The Personal Dimension
As those familiar with third-party efforts will quickly understand, personal dynamics played a very significant role in the outcome. For third parties with an orientation in faith-based approaches, understanding of this personal dimension can be an important asset.
The first meeting of the World Council of Churches, which Mr. Leopoldo Niilus represented in Oslo. (AP Photo)
Sometimes, moments occur in the lives of individual leaders where they are able to shift the balance and alter the direction or influence the course of an historical development. One such moment took place the evening of March 29, as the dinner guests were getting ready to bring the evening, and the effort, to a close.
Differences in ideological positions might be given prominence in media coverage, but such positions are invariably bound up with individual egos, the desire for power, and the need for acceptance or fulfillment. Those engaged in third-party efforts need to be aware of some fundamental dynamics in the behavior of human beings and how they function within their social context. With respect to the meetings that took place between opposing groups in the Guatemala peace process, it was important to know that some participants had personal ambitions, others wanted a way out of the violence and still others wanted simply to find a viable justification for having engaged in 36 years of conflict.
What happened during the last dinner together owed a great deal to Dr. Leopoldo Niilus. He was a man of calm patience, but also had a passion for his work. Niilus had uncanny insight and diplomatic skill that came from his years in Switzerland with the Commission on the Churches in International Affairs, a division of the World Council of Churches. He had played a major role in negotiating a peace treaty in the Sudan in the early 1970s. On more than one occasion during the week with the Guatemalans, Niilus had defused a volatile argument with his sense of humor and his unique ability to say blunt things to both sides without offense. At the final dinner, Niilus was thoroughly engaged in the wide-ranging discussion.