The Anatomy of Peace Eliminating the Causes of Conflict

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Author: Arbinger Institute 

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict The Arbinger Institute 2006

The Anatomy of Peace
The Anatomy of Peace

On the brink of war and a step away from peace (The Anatomy of Peace)

The Anatomy of Peace: Eliminating the Causes of Conflict is a guide to finding peace, both internal and external. After recognizing a problem, we usually aim to fix what goes wrong. However, according to the methodology of the Arbinger Institute, you should first take control of the situation, and only then try to correct something. When we look for excuses for maintaining conflict, we fail to think clearly and we do not have time to notice and correct mistakes in time, so the main thing is to approach problems with a non-conflict type of thinking. This is the only way to achieve maximum results in personal life, business, or peacemaking.

The narration of the book is conducted on behalf of the protagonist Lou Herbert – the head of the company, a family man, and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Herbert is short-tempered and uncompromising; like a magnet, it attracts conflicts. He has communication problems with his son, who has been caught more than once for stealing drugs, and with his wife, who is beginning to feel abandoned. In addition, Lou has a crisis in the company: two weeks ago, five of the six senior managers quit because of the requirements set for them. 

Lou, his wife, and his son go to the Mount Moriah 1 rehab center to try to mend their relationship and maybe even help Herbert resolve a crisis at work. The center is headed by Yusuf al-Fala, who was born in Israel but was forced to immigrate to Jordan before moving to the United States. His friend and right-hand man Avi Rosen are an Israeli whose father died at the hands of the Arabs during the Yom Kippur War 2, – helps to carry out the rehabilitation program. Yusuf and Avi believe that any conflict – at home, at work, between countries – usually has the same cause: self-deception. During the two-day intensive, they explain to the Herberts and other visiting parents how to get rid of self-deception, become agents of peace, and avoid and/or prevent conflict in all situations.

Using life stories that read more like a novel than a scientific study, Anatomy of the World teaches us to be critical of ourselves first of all – after all, only we ourselves are able to reverse the conflict situation and come to peace. 

With a light heart

Conflicts are inevitable: at home, at work, and on a global scale… Force, however, should only be used as a last resort. The success of problem-solving in any field lies in a non-conflict type of thinking. 

In June 1099, the crusaders from the west besieged Jerusalem. They wanted to return the city, which once belonged to the Christians. After 40 days, the city fell. With fire and sword, the crusade went through all the inhabitants of the captive Jerusalem – Muslims, Jews and even Christians.

The Anatomy of Peace

Less than a century later, under the leadership of Salah ad-Din, or Saladin , who united peoples from Syria to Egypt, Jerusalem was returned to the Arabs. Nevertheless, Saladin became famous not only for his grandiose victories, but also for his boundless generosity to the enemy. When a woman came to him from the enemy camp, whose daughter was kidnapped by Muslims, and begged to help her find her child, touched by Saladin, he helped find her daughter and let both of them go in peace.

The Anatomy of Peace

On another occasion, a crusader who managed to escape from the battlefield turned to Saladin with an unexpected request: to allow him to return and take his wife from besieged Jerusalem, promising not to oppose Salah ad-Din. However, once in the city, the crusader saw how weak the defense was, and asked to be released from the promise so that he could protect Jerusalem from the army of Saladin. He condescended and even allowed the wife of the enemy to return under the protection of his soldiers. Although Saladin was constantly at war, his heart always desired peace. Saladin respected people, whether they were allies or opponents.

The Anatomy of Peace

What is important is not what is outside – behavior, but what is inside – the feeling with which something is done or not done. 

way of being

The saying “Cogito ergo sum” 4 by  René Descartes, the French founder of modern philosophy, is known to many of us. Descartes puts the human consciousness, the so-called “I”, at the forefront. If the German philosopher of the 20th century Martin Heidegger could overcome the language, and most importantly, time barrier, he would ask Descartes: “Where did the language come from to describe this thought?” Then one has to discard individualism and admit that language appeared from outside. It turns out that human consciousness is dependent on other people, although it is we who determine to what extent.

Martin Buber, a contemporary philosopher of Heidegger, agreed with this approach and identified two ways of human existence:

  • “I am You” (when we treat others as people, individuals with feelings and experiences; non-conflict type of thinking).

As a young man, Lou Herbert lived with his family on a farm. For a long time they had only an old truck. So when the Herberts finally bought a new car, it was a big deal.

The Anatomy of Peace

Sixteen-year-old Lou was eager to show this car to his friends in town. He asked his father to give him a ride, and he, seeing his son’s enthusiasm, agreed. Lou started the engine and suddenly remembered that he had forgotten his wallet. When he returned with money from home, the car was gone. Lou saw that the car was at the bottom of the cliff. He forgot to put her on the brake!

The Anatomy of Peace

Lou came to his father, burning with shame, trembling with fear. He burst into tears and confessed that the car was at the bottom of the river because he forgot to put the handbrake on it. Without taking his eyes off the newspaper, his father calmly said, “Well, son, you’ll probably have to take the truck.”

The Anatomy of Peace
  • “I am It” (when others are dehumanized, become only objects for us; conflict type of thinking).

As a child, Yusuf had an acquaintance, the blind man Mordechai. They both made money by begging, and their paths often crossed. Yusuf never talked to the old man and did not feel any emotions towards him. Once, when Mordechai was processing another client, the blind man’s pocket was torn and money fell down the road. Yusuf saw this and seemed to want to help Mordechai, but suddenly hesitated, and then turned away and quickly walked in the other direction. The boy’s brain began to convulsively look for excuses for such an act. After a few minutes, he was already sure that he had always disliked Mordechai, that he himself was to blame, and in general, Yusuf owed nothing to anyone. The blind old man turned into an impersonal object, and the boy’s heart began to desire war, because Yusuf renounced his former self.

The Anatomy of Peace

Man still, consciously or not, makes a choice between two modes of existence. However, did Buber know how the process of transition from communication between people to contact between a person and an object takes place? 

For those in the tank

Our way of determining how we interact with people. We always have a choice: act according to our conscience and perceive people, not as objects, or change our former selves and stop seeing others as individuals like us.

If we decide to start a conflict with our “I” and with others, we begin:

  • see ourselves as victims forced to act against our will;
  • want to appear better than we are;
  • feel right;
  • experience anger, annoyance, depression;
  • consider that the other (no longer a person, but an object) is not worthy of the same that we are worthy, he deprives us of peace, carries a threat;
  • perceive the world around us as unfair, painful, taking up arms against us.

After renouncing our former selves, we begin to look for excuses for new behavior and the emotions resulting from it. If we didn’t deal with our conscience, we wouldn’t have to force the facts.

Yusuf’s father was a carpenter. When the boy came to his father at work and drew attention to the crooked wall, his father said to him:

The Anatomy of Peace

“Son, we need to fit her in.”
— Fit?
– Yes. If something looks wrong and out of place, we just tweak it.

The Anatomy of Peace

Having changed ourselves, we begin to “adjust” the environment to our new worldview. To do this, we exaggerate other people’s shortcomings and our differences, and finally simply deprive others and ourselves of humanity. 

The walls we build around ourselves

When we see others as objects, we develop certain conflict patterns of communication. They are based on four typical styles of justification that we often use as a set:

“Better than others”:

  • we believe that we are important, worthy, right;
  • feel contempt, impatience, indifference;
  • we believe that others are insignificant, incapable, wrong;
  • We think that the world is aggressive, full of problems, and needs us.


  • believe that we are victims, we are underestimated, we deserve more;
  • we feel deprived, entitled;
  • we think that the rest do not understand anything, annoy us, and show ingratitude;
  • We believe that the world is unfair and owes us.

“Must Seem”:

  • we need to be well thought of;
  • we feel the excitement, overstrain, and fear;
  • we think that the rest are spectators, threatening and criticizing;
  • We believe that the world is dangerous, watching and judging.

One day, Avi hired a new employee to be a branch manager, but he turned out to be an adherent of the “better than others” template and turned the lives of those around him into a nightmare. Avi understood that this employee should completely reconsider his approaches to work and to communication with colleagues. However, Avi (in the hope that the new employee would either quit or reform himself) did nothing, as he thought he “should seem” tolerable. If Avi saw in the new employee the same person as himself, he would not turn away from him, but would try to help.

The Anatomy of Peace

“Worse than others”:

  • we feel broken, doomed, our own imperfection;
  • we experience defenselessness, envy, bitterness, oppression;
  • we believe that others are chosen, gifted lucky ones;
  • we believe that the world is too complex, ignores and/or does not notice us.

Carroll suffered from bulimic attacks, but did not try to do anything about it. When she started a family, her habit began to interfere with her personal life. Carroll withdrew into herself and silently cherished her grief. It was only through the understanding of her loving husband that Carroll admitted to herself and others that she had a problem and needed to do something urgently.

The Anatomy of Peace

If we are in the mood for conflict, even the smallest flaw can become our weapon against ourselves and others. 

Behind the wall of excuses, we stop seeing real people. Conflicts will seem like a given, something that happens regardless of our will. We believe so, even if in fact these are clashes in which both sides had a hand. Each time it will be easier to change yourself, and the wall we are building will begin to become thicker. In the end, we will not only perceive others as objects, but we ourselves will begin to forget what it means to be human, and the only thing worse than contempt from the outside can be contempt for oneself. The thirst for war will doom us to live in a hated world.

How to get out of the swamp and help others in this?

Sometimes a conflict between two parties can escalate into a clash between many. It happens when everyone tries to solve a problem, but in the end, only adds fuel to the fire.

Even big wars start small. If one stopped listening to what his conscience says, then gradually he will begin to draw others into the conflict, enlisting their support or turning them into his dehumanized enemies. Also, once we start seeing a person as just an object, the risk increases that others will use this as an excuse to start a collision.

However, we do not always build metaphorical walls between ourselves and others. Sometimes we use one of the justification styles when communicating with colleagues, but at the same time at home, we do not need any conflict patterns, since we are among our own. Only through comparison can you understand that your type of thinking is conflict, and begin a gradual departure from the mode of existence of “I – It” to “I – You”.

Four stages of the restoration of inner peace: 

  • look for and find signs of renunciation of the former self (accusation, exaggeration, and even demonization of others, four typical styles of justification, etc.);
  • find actions and feelings outside the conflict pattern (warm relationships or memories, favorite activities or places);
  • rethink the situation from a non-conflict position using a series of questions:

– Do we demand from ourselves as much as we used to demand from these people?
– What are the challenges, trials, difficulties facing these people or a person?
– How do we or the group to which we belong multiply these challenges, trials, difficulties?
– How have we or our group neglected or mistreated this person or group?
– How do our excuses obscure the truth about others, about us, and impede a possible resolution of the conflict?
– What do we feel we should do for this person or group?
– What can we do to help?

The Anatomy of Peace
  • take independent actions (everyone decides how to follow the feeling he feels).

Peace on the mountain

After we have moved from a conflict type of thinking to a non-conflict one, we should build a strategy for its distribution among others. Of course, we cannot force others to change, since no one starts a conflict thinking they are wrong. However, it is in our power to encourage others to change. 

This is exactly what leaders do – they act as agents of peace, and go with the people, while tyrants use force or take advantage of the plight of others. 

The strategy of the world can be represented as a pyramid. How to use the Peace Building Pyramid: 

  • the strategy of the world should be followed from the lower level of the pyramid to the upper one: first, you need to take control of the situation, and only then try to fix something;
  • the hierarchy of the pyramid goes against the conventional wisdom that you first need to figure out what is going wrong; the correction is provocative in nature, so all other levels must be worked out first;
  • the first, the basic level is a way of being, while the other levels are behavior.

The Three Lessons of the Peace Pyramid

More time and effort must be spent on the lower levels, as they will determine the continued success of the strategy. The solution to a top-level problem is always at least one level below. One way or another, our effectiveness at each of the levels depends on the lowest level of the pyramid (if you subconsciously strive for conflict, then all actions will lead to it, so the strategy should be approached with a non-conflict type of thinking).

Lou Herbert is the head of the company, an entrepreneur: loud, short-tempered, exceptionally purposeful. Two weeks ago, in an emergency meeting, five of the six top executives issued an ultimatum: either Lou gives them more freedom or they quit. Lou didn’t like wasting time, so he kicked out his “ungrateful” colleagues, ignoring their well-founded claims. As a result, the future of his company hangs in the balance, and at home he is in conflict with his son and possibly his wife. However, realizing he was wrong, Herbert is ready to apply strategies for making peace, no longer wanting to foment conflict. First, he will make peace with the most significant of the retired managers – Kate, the soul of the team, a key link in the company. To do this, he will have to make concessions, and Lu is ready for this. Then if he can make up with Kate, together they would bring the rest of the managers back, but Herbert would have to be prepared not only to listen to the employees, but to apply at least some of their constructive suggestions. Only in this way, with the help of dialogue and leadership, Lou will take control of the situation and be able to save his company. If he succeeds, then perhaps he will be able to apply the strategy of peace in his personal life. 

The Anatomy of Peace

The peace strategy is universal. Any conflict between people can be resolved if its participants stop subconsciously striving for it and begin to perceive each other as people. Even if one of the participants in the conflict uses this strategy, he will be able to achieve significant changes and become a guide, an agent of peace among those around him. 

Top 10 Thoughts

1. Even if we are at war, our hearts must desire peace, otherwise, we will not achieve the maximum result.

2. The feeling with which something is done or not done is more important than behavior.

3. A person himself makes a choice between two ways of existence: the desire for peace or the thirst for war.

4. When you act according to your conscience, there is no need to look for excuses.

5. If we are in the mood for conflict, even the smallest flaw can become our weapon against ourselves and others.

6. Forgetting that people are not just objects, we risk losing our humanity.

7. Worse than contempt on the part of others can only be contempt for oneself.

8. We cannot force others to change, but we can encourage them to.

9. Wars start because one day someone began to perceive people as objects, while others used this as an excuse and got involved in a conflict.

10. First you need to take control of the situation, and only then try to fix everything.

1  The camp is named after Mount Moriah, sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.

2  The Fourth Arab-Israeli War, or the “Doomsday War” (10/06/1973 – 10/24/1973) – a military conflict between a coalition of Arab countries on the one hand and Israel on the other

3  Salah ad-Din – founder of the Ayyubid dynasty (1171-1260), which during its heyday ruled Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Hijaz, and Yemen

4  “Cogito ergo sum” is Latin for, “I think, therefore I am,” or, less commonly, “I think, therefore I am.”

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