Cycles of destructive conflict


During the Balkans war, one shot from a sniper in Sarajevo sent a bullet through the eyes of a baker. Even after many attempts he was unable ever to see again, his family faced destitution, and in revenge his two sons eventually took up arms themselves. We can imagine this devastation multiplied thousands, millions, of times. The effects of war and the cycle of retributive violence can reverberate for decades. The psychological damage caused by war has been known to last at least three generations.

At Business Plan for Peace we know from experience working with courageous people willing to use their understanding of human feeling, and willing to risk their lives to stop killing, that one of the main drivers of violence is humiliation.

It is now quite clear that Vladimir Putin may be driven by what he feels as humiliation. He feels humiliated by the loss of Russian prestige following the collapse of the Soviet empire, and by Eastern European and former Soviet states joining NATO amid strong Russian opposition. He has felt humiliated by Ukraine’s independence and its desire to join western alliances. One of his key demands has been that Ukraine should never be allowed to join NATO.

The invasion of Ukraine has shocked us all. We have watched the stunned faces of Ukrainians, as sirens wailed to indicate shock and awe had arrived, from Putin, from military power, as the rug was pulled from underneath the feet of an entire population.

It’s not just in Ukraine. We saw history repeating itself. One year and one month prior, on 1st February 2021, the other side of the world, the Myanmar military seized power. Famous scenes of morning life were displaced by tanks rolling in, with the country’s elected leadership, representing (like Ukraine’s President Zalensky), democratic values in conflict with military might. The rug was pulled that day too, toppling the hopes and dreams of an entire population.

The world watched, did little, as peaceful protestors were taken out, with precision, single bullets to the head, in front of our social media eyes. Angel, aged 19, wearing her T-shirt saying ‘Everything will be Ok’, running towards the camera before being hit by a sniper.

For those of us living in relative security, it is tempting to think really ‘everything is ok’ for us at home. This is how many Ukranians felt, until Russian troops were sent across the borders. However, peace must be worked at.

If we’ve learnt anything from recent events, it’s that we should never take our fundamental freedoms for granted. We live in an interconnected world, where the stories, lives, and horrors of our fellow human beings fill our screens and break our hearts.

We know that the best antidote to humiliation is respect. This is not about the value of one country over another, or an ‘us versus them’, or an ‘East versus West’. This is about the values that we stand for as humans. Shared values across countries, across continents. Respect for the value of human life.

So as we watch events unfold, and move between shock, disbelief and horror, how best can each of us respond?

1) Elevate and amplify shared values. Fact check, then post, and re-post examples of the courage that ordinary people are taking to resist violent military power, whether it be in Myanmar, Ukraine, or Russia or another country in the world. Messages now travel far and wide. Show solidarity, support people to feel seen and heard, to feel that the impossible can be possible, to know they’re not alone. Amplify what connects us.

2) Listen to the ‘other’. Listen to what lies beneath the surface, from different countries, and different sides to the conflict. Understand the ‘why’ behind what is happening. If we simply dismiss adversaries, we may never learn to truly listen to the ‘why’ and the ‘what might be’. We will also be pitching one against another, first with words, then with weapons, unknowingly escalating the conflict.

3) Connect, share, support. The beauty of humans is the ability to rally together in a crisis. Share information, transform your anger into action. Take time, do the research, find out which organisations are already doing the work and already have the networks and connections. Support with either donations or by amplifying the work of others.

Values are only values when we action them, and it’s the everyday actions that contribute to transforming power. It requires sitting with discomfort, and taking daily acts of time and courage. Never underestimate your own power and agency in transforming the world. The work starts at home, with our own Mighty Hearts. It starts by listening and supporting others.