The Possible Mexicos Project and Associative Peace
Mauricio Meschoulam June, 2018
By Mauricio Meschoulam, a member of the Méxicos Posibles team, a professor at the Ibero-American University, and an expert on terrorism, national security, and global affairs. This article is reprinted with permission from his weekly column in El Universal.
These days it is common to hear about the need to have a Mexico in peace. The trouble is that we do not always understand what this means. Our concept of peace is usually related to stopping violence. In fact, when the word peace is used it is often given the suffix “tranquility” and even the prefix “return,” which results in something like this: “It is necessary to restore peace and tranquility to Mexicans.” This phrase shows a lack of familiarity with the vast literature on the subject of peace.
Here are some basic notions to understand what I mean. First, peace includes but it is not limited to the absence of violence. This is no longer a supposition, but a statement supported by evidence. Second, this same research shows that peace requires strong material and non-material structural indicators, including the equitable distribution of resources, low levels of corruption, having solid institutions that work, and respect for the rights of others, among many others. Therefore, talking about “returning” to peace assumes that a few years ago there was “peace” in the country because there were fewer bullets or less blood, without considering the structural factors (structural violence) that have produced direct violence in Mexico for a long time. Third, a state of peace does not imply the absence of conflict. Conflict is natural to human interactions, because we are different beings, we believe in different things, and we have different ways of thinking and behaving. However, more peaceful societies develop nonviolent mechanisms to resolve the conflicts that emerge from this plurality. So tranquility does not always describe or accompany such circumstances.
It is this this last area, how conflict is dealt with, that I focus on here.
Possible Mexicos is a project that, since 2014, has involved a group of Mexicans who are enormously plural and diverse. This group includes public officials, legislators belonging to different political parties, members of the security forces, members of civil society active in a wide variety of fields, businesswomen, religious representatives, academics. and journalists, among other sectors. Our great challenge was, throughout a series of intensive workshops, to agree on the identification of the main problems of our country and to elaborate scenarios as to how Mexico could arrive at the year 2030.
But for me, a person interested in issues of conflict and peacebuilding, there are a number of keys and lessons learned in this type of exercises that we would do well to emphasise. This is especially important in view of the perfect storm we are living through in Mexico, which combines the worst violence of the last 20 years along with very high social and political polarization and great distrust in our institutions.
The first learning is that we need to include, despite the conflicts that confront us—in fact, because of them. Dissociative peace is that condition in which the parties in conflict are separated or set apart so that they stop attacking each other. In a much deeper and permanent way, associative peace is an approach that seeks to build or reestablish links of interaction between conflicted actors, so that violence is increasingly a less viable option to resolve what confronts them. Associative peace, nevertheless, is a long and difficult process and is not free of obstacles. Sometimes, in effect, it can not even be thought of without first stopping the violence.
Sometimes, we work on both schemes—dissociation and association—in parallel. But apart from that, building peace implies building mechanisms and tools through which social actors (internally within a country, or among state actors at the international level) can effectively process their differences. You could say that this is what institutions, laws, and the state are for. This is correct, but the subject is more complex. First, because in order for them to be effective, the instruments and mechanisms to resolve our conflicts must be learned, used, and implemented from the depths of our societies; they must be part of our education and normal bahaviour. And second, because when our state is structurally ill and when our institutions are not trusted by citizens, other sectors of society need to actively offer alternatives. So any exercise that demonstrates effectiveness in how divergence is processed is healthy for countries like ours. In any case, in this particular initiative, the state is not excluded. To reiterate: the key is inclusion.
The second learning: Possible Méxicos is a living testimony that, through appropriate methodological tools, it is not impossible to reach minimum agreements between people with very different ways of seeing, living, and understanding reality, in order to identify diagnoses, develop possible scenarios, and think about some common bases for avoiding the worst of these coming to pass. In my experience, the most valuable of this living testimony lies less in the precision of the diagnoses and scenarios, and much more in how ideological disputes hnave been resolved and how conflict between diverse actors has been processed as the workshops progressed.
The third learning is probably the greatest: the value of listening and placing oneself in the shoes of “others”—sometimes people only perceived as opposites, sometimes those simply invisible in our echo chambers, in our ghettos of followers and followed in social networks or in our spaces of daily interaction. The methodology implemented in our workshops, which was developed by Reos Partners, identifies the need to overcome our impulse to always be right and convince those “others” of our truth, the only one we see. We were able to experience in our bodies what it means to be in true and profound dialogue, a dialogue in which we can be present, honestly and truly listening to the person with whom we have so many differences, in order to transform their problems and concerns into themes on which we need to work collaboratively. It is a kind of transition from “others” to “us,” a condition in which we end up not “teaching” or “demonstrating” the validity of our readings of reality, but learning to understand the readings of reality of people with whom under normal conditions we would not have any conversation.
It is these elements, and not the absence of conflict, that are the active component of peace in its purest form. Those material and non-material factors that produce integration and collaboration within our societies—recognizing our diversity and our divergence, but at the same time taking on board the need to listen and to suspend judgment and disqualification—are the DNA of peace that, when it’s missing, translates into the conditions that our country suffers today. Possible Mexicos is of course not the only answer. But it is a proposal that, as more than 90 of us who have participated in it can testify, is highly effective and that therefore makes sense to continue replicating and expanding.