Trust Building and the Peace Process

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Trust building is a key component in peacemaking, and it’s not always a quick process. In our modern, high-tech world, we have become accustomed to quick fixes, immediate answers, and fast solutions. However, when it comes to relationships, things don’t always move so quickly. Relationships follow laws of nature and can be compared to our physical bodies. When we have an injury, it takes time and extra care to heal. Despite us wanting to “patch things up” quickly with a physical or relational wound, there is a process that must occur. It never helps to pour salt on a wound, and the same can be said for conflict resolution. Pursuing and “eye for an eye” only perpetuates more conflict and creates compounded wounds, and it never leads to problem solving or productive solutions.

If a conflict has existed for years, and even generations, there may be long-term traumas that must be addressed. When a person, or a group of people, has been hurt and wounds deepened over the years, there can be a lengthy peace process. Trust is at the heart of that process. Jennifer Widner, Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Director of Innovations for Successful Societies, writes, “For peace to endure in the aftermath of conflict, it is also vital to restore the trust that undergirds exchange and compromise, to give people a stake…to encourage investment of time and energy in solving community problems.”

The first step to trust building is creating healthy and open dialogues. Each side must be capable of truly hearing what the other side has to say, even if it’s unpleasant. Having a mediator in the process can help people see different perspectives and set the tone for cooperation. Both sides must genuinely care about finding a mutual agreement verses only proving one argument. If a dialogue is established, putting together a “blue print” of how to move forward is the next step. Outlining agreements on both sides and sticking to those agreements are important in building trust. If people or groups go back on their agreements, the trust-building process can be set back or even broken. The “blue print” is often a small step to a greater peacemaking process. Both sides may not be fully satisfied with the “first draft,” which is also known as the “best available alternative” in conflict resolution terms. The early draft, or B.A.A., is a stepping stone intended to build towards a more final agreement where both sides are fulfilled. Continuous dialogues, meetings, and revisions can take some time, but the process itself cultivates trust-building. This can be a long-game, but it is rewarding once both sides are happy with a mutually beneficial outcome. Within the trust-building process is where virtues of hard work and resilience can truly pay off. Taken from the words of Sophocles, “Without labor nothing prospers.”

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