My Turn: Peacemaker Paula Green’s passion for uniting helped many find common ground

  • Paula Green STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 2/25/2022 6:10:35 PM

If I had to guess the number of times I interviewed Paula Green for this newspaper, I’d surely come up short.

That’s because Green, the Leverett therapist-turned-peacemaker who died Feb. 21, always seemed to be at the intersection of what was happening around the globe.

Those first articles revolved around Green’s work in Bosnia, Rwanda and Israel-Palestine, for Amherst-based Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, which she helped found in 1994. Collaborating with organizations in those countries, Green used her skills as a facilitator to help create dialogue between opposing groups in conflict zones around the world. She seemed to be everywhere there was conflict.

The Leverett peacemaker led a convocation at Auschwitz to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi death camps — a multifaith, international pilgrimage continued each year under the auspices of Zen Peacemakers that serves as a meditation retreat to reflect on the atrocities of World War II.

Green, who’d originally trained as a psychologist, went on to share her peace-building approach with graduate students from around the world at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. She helped found SIT’s Conflict Transformation Across Cultures program — CONTACT. In 2014, as a participant among 50 students from around the world, I experienced firsthand Green’s ability to create an environment where each student felt completely secure in revealing inner truths some of us hadn’t even known we held.

For her peacebuilding work, Green was recognized in 2009 by the Dalai Lama as an “unsung hero of compassion.”

And then, after retiring from leading CONTACT and stepping down as director at Karuna, she realized that the growing polarization in this nation needed her work. Following the 2016 election, she helped found Hands Across the Hills to model ways to bridge the “red-blue” divide that was becoming apparent in our politics and society as a whole. Those fractures, as in other conflict areas around the world, resulted from deliberate efforts by politicians and propagandists to exacerbate culture wars.

Unsuccessful at finding conservative citizens locally who felt comfortable engaging in this kind of dialogue, the Leverett group invited participants here from eastern Kentucky to work together, with Green as facilitator. When the Kentucky group reciprocated with an invitation in the spring of 2018, I covered those interactions, again impressed by how well this Leverett discussion leader kept the interactions safe, honest and unifying.

Many critics have described these dialogues as doomed to failure right from the beginning.

Yet as Green made clear, ”We didn’t start this exchange project to change people’s votes; we did it to bridge divides and find a spirit of humanity in each other, and to acknowledge that, and to know that’s in all of us. And that’s the beginning of our common ground.”

In the midst of the Hands Across the Hills effort — which remains an ongoing exchange between Leverett and Letcher County, Kentucky, with their acknowledged differences and affirming deeper similarities — Green helped foster a 2019 “Bridge for Unity” effort discussions among multiracial residents of western Massachusetts, eastern Kentucky and South Carolina.

Even as a 17-year-long struggle against cancer returned recently and enveloped her, Green was arranging a second Dialogue Across Divides training session to take place this spring to train other facilitators from around the country. Unlike a more widespread “Braver Angels” effort to bridge growing polarization in this country, Green’s approach is slower and more deeper reaching.

It’s only in reflecting on her work that I realize ways that Green’s deeply personal passion intersected with my journalism career. Both emphasize listening deeply to try to help people hear and discover one another.

Around the globe, across this country, exploring deeply in communities that seem so disparate and fractious, Paula Green always kept herself moving to help people discover their differences mattered less than their common humanity. Even in death, her work remains very much alive, as our need to peacefully resolve conflict grows ever more critical.

Richie Davis, a retired longtime writer and editor at the Greenfield Recorder, blogs at RichieDavis.Net and has two published collections of articles, including one about Paula Green.


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