Sunburns and sweat make better leaders

June 16

            Today was the PS preparation that I have been working on the past couple of days with Mohammed, the program director. We went for a hike in a nature reserve in the desert. When we arrived, the PSs and the past PSs were told that they were to follow a trail down to a stream and picnic area where Mohammed and I would be waiting with breakfast. Before they set off, one of the PSs was pulled aside and asked to act needy and spoiled, complaining and taking her time along the hike.  This was one of my ideas to see how the others would handle difficulties that challenge the ability of the whole group to work together. When they set off, we drove down into the valley to wait for them to arrive; the hike was only supposed to take 30 minutes.

            However, we sat and waited for the group for an hour. When they finally arrived, we asked how the hike had gone. The past PSs reported that the group had not worked together very well, and that there was a lot of friction caused by the person who was told to be difficult. One of the others had gotten very upset with her for delaying the process and being annoying. While we were eating, we had a discussion with the kids about how they had reacted to the situation. They said that the one who had gotten upset always had to be in the lead and was refusing to slow down the pace when the designated complainer said she could not keep up. We discussed with them that part of being a leader and a member of the team is to support one another and listen to the needs of all members because they will do much better to solve problems by working together than causing divisions. During the course of this conversation, it was revealed that the one PS had been asked to act a certain way, so the other apologized to her and we were ready to move on, hopefully keeping in mind what was said about behaving like a team.

            Mohammed and I joined the second hike to observe how the PSs interacted after having a discussion and the first hike under their belts. Before we left the picnic area, we pulled one of the quieter PSs aside and asked him to quietly slip away and hide while the others were not watching so that we could see how they handled this new crisis. We headed out on the hike, which involved a lot of rock climbing, hills, and picking out the best path.

                                                                          The PSs and I on the preparation hike

There were some good things that I saw happening this time. Many of the PSs were offering hands to help others down particularly steep and difficult places, and when the PS that we asked to hide was hanging back to try to get away, others slowed to walk with him and encourage him to continue. Mohammed had to step in there to walk with him so that he could actually disappear! Even though these good things were happening, when the PS did hide, the team still did not function well. Some people were so far in the front that they did not even know he was gone, and when everyone was caught up on what had happened, a few split off to go look for him, while the rest just stayed in a group letting them do their thing. Working together to solve the issue never occurred to them, and they did not take it seriously.

            After the “lost” PS was found, we continued on our hike. That was when something happened that really struck me and showed me what I am up against in the field of conflict resolution. A group of Israeli school children arrived in a bus to the picnic area we had left, which was now below us near the stream as we were on our way hiking down a mountain. Several of the PSs saw the kids and began shouting at them, things like “these are Hamas waters”, singing the Palestinian national anthem, and the like, basically taunting the Israeli kids. I was surprised by this because all of the PSs have participated just last summer in Seeds of Peace international camp, where they learn conflict resolution skills and learn to form relationships with “the other side”. The taunting demonstration showed me just how difficult it is to replace one image of a group with a positive and constructive new one for the sake of peace. Even though all of the PSs likely made friends with some Israelis at camp, it seems that they still take on the mindset of the other as the enemy, with individuals they know personally becoming the exception to the rule. Clearly, it takes ongoing and persistent work to change the conflict mindset, and I learned that peace-builders must keep this in mind, investing vast amounts of time in order to make a small change. A lot of the responsibility then also lies on the people themselves to take initiative and change themselves so that they can positively influence others’ mindsets. It was definitely enlightening to see the resentment and bitterness still harbored by people actively involved in a peace-building program that aims at reversing the very attitudes that were displayed by the PSs today. I remember reading many articles about this in classes, but having that experience is a little disheartening!

            We eventually finished the hike, meeting back at the picnic area for lunch and a discussion of how the second hike went in light of the experience and conversation of the first. The kids expressed that they thought that it went better and they worked better together, but then one of the old PSs pointed out that they did not handle the lost member very well. They said it was because they knew it was a role play just like the first hike, so it was not serious. We explained then that if something were to happen like that at camp with the Seeds, though, it would be serious, and they need to know how to handle it. After that discussion, we asked the PSs to go around the table and make an evaluation of something that happened on the hike. This was from my idea of having the kids critique one another productively, as that is a skill that they are to be developing as PSs at camp. It was good to see that they stuck to the good things that they observed each other doing during the hike, and were able to capitalize on those achievements in a way that would have inspired them to continue to work in a team. This was greatly contrasted with the discussion that happened after the first hike, where people were angry and frustrated with each other, and arguing rather than constructively assessing what went well and what needed to be changed.

            Even though the day was focused more on leadership skills than conflict resolution, I think that it was an important event for me to be a part of. I got to see how some of my ideas for the program played out, and I was able to use my own skills as a leader, effectively engaging others in conversation and self-evaluation. In addition, I was glad to be able to participate in one of the small pieces that makes up the whole Seeds of Peace peace-building project. Being involved in the panning and implementation makes me appreciate how the larger goal cannot be accomplished without the little pieces that I work on with others in the office. Hopefull the sweat and sunburn resulting from today has helped the PSs become better leaders for the new seeds!