Musings on Peace

John Paul Lederach

Writing on the facade of the library at the Ritsona refugee and asylum-seeker camp, north of Athens, 2017. Photo: Cynthia E. Smith © Smithsonian Institution.


We sat in roofless church in the East Coast region of Nicaragua.

The burnt vigas offering open skies above us were not by original design.

They fell in fragile placement when mortars destroyed mortar.

A standing bell tower and a foot-pushed pump organ brought us to attention.

Pieces around a war puzzle assembled. People watched, mum and curious.

In this place of deep division and irreplaceable loss, some noise and rumors of peace had brought them in from the surrounding bush.

The call to order started with words of an aged poet.

Truth and Mercy have met together.

Justice and Peace have kissed.




Some months later in that year of 1987, I asked a few community leaders to enact a conversation if these words became people.

What if Sister Truth walked around your village, what might she say if she encountered, say, Brother Justice or Sister Mercy? What would each be worried about? What would each say they needed from the other? What would each ask of you?

At the conclusion of the impromptu drama, when Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace had all spoken and now stood face-to-face in a tight circle, I wondered aloud what we might call their gathering.

A voice rang out.

This place where they meet is called reconciliation.




The works curated throughout this volume trace out to care and healing. They invite us into surprise, a chance to turn and look again.

The pursuit of peace always leads us into the swirling confusion and harm of conflict knowing that healing cannot open toward understanding without imagination and curiosity.

If you cannot imagine that the well-being of your grandchildren is tied to the well-being of your enemy’s grandchildren, Sister Peace will never speak.

Such imagination will take a carefully curated passageway.

That odd twist of phrase back in Nicaragua’s East Coast still rings paradoxically true.

Reconciliation shapes a container, a place of encounter.

Encounter requires paths converging and circling.

Paths cut through fog only with a sense of horizon.

Horizons are always within sight but just beyond touch, requiring yet more encounters along the way.


Peace sits and circles around over and again.




Peace works at the edge.

Peace shapes the liminal space between humans being human in search of their humanity.

Because peace lives at the edge, we experience an impermanence of place.

Displaced. Internally displaced persons, IDPs, became an acronym for the unintended spoiling broil of war.

People in search of place.

The search for belonging remains the rarest and mostly unnamed resource sought by the human species.

In the face of division and conflict, we are all internally displaced persons.




We pontificate, pronounce, and propose about peace. We are good with words in that way.

But peace works defy words because they speak into the unspeakable.

Peace works require us to stop, to notice unexpected passageways.

The question peace poses: How do we stay open to what is not fully known?

It takes a passageway—this portico—to imagine something rooted in the world of hurt and harm around us that gives birth to that which does not yet exist.

Peace works: To curate serendipitous design that opens pathways into our rehumanization; the craft acknowledgment and repair across division and harm; to carve the containers of belonging.




Advice for all those who enter here.

Turn these pages slowly.

Walk these passageways with care.

Stop and take note.

People’s lives will evoke.

Places will invite.

Prepare to be touched by beauty and surprise.

In this place, in this gallery of possibility, images and words offer a portal to where people imagined the encounter and shaped anew the living of their shared humanity.

They are truly the poets of place and belonging.




Peace works (n).

Peace works (v).

John Paul Lederach

John Paul Lederach is Professor Emeritus of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame and currently serves as a Senior Fellow with the foundation Humanity United. A practitioner-scholar he has engaged with and written widely about conflict transformation and peacebuilding in many of the settings explored in this volume. He currently serves on the Advisory Council to the Colombian Truth Commission.