Basic Peacemaking Concepts: Realistic Expectations

Humans aren’t machines and it’s best to have realistic expectations.

My mother, a wise West Texas woman, used to say to me “Son, be careful about how much faith you place in people–they’ll always let you down!” I don’t think my mother was trying to be pessimistic. She knew that all people have failings. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, and the best person you know isn’t perfect. Nobody is perfect. At some point, our imperfections show up. When they do, people feel all kinds of negative emotions; or as my mother said, “They’ll always let you down.”

The purpose of this chapter is to help you understand the notion of developing a nature that does not easily shock as you uncover what you believe is less than perfect behavior. We will also present some basic foundational concepts of peacemaking that we believe will help you become more objective and compassionate peacemaker.

The Principle of Imperfection

I think we all know that if we get to know someone long enough we will see their imperfections. Though we know this at an intellectual level, it can be very hard to accept when it leads to difficulties. Sadly, when conflicts arise, the principle of imperfection is among the first we forget. We often take offense at the imperfections of others instead of continuing to see the deserving person behind them.

The problem is, we have to place our trust in people. The world doesn’t work in any other way. We depend upon people to tell us the truth, do what they say, honor their agreements, treat us kindly and so on. We develop a set of assumed expectations of how we will be treated based upon cultural expectations, common sense, and moral and religious teachings–just to name a few. What we don’t count on is how perceptions between any two people vary on issues related to good, bad, right, and wrong! These mismatched perceptions are prime breeding grounds for conflicts as each believes they hold the higher ground.

What we are asking is that you try and remove the shock value you may feel as you uncover these flaws. As peacemakers, we must not be shocked to learn that people are imperfect. When we are personally involved in conflict this is difficult to do. Certainly, it is much easier to remain more open and objective as you assume the peacemaker role and try to help others.

Under Every Roof

Conflicts occur for many reasons and oftentimes the true, or underlying, reason for it is not always obvious. There is a German saying that is wise to remember. Under every roof there is trouble. All of us instinctively know this to be true; yet, sometimes we are taken by surprise when we learn that our friends and loved ones suffer from problems–and sometimes significant problems such as addictions.

Common Addictions

Addictions come in many forms and afflict people from all walks of life. According to Psychology Today (2019), addiction is a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. The most common addictions in America are: alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, food, video games, internet, sex and pornography, shopping, and work.

The main addictions are drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a department within Health and Human Services, almost 38 percent of all Americans struggle with some form of illicit drug use. According to the Treatment Episode Dataset (2017), some two million people were admitted to publicly funded addiction clinics. In 2015, The Surgeon General’s office reported that 67 million Americans admitted to binge drinking.

We remind you of the problems of addictions in America and worldwide because so many of the problems which arise between people are directly and indirectly caused by them. Unless you are a trained counselor, you will not be able to do much more than make recommendations for help and treatment. Your understanding about the problems of addiction may well determine the amount of time, energy, and money you wish to invest in solving problems where this is an issue.


Rude Behavior


Lack of Respect

The Nunya Principle?

One of the many ways we can avoid unnecessary conflict is to stay out of them in the first place by avoiding things that are NUNYA–none of your business! Many people would enjoy greater peace of mind if they would mind their own affairs. Often well-meaning people get sucked into conflict by offering advice or placing themselves situations that have little or nothing to do with them. This is easy to do as we listen to our friends recount sad stories of woe and mistreatment. As we listen to their accounts of injustice we find ourselves offering advice and consolation along with misguided offers of help. Before you know it we are deeply involved in troubles that are not our own.

When Should You Become Involved?

The decision to become involved in the affairs of another is always a personal one that is often based upon the context and circumstances of a situation. Even so, we’d like to offer some practical ideas that we think will help. Before becoming involved in the situations of others, ask these questions.

  1. Are you contractually obligated to help? For instance, do you work for them or do they work for you? If so, you may be required to become a participant in a conflict situation–but only as it relates to the job or your contractual obligations. Should you hear about someone in another department unrelated to you, assume the NUNYA principle.
  2. Does the conflict involve a member of your immediate family? If so, you probably have every right to become fully involved. Even so, we advise caution in situations involving family members who are fully grown and living on their own.
  3. Have you been directly asked for advice or help? When a person approaches you for advice and help that is different than injecting yourself into a conflict. Sometimes we need to offer our expertise and experience to those who ask. Even so, remember that many people are seeking a sympathetic listening ear more than advice or help. Often it is better to listen than give advice or become more personally involved.
  4. Do you have an immediate fraternal or religious obligation? Sometimes members of religious or fraternal organizations are bound to vows holding members of their organization accountable to ethical or religious standards. If so, you may have an obligation to fulfill your duty.
  5. Would this qualify as a Good Samaritan Standard? Some states have laws that say you must render aid to someone in a dire or emergency situation if you are the only one nearby. For instance, If someone has wrecked their car and needs aid, you must render it. If someone is stranded at sea and needs help, you must render aid. With caution, we believe we can apply this standard more broadly. For instance, if someone has been thrown out of their home for the night, you might render aid. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, we are the only ones who can help provide the basics of life for someone.

Selective Perception Impacts Every Viewpoint

There is an old saying that there are two sides to every story. We have found there are many more than that! All people involved in a conflict have viewpoints they firmly believe are true. Yet all of our views are shaped by a number of perceptual filters that influence everything we think say and do. This brings us to the psychological concept of selective perception which is rooted in the cognitive dissonance and consistency theories. This notion states that we selective expose ourselves to things that are congruent to our personalities, selectively hear things that are congruent with our wishes and selectively remembering what is congruent with our views of the world, and interestingly, selectively forgetting information that doesn’t match with our views.

Selective Exposure

Even though most of us like to think we are open-minded to people, views and new things, most of us are more limited in our personal tastes and views that we realize. The concept of selective exposure says that people filter the information they bring before them mostly based upon what feels good to them. Let’s give an example. If we were to gather the smartphones of ten different people, we could see the principle of selective exposure at work. The music on all of them would match the personalities and musical tastes of each of the owners. Not that you care, but my phone has at least one hundred or more Celtic songs! I also love the old rock and roll of the ’70s, outlaw country, and classical music. In other words, all of the music I have collected is unique to my musicology. The same is true for us all. Our selections of music are as unique as our fingerprints. It’s not that I couldn’t listen to other forms of music, and occasionally I do, it’s that I expose myself to the music that is comfortable for me. This is just one of many forms of selective exposure.

Our musical tastes are but one example–we can go further. We filter the websites that we visit, watch YouTube videos that match our personal interests, listen and read political views that support our notions, and select news sources that inform us of events in the way that we like. Our friends are often selected because of their similar views. We usually select a major in college that aligns with our interests, skills, and abilities. Because of selective perception, each of us approaches our relationships with heavily biased views.

Selective Remembering

The principle of selective perception also states that people tend to remember and forget things in a manner that is consistent with their personalities. For instance, researchers Coman, Manier, Hirst (2009) discovered that subjects conversation with others greatly influenced their collective memories about the events surrounding the 911 terrorist attacks. Their study found that ordinary conversations changed the way one retrieved information and remembered the events in future conversations.

Selective remembering impacts the way people approach conflict as well as the methods they think best to resolve it. If one considers the fact that many disputes are long-standing over many years, it is highly likely that one’s memory is greatly impacted by the retelling and reflection of the dispute. Even so, all disputants usually proclaim that they have an accurate recollection of the events.

Each Person has a Number of Nested Selves

As we approach conflict situations, it is essential to ask, which person is before me now? There is always more to a person than what you see standing before you. People are like nested Russian dolls–each doll represents a hidden “self” within. Each person has a physical, emotional, intellectual, and cultural selves–to name but a few. Each of these selves has differing needs and points of view associated with them. Therefore, it is always good to try and understand which of the many selves appear to be the most bothered. For instance, some people will be more upset by a perceived lack of respect than physical property damage and vice versa.

At the same time, as we speak to another, it is a good idea to be mindful of which of our many selves is presently speaking for us. Are we speaking emotionally, intellectually, culturally, religiously? It may well be that the self we choose to represent us is not understood by the other person. For instance, if one person is speaking religiously while another is listening intellectually, it is very possible that a misunderstanding will soon happen.

We are not talking about

In any conflict, it’s always important to know …

All of us are programmed.
Agree / Disagree?

Most problems are in your ….
They may also reside in your gut, your back, your stomach, your throat, etc.

Everyone makes serious….

Give an example of how a mistake could be a good thing.

Are rational solutions the best solutions for problem solving?
Not always
Spiritually fulfilling

Everything doesn’t have to be fair to work! Agree/Disagree?

Is there such thing as fairness and justice?
These are concepts

What do we mean, “The Grass on the other side is always greener?”
More Desirable
More of what you want and need

When everyone agrees that something is so…
It probably isn’t!
Who is the everyone?

Almost all problems will require you to sacrifice…

You don’t have to return anger for anger unless…

When someone insults you, you should not…

When you see someone making a fool of themself, you should…

You walk into a room and notice that someone who is the center of attention is not as good as you. You should…

People are saying things about you that are untrue. You should…

Everyone lies. Agree or Disagree?

Everyone has some problem that is serious?
Agree or Disagree?

Everyone worries that they are not enough? Agree or Disagree?

People can change. Agree or Disagree?

No matter the conflict, each person owns a portion of it. Agree or Disagree?

How many conflict dimensions are there?

Conflicts are mostly in your….

What do you do when someone won’t work with you?


Coman, A., Manier, D., & Hirst, W. (2009). Forgetting the Unforgettable Through Conversation: Socially Shared Retrieval-Induced Forgetting of September 11 Memories. Psychological Science (0956-7976), 20(5), 627–633.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): Admissions to and Discharges from Publicly-Funded Substance Use Treatment

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.

Psychology Today. (2019, June 24). What is Addiction? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Tracy, N. (2012, January 12). Types of Addiction: List of Addictions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 24 from

Image by Barbara A Lane from Pixabay