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Dr Vamik Volkan Meets EI Interns

Why Do We Have War,
and What Can Our Generation Do About It?

These were among the challenging questions posed to Dr. Vamik Volkan by our seven extraordinary Emotional Imprint™ interns when they interviewed him at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 2014. Dr. Volkan, four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is world-renowned for his work on the dynamics of prejudice, ethnic conflict and the forces that lead to war, and his mediation efforts on the world stage. The interview was filmed in collaboration with Falling Awake Productions.

These are some of the ideas he presented:

  • Stranger Anxiety: Just as children feel more comfortable in their families and have anxiety around strangers, groups of people do too.
  • The Tent Metaphor: If groups of people live under nearby tents, in times of peace they focus on their everyday lives and don’t pay much attention to their tent or the people who live in the other ones. But if their tent is threatened by forces from the outside, they band together to protect their tent in ways that are both essential and problematic. Memories of past traumas and past glories rise to the surface, and leaders take advantage of these phenomena.
  • Communicating Across Divides: It’s impossible to make the leap from war to peace without powerful emotions like fear, mistrust, and rage intervening. Because we’re human, “Why can’t we just all get along?” is more fantasy than reality. Dr. Volkan’s mediation teams bring representative groups of people together to attempt to resolve emerging ethnic or religious conflicts, and they invite and tolerate the expression of powerful emotions over long periods of time. He believes that we don’t have to like, trust, or love each other in order to negotiate effectively, but we do have to talk. “As long as we’re talking, we’re not fighting.”

It was a privilege to witness this dialogue between Dr Volkan and emerging young adults across the divides of age, race, culture, education, and lived experience. We believe that the younger generation can and will imagine new techniques to bridge these divides more effectively.  

Over the next three years, the Emotional Imprint™ students learned more about these and other models of prejudice, and they developed presentations, new curricula, and even published an e-book, Divides, based on this material.