Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to The Inclusive Leader Podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host, your Schmitz, and I welcome you to this episode. Part of the expansive idea of inclusive leadership that we are promoting at the inclusive leadership institute is the ability to bring healing to fractured social systems, that includes communities, societies, and also organizations that require healing from a variety of social afflictions, racism, social marginalization and polarization, civil wars, and intergroup conflicts, but also corporate takeovers, and acquisitions, or badly implemented change initiatives. And this makes the experience and expertise of Eileen Boris, particularly relevant to our pursuit of inclusive leadership, she specializes in international conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation and dialogue. She has helped rebuild more than 15 of the world's most volatile and war torn countries, including Afghanistan, Liberia, Nigeria, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Israel, the occupied territories, and the Republic of Georgia. In this work, she has centered forgiveness in order to create sustainable and inclusive peace. Her latest focus includes political forgiveness in countries like the United States, here's my conversation with Eileen. So thank you, Eileen, for volunteering.
Eileen Boris 2:03
Thank you for inviting me. And I look forward to chatting a bit with you.
Joerg Schmitz 2:09
When I introduce, you know, members of our community and faculty and so forth, I, I always start kind of with a very simple question, namely, what do you do? And I'm particularly excited to ask you what you do it, I'm curious how you would describe what you do, because it's just absolutely fascinating, and urgent, what you do, I believe,
Eileen Boris 2:33
well, I am, by background, a clinical and political psychologist. And people always say, Well, what is the political psychologist, and basically, it is someone who takes psychological principles and apply them to the political arena. So my work is really about helping to heal trauma, and wounds on an individual level. And on communal level, and a national level. I'm very concerned about the pain and suffering people go through. So I use my work to do that. And I, I've added a little bit of a twist to what I do. Because I've always been interested in the interplay between psychology and psychological theory, and spiritual philosophy. And that's how I got into the to the work of political forgiveness, which we can talk about a little bit later. But what I really do is, is heal, I help people heal from the psychological wounds, of childhood of trauma. And I applied on an individual level as well as a global level. This
Joerg Schmitz 3:54
is why I think it's not only a rip, I mean, why I said this with the urgency of this work, because I think we've all been living through a relatively short period where all of a sudden consciousness was raised around the collective trauma, historic historical trauma to some degree, political trauma. And I think that, you know, that's why I find it so fascinating. And I have never met a political psychologist. So this is actually really fun. But first of all, I should ask you, do you agree that there has been this consciousness this moment have raised consciousness around it, or am I projecting that on?
Eileen Boris 4:41
I'm right there with you? I'm right there with you. And I'm very concerned about the collective consciousness of humanity. And, you know, you might be wondering, well, why did I choose this we walk what has brought me to this place today? And I've always had a dream to to hopefully be able to use whatever it is, my talents might be to have an impact on healing of nations. Again, this reflects the driving question I've always had, in terms of my own work, how can we heal trauma to end pain and suffering and violence in our personal and political lives? This has been very central to my thinking. And I remember as a young girl, when hearing stories of the Holocaust, I have German relatives, and they would tell me these stories of Nazi Germany. And I remember thinking that something like this should never happen again. And this is what really influenced me in being a psychologist, and a political psychologist, and ultimately applying forgiveness to the political arena. Yeah, so this was the real motivation.
Joerg Schmitz 5:59
It's so funny, because we have such a similar motivation. Because, you know, I grew up in Germany, in that in a whole period where there was a lot of attention paid to being educated around what happened and kind of forgotten heights, political, you know, the whole idea of coming to terms with the past. And, you know, I think my, my professional choice was anthropology that, you know, I figured there was something cultural around this, and I wanted to figure out how does culture work and operate. And, you
Eileen Boris 6:35
know, I remember once I spent the night and my aunt and uncle's. And my uncle had a dream about stealing something. And he, you know, he was, my head was chasing him around the house in the morning. And we got to talk again, about what happened in Nazi Germany. And I remember just thinking, I don't want you to carry this pain anymore. You don't need to be doing this anymore. You don't need to be a victim twice over. And if you can just step away a little bit, and recognize that letting go of that anger, and that fear does more for you than anyone else, you might want to consider being able to forgive. And that's what really got me thinking. And I remember actually, I was when my first book was published, when it's on forgiveness, finding forgiveness, the seven step program for letting go of anger and bitterness. I got a call, just as I was waiting for my luggage over in Reagan National Airport. And the first person I called was my uncle. I said, Guess what? My book is published by McGraw Hill on forgiveness. And he said, You know, I think maybe we need to forgive? And I said, Yes, I think that would be a good idea. And, you know, I mentioned that because in that book, there are stories, where I was able to witness the transformative power of forgiveness. And these were stories of, of people who may have lost a child to murder. My signature story is really about a woman named Iran lor, who is a French woman, grew up in France during World War One was part of the resistance in World War Two. And she hated the Germans. She hated the Germans, and she had good reason to hate the Germans. And at the end of the war, she was invited to go to a conference in Costa Switzerland. And the purpose of the conference was to have people talk about how can we unite Europe? How can we reconcile with the past, and every time a German would speak, a lot of French would get up and leave. And then finally, she was stopped by a Lutheran minister, American. And he said, Well, how do you see a united Germany? And she was just really irate, you know, she went to her room. And for a day and a half, she grappled with that question. And then she ultimately realized that it was that exact hatred that she was holding in her heart and that anger you that are the seeds for wars to begin with, anyway. Yes. And she didn't want that anymore. And so she finally went back to join the conference, and it was during lunchtime, and they were all eating in a dining room, kind of family style. She sat down. And of course, a German woman sat next to her, and she was really quiet. And finally she looked at the German woman. I mean, yeah, the German woman and she said, you represent everything I hate in this world. And she went on to describe everything that she went through, and it was understandable. And the German woman was shaking. And finally, when I ran was done. The German woman said Let me tell you something about myself. My husband was one of the people who developed the plot to kill Hitler, the plot failed, he was arrested, he was taken from me, and he was killed. And then I was arrested. And my children were taken from me, I know that we didn't do enough, we didn't do enough, soon enough, or to scale large enough. And for that, I'm very, very sorry. At the end of that conversation, I ran, went to the conference hand and said, I want to share why I haven't been here for a while. And she got up. And she shared her story and your whole process. And then how her conversation with a German woman really touched your heart. And then she said to the audience, and so I want to speak directly to the Germans here, I'm sorry. And I asked you for your forgiveness, for the beliefs I was holding against you. And she committed the rest of her life to help build the morale, especially of German women. And she went to many, many government meetings in Germany, to speak about the power of forgiveness. And that's why I got into this work of forgiveness, and especially political forgiveness.
Joerg Schmitz 11:28
It is I mean, it's not only I mean, I don't know even how to describe it, because obviously, the example is very close to where I am, who I am. Well, and there is also the other side, right, forgiveness, as the self forgiveness to some degree, the forgiveness that the perpetrators have to extend to themselves. You know, I mean, it's forgiveness is such a core process right in the center of of all of this, no wonder you focus on that,
Eileen Boris 12:00
right. I remember pleading with my father to take us to Germany. And he finally did, unfortunately, we go to the graveyard where some family members were buried and it was desecrated their their stones and everything. Then I remember, I wanted to go back. And this is after my father had died. And I actually went and taught in In Frankfort, which is where my father was born. And I was very lucky to be able to go back a number of times, so I could have that new relationship with Germans. And I remember the very first thing I saw when I got to Frankfurt, and this was a number of years ago, the billboards about showing the movie then Frank, and I was very touched by that. And of course, you know, I'm very fascinated by Germany, because of what Germans went through from the denial of the Holocaust, to such incredible remembrance. And, and this is what touched me about Iran more story too, because at first, she didn't know if she could trust what was going on. But then when she saw such a commitment over and over again, she knew that she could build the trust. And so it wasn't just the healing work of the forgiveness, which created the willingness to listen to the other. Germany did its part as well, to build the reconciliation piece built on trust.
Joerg Schmitz 13:35
It's been it brings, I mean, brings up a lot of I mean, I know this is why, for me, this is all kind of related to the idea of inclusive leadership, because it takes leadership to do what you describe. And it takes us right to the edge of what we don't want to include. Right hate is that, that other that were our willingness to include stops and then mustering that energy to kind of transcend that is phenomenal.
Eileen Boris 14:08
It is and, you know, you and I have talked a little bit about the work I'm doing here in the United States, in helping to reduce polarization and anger, and to increase empathy and forgiveness. And one of the reasons why empathy is so important is that all of us put up an empathy wall, you know, especially when there's been so much pain and suffering and anger and hatred. We think that we might be open but that wall is high. And forgiveness helps us also dismantle that empathy wall so we can learn, feel, you know, I remember saying to my uncle, you know, if the conditions were right here in the United States, now, I said this to him in this 1970s We may not be behaving much different than what was happening. Germany during World War Two, and unfortunately, today is beginning to bear witness to some of that.
Joerg Schmitz 15:04
Yeah, yeah, the parallels are incredible. But so many places, right are, I mean, first of all, we are sitting. And this is sometimes what I think about when it comes to trauma, it's really I mean, history is essentially a pileup of, of trauma. I mean, we don't teach it that way. Obviously, we, because we wrap it around events and whatnot. But ultimately, I mean, every you know, we're sitting in this, on top of this mountain of, of trauma, and we may not even be in touch with that,
Eileen Boris 15:38
you know, this is one of the reasons why I actually went into this, because, you know, I talked about never again, and yet, it's happening again, it was happening in Rwanda, it was happening in so many other places. And so that's one reason why I went into the field of political psychology because you begin to really learn that violence begets violence. And so I began to study genocide, and how that begins to develop, and you can basically see how the cycles get into play. And it became apparent to me that psychology could be used for the negative as well as the positive in a political scenario, you know, and the victimized or the disenfranchised group quietly waits for their opportunity to strike back in revenge. And that's politics. There's a lot of pain and suffering that goes with politics, politics is about how we treat each other in the political arena. And so there's going to be pain and suffering. And yet there is never mentioned about how do we heal those emotions. So we can break those cycles. It doesn't happen, then that's really the word of political forgiveness, to break those cycles. Yeah.
Joerg Schmitz 16:55
So it's one thing to work with an individual or trauma, it's yet another thing to work with an entire community and nation a, a group, however large it is, how different is it actually? And and how do you scale forgiveness? I mean, that's, that's a,
Eileen Boris 17:17
certainly a fair question, especially when you're dealing with communities and nations. And that's why for so many reasons, I was grappling with the idea of what is political forgiveness? What is it really, and you know, people have written about it. But I've been building on that theory and bring it in to the practical realm. And so political forgiveness, in my way of thinking has three aspects to it. The individual aspect is critical. But then how do you bring that to the community level? And then how do you get the community ready to change, they needed structural changes to take place on a national level? And so it does require in my way of thinking, for individuals to at least have some understanding of what do we mean by forgiveness? And there's so many misconceptions about it. It's, you know, that's a whole other conversation, but it's certainly not turning the other cheek. It's about your own inner healing. Yes. And for you to understand that you are not letting someone off the hook. They have to take responsibility for what they've done. But you can learn to let go of your anger and bitterness. So you can see things with a different lens. And that's really the first part of it. How can we help people see the world not out of anger, fear, guilt, but out of understanding? Yeah. And then with that, working with groups, and this is where dialogue, work comes in, work in conflict resolution can come in. And there are many different kinds of interventions we can use here to help people, in a sense, bring down that empathy wall. That's the group work. And so I work with, you know, what I'm calling the logics of truth. I want to know what your truth is. I want to know, how your truth formed within you, what were your experiences that brought you to the place you are, so I can understand you better. And hopefully, you can understand me better. And once we get that understanding, how can we come together as a group in a healing capacity, and that's the group work. And through that group work? It is the hope that people then begin to understand and this is part of an intervention to different levels of reconciliation, and where are we? Can we only just kind of commune because we've had too much going on? Or can we go deeper? And of course the deepest level is okay, I really get you and you really get me and we understand each other as well. sort of humanity. So I'm not seeing you as red or blue or German and American or whatever. I'm seeing you human. And so how can So what can we do together to make a pack? And this is what I did in my work with actually, when I was working in Nigeria with with a Muslim in the Christian community through the work of forgiveness, how can we make a pact? So when things do happen, we have enough trust, that we can come together and heal the situation before it gets out of hand? And how can we come together, even before something happens? And talk about what are some of the structural changes, we as a group, can begin to implement or put pressure to implement on the national level? That supports all of us? Yeah. And so that range is what political forgiveness in my way of thinking encompasses?
Joerg Schmitz 20:55
Yeah, it answers a question I had, because whoever you're working with, right, is bounded is limited to some degree, yet, when whatever process happens, now, those participants are going back into communities that haven't gone through this process. Right. And I think that's probably one of the more most difficult challenges, how do you then bring others into this? And, you know, how do you essentially not revert back? Right, because of everything is configured to maintain that wall, that empathy wall?
Eileen Boris 21:31
And it's such a great question, you know, before I got really involved in political forgiveness, and developing this, I was working in areas of conflict, and in war zones, and all of that kind of stuff. And it wasn't unusual. If I would work with somebody on one side, and I'm thinking now of Cyprus, with the Greeks and the Turks. If I started working with the Greeks, even some of the Greek members of the community would think that the Greeks I'm working with were traitors. Exactly, you know, and you had it on all all sides. And so that's kind of a similar question, how do you work with that, and the only way you can work with that is really getting to what I call the moderate those that really want to learn and participate, because that group begins to expand a little bit, and expand a little bit and to prepare them for what could happen. So they know, okay, not everybody's going to be on board. Not everybody's on board with the work I'm doing. Because people want to keep the status quo, yes. But I have to stay true to what it is I believe in and what I'm doing, and, and not worry about the rest, so to speak, but work with what I've got, because I am very aware that in my lifetime, all I can probably do is plant the seeds. And that people who have experienced these things can take it and and use it and build a stronger and broader foundation. I think that's the only way you can work with it.
Joerg Schmitz 23:07
So you need to also develop skills and resilience right in people.
Eileen Boris 23:13
That's right. And that's one thing for people to understand about forgiveness. It's a skill, you can learn how to forgive. And once you learn it, and that's why the first phase of the political forgiveness intervention is spent on talking about what is forgiveness? What forgiveness isn't? What are the obstacles to forgiveness? How do we do it? And you know, we look at how we create our perceptions, and how we create our judgments, and so many other things. So it becomes very practical, and people can really take a look and say, Gee, I can really apply this. Sure. You know, how do we, you know, we all have our set of rules. And the ones that are unenforceable are the ones that created us pain? How do we begin to look at that and recognize that, so we can let that go. And so that personal phase is very, very important. And then when people can take it home and begin to practice it, they begin to understand that the greatest gift we can give to ourselves is peace of mind. And that's what the forgiveness process can do. For us. That's what forgiveness is. It's about our inner healing. It's not about as I mentioned, before letting someone else off the hook. And when we are able to have peace of mind, we can think more clearly. And that's when also the empathy wall can come
Joerg Schmitz 24:35
down and we free up opportunities right and spaciousness takes place. You know, things are possible again, absolutely. It is such an important work that you do. And I can't be more excited about working together and finding ways working together actually, because I think this this is such a an important skill to develop. And you almost see a proliferation of this injury and trauma at the present moment, right? I mean, it's it's really, I mean, the German Holocaust probably is one of the most egregious examples. You know, when you look around the world, there is a proliferation of divisive leadership, people dividing, separating, inflicting wars, tensions, aggravating what existed. So you're the anti gold in a way.
Eileen Boris 25:28
And that's why what you're doing is so important, because we have to look at leadership. And we have to look at what truly makes a good leader, what makes a leader transformative. And how do we get people to be there? How do we get people there, because we can see, you know, so many authoritarian type leaders, they're coming out of a place of fear and their woundedness and their need for power. We as humanity can't stand for that anymore. And we also understand that when you get a leader, like Nelson Mandela, for example, what it can do for our country, and how it can help. Now, unfortunately, Nelson Mandela's ethos wasn't carried on to the same extent, when he wasn't a leader anymore. But he is a great role model.
Joerg Schmitz 26:17
That's why I always think of leadership as a as a shared process, rather than an embodiment within an individual web, even though there are individuals that embody this, but if it doesn't become cultural to speak, if it doesn't, part of the I love this word ethos, right of, of a group, then it lives and dies with that individual leader. That's right. And, yeah, that's also an unfortunate truth around some of those great leaders that could also exist, and then
Eileen Boris 26:51
they're looked upon in a different light when you get the authoritarian leadership in power. Yes, but we see what's there's so much woundedness.
Joerg Schmitz 26:59
Yeah, I'm wondering, I always end kind of these conversations with a question. It's almost it's, I don't know if it's a fair question, because what you're doing is, on some level, so big and fundamental, that it's almost, I hesitate to ask this question, is there one or two things that everybody anybody who's listening could do differently? I mean, II or apply easily from the wealth of experience you have, is there one or two things that you would really recommend everybody take to heart?
Eileen Boris 27:32
Well, maybe to step back in their own lives, and when there's something that is upsetting them, to recognize that what's upsetting them is something within themselves, that they're usually putting out into the world. And if we can take responsibility for our own emotional well being, and and recognize that we are the ones creating our pain and suffering, and that we can make those changes by making different choices, that could be very helpful. And are we willing to not look at the other as an enemy? But if we could just think for a moment? What can I do, to try to understand the psychological landscape, from where that person came? What brought him or her to the place she is? Maybe we can develop a little more understanding and empathy? Because the truth of the matter is, if we lived under those same circumstances, as that other individual, we may not be much different, and we may not behave much differently.
Joerg Schmitz 28:36
That's right. Yeah, we are them in a sense, right? Yeah. Can we see ourselves in that?
Eileen Boris 28:43
And maybe for people just to think about what are the gifts of forgiveness, and where we can heal ourselves? You know, it's liberating forgiveness liberates us from our pain and suffering. It's healing. It's empowering. So if we could just have a little willingness to make different choices towards forgiveness, we can really help improve our lives. I hope that's what you were wanting. Looking for.
Joerg Schmitz 29:12
Actually, it's your you're leaving this as all with a with, I think, some really important reflections. And as I said, I look forward to working more with you and and hopefully amplifying what you're doing as well. There is an urgent need for what you do. And there is an urgent need to build a community around what you do as well.
Eileen Boris 29:34
Exactly. And I'm just so excited to be working with you because you really understand this. You get it and that's so refreshing and exciting. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Joerg Schmitz 29:45
No, thank you, Eileen.
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