic driving their desires for peace. Many of us have studied “ultimate questions” somewhere in our liberal arts education, learning about the ethical impact of summum bonum conclusions. As we see these conclusions held by parties to a dispute, they can be appealed to in order to foster discussion of the reasons why participants may have come to a mediation to make peace with each other. As the contemporary Thomist philosopher Peter Kreeft puts it, “the question of the summum bonum, the greatest good, final end, meaning and purpose of life . . . is crucially important[,]” and once someone answers the question of what the meaning and purpose of life is, “their answer colors and determines the rest of their practical philosophy.” Many parties to mediation will have reasons for peacemaking that spring from summum bonum ideas.
If we are dealing with theologically driven parties, the general rule among all theistic religions is that relating to God rightly is the greatest of all goods. Since many instances in scripture reveal God as desiring peace, obedience to God’s call to pacifism can be a powerful motivator. When dealing with non-theistic parties, appeal may be made to humanitarian consequences of peacemaking. The desire to turn the other cheek and settle with their enemies is a pacifist drive that religious and non-religious persons carry with them. All people have a code of ethics informing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding what spiritual and ethical beliefs have been brought into the mediation room can help peace to flourish in unexpected ways.
Invoking Pacifism in Mediation
There are four steps I use to remind people that they are pacifists, respecting that my reasons may be different than theirs for seeking peace and that we may place different values or characterizations of what peace means in the end. The steps are 1) first to note that all participants in a mediation have the common goal of resolving disputes, which, like it or not, makes all parties to a mediation at least potentially peacemakers. Noting also that ultimate resolution is voluntary, but that mediations are never convened without peacemaking as at least a hoped for end. 2) I share my own identity as a pacifist mediator without going into detail about why I am a pacifist. More important are the reasons that parties see peace as desirable than reasons why a mediator does, because party values inform the context of their specific dispute, which only they have the power to settle. When encountering pushback from participants who view pacifism in a negative light, I take a moment to acknowledge the problems of naïve pacifism, using Neville Chamberlain as an example, and noting that no one wants peace at all costs, but that mutually beneficial peace can often result from good faith negotiations. 3) This invites parties to share whether or not they see themselves ideally as peacemakers also and 4) invites parties to share any higher order reasons they have for desiring peace. Identifying with pacifism, parties can maintain whatever confidence they have in their positions, while negotiating from that point of strength, while also being willing to make concessions for the sake of peace that will not be seen as caving in.
Parties come to mediation to make peace. Rather than seeing mediators as the peacemaker in the room, it is useful to view pacifism as a universal human inclination. In our modern world especially, we should remember the wisdom of traditional pacifists.
See Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, Pacifism, Defining Pacifism para. 1, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (available at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pacifism/) (first published Jul. 6, 2006, last updated Aug. 14, 2014).
See for instance Arthur Deerin Call, The Doom of War 15-17 (The Am. Peace Socy., rev. ed., 1916)(noting intellectual pacifists from ancient to modern times)(available at NEED LINK to GOOGLE FREEBOOK).
See Ralph Albertson, Who Are Pacifists?, 103 World Affairs 155 (1940).
See The Anne Frank House, The Anne Frank Timeline, Otto Frank (available at http://www.annefrank.org
/en/Subsites/Timeline/Floating-pages/1961—Otto-Frank-corresponds/) (last accessed June 15, 2016).
 J. Hartt Walsh, Victory then Disaster?, 33 The Social Studies 195 (1942).
 See for instance Theodore Roosevelt, Newer Roosevelt Messages: Speeches, Letters and Magazine Articles Dealing with the War, Before and After, and Other Vital Topics Vol. III 960 (William Griffith ed., Current Literature Publg. Co. 1919).
See for instance Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia U. Press 2011).
 See John J. Michalczyk, Filming the End of the Holocaust: Allied Documentaries, Nuremberg and the Liberation of the Concentration Camps 54,55 (Bloomsbury Academic 2014).
 Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II 64 (Cambridge U. Press 1994).
 Thomas Aquinas, A Shorter Summa 101 (Peter Kreeft ed., Ignatius Press 1993)