Harvard Negotiation Project Co-Founder Josh Weiss shares how back-packing around the world opened his eyes to conflict and the important role that negotiation skills play in people’s every day lives.
Tell me how you got started. I grew up in a pretty middle class town near Boston, MA. The first time I really thought about peace and conflict was as a child in talking to my grandmother whose family, parents and four brothers and sisters, perished in the Holocaust and nothing about their deaths was known (i.e. which camp they died in). As a child it was a dominant narrative of my family history, but I did not really understand what it meant. As I got older I found myself studying and trying to grasp the Holocaust. There were many fundamental and basic questions that I had about humanity’s inhumanity to its own species that I had then and still have to this day. After my university studies, I spent a year back packing around the world. There is little question that that year long journey changed my life forever and pushed me further down my ultimate career path and life’s work. I experienced a number of conflicts firsthand, from Hindu Muslim riots in India to the beginnings of the war in the former Yugoslavia. And I also spent time trying to find out what happened to my grandmother’s family by visiting multiple concentration camps. When I got home I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to the challenge of destructive conflict and the endeavor of peacemaking.
What interests you most about what you’re doing now? There is so much that I am passionate about in my career. In fact, I am so passionate about it that it does not feel like a career, but rather a calling and way of life. However, if I have to choose it is taking the ideas developed in the field of peace and conflict resolution to the mainstream. I have been doing that through a podcast called the Negotiation Tip of the Week and then an audiobook and e-book series called the Negotiator in You. What has been most rewarding is getting emails and social media posts from people around the world telling me how much they enjoy these works and how useful they find the information. The information I try to provide to people is not simply for the working part of their life, but also with their families and in the broader world. There is a dire need in the world for the skills of dealing with conflict and learning how to negotiate. It is imperative that we find creative and innovative ways to get the knowledge, skills, and abilities from the field of peacemaking to the masses.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Biggest challenge? My biggest accomplishment is being patient enough to determine what I love to do in life and then making a career out of it. Not everyone spends their life doing what they love!
The biggest challenge is always a difficult question because there have been so many. The answer, however, would have to be helping to take the Abraham Path, which is a long distance traveling route in the footsteps of Abraham across the Middle East that is also a cultural and physical diplomacy project, from just an idea to an actual route and functioning project that is benefitting many people. Currently there is 400km of travel-able path with over 4,000 people who have travelled the route over the last few years. So many people told us we were crazy to even try such a project. And with all the turmoil in the Middle East, it makes the existence and persistence of the path something I am proud to have been involved in with a group of extraordinary people from around the world.
Who or what inspires you? Two answers. First, simply put, people inspire me. We are all inspired by the Mandela‘s and King‘s of the world, but I find that I am really inspired by the average person who works for peace and deals with conflict on a regular basis. There are so many people out there doing good work in the world. They inspire me because they do it at great personal risk, for very little money, and simply want to do their part to make the world a better place.
Second, as a father of three young girls, I was also deeply inspired by Malala Yousafzai. She is brave, passionate, and humble at the amazingly young age of 16. A rare combination in our world. She offers so much for us all to think about and is a terrific role model for children to learn from and emulate.
Why is peace sexy to you? What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? Peace is sexy to me because it has to be. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where people gravitate to interesting and sexy things. It is our responsibility, as those in the field, to make peace and dealing with conflict sexy, interesting, and engaging. That is the key to mainstreaming these critical ideas and concepts.
Peace is sexy evokes for me a sense of intrigue and allure. Something people want to be involved with. Peace has to be cool for kids and others to gravitate toward it.
What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday? I try to get at least one message per day out into the world — usually through social media — that challenges commonly held notions of peace and dealing with conflict. Such a big part of the skepticism we face exists in people’s minds. If we get people to see these ideas differently than we go a long way to having them become accepted on a much broader scale.
How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to? Really just keep doing what you are doing. Get the message out to people who don’t think much about peace and get them to see it as sexy. If you can find ways to promote and amplify stories of people’s real life peacemaking in a manner that people come to see as sexy that would be invaluable.
Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? I would really love to see the mainstream emphasize the skills associated with peace and conflict resolution as a way to handle our collective and individual problems. If that is happening we will be making a dent in some of the aspects of our culture that are more violent.
Is there anything else you want to tell us? Keep up the good work in helping the masses to see peace in its true light…as a state we should all strive for so we can live our lives in a happy and fruitful manner. Everyone deserves that.