Like Walking Through Water Without Getting Wet, Part 2

Our first Like Walking Through Water" blog was about the difference between mental toughness and emotional toughness. At Petra, we believe that the most effective peacebuilders have learned to balance mental toughness with emotional vulnerability, a tricky yet necessary aspect of the very human work we do.

Can we make an analogy to love here?



Love is like peacebuilding. You want to be open but not stupid. You want to learn from your mistakes but not close the door to a great opportunity. You want to responsibly protect your heart without being held back unnecessarily by fear. Love requires risk-taking that takes into account the wisdom of past experience.

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As with peace, it is in heart of every human being to want love, though some people are more skilled than others in the art of living it out in our lives.

True love often hurts because it always requires vulnerability and you always have to open yourself up to another imperfect individual. Like peacebuilding, love is messy and dangerous, yet ultimately the whole world wants it because of the blessings and benefits. 

But how we go about seeking the love we each desire as human beings is very telling.


The Ever-Wounded

In love, there are people who give no thought to caution or reason, to whom every new encounter or relationship is another opportunity to lose themselves and get carried away in the feelings, the emotions, the connection. This is all fine until you look and see that the last 20 years of their life is nothing but a string of short-lived relationships that started with fun, beautiful sparklers and ended in disastrous explosions. Perhaps they have the ability to quickly turn the page and they might not harbor bitterness toward all their past partners (an admirable quality, I might add) but I question the depth that this person might bring, for example, in advising me in my own relationship with my partner. This is not the person I'd seek out for advice with my relationship of 10 or 15 years. This person has no idea what it's like to be with someone for 10 years, regardless of how much positive feeling is in their hearts for the person they're currently with.

This type of person gets wounded in conflict all the time. Their heart is constantly being 'put through the wringer' and hung out to dry. The fact that they bounce back and get into another relationship might give the illusion of resilience, but it's clear to those around them that they're not really dealing with their wounds.

Furthermore, they're not putting systems in place to prevent future wounding, which is a huge part of resilience. Sure, it seems they never lack for love since there's always someone new to fill the need of the moment...but how can they be sure that the current love isn't just covering the wounds of the past that weren't properly tended? Likewise, they might have the love they need for today, but how well do they do love in general? What love have they built that has withstood the test of time?


The Jaded Skeptic

Then there's the person who has been hurt and who doesn't want to get hurt again. This person, in order to avoid the inevitable pain, has allowed the soft, permeable inner wall of the heart to be fortified by all kinds of strategies. Love becomes a head game, where the what to do overrides the how to be, a game where one's own survival is as important as the true-love benefits which the individual hopes to receive from the relationship, which of course can only come with taking significant risks which this person really isn't sure they're willing to take anymore. You can't blame them; they were hurt really, really badly. But what does this mean for future prospects of real love?

We then become too guarded, too robotic, too skeptical and jaded to be able to say that we're truly putting our whole heart into the endeavor. We have good reasons for being this way, yes. But we can't be classified as being abandoned to love, can we? And when abandonment is missing, so is the accompanying bliss which is the reward for taking risks in love.


The Mysterious Balance

I see clear comparisons between how we pursue love in our personal lives and how we pursue peacebuilding in our vocations and professions.

I want to be the kind of person who lives in the mysterious balance. I learn from the past, from my own mistakes and the mistakes of others, and go into love with my eyes open, with neither the naiveté of the first type nor the over-guarded protection of the second. I want to take the calculated risks necessary for a one-of-a-kind love story, one where I'm in it for the long haul and can then walk alongside people who approach love the same way, and positively contribute to their experience based on my own.

I want to live in a way in which all of my experiences, even the painful ones, are transformed for good in my life. In cases of regret from something in the past, I actively work to change it with my current partner, and without allowing that regret to harden into a shell around my heart. I want my heart to be open, soft and pliable, and I want the lining around it to be as permeable as possible, in order to give and receive love in the most life-giving of ways.

After all, if I didn't go into peacebuilding for love -- love for the world, love for our fellow men, women and children, love for the planet and for ourselves, love for the vision of something better and more meaningful -- then what am I doing it for?


Vulnerable Yet Resilient

The million dollar question for us at Petra, then, is this:

How does this affect resilience in peacebuilders? If effective peacebuilding means balanced yet vulnerable peacebuilders who are at risk of being hurt, how do we best anticipate and protect in order to help certain injuries that are preventable?

To us, that may be the most important question of all.