Soulful Leadership for Peace in Syria

Photo Credit: flickr, DFID – UK Dept. for International Development

Time and again I hear friends say, “The situation in Syria is terrible. We have to do something. What if we had just stood by and let Hitler take over Europe? It’s time to send in U.S. troops.” On the other hand, I also hear friends say, “The U.S. is not the world’s policeman. This is a civil war in Syria. We need to stay out of it.”

Are there only two choices? Are we stuck with the options of either military intervention or a refusal to be involved?

In Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink points out that our natural responses to conflict are either flight or fight.  When faced with a threat, we think there are only two choices: fight or run away.  Yet Wink demonstrates that there is always a third way, and that creative leaders like Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King have always pointed the way toward it.

What if we stood up and said, “We want to find creative ways to help the Syrian people that will stop this terrible cycle of violence, not exacerbate it?”

This is exactly what a courageous few have been saying.  Soulful leadership in this situation means having compassion for the victims of violence in Syria while at the same time finding a third way forward. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, for example, points to a third way, a way of nonviolent engagement.

Friends Committee on National Legislation, too, has articulated what diplomacy in this situation could look like. Furthermore, FCNL points out the great harm that a military attack could cause, exacerbating the conflict and broadening it beyond Syria.

There are more than two choices. Neither choice in the mainstream public debate is acceptable. We need a third way that shows care for the victims while at the same time breaking the cycle of violence. We must learn not to add fuel to the fire of violence but instead to douse its flames.

How can we work together to find a better way forward? What will you do to explore an alternate approach in Syria? How will you call others to a third way?

5 Responses to “Soulful Leadership for Peace in Syria”

  1. 1 susanloucks September 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

    The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserve had some interesting posts about the way we frame questions about Syria – sometimes it’s so hard to see our own assumptions embedded in the way we frame the problem! For example (if we ask about a best way) – IS there a best way? or if we ask about what the outcomes of military vs. non-military engagement might be – what outcomes do we want in general, and should we consider that first?
    Especially important to do this kind of unpacking when our emotions are strong – as they should be, when we see these kinds of horrors.

    • 2 executivesoulblog September 25, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Thank you, Susan for these thoughtful comments. “IS there a best way?” is an important question. And considering outcomes first is so often overlooked. And you’re right, it is so hard to see our own assumptions embedded in the way we frame the problem. I think that’s why we need each other and why conversations like the one on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserve are so important — we need each other to surface assumptions and help us see more clearly.

  2. 3 Susie Allen September 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I really appreciate Susan’s response – seeking to deepen awareness of our own assumptions. It makes such a difference to develop a community of folk who are able to engage emotionally charged issues such as this with a framework that allows everyone to share – without judgment or criticism – and to think, together, beyond an either/or framework.

  3. 4 October 4, 2013 at 1:23 am

    I hear your plea for a third way and long for it as well. The problem for me is that we can sit here in safety with time to consider other alternatives. However, the people suffering and dying do not have that luxury. It adds a dimension of justice which must be considered. If our country had a permanent posture of “third way” we might be more adept at applying it to varied and complex situations. Until then, we must pray and, as your blog does, keep calling ourselves to the non-violent path.

    • 5 executivesoulblog October 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Good point, Jerry. I wish our country had a permanent posture of “third way,” with a lot of experience of applying the “third way” in different situations. At various times, bills have been introduced into Congress for a peace ccademy, to complement the military academies. So far, none of them has passed. It seems to me that that would be one place people could get training in experimenting with the “third way.”

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