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President Barack Obama - practicing Effective Communication, promoting Conflict Resolution
(....Or why an expressed commitment to raising awareness of how we use language can contribute to resolution of the world's (our) destructive conflicts.....)

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Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Newsletter no.13 - February 2009

Well, President Obama is now making his mark on the world by speaking on the various issues that he will have to deal with over the next 4 years of his presidency.

Already it is clear that he uses language that promotes effective communication and conflict resolution, and while I'm sure he is not an avid reader of this site and the Principles espoused on it, his means of communicating reflects many of the Principles that this site describes and the practice of mediation it draws its inspiration from.

Below are links to recent interviews given by President Obama and I have tried to highlight the ways in which his language differs from many of his predecessors and that of many other politicians operating in today's world.

Link: Time Magazine - Obama Mideast Watch: The al-Arabiya Interview:

All too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues -- and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen….

Comment: Obama's comment that the United States 'dictated' in the past is a clear recognition of how they 'volunteered' countries to follow their directives rather than allow them to speak for themselves, something achieved through the act of listening which he follows on to say, they will now start to do.....

What we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs…

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We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

Comment: This could be seen by some as a criticism of his predecessors, that 'We sometimes make mistakes.' What it actually represents is an acknowledgement that we all do so rather than a denial that it has ever occurred. This reflects a more accepting approach, possibly even a no-blame approach.

He is not justifying the acts of the past, he is acknowledging they could be different in the future and that something can be learned from them. Persistent refusal to acknowledge mistakes because they would be seen as 'failure' has been the cause of many mistakes being repeated in the past rather than learned from and changed.

We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them. They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table.

Quotation Corner:

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

Comment: We don't volunteer others, and we speak only for ourselves - two Principles clearly being practiced by Obama here instead of a dictat of 'What the United States expects' that has so angered many others across the world in the past, leading to deep resentment of the perceived arrogance of the United States. This is not to say there has not been similar perceptions created of other nations such as the UK, but the status of the USA as the 'most powerful nation on earth' has meant its power has often not been felt to be wisely and sensitively wielded in the past.

My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.

Comment: A language of respect. Simply to acknowledge that the language used to describe members of the Muslim world and other cultures has not been respectful (and has, in fact, been dismissive, stereotyping, demonising and alienating) is a commitment to mindful communication, a consciousness of how we actually speak to and of each other.

To see the full interview from which the above transcripts are taken Click here.

In the interview,you will hear Obama often use the phrase 'Here's what I think', or 'I do think...'. Instead of statements of 'fact' or command, as many politicians tend to practice - 'The British People want....','Iran must stop.....' etc.

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He speaks for himself, using effective 'I' statements, and expresses his opinions and that of his administration without dictating what 'must be'. A small difference it may seem, but one which means there is no provocation to retaliate against by those spoken about and dictated to. No need to prepare for 'war' against the oppressive imposition by the dominant power expressed through the ineffective communication used.

The No-blame approach in action...

A further sign of the humility and integrity of the new President is his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes as shown in this excerpt from an interview with him about the aborted appointment of Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer who were due to be the Health Secretary and overseer of budget reform respectively.

Many say that a 'no-blame' approach means not being accountable but here we see an example where both Obama and his colleagues are taking responsibility for what happened without adopting the blame approach of pointing the finger or 'covering up' because to acknowledge a mistake would be considered a sign of weakness or failure.

Both come out of the situation with dignity even if the situation itself is regrettable and Obama identifies that ... we're going to make sure we fix it so it doesn't happen again. No condemnation of individuals whereby the blame is pinned on them so that the President can be disassociated from them and the (ridiculous) image of infallibility is fiercely protected - but seen to be a sham. Challenging what happened rather than 'who did it' - a constructive approach to communication and conflict resolution, symbolic of honesty, humility and dignity.

Can we practice an approach to politics that has an awareness of how our communication can in itself escalate conflict or resolve it? Can we practice an approach to conflict where it is seen as an opportunity for learning, connection and insight rather than a competition or 'war' to be won? Well, from observing President Barack Obama, the answer to that seems to be ..........

Yes we can!

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Recommended Books

Books by Barack Obama:

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance Review of Dreams From My Father: One of the many refreshing things about Barack Obama is his self-deprecating sense of humour. Responding to the unrealistic expectations for his presidency, Obama said 'I've been sent by my father from the planet Krypton to save the Earth.' Unfortunately, the irony of this self-comparison to Superman was probably lost on many of his dedicated followers, who clearly believe that – once in office – he can exercise a few super powers and rid the world of all its thronging ills, economic and otherwise. But as Dreams from My Father proves, Obama is no fool, and knows the cold realities that face him, even though this intelligently written book is filled with optimism and hope. Which is understandable enough; after all, what else could Obama offer?

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream With his second book The Audacity of Hope, Obama engages themes raised in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, shares personal views on faith and values and offers a vision of the future that involves repairing a "political process that is broken" and restoring a government that has fallen out of touch with the people. - Daphne Durham - review on Amazon

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Here's a little feel good video. If possible, watch it with the sound on. I know it was in the last newsletter too but it's such a great fun vid I think it deserves a second airing. Enjoy....

One world!

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

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Some links that you may find interesting...... by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stressed Out at Work AGAIN? Work Stress Is NOT Caused By -Your Difficult Coworkers - Your Diet - Your Lack of Time...So What Causes Work Stress? Stress is caused by only one thing....the way you think. Stephanie has 2 great books: 101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work and 101 Ways to Love Your Job is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Aik Saath This is an amazing and interesting website, quite besides the work of Aik Saath that it promotes. Aik Saath works to promote conflict resolution skills in young people and the development of peace and racial harmony in Slough, UK and its surrounding areas.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

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