David J. Smith, 58, calls his many jobs “the peace gig.” He is a speaker, career coach and president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education — and he has 30 to 40 1099s to file this year.
How do you make peace happen? I’ve noticed that wearing a T-shirt that says “PEACE” on it hasn’t been working.
I’ve gone through a series of different types of careers, but all in some way were focused on helping people build a better life. So I started off as a divorce lawyer.
A utopian divorce lawyer!
Well, most of my clientele were women who were trying to transition to a better life for themselves. My parents had been divorced, so I kind of experienced that. Then I was teaching legal studies at a community college. This is where I started to realize that a lot of the stuff we deal with in our life has to do with being able to get along with somebody on a one-to-one basis. Negotiation is very important to relationships. It’s the substance of how we interact with each other. I remember I was at a college and was talking to the career director. She was saying she has to train college students to be able to talk on the telephone. These types of interpersonal skills, these are all peace-building and conflict-resolution skills.
That sounds like something people can work on.
When Ferguson took place in 2014, I was invited two weeks later to the only college in Ferguson, Mo. I went to a meeting with a group of African American men at the college. I went to the meeting as a consultant — you have your agenda for what you want to talk about. And they said, No, we want to talk about police brutality and violence. What I know about police brutality and violence is what I read. So here I have a group of men who are actually telling me about police violence —
That’s happened to them —
I never had that conversation before. I walk away with a level of awareness I never had before, and we don’t do that in America. We hear about these things through a filter.
What can people do in their everyday lives to promote peace?
Recognize your conflict style. Some people are very competitive, some people are very compromising, and some people like to avoid. Understand who you are and how you operate with people. Then from there, develop the skills: negotiation, awareness, dialogue. Become more aware that you’re doing it and get better at doing it.
In America right now, when we think about meeting people who are different — Trump and Hillary supporter, whatever it may be — it’s about me hitting you over the head, you hitting me over the head, submission.
Gets us nowhere.
It all has to be understanding. I don’t need to convince you that being a Trump supporter is bad. I want to understand why you feel the way you feel with no expectation you’re going to change. I think teaching about conflict, about peace-building, should be as essential as teaching about sex education.