Global Journal of Peace Research and Praxis

Practicing Peace: Psychological Roots of Transforming Conflicts

Laura K. Taylor, John Paul Lederach


The practice of sustainable peace is a process that must be initiated, nourished and revised. The “social energies” of conflict transformation – truth, mercy, justice, peace – offer a useful model to describe the transformative power of this practice. These social energies can be conceptualized as a combination of norms or values, on the one hand, and actions directed toward social reconstruction, on the other. As such, the social energies of conflict transformation are both the guideposts and the engine in the journey of practicing sustainable peace. This article begins by linking psychological constructs of narrative/voice, empathy/altruism, individual/collective guilt, and security/fear with the social energies, highlighting the interdependence of processes and shifting the focus away from pathology toward an emphasis on harmony. An empirical application of how the four social energies contribute to the mobilization, maintenance and adaptations in on-going peace processes in post-war Guatemala is then presented. By analyzing the interaction among diverse actors and goals in the decade and a half since the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords, current theory is extended in two ways: a) differentiation between elite and grassroots initiatives, and b) specification and evaluation the impact of various efforts on episodic and structural violence. We conclude that although national and local processes have had limited success, more integrated practices of truth, mercy, justice and peace are necessary if Guatemala is to make sustainable peace a reality. The findings from this case study have policy and practical implications for other countries facing protracted, violent conflict. 


Reconciliation, peacebuilding, Guatemala, psychology, healing

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