24 October 2011

Lessons from the Intermediary

Learning to solve conflict is always an interesting process . . . throw in the context of foreign language and a new culture and you've got yourself a recipe for a few stressful near-misses.  Recently, on a couple separate trips between Galmi and Niamey, I have had the occasion to be an observer and participant of cross-cultural conflict resolution.  

The first involved a 4x4 and a moto . . . the second, a misplaced cell phone.  Both had three things in common: intercultural participants, a growing-more-aggressive-by-the-minute mob, and a lone intermediary.

You know, it can be stressful enough trying to get two sides of a story after one of life's little hiccups, but it becomes a bit of a circus when three or more languages are being tossed around like hot potatoes and the entire village shows up to see what all the commotion's about. 

But as I was standing on a dirt sidewalk, trying to share what I, as a witness, had seen, I realized that I wasn't speaking to the two men involved, rather to a third man . . . one who had not been present during any of the surrounding events.

He had nothing to do with the situation.  

He didn't see the cell phone drop out of a pocket onto the car roof.  He didn't see a passerby spot the phone.  He didn't see that man try to return the phone.  He didn't see us drive away.  He may have seen us pull a U-ie and race back into town, but if he had, it didn't matter, because he didn't see the man that took the phone voluntarily approach our car and return it with all the whistles-and-bells still intact.  

No.  He had nothing to gain, and nothing to lose.

He was however, the most important part of the whole scenario.  He was our intermediary.

In a gentle voice, he drowned out the cries of the mob and he spoke to each party and then the witnesses.    With a great sense of calm, he helped to clarify misunderstandings and keep tempers at bay.  The intermediary knew the role he had voluntarily assumed was as peacekeeper and peacemaker.

And he was effective.

You know, this stranger got me thinking.  In Nigerien culture, it is important to use an intermediary when resolving conflict . . . no matter how small.  But, I think there's a lot to learn from this role outside of the context of conflict-resolution.  He didn't take sides.  He didn't form judgements.  He didn't make demands.  He didn't even raise his voice.

He was a man of peace.  

Romans 12:18 tells us that when 'possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.'  

So this stranger who emerged from the dusty mob on the side of the road in a middle-of-nowhere village has made me stop and ask myself: Am I a woman of peace?  Am I keeping it and making it?  Or am I the loud angry voice in the mob stirring up the hornets' nest?


Mamastouff said...

Funny you should mention this...I have been asking this of  myself and trying to back off...I found myself playing the role of Holy Spirit...a role I have NO business approaching...as soon as I backed off, I could watch God work!! 

Anitamonroe66 said...

Hi Deb - haven't been on lately to catch up on your activities.  Your Mom is getting really excited - but at the same time anxious - about her trip to Niger to visit with you.  We will miss her while she is gone.  Your Dad and my Bob will probably keep each other company some - since I, too, will be traveling for a while.  As always, I enjoy your observations and viewpoints.

The Villages

John G said...

I think I'm about 5 steps behind you. Today I watched a video about how thrilled a dog was to see his owner when he came back from Afghanistan and I realized why everyone likes dogs- they are so genuinely delighted to be in your presence. A dog has no business being that delighted, really. He doesn't have any clue how marvelous God's greatest creation is. We as humans know that  and yet I rarely find myself appreciating my interactions with others and even less often letting anyone know that I enjoy interacting with them. I'm not even as good as a dog... so I am praying that God would help me to appreciate people for the magnificent creations who He has made them to be. I think that's a big part of learning to be a person of peace.

Chcpe said...

A mediator and a peacemaker...we have so much to learn in the US of A! Isn't it ironic that the newest church baby has the middle name of...Peacemaker (Ben and Melissa Panter's new baby boy). Jedadiah (spelling may be wrong) weighed in at 8 pounds, 8 ounces. Like his mom and dad I'll bet on him being a man leaning on Romans 12:18. Hope you are well. We all miss you, and pray for you. Poppy Candy (wow, is it fun watching Olivia grow)

Deb. said...

And what a blessing to see Him work, hey!?!?

Deb. said...

Don't know if you heard about the AirFrance strikes, but she had to come three days early!! But it all worked out better that way! And with the freak NorthEast snow storm, it's a good thing, or she'd be sleeping on the floor of JFK!

Thanks for reading! Thanks for caring!

Deb. said...

Looks like you're learning some big things in your corner of west Africa, John!

Deb. said...

A BIG congratulations to B&M and the whole clan. Welcome little one . . . and may you grow to fill the big shoes of your name!