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PeaceTimes Edition 94.
Peacebuilding Men I Love

16 June 2009 No Comment

Banner for Peace Times Edition 94:  Peacebuilding Men I Love

- by Mary Liston Liepold

In May we celebrated mothers all month long. (Our Mom X Mom virtual event on Facebook was such a success that we’re still celebrating.) In June we’re focusing on fathers and other men of good will, our honored partners in the pursuit of peace. At different times this month, I sat down with four peacebuilders I admire: in alphabetical order only, Michael Henderson, HawaH Kasat, Len Traubman, and Alfredo Sfeir-Younis. If you’ve visited our website lately you may have met them already, in Voices from the Frontlines.

As we talked, each seemed to focus on a particular facet of peace. For Michael it’s stories, particularly stories of forgiveness and reconciliation. For HawaH, it is art and its impact on young people. For Len, it’s person to person connection, and for Alfredo it’s spiritual healing. But because it’s unfair to describe any of these complex individuals with a single label, I asked each one how he defines himself.



HawaH, a spoken-word poet also known as “Everlutionary,” is by far the youngest of the four. He is the executive director of One Common Unity, a DC-based organization he helped to found in 2000 that provides innovative, arts-based peace education, as well as the author of three books. He defines himself as “a seeker of truth, justice, and equality, a spiritual seeker, an artist, writer, student, teacher, organizer, and educator, a compassionate person who wants to share the privileges I enjoy with others around the world. I’m a connector; an interdependent individual. That’s very important. I’m passionate. (That’s from my mom.) I’m disciplined. I’m adventurous, and I constantly try to make myself uncomfortable, to immerse myself in new challenges, because those are the places where I can find out who I am.”

Michael Henderson (pictured below, under Life Stories, and above with his wife and grand-daughters) is the author of 10 terrific books, including All Her Paths Are Peace (1994), which gathers stories of path-breaking women peacemakers, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate (2003), and No Enemy To Conquer: Forgiveness in An Unforgiving World (2008). He says, “I’m a journalist, broadcaster (including Oregon public radio stations), author, husband of Erica, father of Juliet, and grandfather of Lola, 5, and Lucy, 3. Erica and I have worked all our lives with Initiatives of Change (IofC), formerly known as Moral Re-Armament (MRA), based at Caux in Switzerland.* I usually talk about it as a calling rather than a career. I’m semi-retired now but still working hard, writing and speaking and playing tennis.”

Len and Libby Traubman

Len and Libby Traubman

Like Michael, Len Traubman has enjoyed a long partnership in peace. He and his wife Libby have evolved as leaders through four decades of cross-cultural initiatives. Over the last 17 years, they have convened 206 living room dialogues, mostly centering around the Palestinian-Israeli relationship. Asked what qualities of his own he values most, Len says he is intuitive and creative (“I didn’t used to value or trust my intuition, but I have learned to over time”), practical (“especially in making the impossible happen; because it usually is possible, in my experience”), and “a good long-distance runner who has learned to act as if there’s very little time, while we still have some time.”

Alfredo Sfeir-Younis’ career in peacebuilding included 29 years at the World Bank. He describes himself as a person “living in the spiritual realm and acting in the material realm,” and takes pride in the fact that, as an economist and administrator, he was able to “introduce the angle of spirituality into public and private decision-making.” Like HawaH, he calls himself a searcher. He’s also “a peace activist motivated by a high level of sensitivity to interdependence nurtured by collective existence.”

All four men have identification or experience with more than one nationality. Though this is hardly a requirement for peacebuilding, it does seem to confer an edge. Michael and his brother were sent from England to the US for their safety during World War II, so he lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut from the age of 8 to the age of 13. (He tells his own story and those of other evacuees in the 2004 See You after the Duration.) HawaH spends part of each year in India, where his mother lives. “I witnessed extreme poverty and privilege at an early age,” he says. “The contrast caused anger and guilt, but also a feeling of being blessed and privileged.”

Alfredo grew up in a Lebanese family in Chile, came to the US as a young adult, and has worked all over the world. At the height of the Cold War, Len and Libby fostered thousands of relationships between US and Soviet citizens, using ham radio and some of the earliest precursors of the internet. As an American Jew, he identifies with Israel, but his commitment to peace with justice extends to all the people of that land.

It’s not surprising, then, that none of them recalls a turning point at which he converted to peace work. Though it has taken different forms at different times, it has been a lifelong course for all four.

Life Stories: “We saw that the idea of enemies was nuts.”

Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson

Michael tells his story this way: “In 1947 as a family we attended a conference at Caux, Switzerland, a center of reconciliation which had been set up the year before to help heal the hurts and hates which were a legacy of World War II. One side of my family are Irish Protestants who were forced to leave Ireland in 1922. My grandfather was told to leave the country by the end of the week or be shot. At the Caux conference an Irish Catholic senator spoke about European unity. My mother was incensed but on reflection felt that she should apologize to the senator for the indifference we had shown to Catholics over the years. She did so and they became friends. The senator went on to become one of the founders of the Irish center for reconciliation, Glencree, and my mother and the rest of the family took up this role of bridge-building.”

HawaH traces his commitment to the contrasts he experienced moving back and forth between New England and Mumbai. “Those months were like years. They opened my eyes to how unfair things are on this planet. My cousins in India all wished they could live in the US like me. I decided then to live my life to make things more fair, to build a foundation for peace.

Since high school I have been meditating on the demilitarization of the world. I want to see the weapons manufacturing plants closed and all the nations following the example of Costa Rica.

I dealt with a lot of racism growing up as one of the few people of color in a white suburban town. When I’m in Mumbai I still stick out because I speak Hindi with an accent and I don’t dress like the people there. Right after 9-11-2001 I was running a program at Wilson High School in the District, and I saw kids of Arab descent being called ‘Osama’ and demeaned in other ways. It all strengthened me and drove me to work for love and understanding.”

Alfredo Sfeir-Younis

Alfredo Sfeir-Younis

Alfredo decided against entering the seminary, as a high school student, because he wanted to work with the poor and the Jesuits at his school only taught rich children. The school created a special award, only given once, to honor the social work he did in the shantytowns as a teenager. At the World Bank he was able to reconcile his career and his spiritual life. “I had self-identity; everyone knew I was not a widget.”

Today, through the Zambuling Institute for Spiritual Transformation and a busy schedule of lecture tours, he promotes a 10-point program that includes what he calls “spiritual entrepreneurship” and “spiritual management.” He envisions both as the evolutionary stage beyond greed and even beyond the triple bottom line, where social concerns are one consideration. The main difference, according to Alfredo, is the individual manager’s synchrony with the rest of humanity, nature, and the spiritual realm. Silence is the space where this develops.

Len’s grounding in inner peace came early in his marriage. “In the 1970s, like a lot of searching couples at that time, my wife Libby and I did inner work, looking at what the teachings of our faith traditions meant in everyday life and how people went from being self-centered, to caring for others, to caring for the well-being of Earth herself.

In the 1980s, people in circles we knew decided that all our studies in personal growth would be moot if the US and Soviet Union went to war by accident or on purpose. We helped start the successful Beyond War movement, knowing that war is obsolete in our time. In 1984 Libby and I went to the Soviet Union and saw that the idea of enemies was nuts. As the Cold War ended, Israeli and Palestinian citizen-leaders asked us to bring them to the Redwoods for dialogue, and Stanford University helped us do that. The historic 1991 Framework for a Public Peace Process resulted, defining the imperative for citizen diplomacy.”

Women and Men: “Together, We’re Better”

Michael and Len, who have both enjoyed long marriages, are pragmatic about gender roles, while Hawah and Alfredo express themselves more poetically. “There are good and bad women and men,” Michael said tartly. “Perhaps as women are given more chances we may become more aware of the unused potential, particularly in the empathy they have for the suffering of others.”

Len considers his 40 years with Libby the foundation of his peace work. “What has meant the most to me is that we could do it as a woman and a man together without neglecting our personal relationship. We have learned so much from our marriage! Lots of people want peace but don’t want relationship. Even in the peace movement, there are plenty of self-centered and angry men and women. Our marriage has been a gymnasium of the spirit for us to learn from each other.

Sometimes Libby is more nurturing and sensitive. And sometimes, when she’s being tough-minded, I’m the nurturing one. Together, we’re better. Both of us has can-do abilities in different areas of life.”

According to Alfredo, “We are all called to different frontlines,” and “There are no first and second class peace activists. Still, when women rise to engage in peace it’s because peace comes in their bones and manifests in their genetic code.

We are all human beings, not human doings, human havings, or human knowings. Historically, the attention to having and doing has required great masculine energy. There were physical frontiers and mental frontiers to open, good reasons for masculine energy to dominate. We’re not in that mode anymore. We know how to build, produce, trade, the whole structure of doing and knowing. Now we need to move into the world of being, with creation and nurturing as its key elements. That takes feminine energy.

This challenge is at the core of the equilibrium that is off-balance. The masculine energy that created our problems cannot solve our problems. The world has shifted into the mode of being and becoming. We need to go back to the roots, to spirituality. Feminine energy is the path by which we are going to attain peace. If only women were allowed to negotiate in the Middle East, the problem would be solved tomorrow.”

“I picture our species as a huge bird,” Hawah says. “Male and female are its two wings. For it to soar high and fly, both need to flap at equal strength and at the same pace.

I’m also very aware of the inequality women suffer. It’s horrendous, shameful. Domestic violence runs rampant in the world. Ending it should be at the top of everyone’s list.

Recently I helped facilitate a 350-person forum on domestic violence, and it was very intense, with many tears and many experiences being shared that had not been shared before. At one point, after women had told their stories, all the men stood up together and said, ‘We pledge to stand up for you and protect you wherever we are.’ It was a hopeful moment.”

*Peace X Peace Executive Director Molly Mayfield Barbee described her own experience at Caux in PeaceTimes #85, “I’ve Been to the Mountain―and Back.”

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About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email
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