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Mythbuster: Search from a newcomer’s perspective

2013 February 4
by sfcg

Peacebuilding: it’s where everyone exchanges punches for hugs and sings “kumbaya” around a campfire…right?

Peace is not a new notion. The idea has been around since human nature showed its face.  It means different things to different people.  For the mother with quadruplets, it’s the day kindergarten starts. For a refugee family from a war-torn country, it’s the day they get to go home.

I too had my own ideas of what peace was and how to build it.  I studied journalism and international relations in college, so I was in the know. I could tell you how to search for common ground, how to build peace.  I’ve now worked at Search for three weeks.  Turns out I had a lot to learn.

Jessica with a new friend  in Ghana

Jessica with a new friend in Ghana

My 3 misconceptions of Search:

#1. Common Ground is what most people have in common

My first misconception was on the meaning of common ground.  I figured common ground was two sides recognizing that they already stood on common ground.  For example, they were both Africans, both religious people, both human beings…etc.  Although recognizing each other’s common humanity is an important first step, this is not necessarily what Search is talking about when they refer to common ground.  They are talking about what they call “the highest common denominator”, which means uncovering similar needs, hopes and aspirations.  For instance, two groups of people might disagree on everything at first glance, but truth is they both want their children to be safe when walking to school.  They both need clean water.  They both need a more stable economy to advance their family.  These are common grounds that people can aspire to and they must work together to achieve.  Common ground might not always be obvious. That’s why we search for it.

#2. Agree to disagree

When opposing sides take strong stances on a matter, I used to think that they would just have to “agree to disagree” in order to move on.  Search takes a different approach.  They encourage opposing sides to focus on their interests, not their positions.  We have the tendency to take certain sides or positions on issues, which polarizes people.  So instead of one side focusing on their left political stance and the other focusing on their right stance, they focus on a mutual interest, such as providing clean water for their families.  Focusing on interests gives opposing sides a place to start discussing solutions.

#3. You need to change

Individuals are complicated. Conflict is complicated.  Dissension can stem from years and generations of hate, fear, loss, violence… the list goes on.   Individual identities stem from experiences, religion, culture…. etc.  All these aspects make up who we are, but can also make it tough to see eye to eye.  It seems like peacebuilding organizations would have to ask people to compromise who they are, but that is not how SEARCH works.  You can keep your beliefs, your stances, and your mission.  You do not have to agree with the opposing side or condone what they’ve done.  We just ask that you change your response to the disagreement; from violence to constructive problem-solving.

Once I found clarity on these three misconceptions, my hope for what Search could accomplish skyrocketed.  You see, I’m a fighter by nature.  I was an NCAA Division I athlete, pushed every day to be aggressive, to never back down and to win.  Part of that is now ingrained in my personality– just from playing a game!  I can’t imagine asking someone whose life has been shattered by another, who has no voice, no freedom, no way out—to just be “ok” with it.  They say human nature gives you two options: fight or flight.  Search has found another one—take action.   Search is constantly coming up with imaginative new ways for people in conflict to take action together.  That’s why I feel it will succeed.


Jessica Murrey believes media is powerful tool in changing the world for the better.  She studied journalism and international relations at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and worked in broadcast television, forming messages of awareness and prevention against domestic, drug and child abuse.  She is currently the new media coordinator at SFCG. 
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