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Trustbuilding for a humane world


Initiatives of Change events have the remarkable quality of bringing together people from around the world, creating a human global family where everyone is valued and has dignity. Related to that, I was honoured to be contribute to the ‘Towards a more Humane world’ conference, which took place in Asia Plateau.  

The subject of trust is very close to my heart, as I have been developing my own experience of trustbuilding over the last 20 years. My father was killed in 1984 in the IRA bombing of Brighton hotel, and I chose to bring something positive out of the terrible trauma just two days later. I never wanted an enemy in my life, and I took strength from the inspirational example of Gandhi and committed to bring peace to the violence.

I asked to meet the man, Patrick Magee, who was responsible for planting the bomb which killed my Dad, in order to see him as a human being and to understand his story. Though I asked many times my request was always denied. In 1999, Patrick was released from prison as part of the Good Friday Agreement. It was only then that we met in Dublin in a private house, where the first meeting consisted of just the two of us talking for three hours. My intention was to listen and find out what motivated him. He started by giving me the political justification and I listened with empathy. I did not listen with anger - I wanted him to feel it was safe to share with me.

After one hour his speech changed and moved from his head to his heart, later saying he was disarmed by my empathy. He stopped defending his position and instead moved into questioning and realising he had lost some of his humanity through violence. It was at that point he saw my Dad as a human being and wanted to know more about the kind of man he was. When he planted the bomb, he saw no one in the hotel, just the uniformed people. He then realised the cost to himself in using violence.  

I left the meeting having seen some of Patrick’s humanity and this helped my own healing. Since then we have become friends and have spoken together publicly over 300 times. The trust between us is very deep and precious, but still requires emotional work and I see this is a key ingredient to trust building. I am grateful for all I have learnt through this dialogue and better understand the person I’m speaking with when I listen to their story. 

I see it as a process: when I am hurting and I blame you, I can make you wrong and me right, therefore making you ‘less human’ than myself. This is a form of violence and it is challenging to see everyone in their full humanity. But once you commit to being restorative and empathic, the question becomes how do I challenge your behaviour without dehumanizing, while also upholding your dignity. You then talk about the impact of the behaviour and how it feels. These are the skills of restorative process, conflict transformation and many more new fields of learning. These are areas I have been studying and empowering others to take steps in.

I believe that, in order to stop the hatred in our world and the ‘othering’ that is happening, we need emotionally safe places where people can share and listen. We need support in having difficult conversations and we need to know it is possible to change from seeing someone as the enemy to seeing them as a friend. 

I have faith in humanity, as we all have the same humanity, and with support we can connect to the love and compassion we share. We can all be positive change makers and create a more humane world.

Jo and Patrick continue to work together and formed Building Bridges for Peace to promote conflict transformation around the world. You can learn more about their work by visiting their website or watching Jo’s TEDx talk on the ‘disarming power of empathy.’

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