How does one become a peacemaker?  What exactly is a peacemaker?  What type of training or experience must a peacemaker have?  Since I believe we need more people practicing effective peacemaking, let me answer these questions from my perspective.  

First of all, peacemaking at any level is not for wimps.  Whenever you as a third party are interjected or interject yourself into a conflict, you are consciously walking into a maelstrom of emotions.  People in serious enough conflict to warrant outside help are angry, frustrated, sometimes hateful, and often despairing.  You are working with good people behaving at their worst.  Regardless of the level of peacemaking, you have to be emotionally and spiritually centered.  The conflict will push you hard in one direction then another.  Like a tai chi master, you must be able to bend, but not break.  Further, you must have a level of maturity and self-confidence that will keep you from becoming embroiled in the conflict itself.

I see peacemakers working at various levels within our community and our world.  The most common peacemakers are what I call the everyday peacemakers.  These good people have developed a knack for helping others in conflict.  They are found in work places, homes, schools, and faith communities everywhere.  They have very little or no special training, but have an intuition and empathy for people around them.  They are able to help smooth over differences and maintain harmony around them.  You probably can recognize some of these wonderful people in your life.  These peacemakers work well in the conflicts and disputes that we deal with everyday.  They are the grease monkeys that keep our social machinery lubricated and running smoothly.

The next peacemakers are community mediators.  These people are volunteers who have gone through some type of basic mediation training.  People working in small claims mediations for the Better Business Bureau, Victim Offender mediations in juvenile criminal offenses, and neighborhood disputes in community justice centers represent this type of peacemaker.  Community mediators are devoted workers for peace, harmony, and social justice.  They are not afraid to move into more complicated, difficult conflicts.  I have trained hundreds of these dedicated people and am always amazed at their passion and dedication to helping others.  Training at this level ranges from 12 to 40 hours of formal class work plus several co-mediations.  These volunteers may mediate two or three cases per year or more.

Beyond community mediators, professional practice begins.  For some, mediation is part of the job description.  For example, many human resource executives are professional mediators.  Many courts have full time child custody and support mediators.  Some courts have full time mediators employed to help litigants resolve disputes without trial or appeal.  Many trial judges preside over civil settlement conferences, a form of mediation. Other people offer mediation services in conjunction with their primary professional work.  Lawyers and psychologists are good examples of these types of mediators.  Finally, there are professional neutrals who work full time as mediators.

Professional mediators, whether full time or not, generally have a terminal graduate degree of some kind.  A graduate degree is not required for mediation, but the credibility, experience, and knowledge of a graduate degree seems to set a minimum standard of competence.  Typically, these mediators have attended at least a 40 hour basic course in mediation or its equivalent.  In addition, they attend continuing education classes to stay current in the field. Professional mediators may specialize in particular subject areas, such as labor relations, family law, or civil litigation.  They may be members of private or public mediator panels.  A typical panel might be maintained by your local court.  To qualify for inclusion on a panel, mediators usually must meet minimum education and experience requirements.

The final level for peacemaking consists of those who have a professional degree (e.g., a J.D., MBA or a Ph.D.) and go back to school for another graduate degree specifically in peacemaking or conflict resolution. I fall into this category as I have a law degree and a masters degree in peacemaking and conflict studies. 

The graduate programs vary in approach and content.  For example, Pepperdine School of Law offers both a masters degree in Conflict Resolution and an LLM (master’s in law) in Conflict Resolution.  The Pepperdine program is very law-oriented.  In contrast, Fresno Pacific University offers a masters degree in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies.  This program is not law-oriented, but takes a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding conflict and peacemaking processes. Other graduate schools in California offer still other approaches and emphases.

There are many levels of peacemaking and many different types of peacemakers.  As more people train and practice in the field, I believe we will see a new profession emerge from the synthesis of these many levels of practice.

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By Doug Noll

Douglas E. Noll is a lawyer turned peacemaker, professional mediator, and author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books, 2011). He can be reached at doug@nollassociates.com.