March 14, 2023

William Ury – Embracing Our Interconnected Humanity as an Antidote to War

Author and negotiation expert William Ury joins Thomas for their second conversation in a three-part series. They discuss how historical traumas contribute to current conflicts, including the ongoing war in Ukraine. William emphasizes the need for compassion, empathy, and inclusion in our individual and collective approaches to bringing about peace and positive change in the world.

Please note: This episode was recorded during the first months of the war in Ukraine, and William’s commentary is relevant to that time. Since then, circumstances may have changed.

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“We’re being invited to construct our identities on the basis of security and safety, starting in ourselves and then radiating out to a world that’s safe for everyone. “

- William Ury

Guest Information

William Ury

William Ury is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and is one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation. William is co-author of Getting to Yes, a fifteen-million-copy bestseller translated into over thirty-five languages, and the author most recently of Getting to Yes with Yourself. Over the past four decades, William has served as a negotiation adviser and mediator in conflicts ranging from the Cold War to Venezuela to the Middle East. William served as a senior advisor to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in helping to bring an end to the last and longest-running war in the Americas. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project where he currently works on the climate crisis and ending the war in Ukraine.

Learn more about William and his work at williamury.com and abrahampath.org

Notes & Resources

In this episode, Thomas and William Ury discuss:

  • How force arises from humiliation, but genuine power emerges from humility.
  • The purpose of strategic empathy and its effectiveness in negotiating conflict
  • The “third side” of a conflict – the context including the community and society it’s taking place in
  • How everyone loses when it comes to war, and how a strategy of inclusion and compassion can foster peace
  • The ways in which the conflicts of today originate from the traumas of the past

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: William, we are back here today after almost a year passed. Our first conversation happened, it was amazing. We were in such a flow and we were talking about how we put ourselves into the shoes of other people, how we are all our own enemy. And like, we were in a deep conversation and we brought in trauma and talked about the recurrent effects of trauma. What happened at the same time was that I was sitting in a sound studio in the basement of a building that was soundproof. And during our conversation, there was a 40-minute missile attack on Tel Aviv with many, many missiles, many, I don’t know, Iron Dome missiles catching them.

And so while we were talking, I had a strange feeling, but I didn’t hear anything, so there was no way to know. So we continued with our conversation. And then just at the end, I found out that was happening, and then there was like a two-week war, basically. And so we are resuming our conversation today. First of all, I’m happy that we are here together again. And at the same time, right now, there’s another war. And so Russia and Ukraine are at war. So I would love to maybe make a transition with you from our last conversation to this conversation and see, first of all, how you are, and then let’s see how we dive deeper into our current situation. 

William Ury: You know, it’s really, really good to see you again, Thomas, and it’s just very curious how that first podcast we were talking about the very phenomenon of war and the trauma from which war arises. And then suddenly there’s a missile attack, and now we’re resuming the podcast that was interrupted in the middle of another war that’s affecting, I think, everyone around the planet is paying attention to this war. It’s like I can feel that kind of collective– I’m getting messages from Brazil, from just Africa. Everyone is, this is like, everyone is somehow part of this, the whole collective human nervous system. And I can feel it myself and I’m asking this question of what can be done in the midst of this trauma-induced war. And I’m aware of, having been to Ukraine and been to Russia many times, sometimes a long time ago, and having gone through the Cold War, and now this strange resonance of another Cold War looming with the risk of nuclear war, it’s…I’m studying the way in which my own system is profoundly unsettled by this.

Thomas: And maybe we talk about this because, like last time when I came out from that basement and I understood, like I came out and there was immediately to feel that the whole atmosphere had changed because it was unexpected. It was not, you know, that we knew that it’s going to come. It was unexpected and I could feel like I’m coming out of a conversation into a different Tel Aviv. And I think maybe we can talk a little bit about also that the– how important it is to relate to how that affects us, and not just try to not have it, but to talk about it because, for example, at that time, it’s very clear that even if there is a security system or like a missile deflection or defense system, still, it’s like an attack on life and potentially on your life, even if it’s not happening. 

And the collective fear that’s rising immediately, like there’s a collective quality suddenly in the air. And also when I now, when I woke up that morning, I had a very strange feeling when I woke up, and later I opened the news and I saw what was happening. But the shock of an invasion, and the human catastrophe of war, like the human side of it, I feel it deeply every day when that’s happening. And I’m curious as to how you– first before we go into the mechanics of it, like how that affects you. And I know you were very active also in the Cold War. So there’s something emerging. And for everybody like myself, every, you know, European citizen, the Second World War is starting to resonate in the collective unconscious very strongly, and millions of people feel it. So maybe we start with the personal feeling a bit and then go into the mechanics of what we can do and see. 

William: I really appreciate that Thomas, that opportunity, because it’s– you know, as we’ve talked in our previous conversations, any war anywhere around the world is us, right? And because there’s this profound interconnection of humanity, both in material levels, but it’s subtle levels. And so I can just inside of me, it just brings me back biographically to growing up in Europe. I grew up, I spent half my childhood in Switzerland, not that long after World War Two. And I could feel, I just remember as a child feeling, World War One, World War Two, you could still see ruins that I traveled around France or Germany or Italy or Yugoslavia. Buildings were still in ruins. It wasn’t like the Europe of today, and there was every expectation that World War One, World War Two, that there would be World War Three. And every building in Switzerland had a nuclear bomb shelter. And that’s, you know, I went into it almost like that’s where you kept your skis. So I was in there and and it just felt like, as a boy, I remember thinking “There has to be some better way for humans to deal with our differences than than this.” And that’s really what set me on my course still today. 

So for me, then I worked as a young man. I spent 10 years working on the Cold War. That’s really what I wanted to work on was how do we reduce the risk of a nuclear war which would snuff off? Tens, hundreds of millions of lives, and possibly put an end to life on Earth as we know it. And so for me, there’s some kind of resonance. Also, I have ancestry that goes back to Ukraine. And so I’m just aware of just all the threads of my life that are entwined in this particular situation right now and the tragedy of it and also just aware of the– so in my body, I couldn’t just go in very personally, I can I can feel anxiety arising, fear. And I’ve just been learning how anxiety and fear actually have different almost neural networks. Fear is fear of the outside, but anxiety is kind of almost like a fear of the inside, of what’s going on inside me. So I can feel it. 

And of course, all the news and the social media, just the immediate kind of empathy with people who are suffering and caught as missiles are striking, or they’re fleeing the fear, the panic, it’s unsettling. And so, it’s really calling upon me to address my own nervous system so that I can be available to be of assistance in the larger phenomenon right now that’s going on. And for me, what I’ve always found is the best antidote to that kind of anxiety is conscious action, is to move into action, to engage in the phenomenon. Actually, not to move away from it, but to move towards it. And that’s what I find myself doing is asking this question of, “How can I– how can we witness this?” You know, in your terms? And then how can I be of assistance? 

Thomas: Beautiful. Yeah, I love that you’re so refined in your introspection because the way I look at this is like, there are multiple layers I would love to talk with you about. And one is that you started already to describe how the layers of the collective trauma of the Second World War, for example, starts to resonate within many of us. Now, when the new war in Europe hits, which is intertwined, they are connected, obviously. And how refined we can look at our– like how the archeology of our own past, like your Ukrainian ancestors or my Austrian ancestors, and you know how your– the culture that we grew up in, like I also felt as a boy in Vienna this kind of strange, dead atmosphere that some places had or the collective had in a certain way. Where today, I look at this very– like I understand this very differently. 

But at the time, I just felt, “Oh, my life feels that way. That’s how life is.” But not that– how much energy and how much pain is stored in between us that we don’t even know about, that’s there. And I think your refined description is a very great example how, like not neglecting what comes up in us, but allowing it to get digested. And I think it’s collectives we don’t have, we have little competence in, or training because we didn’t get trained in that, how we digest that material that comes up in order to be able to respond in a different way. And not just be part of a fragmentation, a very strong othering and like a very strong deflection of the moment. But to be able to respond to it. I mean, I listen to you. I hear a lot of “I need to do my inner work also.” And it’s not opposing me acting, they can be in parallel, that we can do both and not just one or the other. Because sometimes there is a bit of a cynicism in activism that inner work, like doing one’s inner work that comes up is kind of just wasting time not to act. And I think that it’s very important that they belong together. I think that makes us more effective. 

William: I couldn’t agree more. That’s been my whole experience is that the foundation of constructive bridge building is first going to the balcony, you know, using that metaphor like of pausing, silence. And then really zooming in and asking “What’s going on inside of me?” And zooming in, “What’s really called for here, what’s really wanted here? What do we really want?” And then on that basis, then from a balcony perspective to zoom out and see the larger picture as if it’s a drama on the stage, you know, you’re on the balcony overlooking the stage and understand the different characters on the stage of which I am one, you know, we are all part, we are all on that stage. But then you look at the main characters and then you zoom in. You listen to them. But it all comes if you don’t start by listening to yourself, you don’t have the emotional mental space to truly listen to the other, and only by listening to others do we have a whisper of a chance of finding a better way out of the situation. 

Thomas: I very much agree and that brings me to the next step. So there is my personal inner work, and that enables me to also feel my authentic contribution and not the contribution out of panic, but out of kind of an inner responsiveness. The other one is that I’m able to put myself into your shoes or anybody’s shoes that is a player in a conflict. And I think it also enables us to see, “Wow,” many feelings that we are having right now, there are actually none– I look at life in like two different types of processes. One process is emergent, creative, relational, and connected. Another type of process is non-emergent repetitive, dis-related, and distant, that has a lack of care, has a lack of responsiveness. 

So when I look at society, then we see, okay, there is the world to this emerging that is related. These are real structures of life that are evolving. But then there are many processes that are just repetitive, they are repetitions of the past. We are repeating those conversations, small conflicts, big conflicts, all kinds of issues, behavioral patterns, addictions, whatever, again and again and again and again. And I’m wondering, because I feel that this is a massive wake-up call for us to understand we cannot, as states, as the world, have no process in place to do our restorative work. You know, if there’s racism, if there’s colonialism, if there is a Second World War, the First World War, the Cold War, whatever it is, East-West separation. Like how do we restore those massive impacts in order not to have to go through that experience again? We know that from the trauma science, there’s a repetition compulsion to trauma. And so I would love to first hear from you a little bit about that and then maybe also about your experience later of your work today. 

William: It resonates deeply, what you’re saying. It’s almost as if– I’ve been talking to a friend of mine who’s a neuroscientist, but there’s a, you know, there’s the left feeling part of the brain, which is the reactive mind, which is just as you mentioned, it’s kind of repetitive. It’s designed to protect us, right? It’s there. It evolved to protect us. And my experience in conflict is that it’s fear-based, and it’s protective, and it has its role. It’s not– there’s nothing wrong with it. It has its role. It has its own intelligence. And at the same time, in these complex conflicts, two human beings at this time, that reactive mind leads us in ways that go directly contrary to what we truly want. As the saying goes, “When angry, you will give the best speech you’ll ever regret.” And you know, when fearful, you will take the actions that you will– that will not lead you in the direction of wholeness, of connectedness, of peace, of security, of all the things that we want. And it feels like we’re caught in this dilemma, reactive minds trigger reactive minds, and we know how that goes is, you know, Gandhi put it so long ago, he said, “An eye for an eye, and we all go blind.” And that’s what’s happening is, I see this happening again and again. 

The truth is, no one wins these wars. You know, you can win a battle, of course, with superior force. But everybody loses the war. That’s been my experience for forty-five years as a wandering anthropologist, all the different war zones, I’ve yet to see a war that someone really wins. They may think they win because they win the battles, but then in the long run, everybody loses. And the whole secret, just going back to the brain is when I say go to the balcony, it means activating the part of the brain that’s generally located on the right side, and that actually is the part that’s aware, where there’s awareness, and which is connected. This part of the brain is disconnected, it’s protected, everything is separate, and everything is a potential threat. And what we’re called upon to do is to shift from this left, feeling part of the brain to the right– it’s a right, thinking part of the brain, but it’s the right seeing, awareness that then can then come back and take care and listen to the– it’s not like you just, “Oh, this is right, this is that good.” No, you come back and you embrace all the parts of us, including the part of us that feel scared, that feels fearful, that sees a world in which everyone is separate, that there isn’t enough to go around, that you’re a danger to me. 

And so the question is, how do we make that shift individually and then collectively so that we can create the world that we all want for ourselves and for our children and our grandchildren? And that’s to me the challenge right now. And then very specifically, you take it into a specific moment like this moment with the war between Russia and Ukraine. And it’s so easy to see these dynamics of good versus evil, you just see this reactive, but we know how it ends. We all know how the story ends. It ends with everyone losing. Unless we can do the deep work that you work on of bringing the unconscious, making it conscious, bringing internal compassion to our own feelings and then bringing it to those that we deal with and slowly transforming the situation. 

And we have historical examples. This is not just kind of like pie in the sky. I mean, if we look at them, the history of the last century, you have examples where like, we got into World War One. And I mean, it was like the craziest war, and at the end of World War One, what happened was there was a punitive piece on Germany and the seeds were laid for World War Two. There was just a brief interlude. I mean, World War One and World War Two are really just one war. We miss that opportunity, and then at the end of World War Two, there was a more intelligent response was, “Let’s embrace the enemies.” And so you have the paradox that the two losers of World War Two, Germany and Japan, became the two economic success stories because they were embraced in the European community. We embraced. We created a– we created an interconnected network. 

And unfortunately, at the end of the Cold War, we made the same mistake that we made at the end of World War One, which was we didn’t embrace Russia. And now we’re faced with the consequences of it, but it’s not too late. It’s hard, it’s incredibly hard, but we have that same opportunity to create a world in which we’re interconnected with Russia, with China, with the US, that it’s an interconnected humanity that can deal with even the hardest differences that can then create the security, the identity, the recognition and, you know, deal with the problems that we have with climate. We can all– it’s like we have door number A and door number B. Do you want to go down this path towards a world in which everyone is unsafe and there isn’t enough? And the climate? Or do we want to go on door B. And it feels to me we’re at this moment of intense crisis, but also a moment when there’s an opportunity to wake up. And say, “Let’s start to create the world that we do want.” Even in the midst of this tragedy that’s going on today. 

Thomas: If you can speak a bit more to how you see like, what has been missed after the Cold War? And what could we have done a little bit more in detail in order to avoid, to not have come into this situation now?

William: Yeah, it’s very sad, but it’s really important to go back and learn these lessons. But at the end of the Cold War there was a kind of triumphalism like we won the Cold War. That’s not actually true. The West won the Cold War, the Berlin Wall came down and there was an opportunity when, if you put yourself in the shoes of the Russians and all the peoples of the former Soviet Union, it was humiliating. And it was not just humiliating to go from being– there are two great powers of the world to being weak, but people were on the streets begging. The economy was destroyed. The sense of in those years in Moscow, there was a fear that civil war would break out and we had a chance, we– I mean the West, had a chance to really reach out and embrace the way that was done with Germany, or Japan, and embrace the former adversary, and help them to their feet, really. 

Instead, what did we choose to do? The wisest people among us, the ones who really knew the Soviet Union said, do not take advantage of Russia, why it’s them. Do not expand NATO right up to the borders of Russia. Understanding Russian history, understanding the sensitivities that Russia had been invaded so many times in the West, by the Swedes, by the Poles, by Napoleon, by the Germans twice. You know, they have this insecurity, they have this trauma, don’t– but embrace them, have, I don’t know, Russia become part of NATO, just create an interconnected European security architecture and economic architecture that embraces. And instead, what did we do? We expanded NATO. Kept on expanding it, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, all the way and then offering NATO membership to Ukraine. 

So it’s like, we humiliated Russia. And we don’t see that we humiliated them, and then you created– Yeltsin felt so this that he handed power to Putin as a man who could restore order and make Russia strong again. And that was his mandate. It was very popular. And so we don’t realize how we created the phenomenon now that we that we’re facing now, but what we’re facing today, there were many people, including the people who knew the Soviet Union best, who said back in 1990s, “If you make these moves, you will regret this day.” And now we’re at this day. And now we say, “Oh, those are the bad people.” But we have no sense of our own history, of our own co-responsibility, co-creation of this phenomenon. That’s not to say– that’s not in any way to justify what’s just happened now in terms of the invasion, that’s also a reactive behavior that is exactly opposite to its own– Putin may win the battle, but he’s already lost the war. He’s made the biggest mistake. You know, he’s made– he’s fallen into that reactive trap. But if we’re going to deal with this, we need to deal with it from a point of view of empathy and understand empathy for ourselves, empathy for the others, and understanding how we’re part of this play. It’s not just that, “Oh, we’re the innocent ones here.”

Thomas: Beautiful, William, amazing. This was so important how you detailed the process. And from a collective trauma perspective, we could say that the absence that’s needed in order not to feel that, that’s our job. The absence in the western countries that is not aware of what you said, that’s what we need to take care of. You know, that happened for a reason, like we weren’t– when we say that the Western countries weren’t aware of that, what you said, enough, and that has a reason, that’s a process. And to look at that process, we have to do urgently. Even while that’s happening, what’s happening, because it has a reason why we didn’t come with more compassion, more support, more–- like why that did not happen? 

William: Yeah.

Thomas: And I think we can say on one hand, it’s a missed opportunity, but it’s also– it’s in it on a deeper level, it’s an absence that is lacking relation, because otherwise that would have happened. 

William: That’s true.

Thomas: That’s part of the collective trauma reenactment because it reenacts itself step by step. It’s not just like that the monster comes out of the lake and is suddenly here. There, it’s built itself over years. And I think that such like what you said is so important because it’s so important to– it’s so easy to fall back into the same polarization and othering that any way led up to the situation now. So what happens to the collective immune system? And we were talking in other conversations about how the collective immune system needs to embrace this situation, like actually how the whole world needs to stand up, or get up, and be there. And I wonder if you can speak a little bit to maybe two things? What do you see is your part to contribute to this situation? And maybe also what’s– how do we activate the global immune response in a way that is really constructive and not part of the destruction? 

William: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And I’ll just say too that, the other path was available to us. I mean, I remember Russia in the early 90s, we were talking about “Where’s the Marshall Plan?? You know, where is– the Marshall Plan that brought Europe to its feet again? In the wake of the ruins of the Cold War, where was that really helping, you know? And the European community was born of like– France and Germany have fought each other three times in the previous 75 years. There wasn’t a family in France or Germany that hadn’t lost a member. And what are we going to do? Are we going to just repeat the same pattern from World War One and World– ? No, we’re going to break down and we’re going to make– now France, Germany are the closest of allies. And if– before if someone wanted, Germany wanted to have land in France, you conquered. No, no, you just go buy a little apartment in Paris or Alsace or whatever. 

They’re interconnected. And that’s the path forward. So now we’re faced with this, which is really sad because we lost a major opportunity, but the truth is it’s never too late to learn. And right now, this should wake us up to learn that the only skillful response to exclusion–  we kind of excluded Russia, and what do we get back? We get exclusion, of course, exclusion breeds exclusion. And so right now, Russia, Putin, they’ve invaded us an exclusive move, and so we’re just excluding them, you know? Get them out of the– sanctions, militarize Europe again, or whatever. But we know where that leads. The only skillful way in the long run is, you may have to take those kinds of measures. I’m not even saying that you don’t. But, the larger strategy has to be a strategy of inclusion. 

It’s like that poem that I’ve shared with you before is like, “They drew a circle and shut me out. A rebel, a heretic, a thing to flout the whip. But love and I have the wit to win. We drew a circle and took them in.” So the only remedy, effective remedy for when the other side shuts you out is you have to create a wider inclusion. Now is that going to be easy? This is the hardest work that human beings can do. It’s extremely hard. But right now, this is what I’m devoting myself to is: we have to bring an end as soon as possible and stop the war in Ukraine. But I’ve been in so many wars, you have a cease-fire, you know, living where you are. You know, you have a cease fire. It breaks, it breaks. It breaks, you know? Unless that is embedded in a larger vision of mutual benefit, of mutual security, it’s very unstable. And so we need to create a vision in which every country in Europe, including Russia, including Ukraine, has security, has a sense of safety, has a sense of sovereignty, has a sense of identity. 

Is it possible? We just saw it happen at the end of World War Two with France and Germany and all the other there. It can happen again here. And not only this time, it has to happen globally because now everything is interconnected. It has to happen with China because now we’re facing a possibility where we go into a Cold War with Russia and a Cold War with China. And we know we have these three great powers. Russia, China, and the West, all competing with each other, all with nuclear weapons. It’s a world– it’s a dystopia. And in fact, we have the opportunity now to wake up and realize we’re all– we have to kind of find a way to interconnect. We’re always going to have differences. We’re always going to have conflicts. It’s not about just some kind of harmonious peace, but it’s like, but how do we handle those conflicts? 

Do we handle those conflicts constructively through negotiation, through dialogue, through mutual understanding, through negotiations, through democracy, and so on? Or do we handle them destructively through war, ultimately, and through the risk of destroying the entire– everything that we care about in this world? So to me, that’s the choice that we face. And so for me, what I’m looking at is where’s the way out? Even right now with all the terrors and the horrors that are going on right now, the Russian tanks surrounding Kyiv in Ukraine. How do we bring it to a stop within a larger vision of a new European security and economic architecture that includes Russia, includes Ukraine, in which all can benefit, and we have a very good example of what happened at the end of World War Two. We just need to kind of learn from what has worked in the past and really be creative and bring our collective intelligence to bear on this around the world. 

So to me, we’re at a– it’s like an inflection point right now in history and in our evolution, and we can choose the old way, the reactive way. You’re talking about the repetitive, trauma-based way, or we can choose the other doorway, which is hard. This is hard work for us because, you know, it’s much easier just to make that the enemy and they’re in the wrong and to go after them and build up– you know that path. But we know where that path leads. It does not lead in a good way. And so this is really hard work, but I believe it can be done. And in fact, it’s our only choice right now. To me, the only sensible choice, the wise choice is to keep our hearts open, to do the trauma work because there’s so much trauma. 

Let me just, if I may just share with you just like, okay, take Putin, he’s the principal decision maker on the other side. We want to just demonize him, bring him up for war crimes, put him in The Hague, and that’s the way to do it. Right now he is– he’s the leader of that power. He has six thousand nuclear weapons. Do we really want to back him into a total corner? And it’s actually– what’s interesting is in Russia right now, his popularity is going up. It’s interesting. So it’s not just Putin. We’re dealing with Russia and Russia’s own– the Russian people’s own sense of insecurity. But if I go back and I look empathetically and I think, okay, Putin, how do I start? How do I influence that one mind? First, I need to understand, and then I go back and I say, I look at things like there’s something that’s not showing up in the media at all. It’s just like, Who is Putin? Where did he come from, what was he like as a child? You know, where all your patterns are set? 

He was born in Leningrad, St. Petersburg. Just a few years after a million people in Leningrad died as the Nazis surrounded Leningrad and there was a siege and they’re starving, his elder brother died. He had starved, died in that. His mother almost died, she was thrown as a corpse into a pile of corpses. She was– they thought she was dead, and then someone heard a sound and they pulled her out. Then he’s born. That’s the trauma conditions in which he’s born. And so just understand that a little bit like, oh, okay, that’s the kind of emotional mentality of– and then to watch the humiliation of the post-Soviet order, so, he just– he wants strength, stability, force. It’s force that comes out of humiliation. So we need to go to the roots of this if we’re going to change this phenomenon in him and in and in the Russian people generally. 

Thomas: Amazing, like I completely agree. And I was going to say that, when I hear you speak is first of all, I think it’s very beautiful how you open the map of the current situation and also how you hold the energy of inclusion when the energy of exclusion is very strong. You know, like that we don’t give up on those high values and on that kind of inner alignment. And the other thing is– at least that’s how I look at it when also, like in intimate relationships, when you say, okay, actually, we could do this and this and this and this and that. And then when you look at the real relationship dynamic, if you even if you know that that’s good, we don’t do it. Because we fall back into these older patterns. And that’s exactly where it comes into play. What you said at the end that we have to do the inner work that enables us to make that choice, because otherwise often, at least, that’s how I look at it, the past chooses for us. The unconscious past, the choice has been made already in the past. It doesn’t have– it’s a repetitive process, it doesn’t have a future. 

Until or unless we really include the split of pain, or the split of trauma and reintegrate it as learning into our self. Because when I look at– this is like I often say, that the integrated history is presence, it’s not behind us, it’s what’s talking here. It’s integrated history is talking. Plus, unintegrated history is the past, it comes up while we are talking. And so, that changes a bit the whole vision of life, it’s not that everything– it’s alive in us. And the split off part is is history. And I think in the permafrost of what you said of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Berlin, like the whole Second World War, the Holocaust, there’s so much. There’s a thick permafrost and trauma layer, but in the eyes is the ethical restoration that hasn’t happened yet. And it’s the ethical learning that we so badly need to deal with climate change, with nuclear weapons, with A.I., with nanotechnology, with genetic engineering. Because if we don’t harvest that learning, we can deal with this stuff that’s coming up now, that is the leading edge development now. 

Because suddenly we have technologies at hand without the right ethical development, we’re gonna make– there’s a lot of potential to mess things up. And I think I want to underline what you said at the end, because if you don’t get that part, we continue choosing the separation. If I don’t see that I– that collectively, on a large scale, we have to do that kind of work and learn how to do that. Because otherwise we know what’s good, like how it would be great. But we’re not doing it. And your vision is already very high. Like, I think what you said right now is holding a very high vision for the world, but how can we as a collective, not a few individuals, how can we, as a collective, grow into that? Because otherwise we won’t make those choices. And it seems like we didn’t make that choice after the Cold War. As a world, we didn’t choose like this. And I think that’s– I find it very interesting that you came back to understanding, yeah, when I put myself into the shoes of somebody else that I want to understand deeper, then I need to face the fact that to see the traumatization that leads up to a certain behavior– and my own also, and where I don’t have that empathy, trauma is at work between us. 

William: That’s it. That’s exactly it, and that’s the work, the work is to take what’s unconscious, make it conscious, to take what’s disassociated and reconnect it. And I can see– you and I have had the– I’ve had the benefit of learning a lot from your conversations in the past. And to me, it’s directly relevant to this particular situation in the world today. And the practical work of how do we operationalize this? What does it mean in terms of practical actions right now, right here for the whole world? And the one thing that I notice in this phenomenon, even in the last week, because it’s been a week now since the beginning of the invasion. For me, when I’ve asked this question of “Where’s the secret, what’s the secret to peace here?” What’s the secret, not to the peace of the heavens, but the peace of peaceful ways of dealing with the conflicts that we have in the world today? 

It’s us, it’s what I call the third side. It’s what I saw when I, as an anthropologist studying hunter-gatherer tribes, they gather– the whole community gathers around the campfire, right? And I see that happening today. Right now, it’s like, yes, but there’s a there’s a worldwide community around this conflict that’s saying no to violence. No to war, no to destruction. Yes to let’s find ways of talking this out. Let’s find solutions. Let’s find ways of moving forward in a constructive way. So there’s, I mean, what’s interesting, and I don’t think Putin realized it because he uses force right now, and force, to me, is born fundamentally out of humiliation. It’s the– it’s like out of humiliation, I’m going to force my way on you, and force my way on the Ukrainians. What he doesn’t realize is that force is strong, and it can accomplish some things, and terrible things, but force in the end is weaker than power. And by power, I mean genuine power of the kind that we talk about. 

And there’s a power of unity showing up in the world today of saying, “Basta, enough.” This cannot happen in the 21st century, we’re watching these scenes in Kyiv and Kharkiv Kherson and just, it’s not acceptable anymore. And so basically, we have the beginnings of a global campfire, where we can embrace the conflict, we can embrace Ukraine and Russia and see it in a larger perspective. And create a container within which even the most difficult conflict can gradually change its form. Will it be our ultimate resolution? Who knows. But, change the form from killing each other to talking with each other and finding other ways forward. And I think that’s– that to me gives me hope is that I don’t think anyone anticipated the amount of unity around the world, not just in Europe, but in Brazil and Africa and Asia. The whole world is paying attention and is saying, “We need to find a better way.” And to me, this is a wake-up call, so there’s that power. And no matter how strong the forces of Russia, it can never be stronger than the power of the community, the power of the whole world, the power of the third side. And that’s what gives me hope today. 

Thomas: Yeah, I also see this, that the world shrank through the technology and the data speed like the world became smaller and suddenly everything’s more intimate. And in this situation, I think also there is a strong kind of activation of the third side. I think that’s very powerful. That’s true power. And that we practice, like, how am I getting enrolled as the third side in the fragmentation? You know, that like the third side, can just join the fragmentation, or it can be really a unifying force that unites the fragmentation into something higher. And here’s one thought that I want to run by you. So, I had the– in one of my last training programs, there was a process around East Germany and I did, as you know, I did multiple larger-scale processes around the integration of East-West Germany. Now we are writing a proposal to file to the European Union to create an East-West integration. Because in this process I said to somebody, “You know, I have no idea how it feels to grow up in the former East Germany. You don’t know how it is to grow up in Vienna. But the power we have is that I learned from you and you learn from me.” So, and what I mean by that is, what happened is like the former East after the Wall came down, the East has been pushed into the West, like it is been absorbed. 

But that doesn’t work. That’s not a new Germany, it’s kind of like [slupring sound] like Pacman. And then what we need to do now is– because we see the potential fracture in Germany, but also in Europe is still there. And but when we learn from each other, information flows and starts creating a new Germany, or a new Europe that is the integrated version of the two former sides. And I think that that has to happen in entire Europe because that’s the only way to create an integrated Europe that is more stable. Otherwise, the stability of Europe is not, it’s not resilient. It’s not grounded, because it has a kind of a fracture inside, and that can break easily. And we see it in other parts in the world where there was kind of an absorption of– because there was suddenly more power. But it doesn’t put us on the same level of citizenship. 

William: Yeah

Thomas: Even psychologically inside, even if you have the same rights, but there is a crack. And I wanted to know what you hear, what you think when you hear me say that. 

William: No, I’m absolutely– you and I are absolutely in agreement, in resonance on this. It’s like the invitation right now is to learn the lesson of the way in which Germany was integrated, where the stronger side just incorporated the weaker side. Right now, there’s an opportunity to create a new Europe, a Europe that extends all the way from the Atlantic to the Urals or wherever, Siberia or whatever. But it’s a Europe– it’s not going to be– everyone’s saying, well, you know, Ukraine should be part of EU or– no. We have to create something new that’s born, that’s larger, that incorporates the best of the European community, incorporates the best of NATO, incorporates the best of Russia. And that’s what’s being called forth, is to create something new, which is what happened, you know, at the end of World War Two, was to create– the European community was an integrative thing was no, this is going to going to be something larger. 

And so that’s what we’re being invited to do is to create something new that respects the contributions of all the players and creates some new higher-order integration. And that’s exciting. I mean, that’s really exciting, and that’s what’s needed, in fact, long before this war, a new European architecture, security architecture was needed, we could see it. This war just brings it in our face, but it’s been needed for years to create a new integration. And so we’re, at this moment, this very exciting moment where you can look the danger in the eye, you can look the danger of world apocalypse in the eye even, and say– step back and say, “There’s a world in which it could all work. It’s all possible.” 

And that’s the thing. When people ask me, I say, after 45 years, they say, “Well, William, you wander around all of these wars, are you an optimist or are you a pessimist?” Of course, I have to be an optimist in some sense to do my work. But what I like to say is I’m a possible-ist. That’s what– I believe in human possibility. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. I saw apartheid, which everyone thought was going to go on forever, transform. I saw the end of the Cold War, which everyone thought again was going to go on forever. You know, I’ve seen these– in Colombia, the end of a 50-year civil war. This could happen. This could happen. And I know it because, I’m not just saying it out of belief. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen human beings do it. We can do this, and it will call a lot upon us. It will be very difficult work. It’s not easy. It will take sacrifice, but it is possible. 

And it’s a world that’s based not on force, which derives from humiliation, but on genuine power, which comes from humility. Third side is a power that comes from humility, the humility of being in a humus on the ground, part of the community. It’s not about– there’s a humbleness to the power because it’s in every one of us. And as the old African proverb goes, “When spider webs unite, they can halt even the lion.” If each of us takes our own spider webs and we unite in a giant spider web, we can halt the lion of war. 

Thomas: That’s right. Very much so. Very much so. And I think the integration that you spoke about is a central piece. And it’s also, I’m wondering also how– and then I see the time I think we already have– and the time flies by whenever we talk, it’s so lovely. And, you know, I see also that the current world situation means also that we have to let go of some old identity structures that are not any more serving, even what you said, to create this pan-European security structure means that certain identity structures need to be able to be reconstructed or to let go of in order to create a bigger system, which actually climate change is calling us on a global level, as you said, to do. 

But in order to do that, some identity structures need to dissolve in order to make space like, in a way, be sacrificed to make space for something bigger, like a sacrifice is like making space to allow something bigger to come in. And in a way, the identity structures still can change, but if they are iced over, they become rigid. They can’t move. So evolution bumps against this, because you cannot bump against something that’s fluid. And that’s so beautiful, what you said is like, when there is flow, openness, fluidity, river, force cannot hit. But when there is stagnation, then the force bumps against force and it creates a counter-reaction all the time. So to turn our legacy into flow, to turn frozenness into flow is the best thing we can offer to that vision that you drew now, because that’s actually what we need in order to harvest the true power and not end up in force again, bumping against the aftermath of the prior force. And this is how trauma constantly reenacts itself. That’s beautiful. 

William: It’s very beautiful. There’s a jujitsu move– because when you– the force comes and you redirect the force, and through genuine power, as you were saying, from frozenness to flow, and that’s exactly it. That’s what we’re being called upon. And what do we have to give up? You know, we have to give up our frozenness. 

Thomas: Yeah! 

William: This is difficult sometimes because our frozenness is what we think protects us, but it doesn’t really protect us. It just leads us in– so it’s going to take that work that we watch so often on an individual scale, of an individual starting to relax and welcome in the love of and compassion of others around them. And we now need to do that on a collective scale. And you know, we might have to abandon certain identities, but the truth is what in the end we’re going to have is we’re going to all meet our deep need for identity at the smallest scale, like little concentric circles, like little Russian dolls, all the way up to the global scale, and beyond, even. But that’s– we’re being invited to construct our identities on the basis of security and safety, starting in ourselves and then radiating out to a world that’s safe for everyone. 

Thomas: That’s right, and we do need that, like the pandemic showed us this, the current situation shows us this, because the climate change effects are asking for a different response. Otherwise, I think we, like the old, the stored frozenmess, if we respond to climate change– and we are not responding anyway enough, so I think that’s going to be not the resilience that is needed in order to create a safe humanity for our journey. Yeah, that’s beautiful, William. 

William: And let me just add one thing that I think that actually working on climate change actually could be one of the keys to creating this new architecture. It’s not just– everything gets enmeshed. Right now, so much of the war, it’s about energy, and where those pipelines are going to go. And the world needs to move to renewable energy. And that could be actually interesting, in the larger context in which Ukraine– the war comes to an end, it’s a war, it’s a larger context in which we move towards renewable energy and and diminish the effects of climate change. So there’s a better world waiting for us if we can take this as a wake-up call. 

Thomas: Exactly, exactly. Really, I mean, it’s so amazing, and I’m so happy to talk to you, as always. We didn’t talk for a longer time now, but it’s– every time we come together, I feel this closeness like the spark goes on and like, we’re together in this space. It’s lovely, it’s so resonant and I’m so much with everything you said. I mean, it speaks from my heart to listen to you, it speaks so that it’s in my heart. So that’s beautiful. And if you have any last words for this, for this conversation, I know we will have others. So if there’s anything you want to add, 

William: I would just say this, that every one of us is a third sider here in this play. Every one of us can activate this global social immune system that helps us transform even the most difficult, most painful conflicts. You know, we are Ukrainians, we are Russians. It’s all– and any one of us has the ability within their circle to actually activate the third side and keep the doors open to compassion, to love, to awareness, to witnessing, even if it’s showing up and just witnessing with an open heart like you do so beautifully,  Thomas, and your whole community does. That’s not just passive, that’s active, and it’s shifting the energetic environment in which we can then find a way materially, objectively, emotionally, psychologically to begin to heal the deep traumas that produce war. And that can, if we heal, and I think we can all heal– I honestly believe that, I’ve been in the worst places in the world, I’ve seen it happen, and I can tell you it can happen and it depends on us starting with our own work and then radiate it out to the whole world. 

Thomas: Well, that’s beautiful, William. Really, thank you so much. I think that many people will get a lot out of this conversation and it was great and I’m looking forward to our next part of this series and I wish you a great time…

William: Thank you, Thomas. It’s been a pleasure.

Thomas:… and a lot of blessings for your work. 

William: Thank you. I’m actually going right now, I have a little window of time and I’m going to go– I don’t know if I took you and Chris down to the stupa. There’s this huge, huge Buddhist stupa and they’re celebrating, this is Tibetan New Year. 

Thomas: Oh, beautiful.

William: And I’m going to pray for the peace of Ukraine. 

Thomas: Oh, beautiful, fantastic. So thank you very much. 

William: Oh, thank you, Thomas. Really, really appreciate it. And I look forward to our next conversation soon.