Anatomy of Peace

"The more sure I am that I'm right, the more likely I will actually be mistaken. My need to be right makes it more likely that I will be wrong! Likewise, the more sure I am that I am mistreated, the more likely I am to miss ways that I am mistreating others myself. My need for justification obscures the truth."
— The Arbinger Institute

Here is a summary of the model of conflict resolution (or "peace building") presented in The Anatomy of Peace (2008), by the Arbinger Institute.
This book is a follow up of the best-seller Leadership and Self-Deception (2002), by the same Institute.

Inviting change in others

If we think about it, we cannot make people change; we can only invite them to change. They decide, in the end, whether they accept the invitation.

We focus on "correcting what's wrong"...

Dealing with what is going wrong is to focus on the problem we see in others - it means correcting, criticizing, fixing, disciplining, punishing, etc. Does it often work when you tell someone he should be different? Have you often changed after someone told you how wrong you were?
Sometimes yes, you might say. But it's likely that most of the time, it doesn't work. What to do then? Well in my experience, we tend to keep trying harder, louder, longer, hoping that one day, he will get it!
That's the classic pattern, and that's how conflicts tend to get entrenched.

...And forget to "help things go right"

There is nothing wrong about wanting others to change, but if "dealing with what's going wrong" doesn't work, it is usually because we have been doing it at the expense of helping things go right. As the pyramid diagram shows, in order to invite change, helping things go right is the biggest part of the work. There are several parts to it, and that's where we need to spend most of our time and energy.
In simple terms, it is to say that we have more chance to invite change in someone if we approach her without resentment, if we have built a relationship with her and her friends/family, if we have listened and learnt from her, and if we explain clearly the change we want to invite. Is that really surprising?

If it doesn't work, look deeper

The secret of the Peacemaking Pyramid is that it prompts us to look for solutions to a problem at a deeper level than the one the problem seems to be at. The answer to a problem at one level of the pyramid lies at the level below.
  • If my attempts to correct you fail, I need to look at the way I am communicating and explaining what I want - am I being clear? Am I giving a consistent rationale for what I want? 
  • If my communicating and teaching fail, I need to look at my listening and learning from you. There is little chance you will listen to my teaching if I don't even try to understand your perspective. If your concerns are not included in my understanding of the situation, why would you listen to me?
  • Even if I'm open to listen to your concerns, you may not bother share them with me if you don't like or respect me. I then need to focus on building a stronger relationship with you, it's a necessary condition.
  • It is possible that my attempts to influence you are unsuccessful not because you are closed, but because you have people with influence around you (parents, friends, co-workers, etc.) pushing you in the other direction. I may need to also build a relationship with people around you, in order to make them part of the change too, or their influence will be too strong for you to swim against the current.
  • If you are not receptive to my influence in spite of all the above conditions being met, something more fundamental might be missing. Of course, it can be that you just don't like the change I invite in you. But it can also be that I am not inviting it from a deep desire to help you, in which case you may be defensive against my deeper intentions. I therefore need to look at my "way of being:" do I really come to you with a heart at peace? Let's explore this point in more depth in the following section.

Our "Way of being" colors the world

The first and most fundamental step for Helping things go right is to obtain a heart at peace. It is not so much the actions we take that invite war, but the way we are while taking them. The same action can be done from a heart at peace or a heart at war. Inviting the other to change with a heart at war, even if you are right about the thing to change, is likely to provoke a defensive reaction. I remember, as a teen, my mother telling me to spend more time working for school and less time smoking marijuana with my friends. I always refused to listen to her, not because what she was saying was wrong - in many respects, I knew she was right, I had similar thoughts about myself and how I was spending my time... but I was reacting to her way of being, her heart was at war with me, and she related to me more as a "problem to fix" than as a person. Of course, I was reacting with a heart as war too, and we were each inviting war in the other.

EDIT: Oops! I inverted the descriptive paragraphs for "Heart at Peace" and "Heart at War". A Heart at Peace sees people as "people", and a Heart at War sees them as "objects", not the other way around! I'll change it, in the mean please read in diagonal :)

What do we mean by "way of being"? In fact, it means the way of being with others, the way we are in relationship. Human beings are social beings, and we know ourselves in comparison with and through the eyes of others. Our "self-image" is really a "self-image-in-relationship-with-others."

There are two ways of seeing others: as persons (leads to a heart at peace), or as objects (leads to a heart at war).

  • As persons: we see people as persons when we recognize their uniqueness just like ours, with their flaws and qualities, just like ours, with desires, hopes, doubts and concerns, just like ours - in short, when we acknowledge all the richness of their humanity.
  • As objects: we see people as objects when we "de-personalize" them, for example when we reduce them to a category (an American, an Arab, a Rich), to a role (a Customer, a Clerk, a Politician), or just to a quality (a Jerk, a Pervert, an Inconsiderate Neighbor). There are three ways of seeing a person as object: as an obstacle ("my Needy Husband is making my life a burden!"), as a vehicle ("this Client will hopefully sign the contract and make me rich."), or as an irrelevancy ("I never bothered talking to this Dork...").

What determines which way we see someone? Simply, our choice.

Choosing to be right over being at peace

For the Arbinger Institute, human beings naturally see others as persons. We have natural senses and desires in regard to other people, and it is when we choose to betray these desires by not following them that we start seeing people as objects and that we "go to war".

Because we are following a way of being that is counter to our own sense, we need to justify our self-betrayal. For the sake of a consistent self-image, we cannot be the cause of our own problem (for if we were, we wouldn't have caused it in the first place). Someone ELSE has to be. That someone else becomes an object of blame, and we begin to see everything about him in a crooked way. This is the seed of war; our need for justification distorts our perception of reality. We choose to be right over being at peace.

About a year ago, I was at an academic conference I was very excited about. I was listening to a presenter I admired - let's call him Kent. As his presentation was finishing, I had the desire to talk to him. Not that I had a lot to say, but I was drawn to thank him and tell him I liked his work. Several other people were approaching him, catching his attention. I was waiting for the good time, for his eyes to cross mines or some other sign, but it didn't happen. I started to wonder: "did I want to talk to him so badly? I mean, if it's complicated to reach him, why should I bother? I'm not a groupie after all, and it's not like I have something special to say to him. If he only talks with people who praise him, he probably doesn't deserve my interest anyway..."

This little inner monologue is barely conscious, but if I pay attention I can tell it's occurring. I started with a desire to talk to Kent. However, I made the choice to betray it and didn't approach him. I then needed a self-justification, which I found in a crooked view of Kent as arrogant, and only interested in having worshippers around him. I felt somehow bitter and resentful toward him, and as a corrolary, I created a flattering image of myself as "above the mass".

What if I don't feel the sense/desire in the first place? It is possible - and I think, very frequent - that by growing up, after betraying our desires enough, we get used to a certain style of justification. It becomes part of our 'personality'. We thus begin to see the world through our crooked view more than we don't.

Seeing the world through a box

Look at the Choice Diagram. When I choose to betray my sense, my Feelings, my View of Myself, my View of Others and my View of the World change. Because I choose to feel justified, my whole worldview shifts, and I begin to live in a resentful (or unfair/frightening/mediocre/etc.) world. Metaphorically, we can say that we see the world through a box. The world I see becomes determined by my box. No wonder there are so many destructive conflicts - people don't see the same reality in the first place!

There are different styles of boxes, or patterns of disorted views. We all have several or all of them to some degree, even though we may orient to one or two more often. They are pictured in the following diagrams.

Depending on the moment, the people, the circumstances, we may use different boxes, or no box at all. Remember that every relationship, and every moment, is an opportunity to make a different choice - to honor or betray our sense.

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

This famous quote from Gandhi is more than a nice philosophy, it is a practical formula for action. Here is how the Arbinger Institute formulates it:


 Getting out of the box

  1. Look for the signs of the box (blame, justification, horribilization, common box styles, etc.)
  2. Find an out-of-the-box place (out-of-the-box relationships, memories, activities, places, etc.).
  3. Ponder the situation anew (i.e., from this out-of-the-box perspective). Ask
    • What are this person's or people's challenges, trial, burdens, and pains?
    • How am I, or some group of which I am a part, adding to these challenges, trials, burdens, and pains?
    • In what other ways have I or my group neglected or mistreated this person or group?
    • In what ways are my better-than, I-deserve, worse-than, and must-be-seen-as boxes obscuring the truth about others and myself and interfering with potential solutions?
    • What am I feeling I should do for this person or group? What could I do to help?
Staying out of the box
  1. Act upon what I have discovered; do what I am feeling I should do.
The Anatomy of Peace, p.196-197

Personal observations

- Crux of the model is in the self-betrayal/justification piece. Where does this knowledge come from? It seems, from 1st person accounts (zone #1) only? verify that.

- natural, unbiased tendency of human beings to see others as people

Echo with other ideas:
- Kegan's support/challenge in inviting development in others: Dealing with things that are going wrong = challenge ? Helping things go right = support ?
- Arbinger's "sense/desire" sounds similar to Raskin & Rogers' (2000) unknown inner intuitive self, which can be accessed by emptying the soul (Noddings,1992). (References found in Beck. 2005)

Quadrants focus


Simon Beck (2005). Developing Nonviolent Communication: An Integral Approach. M.Ed. for the University of Victoria, Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies.