Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Moonlight, emotions and peacebuilding in Bangkok

In the gardens of Bangkok’s Golden Mount Temple one recent evening, under the light of the full moon, I was speaking with Venerable Napan Santibhaddo Thawornbanjob. Venerable Napan is a Buddhist Monk and a peacemaker, who had delivered a fantastic guest seminar for our Class 22 of Rotary Peace Fellows some weeks before.

Walking down the curved path past the Temple’s famous bells, small waterfalls, and Buddha statues, we spoke about the Fellowship. I said something along the lines of “it’s really amazing how much of the learning is about managing oneself.” I was referring to the rich opportunity the course has provided to reflect on my own emotions, experiences, reactions and behaviours. We are requested to write a journal throughout the program, which is proving a wonderful space for this reflection.

The intense nature of the course has given me the chance to strive to find what for me is the ‘right’ balance. The balance between on the one hand socialising with the other fellows and on the other hand quiet time alone; between studying and keeping reasonably fit and enjoying Thailand; between sharing my ideas and experiences and listening to others’; between total absorption in this wonderful experience and connecting with friends and family from ‘life before Chulalongkorn’, which in just a few weeks will be ‘normal’ life once more.

Of course, it shouldn’t have amazed me at all that learning more about myself would be central to the course. As peacebuilders, we do well to start with ourselves.

In Venerable Napan’s seminar, he had led us gently and with great humour to discuss Buddhism and nonviolence. We reflected on the idea that if we ourselves are not peaceful, we can have a negative impact on those around us.

This becomes even more critical when those around us are already in conflict or experiencing pain and suffering.

It is standard practice for clinical psychologists and psychotherapists in the UK to undergo their own therapy and supervision. There are several reasons for this, including; we can more adequately provide support if we understand what it is like to receive support; and, there will be cases that challenge us when we need supervision to do the best job possible.

Yet for those working on transforming violent conflict, there is scant support or supervision available to address our own personal and interpersonal conflicts, or the emotional impact of the work we do upon us.

Peace work is emotional work. Negative emotions and dynamics of anger, fear, hurt, hatred, mistrust and blame fly around in a conflict. On the other hand, steps forward in peace work can lead us to experience joy, elation, hope, connection, commitment, and love. Add to this already rich emotional soup quotidian stresses and frustrations, exposure to or direct experience of traumatic events… It becomes increasingly baffling that the emotional wellbeing of those doing peace work is not higher up everyone’s priority list.

Likewise, the psychological and social wellbeing of people affected by conflict is an area requiring much more attention and funding, in order to create sustainable, positive peace. We have heard from several of our diverse and excellent course lecturers about the strong emotions which can prove obstacles to many aspects of peacebuilding – reaching peace agreements, post conflict reconstruction, reconciliation – if not addressed.

I believe those working in peacebuilding can strengthen our capacities in understanding and working with difficult emotions – our own and others’. I also believe that culturally appropriate psychosocial support, building on people’s innate resources to support themselves and their communities, needs to be more consistently integrated into different areas of peacebuilding. We should not shy away from emotions, but acknowledge that they play a key role in conflict and in peace, and that greater support for emotional wellbeing is needed, by people affected by conflict and people working for peace.

Cloe Sian Clayton – UK

Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22


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