May 9, 2023

William Ury – Russia, Ukraine, and the Vicious Cycle of Humiliation and Trauma

Author and negotiation expert William Ury joins Thomas for their third conversation in a three-part series. They discuss the deep feelings of humiliation that underlie most historic and ongoing conflicts, and how the antidote to that is the power derived from humility. William elaborates on the concept of the “third side” – the sum of all parts in a conflict from which we can observe and understand the whole. He explains that empathy is our most powerful tool in negotiation, as it enables us to understand our “opponents” and communicate with them effectively.

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

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“If force arises from humiliation, genuine power arises from humility.”

- 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 doing our inner work helps us to act more effectively toward the betterment of the collective
  • Using strategic empathy to better understand an “opponent” and find a constructive way out of conflict
  • How both COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine galvanized the world and made us aware of our interconnectedness
  • Fear and crises tune our collective instrument, and we can use them as opportunities for positive transformation
  • Being a “possible-ist” – someone who can see both negative and positive possibilities and potentials, and can act accordingly to move situations in a positive direction

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: William, welcome to our third conversation in this podcast today. Thank you for joining again and a warm welcome.

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

Thomas: Last time we talked, the first time we had our conversation, there was a war in Israel. Last time we scheduled the conversation, there was a start to the war in Ukraine, and so today I am going to continue our conversation here. The last time you gave a very lovely overview over the composition of the current conflict and how it built up over many, many years. And one thing you said last time, I think that I would love to dive into deeper is the vicious cycle of humiliation, trauma, and then re-traumatization, and then the humiliation, and it goes on for thousands and thousands of years. It’s, you know, anthropologists. So how do we do it? How do we stop it?

William: We go to the balcony first? All right. So, one thing that I’ve been thinking about since our last conversation, you talk about the repetition of repetitive behavior that gets generated by trauma. And I can’t help but think about how Vladimir Putin was born in the wake of the Siege of Leningrad, of St. Petersburg, where hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people starved, including his brother died, his mother was tossed under a pile of corpses. So he’s born right in the wake of that trauma. And then I think now he’s, the Russian forces are besieging Kyiv. You know, it’s like you jump from the siege of Leningrad to the siege of Kyiv. And Kyiv as a place is the symbol, it’s like the Jerusalem, it’s like the capital, it’s like the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity for Russians. So it’s like, what causes us to replicate and repeat the same patterns that are buried there? And for me, as far as I can understand, underneath all of it is deep feelings of humiliation.

The Russians have felt deep feelings of humiliation. Obviously, the Ukrainians have felt deep feelings of humiliation that their own dramas and it’s like right now, Russia, the way one responds to humiliation, often in a very unskillful distorted way, is through violence. That’s basically from humiliation comes the need to use force, that somehow that will… and force just creates more humiliation. And then brings counterforce in, and somehow the only way out that I can think of is to meet force with power. And by power I mean the kind of power if humiliation erupts, if force arises from humiliation, genuine power arises from humility. And the humility, and we’re seeing this right now in Ukraine, in Europe, around the world, in the calls that you are having, there’s a kind of power of unity that’s emerging, I mean, even as we speak right now it’s interesting that the leaders of three European countries are in Kyiv right now. They flew to Kyiv right in the middle of the siege. The Prime Minister of Poland, of the Czech Republic, and of Slovenia. That’s power. That’s not force, that’s power that’s coming up and that’s what I call the third side, that’s showing up to witness in a very real way. And it sends a message. It changes the field.

And because in the end, force can, military force can accomplish certain things, but in the end, power, the genuine power, the latent power of us all, which is in the end, spiritual power, is greater in the end. It’s like water and rock, water erodes rock, you know? And so for me, as far as how do we break the cycle of humiliation? By not adding to further humiliation, because right now there’s a kind of a, there’s so much outrage in the West and in the world around what’s happening, that there’s a consensus, that there’s a desire to humiliate Putin, humiliate Russia. But all that will do is just keep the cycle going, and somehow the way to break the cycle of humiliation is to step back and ask, “Where’s the way of power to counter force?” Rather than the way of force to counter force.

Thomas: What I love very much is, it’s like when you speak about the humility, because I think anyway, I think humility is a great quality in life in general. But it’s humility is connected to the knowing that I need to bow to life in order to learn. And in a way, you said that in humility comes with me being a student of life and not me being the one that knows how things are. And I think that’s a very powerful opening, I think. And it’s about breaking the cycle of trauma, or breaking isn’t the right word…

William: Interrupted.

Thomas: You said that there is humiliation. What I also see, because here is my process, when I listen to you, when you started to speak about Putin’s past, immediately it feels like the two of us dive into a space that will open up of sensing. So when you said it, I felt you and I also tuned in with like, we both started to feel Putin.

William: Right.

Thomas: And I can’t do this when I make Putin the bad enemy I can’t do it because I don’t feel anything. But if I allow myself to stay open in my own humility, then I can begin to feel. And just with the trauma that you described of Leningrad or St. Petersburg, now there is humiliation but I also think there’s a lot of fear that is so overwhelming that it becomes numbness and absence. Like the incapacity to feel. So we in a way sacrifice our capacity to sense and feel, and we gained a kind of a level of protection. And so I think, yes, there’s humility. And I would also add to this a lot of un-felt fear because those circumstances are so scary and existentially threatening that I think when one result is like closing ourselves down into a functional mode. And then the way you started, I felt “Wow, that is the part of the remedy.” And I think that also must be for you as a mediator, one of the key tools is to practice some sort of attunement into a situation in order to gain a deeper understanding. And if that’s so, so that’s my question, now, if that’s so, maybe you can speak a little bit about that because that seems to be a core aspect of becoming the remedy.

William: Yeah, it’s true. You know, just in myself, as I try and take you in the situation as someone who’s engaged in trying to help the parties find a way out. You know, I can feel, the feelings, you can feel the shock, the suffering, the pregnant women killed, just all that produces, you can feel the fear, the anger. And from a balcony perspective, you could feel all those things, include all those, welcome them, and then also try… and it’s almost like that’s why I like the balcony metaphor is you go to a balcony to connect, it’s not to disconnect, it’s to connect, to get a larger view. And then in the play, it’s almost like you zoom out for a moment from the picture so that you can zoom back into all the different characters. And so who are the characters on the stage?

You know, Putin is one. And sort of dive in, and the only way to understand Putin is from within Putin. You can’t, it’s not like you can study, if you study Putin like a scientist studies a beetle, you have to know what it feels like to be a beetle. There’s this entire subjectivity there, especially if you’re going to bring any influence to bear because to really ask the question, “What is really going on here? Where is it getting stuck? And how do we get it unstuck?” And that in that empathetic, that use of what I would call strategic empathy. It’s empathy for purpose, and the purpose is to find a way out, to find a way to heal. And it doesn’t preclude justice or human rights or anything like that. It’s like if we’re trying in the play, people are stuck here and they’re just going around in a circle, how can you write the play so that maybe this person steps here and this person steps there, and this person steps there. And they start to move in a more constructive direction.

Thomas: It’s interesting because you’re also saying something, I love this because I think we are right in becoming the remedy. Because the question is how do we stop that vicious cycle? And I think the only way, and I really believe the only way is to open up the inability to feel. Because for many people in the moment, you can create an enemy, you’re protecting yourself. And then we talk about Russia or like, but it’s not anymore that we are part in. And because many people think, oh, if I feel that I agree, or then I agree to what’s happening, I become weak. Or all these ideas that are born out of trauma, they are not born out of a real sensing, doesn’t make us weak at all. The opposite. And I’m sure you experienced this over and over again.

But there is an assumption that I cannot feel somebody who does terrible things. And then sensing, I think that’s also what many the mystical teachings, like many of the really trained masters, they weren’t weak at all, but they were really dialed in. So this quality is, I think, one of the core elements that enough people can hold a space. Because when I listen to you, so ever since I get to know you, what I really love about your way of of being in conflict is that you become a space that can host a conflict. Because if you need to externalize the conflict and then try to mediate them between them, it’s never going to work. And I would love to hear your take on this because it only works if you become a space or the collective becomes this space that is bigger than the conflict, but it’s very clear with the conflict and within the conflict. So I would love to. Maybe you can speak a bit about holding a conscious space for the fragmentation.

William: Yeah, that’s it. If I found anything in 45 years of wandering around different war zones, probably more than two dozen wars in the world over the last 45 years, asking myself, “What’s the secret to peace?” The secret to peace is us, and it’s us doing the inner work that allows us to host the conflict within us and then collectively to host it, to create the spaciousness, and that’s the name, I give that the name “the third side,” to me, it’s like conflict is always two sides, like right now it’s Ukraine and Russia. And then the only question people are asking themselves is, “Which side do I take? Well, I’ll take this side.” Well, there may be another option, which is to take the third side, which is not a neutral in the middle. The third side is the whole, it’s the whole, it’s what surrounds, it’s that spaciousness that you’re talking about.

And the third side to me has at least three dimensions. It’s both the community,it’s like the worldwide community is right now hosting, watching, witnessing this conflict, witnessing it. And then we have to learn how to witness it, collectively witness, and you and I have talked about that. There is, that’s the external third side, there’s the internal third side, which are the people, like within Russia and within Ukraine who are, those societies there that can actually, that those internal third side play an enormously important role in also creating space. Right now, there’s a conversation going on inside Russia in a conversation going on inside Ukraine. And then there’s the inner third side, which is the spirit. And if I think of, for example, let me give you an example.

In South Africa, how did apartheid end? Everyone thought that was going to go on forever, the conflict between the Blacks and the whites, and the whites had more power. And whatever it is, I was in South Africa when Mandela was in prison just before he was released and everyone was thinking, “This is going to go on forever.” And then I was there like five years later and it was a completely different South Africa. What had happened here in that transformation? The third side had gotten engaged, you know, the world was there, the different countries, there were, you remember, there were University groups, there were boycotts, there were sanctions, there was all the things that we see now today with Russia that was going on, the international community was energized.

And the key was within South Africa there was a mobilization of the civil society of the business and labor and women’s groups and faith groups and leaders. They all got energized and created something called the National Peace Accord. And there is a spirit of the third side, which in Africa was called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the ancestral spirit and Ubuntu means “I am because you are. We are.” That’s what Ubuntu means, it’s the spirit of we. And Mandela and Tutu invoked that, they were not just leaders of one side. Mandela was very explicitly a leader for the whole. He made it really explicit all along that he wasn’t just fighting for the freedom of the Blacks, he was fighting for the freedom of the whites, too.

And if you think about his leadership when he went to prison, he was a very, he had a kind of, he was kind of a reactive personality. He was a boxer, you know, look at what we’re going to fight. When he went into prison, what he learned as he writes in his memoir is he learned to search his own inner processes, his own mental and emotional processes. He learned to study himself. And he realized that’s the beginning. That’s, you know, the balcony. And then what was the first thing he did? He started to learn the language of his enemies. He learned Afrikaans. And he learned their, not just their language, but their history, their culture, their history of humiliation and suffering because they’ve been put in the very first camps that were called concentration camps by the British in the Boer War in the early 1900s.

So he was able to not react, go to the balcony, he was able then to put himself in the shoes of his enemies. Doesn’t mean he agrees with his enemies. But he was able to do that. And then when he got released from prison, he was able to speak to them in their own language, using their own history, using their own culture. Speaking, you know, putting himself in that, and that’s how he was able to persuade them. And then with the spirit of Ubuntu, which allowed for forgiveness to persuade his own people to start to heal the wounds, and so there was the very first Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

And so it’s all of those combined. He was able to, it was all those aspects of the third side combined created the spaciousness within which a phenomenon that we thought wouldn’t change transformed itself. It wasn’t that the conflict got resolved. It’s that this conflict transformed, which is more important. It changed its form. It continues to this day. There are tensions, but it fundamentally changed. And when I got back to South Africa in 1995, Mandela was, he’d been in prison for 27 years. He was out. He was the president of the country and de Klerk, who had been president when I was last there was now deputy president. How did that happen?

Thomas: Amazing. Wow, it’s amazing. Yeah, but it’s another, you described it now as a process. It’s exactly what we said before. It’s like we need always someone or a group of people that can host the fragmentation, especially. But like, that hot conflict that’s happening now, like a war that, even the fragmentation is so strong that most of the people join a camp, you know, I’m on this side, I’m on that side, and I, you know, I’m on both sides of the good ones, but which is understandable, but it’s not going to help the conflict. The conflict needs a consciousness that can embrace it without agreeing to whatever you know anything yet.

That’s the second step is the action, the first step is the space. And you describe this beautifully. But I think this is something that many people, I think do not understand. There’s still much more emphasis on the outer action to fix something than on that space. But now if I take that voice for a moment and I tell you, yes, well, William, all of this is great, but once there’s a war we need to protect the people. We need to take care of the women and the children that are suffering, or the refugees. We don’t have the time to sit around the campfire and do some rituals. We need to act. And I would like you to, if you can respond to that voice, because that’s very predominant at the moment.

William: Well, I absolutely agree with that voice. We do need to protect. The third side, to me, that’s what third side does. The first thing it does is interrupt the fighting in order to initiate the talking and create the space for the talking and collaboration. So the third side is the collective voice that says, “No, this is unacceptable, this shall not happen. This will not happen,” in order to say yes to an alternative process. So, in the case of South Africa, for example, there was a universal “No” from the world to this set, this system of institutionalized racism.

And there was a “no” emerging from the society and not just from the Blacks, but from the whites, from the business community, from theologians, from religious leaders say, “No, this cannot continue.” So so there’s no question, it’s not, the third side isn’t just all, “Let’s just sit around the campfire and talk,” you’ve actually got to protect, and the third side is what stops the conflict from happening. It’s like it plays the role of the intervening and saying “No.” Now the question is, how do you intervene in a situation like Ukraine? How do you do it? But there’s no question that the first role of the third side is to stop the violence, to stop it. So that the talking can begin,

Thomas: So, two things, how do we do this practically now? Like if you, what are great ideas to stop the fighting? Because as you said, it’s not so easy to just go in there and stop it, especially when nuclear weapons are pointing in all directions of the globe. The second thing is that I am interested in is your take on what’s actually inhibiting that the entire world is getting up right now? Because it could also be that not only Europe or the NATO states are on their toes, but actually the entire world would get up and say, “No, we’re not doing this.”

So what’s the inhibition that, because people, and also people are saying, “Yeah, it’s great” because in Europe, it’s now a big thing, but in Yemen or in other places in Africa, there are wars all the time and the whole world doesn’t care. So what is with this? Is this only an immune system because it’s so close to us the way it says a similar cultural background or what actually triggers that response? And why does the world not get up all the time when there is a war no matter where it is and how much maybe economic interest or political interest is in that area? Maybe you can’t speak a little bit to that.

William: Well, it’s one of the questions because there are wars going on right now, there’s wars going on in Yemen, in Ethiopia and the Rohingya there, that we don’t even hear about them anymore, in Congo, right? There’s so many, so much. And with the casualties, the human casualties and the suffering arguably being in much greater levels even than the terrible, horrific things that are happening right now in Ukraine. And yet right now, the world is glued, and particularly in the Western world, but I think the entire world is glued on Ukraine, it’s becoming a kind of a global tragedy, and to me, it actually, I understand and absolutely can sympathize with the thought that, “Hey, why aren’t you paying attention to these other places?” Absolutely, we should pay attention to those other places too, there’s no question about it and that’s why I devote my time.

And there’s something about this, I’m just even trying to understand it, I don’t know the answer to this question, but it almost feels to me like, if you put this in the larger perspective and you look at COVID, the pandemic happened, and it was like, it collectively, psychologically for the collective human psyche, it was like, “Wow. The same phenomenon is happening in every part of the world.” There wasn’t, there’s not one corner of the world, so it was like even though it was a, it’s a tragedy, it’s negative, but it was like suddenly the world stopped and we were all feeling the same thing. Which to me, it was a really, and then there was a moment when, it’s kind of like humanity, there’s a play going on, and the play for the world that the world was looking at was Covid, and that was the main subject, you know, economic effects, obviously people were dying, the hospitals, everything. Everyone, the whole world stopped for a moment and was watching the same play.

In a way, because we were each watching our own play and then suddenly the whole world is watching the same play. And then it’s almost like we’re there watching the same play of COVID and then COVID, for most of the world, took a dive. Suddenly, societies were starting to open up again. And then it’s almost like like COVID was going off the stage, and then in came Russia and Ukraine, and they occupied the whole global stage again. And it’s like, there’s something happening here, there’s a global play going on. And I had friends in Brazil who never follow wars, and just following this, and they were saying to me, “Come on, Putin, give us a break. We just did Covid, don’t bring in another play, a tragedy,” you know? But you know, they were even like, a little humor on it.

But there’s a reality that now, and maybe it’s a positive phenomenon, the world is getting increasingly conscious of its interconnection, COVID made us conscious of interconnection. Someone gets sick in China and then suddenly someone gets sick in Copenhagen and someone gets sick in San Francisco and then someone gets sick in Cape Town and it’s like, it was kind of a very real experience of the interconnectedness. And now with Ukraine, it’s interconnected. Also, because this is not just a regional conflict, suddenly you have Russia and the West, you have the two largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons facing each other and confronting each other. And you have the possibility, you have the highest risk of a nuclear war since October 1962 in the Cuban Missile Crisis, where that affects everyone. I mean, if nuclear weapons go off, it affects everyone.

And even short of that, the economic consequences of this war are affecting everyone, the oil prices, the gas that people are using to fill their cars, it affects in Liberia, it’s affecting in Brazil, it’s affecting the United States, so everyone’s feeling it. And the question is, can we take advantage of this moment of universal attention to say, can this be a wake-up call for us to realize that anywhere in the world, anything that happens, it’s our collective responsibility to witness it in the way that you talk about it. And then from that, witnessing for skillful action to arise, collective action to arise, which is the power that collective power, then, in the end, will be stronger than any force.

Thomas: Exactly, exactly. And in the line of your events and like it’s in line with 20 or 30 years of time, we have to develop a capacity or deal with maybe tens of millions or hundreds of millions of climate refugees in a way that we won’t be able to deal with if we don’t develop that capacity. So that’s one question. Also, these are all signs that we have to develop a systemic global capacity here, which I deeply believe is true. I mean, I resonate very much with what you’re saying.

And on the other hand, also that we learn about the inhibition, but inhibits that kind of response to both. We learn what supports it and what inhibits it. And on the other aspect, maybe you can speak to– I don’t know how much you include this in your own contemplation, but it’s interesting that COVID and now this war are happening in a time when there is a significant conscious or unconscious rise of collective existential fear. Because I think slowly, slowly it’s seeping in like climate change. And it’s like, magnitude is slowly seeping into the collective consciousness that before, some scientists were saying OK, but now that we can start to feel the effects that are really happening already, I think that this or that kind of level of threat that starts to be more obvious is, I think, also an underlying factor in this whole equation that you spoke about.

William: Yeah. And you know, it’s almost like, as you’re speaking, I’m almost imagining– I’ve talked about this image of the campfire, right? And to me, it’s not as if you have to convene the campfire, everyone is sitting around the campfire right now, and it’s just a lot of us haven’t been paying attention.

Thomas: Right, exactly.

William: You know, all of humanity is around the campfire, but a lot of us haven’t been paying attention and we’re either numbed or just– through these challenges like COVID or Ukraine, and climate, we’re becoming sensitized, we’re tuning our collective instruments, too. We’re waking up and saying, “Oh!” So to me, that’s an opportunity now to– it’s like the fear is directing our attention to the fire in the middle there. And the question is, can that fire be a transformative force, like fire is, in which we can then say, “So, how do we start to pay attention?” We’re all paying attention now in a way that we weren’t paying attention.

And now that we’re paying attention, is there– and this is what I think is so needed, is there a vision of where the world could go in a positive direction? Because right now, what our minds are filled with, there’s a lot of negative visions, like climate, extinction of all species, nuclear war, pandemics, great power rivalries. Now there’s Cold War. You know, it’s Cold War, it’s the end of an era. We have all these negative images, which are possibilities. There are genuine possibilities. The question is where the positive possibilities are that can feel like, yeah, we could start to move in that direction. Can we wake up? Can we heal that? Can humanity heal itself? Can that be the question?

I mean, looking with straight eyes at all the suffering around the world and all the ways in which things are going negatively, can we? And this is what I ask all the time, are you a pessimist or an optimist after all this? And I’ve given up saying, I’m a pessimist, I’m an optimist right now. I say I’m a possible-ist, because I possibly can see potential, can see possibility. You can see negative possibilities. Because you’re not like, it’s not like, oh, everything could be great. No, you can see the negative ways we could develop all the negative potential, but you can also see the positive potential and then you can act accordingly to see if you can transform and heal the situation and move in the positive direction.

Thomas: Right. And that’s a great moment, too, because to first– to have it like this in a space that’s needed to hold both is already based on the certain development, like they can hold both levels of possibilities in myself. And still, because if I can hold both, there must be a greater holding space, because I am attached to it. Hopefully, it’s going to be good or everything’s going to be better or I’m holding a space. But what is that space? What am I holding? So that space seems to be a bigger awareness or a consciousness than all the possibilities that might unfold in it. And that leads us to two things. I often say there’s a horizontal and vertical flow of information. What does it mean?

William informs Thomas, which means Thomas has a form of William inside. I have a William in my nervous system, that’s the one that I see, and you have a Thomas in your nervous system that you see. And relation is there, is the moment-to-moment update, you know, but we are updating each other. If we feel each other, we update each other. If we don’t feel each other, we start living in the past. So when we update each other all the time, so then we are continuously fresh. Like, that’s a creative relation. And that’s what I experience with your sense of being in this. And then there’s the vertical information. That’s how we bring potentiality, at least according to the mystical perspective. The space allows us to bring information in that is not just informed by 2022.

Like, there’s a higher information that comes in as inside deeper understanding, like new possibilities that open up I didn’t see before. And I think that’s very interesting and I would be– I’m curious how you experience this also in some of your meditation practice, when you are dialed in and related to what’s happening in the room that there’s always a space for inspiration that comes in, that is new information, that has the power to create a new form, a form that we don’t have yet. And I would love to hear what you think about that.

William: What you’re saying, I resonate very deeply with because that, to me, one of the more powerful questions to ask in conflict or in life is like, “What is wanting to happen here?” It’s not like, what will happen or what– even like what shouldn’t happen or what should happen, but what’s wanting to happen here. What’s– if you’re watching the play, and you are actually, you’re in the play, it’s the same time as you’re watching the play. You know, I’m an anthropologist by training and anthropologists are participant observers. Well, we’re all participant observers, right?

Thomas: Right.

William: We’re all– life is we’re participating. We’re all responsible people responsible for this human play that’s happening right now, including the tragedy right now in Ukraine. We’re co-responsible. Doesn’t mean we’re to blame, but we’re co-responsible. We can respond to it, right? We were responsible and we’re also– if we can cultivate the ability to observe at the same time, which is to go back and forth from balcony to stage to balcony to stage to balcony to stage. And from that perspective, then, can we– I mean, I love your information like, you have my image in you, I have a Thomas in me, you have a William in you, and that ability to do that, to actually– I have a Putin in me, I have a Zelensky in me, I have everyone in me, right?

Thomas: Exactly.

William: And so then the question is, OK from that perspective now, what’s the way to dance here? What’s the way they can dance with each other in a way that opens up space instead of the way that we’re we’re not dancing with each other, we’re fighting with each other, just closes down space, closes down the heart, closes down the compassion and empathy to me, is the way to take these highly constricted situations. And begin to slowly, slowly, slowly, they open up and then space and then new possibilities show up. And for me, you’re saying where the information comes, right? It’s like if you– if I put myself in alignment, where does it– where does inspiration come from? It’s like, you get ideas.

I’m just reminded of an example. A year ago, not even a year ago, nine months ago, whatever, I got– the president of Afghanistan was going to meet with the president of the United States. This was when we fought before it was all gone and I got a request to come to Washington to talk to the president of Afghanistan before he would meet with the president of the United States. And I thought I was trying to understand that situation at that moment, I was on a walk saying, what could he possibly say in this particular situation? The war? Everything was collapsing. What was it that he could say, and it just occurred to me that he could ask for lots of things, but he could simply say, turn to the president of the United States and say, “Look, I’ve come here all the way here from Afghanistan, just to ask you one question. And the one question is, can I go back to Afghanistan and say that you are– tell the people of Gaza that we have a friend in the White House.”

Just that. And because– to change the nature of that situation, the dynamic of that situation was– can I go back and say– it was just like, it just arrived at me and then of course, that’s what I did. I went to Washington, and in fact, that’s what he did. And it changed the, you know, it didn’t change the whole dynamic, the whole place, but it changed the dynamic of that conversation from the beginning to say, did you go in with your fixed positions now to say, can I go and say that you are our friend? And it just changed the dynamic and that was something again, just information that arrives. It’s just like, how do you shift? How do you shift the dynamic of that situation?

Thomas: Exactly beautiful. That’s exactly what I mean. And I think like– so that’s very powerful that you gave like a real practical example from what you applied. And then one more thing I will add, and I’m curious again, what you’re thinking. So when Thomas looks at William and I have William inside, so I don’t know if William– did I see the William that is out there? I only know what I perceive, but trauma creates cracks in the screen like a computer screen and you have a crack. So you see, I see you, but there is a crack. And so, that’s one thing. So the trauma reduces our capacity to have– to be informed by each other, and that creates distance of other-ing, distorted perceptions, and fragmentation, separation.

The other thing is, something that you said that I wanted to come back to is when that’s true between us, then everyone, whenever we think of President Putin or Zelensky or anybody, we have all of them, all of us have them inside. So what’s now the existence of a person? Is it the person in the body or is it the person in the body and millions or billions of people in which that person exists as an energy field? Because in us, it’s just like the electromagnetic stuff happening in our brain. That’s perception. So we are like, there’s always a particle and a wave field because we all exist in each other. So how can we work on this? Because that’s basically that’s how I understand the third side.

The third side is that we create it now. But the third side has the same fragmentation inside. So many millions of people in Europe still carry the wounds of the Second World War that either our grandparents, or our parents were part of inside. So it’s not that what we see is what’s really happening. It’s minus the trauma distortion that we all carry inside. And I think that’s a very interesting question around the collective information field, because how much can we influence the one that we– any public person inside? You know, because how do I allow myself to really create the relation? Because Mr. Putin is not just out there. He also lives in everybody inside. That’s really fascinating, so we would love to see what do you think about this?

William: Well, I like it, and we can see the world in terms of particles or we could see in terms of waves, right? And we know that both exist, right? You know, physics. You know, it’s like– it’s wave and particle at the same time. So applying that to this kind of conflict like, kind of metaphor, at least, then what if, on the stage, it wasn’t like individuals like Mr. Putin, Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Biden, and Mr. Xi, all these people, Mr. Macron, what if it was a wave? And let’s imagine what if you saw, just like there is a field of humiliation and fear dense field here?

And the question was how does it dissolve? How does it begin to dissolve and into, you know, humility and trust, let’s say, how does humiliation become humility, trust and fear become trust? And we actually saw our– the task here is working on the energy field, which is in some way depersonalized. It’s not particles, it’s all waves, right? It’s just that. So there’s all this humiliation that happened historically, humiliation, whatever it is. So how do we take this thick, dark, dense kind of mass and begin to hold it in that spaciousness, right? So what we’re holding in the spaciousness is not people anymore. It’s this dark, dense feeling. And how do we transform that into– like dark clouds become lighter clouds or whatever? It’s like, how do we do that?

To me, that would be really if we started from that perspective, then we might get to, okay, practically then what does it mean in dealing with people as particles? But start with the wave. Conception, I think, is really interesting, and you know, the thing is, there’s so much insecurity right now, if you think, OK, there’s universal insecurity, the insecurity is being felt by Ukrainians intensely, it’s being felt by Russians, it’s being felt by all Europeans, it’s being felt by everyone on Earth. How do we take insecurity and move it towards a common sense of security, mutual security?

Thomas: Exactly, exactly. Exactly. And the only way that I have seen so far is we have to create a relation here that is strong enough to include the dis-related aspects of the past. And if he– because only when the present moment has the power to onboard the fragmented reality which is postponed experience with this tremendous pain, which is a Holocaust, the Second World War, a First World War, a Cold War, like all this stuff is still all– the pain is still living among us. It’s not, nobody clears that space up, really. It’s still living. And I think if our relation is strong enough, then the fragmentation that might show up between us, we will be able to handle it. We have enough resources to handle it.

And the other thing is also that what you said is like, because I love it, because you, as opposed to the list, you are living in the wave world because in the way they feel, their possibilities, once they become manifest, they become a particle, they become better, they become substance.

But it also means that if every life, if millions of Europeans have Putin inside now, or Zelensky, or President Biden, or you, or whoever, then he way field is determined by our state of consciousness, then determines the possibility that we are able to bring forth together. And I think if we can overcome, somehow, this notion of separation that it’s happening there and I’m here, I’m just reading my news, but they are doing this, to, “Wow, my state of consciousness really matters,” because it helps to raise the collective into a possibility that we can have here. We can only have here, or the governments are an expression of the collective consciousness we can have. The government needed to be able to have because of who we are as millions of US citizens or German citizens. So I think that interdependence that you spoke about at the beginning is so important that we are not separate entities, but that we are individual and collective at the same time.

William: That’s it. That’s absolutely it. And the– this illusion, what I think Einstein called a very persistent illusion. There were these separate little entities alone, and if we’re just these little separate entities alone, then of course everything is scarce. From separation comes a feeling of scarcity. And then from separation and scarcity, they become fighting, because you’re going to fight over– and the truth is that’s one reality. And the question is, there’s another reality where actually we’re separated and we’re connected, we’re interconnected. We’re all in this web. And oddly enough, there’s abundance.

What’s abundant? One thing that’s abundant is like, which is the key to moving from A to B here is respect, basic human respect for the other side’s, everyone’s dignity, dignity for everyone. Respect is respect, actually respect to see, to actually see the human being there, to actually see and feel the human being there, to see their value. If I respect you, I don’t have less respect myself, right? If I give you my food, I may have less food, but if I give you respect, I don’t have anything less. In fact, you give me back more respect and then, you know, it’s just– it’s a total positive thing.

So to transform this insecurity and humiliation into a sense of safety, if we can begin to respect which, behaviorally, the best way I know is to listen, but to truly listen, to listen. Not from within your frame of reference, but as you were saying, from within the other person’s frame of reference, put yourself in their shoes, really from within. If we can listen that way and we can hold positive intent, then slowly, slowly, slowly, collectively, we can witness from that perspective, then it can shift and we can create cycles of mutual respect and mutual safety. Because the truth is, none of us are going to be safe until all of us are safe.

Thomas: That’s right. And that what you’re saying, to put myself in somebody else’s shoes is work. And I need to know what it is like. I need to invest something because it’s not always easy, because if it was that easy, you know, we were talking now like we are. We wouldn’t talk now because the part of me that has a hard time in listening with such a quality to something that I maybe disagree, or to a perspective that I don’t like, is work. It’s something that I need to invest energy into and I need to be willing to feel the discomfort that comes with it.

William: It’s hard work. It’s the hardest work that human beings do. And the little that I’ve learned from my own experience is, if I want to listen to you, I actually have to begin by listening to myself. And listening to, you know, creating a space for everything that’s going on inside of me, once I listen to myself, there’s more spaciousness that I can actually receive you. Otherwise, I’m just so– if I’m listening to you, but I’m actually, I’m really not listening to you. I’m just painted as this anger and fear and judgment and all these things that are going on. There’s no space to take it. So this is the hardest work we can do. But it begins– if I want to respect someone else, I have to begin by respecting myself. If I want to listen to someone else, I have to begin by listening to myself. It’s not just kind of like other-focused. The work starts with the self, and then it expands out when you realize that self and other is an illusion. And you keep on expanding your sense of self that includes the other.

Thomas: Right, exactly. Yeah,, it’s beautiful, because I often say that wisdom is the capacity, is the amount of world that you can include in your actions, like how much of the world can you include in the way you live for a moment? And that’s good for what you said. Yes. So this is– it sounds amazing. I think really, we need another because you didn’t get to the link to the mystical and the spiritual part. And they say the time is already pretty advanced. But this was amazing. I think also late to the individual and the collective and the way field and the particle. I think that’s a lot for us to contemplate, like because that is not just ideas, that is literally what the collective is composed out of. You know, we all hold, we all live in each other. And the more synchronized that form is like, it really, I mean– everybody knows you. If there’s a synchronization, then that’s a very powerful feeling inside and outside. And so I think what we spoke about today is fantastic. I am very excited about our conversation and it’s always very inspiring, really. And I would love to continue. If you have time, I know you’re busy, whenever it is. Let’s bring in the mystical a bit more next time.

William: Let’s do that. It’s really, you know, I really, really enjoyed it. And it’s like, yeah, it’s so much. I just want to say that to some listeners, this may seem like wow, waves, beautiful things like this. But all I can say is that in my experience, because I try to land all this in very practical actions, practical advice to leaders on what can be done now. You know, very practical. So to me, because things are so stacked, we have to go way out and we have to take in other perspectives and then zoom it right back into practically, behaviorally. What can someone do tomorrow morning? And that’s amazing. And it works. It works, at least for my experience, it’s maybe the only thing that can possibly get us unstuck from this traumatic, trauma-based mess that is behind all these dangerous conflicts that we see today.

Thomas: Exactly. And I hear how important it is for you to take walks in nature to, you know, to really go to the balcony and contemplate your mediation processes and the possibilities, as you shared with us before. And so, yes, on the one hand, it looks like going very far out, but we don’t want to repeat the past. And in order to bring in some future of like something new, we need to make a space for it. Otherwise, we are just reactive and just recreating the same thing. And the certainty to humiliate, or humiliation that is happening, and it will just create the same thing in the future again. So what is it like? You know, it looks like it’s almost a moment now, but it’s just the first cornerstone for the next catastrophe in 30, 50 years. So how can we do it differently that it brings in a new option? And I think for that, when you take a walk, it’s not just taking a walk, it’s also making space for something new to arrive. And I think that’s very beautiful and important for the next practical step.

William: And it’s very much like walking in nature. And there’s the beauty to me. I’ve long thought that, because I work in war zones and war things, it’s very hard and tough when you take it in. And beauty is the antidote to– beauty somehow creates that spaciousness that allows me to integrate all these horrific happenings around the world.

Thomas: So maybe next time we should talk about integration, but that’s an interesting word to follow up on. Great. Great, William. Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you.

William: You’re welcome, Thomas