10/24/2012 12:43 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

Open Questions for Peace

Peace, conflict resolution and reconciliation have been on my mind a lot lately. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't have any answers. So I wanted to ask two open questions to source the power, knowledge and experience of the crowd with some of the seemingly intractable problems racing around my head.

My first question is about science and faith. For the purpose of this question, I'd like to define faith, not as religion, but as whatever moral or values-based compass you may use to guide you in your individual and corporate actions and decisions in life. In this way, people without religion have a type of faith, and this is the faith I bring into the question. By the word science I include everything from basic research to applied technology and development.

We all know that science can be used to save or destroy lives. Some applied scientific technologies can be used only to destroy, like a nuclear bomb. In the case of a nuclear bomb, I continually wonder if it was best to develop and create the bomb (science leading the way) and never use it (faith checking science). In this science-leads-faith paradigm, science is always allowed to go as far as to create technologies; faith simply helps in deciding if, when and how a technology is used. But I also wonder if it was best never to create the nuclear bomb; in other words, faith leads science in deciding what areas science should begin to explore, even if we have the ability. This brings me to my first question.

1. Should faith lead science, science lead faith, or some nuanced option involving co-leading in different proportions?

I took a negotiations course a few years ago, and sitting in the course, both the book and the instructors made negotiations seem as if it were a type of science that you follow. If you do these six steps and remember to emphasise these three goals and always look for this one one concept, you will almost always be able to reach a successful negotiation that makes both sides happy. So the obvious question arises in me, and someone inevitably asks:

"If these methods are so good, how come they aren't used in the Israeli-Arab conflict to bring peace to the Middle East?"

Then the facilitators (and authors of negotiation books) have to dial down expectations and explain that it is not foolproof. Rather it increases the likelihood that you will reach an agreement suitable to both parties. But the question still nags at me: How does one bring peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict? How does one bring peace to any recurring conflict between large people-groups and nation-states? Is it possible?

Looking at all of the conflict going on in the world today, I'm still amazed at our human inability to wipe it out from the face of the earth and future history. It always comes back. New people are born, new challenges arise, and new conflicts brew (or old ones reawaken). Peace, though a solution, is still a mysterious quality that is more of a question than a solution these days. I'm reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.'s journey through the possibilities of peace.

When MLK was looking for a method that could wipe out social evil, he "despaired of the power of love to solve social problems. The turn-the-other-cheek and the love-your-enemies philosophies are valid ... only when individuals are in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations are in conflict, a more realistic approach is necessary." It was only after studying the life and teachings of Gandhi that he realized the true power of satyagraha -- truth-force or love-force. King then saw the ability of love through nonviolence as a potent tool in the struggle for freedom. However that was between groups of people and a government. What about nation to nation?

King realized the need for the method of nonviolence in international relations, but has it ever been done successfully and well? He believed in war as a negative good but then thought that humanity's powerful technology ruled out war ever being a negative good--the potential destruction is just too great. He thought the choice was between nonviolence or nonexistence. So my question to you today is this: Is it possible to do the turn-the-other-cheek method as one nation to another? How does it work? Would any nation be prepared to take the risk and the hurt?

I do mean risk. Sometimes people think turn-the-other-cheek or love-your-enemies doesn't involve getting burned. No, love always involves getting vulnerable and sometimes burned. Many people suffered and died during nonviolent resistance movements with Gandhi, King and Mandela. If you turn your other cheek, it could be slapped. It's OK if I want to love my enemies as an individual person because I am willingly entering myself into a risky situation, but how can a prime minister of a country decide that for an entire country -- not just to eschew fighting back but actively love in the face of violence? Is it possible? Is it practical? Is it right?

This question has been on my mind because of Syria's current plight, the raging civil war there. I tried to consider what would be the equivalent of loving-your-enemies as a nation. What would that look like? I then wondered if it would be something akin to three hundred million of us flying to Syria and putting ourselves on the front lines and saying to the government or the rebels "in order to kill the other, you must kill me." Of course, this might not stop either side, but after awhile, after killing thousands of your countrymen to get to the other, you realize what you've become. You come face-to-face with what you are doing, and you stop. However, in the process you have lost thousands of people. The hard part about love-your-enemy as a nation, is that you have to have the entire nation "on board," giving their heart to the cause, just as you. I don't think it can be forced.

Now it's a silly example and easily derided by any reader, but remember many leaders around the world willingly put their citizens at risk through violent, offensive, and hateful acts toward other nations and people-groups. I'm wondering about using love.

2. What does it look like to do turn-the-other-cheek and love-your-enemy as a nation?

What does it like when your nation has just been attacked by terrorists? What does it look like when your nation has been attacked by domestic terrorists? Is such a nation-wide love possible? Does it exist? Have you seen it work and bring about peace? I don't know. But I welcome your responses.

MLK quotes are from the book 'Strength to Love.'