History Is Not In The Past

For the last week I’ve been in Warsaw, as a member of the facilitation team for an event known as Worldwork. Delegates from twenty-eight countries gathered to discuss, understand and address current and historic global conflicts. 

Before leaving home many colleagues asked me why I was committed to attending this event. Though it came in different forms the question was essentially the same: Why open the painful wounds of history?  Why put yourself through all that trauma?  

For me the answer is simple. To address global conflict we need to study carefully the lessons that both history and unfolding events reveal.   

Few conflicts develop overnight.  Many ignite against a background of centuries of struggle, the pain of which is buried as soldiers come home from war and civilians try to piece their lives together.  In the wake of unbearable trauma, when peace seems tentative, it’s sometimes too much to talk about what’s happened.  Whilst we have new models for starting to deal with the impact of atrocities such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it sometimes falls to those generations who follow, to pick up and continue the dialogue.  The hidden trauma of conflict and war carries on across generations.

The forces of conflict are intense.  Making smart decisions in the midst of turmoil is hard. I suspect it's impossible unless we understand - before we're in a crisis situation - how rage, fear or the dream of something better can collectively overcome us.  

Though we think of these wars as part of history, the past is not the past. The circumstances that shape history continue to play out right now.  Oppressed communities dream of freedom and self-direction, while others experience the struggle for identity, for land or enough food to support themselves and their children.

Most of us go about our ordinary lives in the belief that we are immune from the pain of intense global conflict.   However history has repeatedly shown that seemingly peaceful societies can find themselves in the midst of war or civil war at frightening speed.  Take the former Yugoslavia for example. 

History also tells us that experiencing oneself as downed and unheard by the international community is dangerous.  It creates a pressure cooker effect.  Greek delegates at Worldwork spoke about unemployment, hunger, and the worrying rise of neo-facism in their own country.  Rather than accepting growing violence as an inevitable norm, their team will bring Worldwork to Greece in their continuing effort to engage some of the tension and pain building within the society.  

Of course conflict doesn’t just play out on the world stage.  It’s present in our own lives.  We learn to persevere despite tensions and conflicts in our communities, workplaces and families.  We get on with life.  One of the costs is that we become desensitized to building tensions or levels of pain and suffering we’ve come to take for granted.

Yet it’s those tensions that are swept under the carpet, often in the name of momentary peace, that give rise to future conflict.  They smoulder, just waiting for the right moment to ignite.  Think about your own life. What are the resentments you’re carrying? Who do you blame? Who have you stopped speaking with?

If we’re to learn new ways of managing conflict and the potential for violent conflicts, we need to build that muscle in small ways. I encourage you to be more like the Greek women from Worldwork.  Pay attention to the niggling or mounting tensions around you and address them if you can.  


What niggling tensions do you ignore?

How does the past live on in your life? 

Is there anything you need to re visit in order to achieve greater peace in your world?

Add A Comment  ·  


This is an excellent blog Rho and among other things, it is a reminder of the role all of us have to play as peace builders in our every day lives.

Rho, your article resonates very loudly for me at this moment in time. I'm back working in the Aboriginal Community and have witnessed rising tensions that stem from our collective history and continues to inform the perception of identity resulting in the rise of oppression and stifling open and honest dialogue.

Brian, the oppression experienced by Aboriginal Australians and Indigenous peoples around the world has been and STILL IS devastating.  Building a container strong and safe enough to hold the pain and trauma individuals and communities experience requires great patience and commitment.  Over the years you've been a teacher to me in this regard.

More of us who are non-indigenous, need to 'do the work' of understanding the impact of colonisation and events since... and to take a careful look at our current practices and ways of relating.  It was remisce of me to speak about atrocities far from home, whilst overlooking those I have a direct role and responsibility in addressing.  


I came to leave a comment about the healing that is called for in our/with our indigenous communities, and then saw these comments. It is a courageous call to start close to home, and even more so to begin within. Thank you for this article. I'll share it with my Coaching for Social Action course participants.

Thank you Elisabeth,  Your comment prompted me to think about starting close to home vs acting as a witness to events in other parts of the world.  

There are two factors at play here I think.  The first is our blindness to our own culture - we're so in it, that we stop seeing it - especially when we have high rank and the privilege that comes with it.  

I suspect there's also something about how close we to our own culture that means even when we do see it, it becomes hard to fully appreciate.  We get into a bit of a 'cultural trance.'

In  my training and subsequent work with trauma, one 'method' I find invaluable isto allow a traumatised person to step out.. and see the various roles in a conflict played out... to watch it from a safe distance.  As very much a participant, but also an observer in Warsaw, I was able to' step out' in order to understand the immediate and transgenerational impacts of conflict better.  Time also offers a distance that allows us to look back and understand.

And its absolutely critical to apply what we learn close to home. Thank you for your work in this area - I'd love to hear more about it.

Yes, I was there in Warsaw too...but went from the neighbourhood, from Hungary. The call for me was definitely Healing History... Hungary is in the midst of what Rho mentioned in her blog: " The hidden trauma of conflict and war carries on across generations." In the midsts of Europe, 100 yrs of the WWIst as still Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, lost war, the most unfair peace treaties you can think of in Versailles. We lost 2/3rd of the 1000 old territory, and 1/3rd of our Hungarian nationals, while true that in the Monrachy times we did not treat very well - since nationalism took hold in Europe from early 1800s - our nationalities (slovaks and romanian, mainly) but at the same time we opened the gates of integration for so many jews from the West and the East of Europe, who started to feel welcome and home at last, until the WWII, when we also discriminated agains them in labour marches and as work forces in the German-Hungarian fronts as we did join Germany and Hitler in the war having been promised to straighten out the WWI borders and getting back our original borders... which partially did happen in those war years, yet when we decided to stop fighting along with the German in 1944, The Nazis of Eischmann came in and occupied Hungary as well, which - with major assistance from the Hungarian police force - led to the extinction of 450,000 Jews and many many Gipsies in less than half a year... Then in 4 years after the War we were forced into communism as Hungary in the peace treaties in Jalta, Potsdam.. was thrown to Stalin and the Soviet-Union, .. then we had the worst of Stalinist communism until 1956, when we instigated the revolution which in great elegance was let be beaten down by Russian army in spite of all the promises and stimulating talks through Free Europe radio... And now 25 yrs of so called liberation when Hungary and many CEE countries have served the last " market colony" for hungry and devouring capitalism of new liberal orgy for the long intro..But this is how we can see the traumas and hidden, unexpressed pains of the past 1000 years shape and force our present history of growing gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and have nots, democracy and autocracy, extreme right taking 20 percent of Parliamentary seats, a completely lost and fragmented left - social democrats and a strong, though in relative minority, but in effect 2/3rd of the seats of the right wing conservatives... pain and fragmentation, fear and lost beliefs in legal and social democracy, and the handful people still standing up for their assumed truth... This is the climate which took me to Warsaw and the deep commitment to generate deep dialogue with AoH and TWC and the depth of Worldwork and constellation work...
And I do feel grateful to see that the global healing for what white Europeans have inflicted in our world is truly takes shape and form. I do believe that for clear decisions, committed and compassionate new actions do assume previous catharsis from pain and hurt and fear....So yes! for Worldwork and all that...

On reading your history, I just want to appreciate your ability to recognise and work with the current forces of conflict and potential conflict in your community.  Your commitment to understanding and transforming the learning and pain of history is what makes optimism possible.

Thank you, dear Rho,
for standing up to dealing with global and national and other collective tensions and conflicts and the great need to learn how to facilitate. That is so crucial for our digestion and transformation of the one-sidedness of our ancestors and ourselves and a chance to develop own compassion and hopefully the guts to stand up, when new collective tensions arise.
For myself, the past has never been just "the past" , since I am born 1955 as a second generation
german child and the tensions / unexpressed pain / ignorance of feelings / devaluation of individuality was present every minute. The result was an unbearable numbness and trance, getting triggered each time, when I had to identify as a german and an unbearable incapacity to be authentic and present in group settings.
Of course, I went on a journey and learnt how to stay awake in these trance-like states.. learnt to facilitate myself before I could stand up in public and become co-creative in conflict facilitation.
So yes, Worldwork is a powerful space to do this work and learn from and grow with each other, bridging sometimes the unspeakable.
Thank you again for creating this platform.
All the best for your work, your path in this…..
with warm regards from Tuskany


Dear Rho,
Many thanks for bringing up this perspective and sharing your experience from the Worldwork in Warsaw. Everything you wrote resonates so strongly in me. The parallel between world stage and individual stage, the recycling of the traumas from the past onto present and hence the future.
It reminded me also what A.Mindell said about the abuse repeating and recycling itself - unless we bring in the consciousness of this happening - which may eventually help us and those around we touch with our existence -to start the journey from the state of being a victim, to a survivor to - if we are blessed - eventually, a state of a thriver as Emetchi has put it during one of the most powerful lectures I ever experienced - that she gave during that Worldwork.
It also reminded me of my quite deep, personal insight I had experienced during that Worldwork - exactly around the aspects you are describing: '...when soldiers come home from war, civilians try to piece their lives together(...) in the wake of unbearable trauma (...) when it is too hard to talk about what happened'.
When I went through your blog the vision from the Worldwork came back to me - a vision of a double sided eye. The eye that doesn't see. Cannot see. Doesn't want to see. Cannot bear what it has seen. It is wide open but it is tight shut. An eye of both the victim and the opressor. The victim's eye which remembers the very last split of a time just before receiving the blow of a death - eye petrified forever, tormented in shock of disbelief that the death is being delivered by another human being -a living, feeling being. The opressor's eye -another human being's eye - which remembers forever the rage of killing and destruction, the smell of fear and death, but then, when rage of killing has faded away - it cannot comprehend it was its own hand, that it was its own rage, and that it was its own victim.
It is unbearable to integrate with the own identity of a respectable, feeling, civilized human being and get on with life. And it is also an eye of a witness: a parent, a neighbour, a man and a woman - a feeling, caring, brave human being -a person who yet was rendered hopeless at the very moment and had no power to stop the atrocity happening right here, right now in front of his/her eyes. Fear, hopelessnes, denial. What it saw is unbearable to remember if to keep sanity in 'post-trauma' war. Hence the memory of what happened, the memory of those dying and being killed is somewhat transformed into the shadow.
The connection with the souls of the victims, the grief, the unmourned rememberance is still there however. And this trauma carries on from generation of victimized survivors on and on. It shows and takes its toll in the nature and dynamics of 'father-son' and 'mother-daughter' emotional transmission in the post war generations. It takes it toll in society's ability to form a truly civic society built on self- and mutual respect. It also gives food to interpersonal dynamics in the labor market and within organizations, dwelling on insecurities and lack of self-respect and self-love.
I can see it everyday in Poland. It comes to me when I observe how the global situation is unfolding. New wars give birth to new double/triple eyes. The trauma keeps on recycling itself. And gaining strength. Adding layers of the immense baggage from the past -which occured to me also in May during Global Forum of Society For Organizational Learning in Paris -when challenges permeating Africa and China and the quest for ways to bring new hope to future generations there, and through it - to entire Earth -were very much in focus. The trauma of children massively enrolled as soldiers and deprived of childhood, replaced with experience of killing rage. The trauma of millions of baby girls being victims of one-child policy. So much to contain. So much to be compassionate about. But also close to unbearable responsibility for us privileged with tools and skills to immerse into it and keep bringing in the consciousness. In Africa and in China -but very much - as Elisabeth pointed out above-to start close to home: be it Poland, the organization we have a chance to influence, the system we have access to, the people we meet every day. And we may hope we touch them -with our heart and consciousness. One at a time. In full presence.
Then it becomes bearable task and the impact very transormative both on individual and global stage. As one post of fb recently said: we don't have armies, but we have arms. And pls check unify at the fb -on the August the 3rd (coming Sunday) there is a Forgiveness day, and on the August the 8th (folllwing Friday) we will be joining up across Earth, to meditate for piece. All the best and thank you Rho, for taking the effort and flying long-haul in to this tormented soil of Warsaw and then taking the legacy of this Worldwork back with you. Bless.


Your words and your feeling are so powerful.  I am deeply moved.

"..a vision of a double sided eye. The eye that doesn't see. Cannot see. Doesn't want to see. Cannot bear what it has seen. It is wide open but it is tight shut. An eye of both the victim and the opressor. 

The victim's eye which remembers the very last split of a time just before receiving the blow of a death - eye petrified forever, tormented in shock of disbelief that the death is being delivered by another human being -a living, feeling being. The opressor's eye -another human being's eye - which remembers forever the rage of killing and destruction, the smell of fear and death, but then, when rage of killing has faded away - it cannot comprehend it was its own hand, that it was its own rage, and that it was its own victim.

It is unbearable to integrate with the own identity of a respectable, feeling, civilized human being and get on with life. And it is also an eye of a witness.




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