VIOLENCE convulses the globe. Or so it seems. On the nightly news, we see car bombings, riots, and raids fueling the bitter conflicts in Lebanon, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. We hear of gang wars and crime ruling the inner-city worlds of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago. And we shudder to learn of the violence that has seeped into schools, communities -- even families -- across the nation.
But we rarely hear of people struggling for peace. It's not because they don't exist. In the United States and around the world, thousands of men and women are working behind the scenes to resolve violent conflicts and preserve peace. In the past four months, the Monitor has profiled 11 of them.
Their modest efforts will not revolutionize the world. David Russell, for instance, won't stop the estimated 2 million spouse-abusers in the US just through his work with 175 Pittsburgh-area men. California schoolteacher Vincent Lavery won't squelch the fighting in Beirut just by uniting 16 Lebanese youngsters from each side of the conflict. And the Rev. Nico Smith won't end the violence in South Africa just by moving into a black township and establishing points of contact between blacks and whites.
But they do prick our consciences and suggest the potential for peace -- even if in small ways. And perhaps that's the point. These ``peacemakers'' are not bigger-than-life heroes -- 1986 versions of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
Just ask Dennis Wittman, who reconciles victims to violent felony offenders for the Batavia, N.Y., sheriff's department: ``It comes down to ordinary people being extraordinarily committed,'' he says.
These are ordinary people devoted to the gritty struggle of resolving violent conflicts and preserving peace. But they are not committed to self-promotion, sign-waving, and slogans. More than slogans
``The making of peace is a much more complex thing than peace marching, much more demanding than going along with a banner or shouting a slogan,'' says Belfast's Sydney Callaghan, a Methodist minister who ignores Protestant-Roman Catholic labels in helping his community fight unemployment, poor housing, and human despair. ``The making of peace is a lifetime operation; it's not just a program that you put up and take down. Peacemaking is hard work. It means blood and sweat and tears.''
The Rev. Mr. Callaghan speaks not of physical violence, although that is certainly a danger for several of these individuals -- especially Marianne Diaz, a former gang member who helps stifle street-gang violence in the barrios of Los Angeles. Rather, he's referring to another, more subtle danger: superficial peace.
``Our purpose is not to rush in and create the appearance of a peaceful climate,'' agrees Houston's Efrain Martinez, a conciliator with the Community Relations Service, a branch of the United States Justice Department. ``It is to help people address the issues that are the basis of their conflicts.''
To find the common ground -- whether between inmates and prison officials, minorities and police, or an influx of Shiite Muslims and an established neighborhood -- Mr. Martinez says it is crucial to have just one preconception: ``The key is entering each situation with a faith that it's within them to address their problems, that that's where the solutions lie.''
And that takes hard work and humility. Martinez, for instance, spent long hours this summer -- cross-legged and shoeless in a Houston home -- learning about the Shiite Muslim faith from members of the city's newly formed Shiite association.
The Rev. Mr. Smith, a white minister in South Africa's Dutch Reformed Church, showed extreme humility -- and courage -- by moving in June to Mamelodi, a blacks-only commuter township near Pretoria. In the past 20 years, Mr. Smith has gone from preaching that apartheid is a work of God to a conviction that his South Africa's future must be decided by its large black majority.
``I do not offer answers; I don't have advice,'' he insists. ``That is the main thing I have learned as a minister here. The most important thing I can do is to listen -- to problems, and frustration, and pain. It is a new experience for most blacks. They are used to white men who do the talking.''
A mediator must check his ego at the door, says Robert Marovic, a senior at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, N.Y., where he resolves student conflicts. ``We're not authoritative figures,'' he says, showing remarkable restraint for a young man who entered the school two years ago as a notorious troublemaker. ``We're not there to suggest the answer,'' he says. ``We're there to listen.'' A desire to listen stressed
Without exception, the ``peacemakers'' agree that the simple desire to listen and learn helps solidify trust -- and facilitate the peaceful resolution of a conflict.
Last year, in one sniper case, Dennis Wittman raced around the rolling hills of New York State, visiting the victims and their assailant more than 60 times before they decided to have a reconciliation meeting. ``People can read a con job,'' Mr. Wittman explains. ``It's more significant to maintain a high degree of trust and sincerity with the victims and offenders.''
Sgt. Mary (Micki) Farrell, a San Diego police officer with a knack for turning potentially violent ballpark situations into docile discussions, makes sure she listens to the hecklers and hooligans. ``When you give them back their importance, 99 times out of a hundred they are willing to let common sense reign,'' she says.
A few people -- former gang member Marianne Diaz, Dominican mother Mary Gratereau of New York, one-time troublemaker Robert Marovic, and recovering spouse-abuser David Russell -- have a somewhat easier time developing trust. They've come through the struggle themselves. Calling on personal experience
Mr. Russell, for one, thinks his personal battle with domestic violence gives him more than trust and respect. It helps him see through the ``games'' that current abusers often try to play. And it makes him very suspicious of the ``quick fix.'' A man can't claim victory over domestic violence just because he hasn't hit his wife in three months, Russell says. Not only could he abuse her again, he explains, but ``we have to be careful that men don't just change the form of their violence'' from physical to psychological.
Behind that observation lies a nugget of common understanding: Violence cannot just be erased; it must be replaced by a healthy, peaceful process of dealing with conflict.
That's because violence exists for a reason, however misguided. Russell says that domestic violence reflects the destructive desire to control another person. Crowd-controller Micki Farrell calls it a ``needed release.'' She says her job is ``to steer it into socially acceptable patterns -- not deny its expression.'' And Ralph Gomez, who helped defuse graffiti gang wars in Paterson, N.J., by redirecting the youngsters' energies, sees juvenile vandalism and violence as a desire for self-expression and recognition.
In broader conflicts -- like South Africa, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland -- the roots of violence are more complex and deep-seated. But the Revs. Mr. Smith and Mr. Callaghan believe that the general atmosphere of violence often stems from misperceptions and mistrust -- both of which can be reversed by clearer, more honest communication.
Violence will never end, these peacemakers suggest, until disputants and mediators realize that it is not the only way to handle conflict.
For instance Mr. Lavery, the California schoolteacher, lets children from Beirut and Belfast see that violence is not the norm. Mr. Lavery arranges for children from each side of the struggles in these strife-torn cities to spend a summer together in the United States, where they naturally overcome their suspicion, anger, and hatred of each other.
Mary Gratereau understands that parental violence -- as well as the lure for youngsters of the drug ``crack'' and crime -- is not some static, unchangeable fact in the families of Hispanic immigrants. ``These are not hardened kids,'' she insists, explaining how the youngsters embrace new projects and activities -- if they are given some stake in them. ``I just try to get them turned around, involved in a productive activity where they can have some control over their lives.''
The very presence of Marianne Diaz gives rival gangs in Los Angeles a choice. ``Many of these kids don't know they don't have to join,'' she says. ``It helps them to hear it from somebody who did.''
Ms. Diaz goes two steps further. By shuttling information between rival gangs, she removes the primary fuel of violence -- misinformation. She has also devised an alternative: a football game that releases tension and sets up a framework where each gang can earn the other's respect. Need for alternatives seen
For peace to be more than superficial, people must see clear choices to violence. Ralph Gomez helped the pavement Picassos in Paterson, N.J., realize that they could gain more recognition and self-respect by spraypainting their graffiti on canvas and wiping clean the walls of the community. Gomez merely facilitated their efforts and ideas -- what he calls ``their self-determination.''
At the Second Step program in Pittsburgh, Mr. Russell guides wife-batterers through workshops to see that they have a choice at every step of the way. If the abusers are to beat violence instead of their wives, Russell says, they must see that the husband-wife relationship is based on nurturing and care, not on control.
Says student mediator Marovic: ``We're all like hidden gold mines.'' He was referring to his fellow mediators, but he could have been speaking -- prophetically -- to all of us. PEACEMAKERS PROFILED
Marianne Diaz, who prevents street-gang violence in the barrios of Los Angeles. May 8.
The Rev. Nico Smith, a white South African minister who moved to a black township and tries to bridge South Africa's black-white divide. May 21.
Dennis Wittman, who reconciles victims and their assailants in New York. June 24.
Robert Marovic, a high school student who resolves disputes between fellow students in New York. July 1.
The Rev. Sydney Callaghan, a Methodist minister in Belfast who helps Protestants and Catholics fight joblessness, poor housing, and discrimination. July 11.
Efrain Martinez, a federal conciliator in Houston who tries to head off conflicts before they arise. July 31.
Ralph Gomez, whose interest in art and in young people defused a brewing gang war in Paterson, N.J. Aug. 7.
Mary Gratereau, who helps immigrants in New York City ease family strains that come when the old culture clashes with the new. Aug. 13.
Vincent Lavery, who brings young people from strife-torn regions to the United States for a summer. Aug. 21.
David Russell, who overcame his tendency toward domestic violence to help other Pittsburgh-area men stop abusing their spouses. Sept. 4.
Sgt. Mary (Micki) Farrell, a San Diego police officer who has a knack for calming unruly crowds. Sept. 12.