Real life stories

This thread describes real relationships and communities that follow the way of the healer. There is failure, and messy ambiguity, and hope.

We encourage you to submit a post telling us about a marriage, a family, a congregation, an organization, a community or an international situation you are aware of where the way of the healer is being attempted.

About the way of the healer

The root task of government is to meet our fears--to give us security, to keep social order, to deal with our enemies. We are testing a different way to meet those same needs, one not based
As a healer you gamble that even a terrible person has a trustworthy side, and you engage, betting that you can invoke that side. From Description: the healer at war.

We say a relationship or community is healthy when the people involved want a relationship even if they deeply disagree; they listen to each other, are respectful, voice their point of view, ask for what they want, gamble that the other is trustworthy, negotiate, don't avoid conflict, don't walk out, and don't use coercion. From Description: the healthy community.

A healer speaks to an enemy as if that enemy represented the very best that humanity can aspire to. From Description: the healer at war.

We negotiate. We live by asking. We ask, ask, and ask again. From Description: the healthy community.
on coercion (law) or violence (arms) or territory (state). We're provisionally calling it "relationship healing" or just healing.

A good mother wants a relationship with her grown children even if they have turned out very differently than she hoped. A healer wants and knows how to have a healthy relationship with people who are very different, even opponents.

The healer's strategy is to turn an enemy into a trustworthy opponent within a healthy relationship. They may remain adamantly divided, but they have a respectful relationship where their difference can be productive. This site reflects on ideas and experience in the tactics of healing.

Healing and coercion both carry risks. Arguably healing is riskier in the short term, while coercion is riskier in the long term--that's one of
Regardless of the way you follow—Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, whatever—-if you want to join with those from other ways who believe we can profit from our differences to improve all our ways of healing the world, then we need your story and your texts, we need you to help us learn to live together even when we remain very different.
the things we want to test. Arguably both healing and coercion are called for, in different situations--that's one of the things we'd like to clarify.

This site is for those living in a conflict situation, great or small, who have lost faith in coercion and control, and are willing to take some risks gambling that their enemies potentially have a good side.


The Description of the way of the healer is written in terms of how humans should relate to each other, as a working document among different religious and secular traditions.


We encourage you to submit a post describing

a marriage, family, congregation, organization, community, movement or government where the way of the healer is being attempted,

the texts and stories of your particular tradition--secular or religious--to teach, expand or critique the way of the healer,

an application of the way of the healer to some current social problem.

John Fairfield founded, with much encouragement and critique by Larry Alderfer Fisher. Posts explaining where they are coming from are here.


A list of organizations that advocate and use the way of the healer.

Submit a post

Please help elaborate and critique the way of the healer by commenting on existing posts, or by submitting a post of your own.


Email us at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

In Nepal in the mid nineties I found myself saying to a Hindu friend “My hope for our conversation is that I will become a better Christian, and you a better Hindu.” Imagine that each segment of an orange (figure 1) represents one of the world’s religions. I found myself (a) closer to my friend (b) than to some Christians I knew (c).

Figure 1.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding God face-to-face with enemies in Sudan

John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

The gist of this sermon was given Sunday July 17, 2011 in Omdurman, Sudan, at both morning and evening services of a small mud church, just a room whose roof was made of two layers of reeds with plastic sandwiched between. I was taken to the church by my friend X, whom I'd come to visit in Sudan.

The people, perhaps 40 in the morning and over twice that in the evening, were mostly from the region of Kordofan, an area in central Sudan with mixed Muslim, Christian and Animist populations. It's not a part of South Sudan. Several years ago there was war there. Then a peace agreement was made and some of the refugees who had fled to Omdurman and Khartoum moved back home. Many of these are now trapped by the violence that has again come to Kordofan, where villages are being bombed and mass graves are being filled.,38972

There was singing, some of it animated, and then a sharing time. One woman, a recent refugee, stood and in a quiet, almost offhand way, said that her village was gone, she'd seen the bombs dropping and seen it burn. All of another woman's brothers had been killed. People fled to the hills, children were lost, they couldn't find them. A girl had just gotten a phone call from her father whom the family hadn't heard from in weeks, he was alive, he'd managed to escape through the mountains.

X told me later that was dangerous for them to speak out, that this was the first time people had talked about it in church. If there was an informer present they could get in trouble, but they felt that if they couldn't talk about it they would suffocate. They needed to share their story with the others that were going through the like. Their homes, poor to begin with, were overflowing with extended family who'd fled Kordofan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jerusalem the Promised Land

John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

I’m a Virginia Mennonite who crewed last summer on a sailboat trip from Turkey to Israel.  No, not that boat.

I've partly understood the USA as a "melting pot". Then I went to Istanbul, and was overwhelmed with the perspective of these people--Asia to one side, Europe on the other, melting pot squared. The Ottoman empire stretched from Algeria to the Persian Gulf.
Shattered by WW I, their modern effort is to both be an authentic Muslim society and apply for membership in the EU. Exclamation point.

Then I went to Israel/Palestine, to Jerusalem.  Melting pot cubed: Africa, Asia, Europe.  It’s the battleground between the populous ends of the fertile crescent, Egypt under the Pharaohs or the Hellenes or the Mamluks or whatever, and Mesopotamia under the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Persians or whatever. Then from the Mediterranean side come the Western powers, the Greeks and Romans and Crusaders and Brits and Americans or whatever.

What was God thinking, giving this clashing place of civilizations as the promised land to his people?  It's like having a target painted on your back.  They were to be purveyors of God's blessing to the world, by being planted in the most dangerous piece of real estate on earth. The land of opportunity.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Healing Bullying

John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

Relationship healing brings some insights to bullying.  I’m going to describe a “treatment” whereby a victim of bullying might be able to heal the relationship.  Now if I had a little aerosol can that when sprayed on a bully changed them into a good friend, we’d all be thinking “empower the victims”.  Yet if I told victims they had to take responsibility for the situation and overcome the bully, we’d all be thinking “victimizing the victims.”  What I will describe is in between. The treatment will often begin healing the relationship between the victim and the bully, but doing it takes much more skill than spraying an aerosol can.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Imam from Qom stresses unity of all faiths

Mohammad Ali Shomali  (Shi'a Muslim)

Qom, Iran - I remember when I was a teenager in Tehran the following verse from the Qur’an was frequently recited after prayers at Al-Anbiyā, our local mosque: “The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in God and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers – We make no distinction between any of His messengers – and they say: we hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Your forgiveness, our Lord. Unto You is the journeying” (2:285).

This verse, like many others in the Qur’an, puts great emphasis on the uniformity of all the prophets and messengers from God, leading us to believe that we belong to one great community of faith which includes all believers throughout the history of mankind.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The marriage of Ahmed and Muna

[To protect a very sensitive situation, the names of people and places have been changed.]

Ahmed got married.  It wasn't easy, and it won't be.

Ahmed is from a hot, mostly Muslim country we'll call Napur.  Napur's many ethnicities are grossly divided in two groupings we'll call the Tasil and the Solfians. The Tasil dominate the government. Ahmed is Tasil.

Ahmed has spent over a decade in the US, and got a Masters in Social Work from Ohio State, but for the last seven years he has been working out of Nokton, the sprawling city across the river from the capital of Napur.  He's traveled to the massively violence-ridden Pagun region many times for many months, doing AIDS education and post trauma counseling in the refugee camps there, and also worked with displaced Solfians living in Nokton from the troubled Zelk mountains region.

Some people see Ahmed as both a Christian and a Muslim, drawing from the strengths of both, and repenting of some of the weaknesses.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jesus as Messiah, healer and host

John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

I see Jesus as Messiah, healer and host. I am impressed with how much of the New Testament is taken up by these three themes.

Messiah, ruler, lord of the social order, king. [For people from other traditions who are unfamiliar with the Jewish Messiah: the Messiah was to fulfill the promise of the line of the kings of Israel that descended from King David. That is, the Messiah will some day establish justice--real peace and justice--in this world, and rule it.] But upside down [Jesus said that whoever wanted to be chief must be servant of all. Mark 9] , not a rerun of David but something which can replace the need for soldier kings such as David. A king in whose kingdom there is no violence, no coercion. I take seriously that that kingdom should displace and is displacing (albeit on a slow evolutionary timescale) government by coercion.

The prime function of government is security--how to to deal with enemies. And Jesus is clear on that point [Jesus tells us to love our enemies, Luke 6].

The good news is that the Messiah is not a soldier, but a healer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How then shall we live?

Larry Alderfer Fisher (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

To everyone here today and to all of your friends back home, I extend an invitation to join me on a journey.  A journey to define, in your own language and from within your own tradition, the phrase, The Way of the Healer.  This journey is not for the faint of heart.  It will take us outside of our comfort zones.  It will ask us to seriously consider that there is within our enemies inherent good.  It will go on to suggest that we can transform our enemies into Trustworthy Opponents.  It will ask us to embrace a way of peace that is so radical that leaders from all walks of life, including religious leaders, will try to stamp it out.  And perhaps hardest of all, it will compel us to examine critically long established, fundamental doctrines and creeds from our own faith stories.  It will ask us to search for long buried truths from within our faith traditions. Come along on this journey at your peril.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Most Generous Orthodoxy

Larry Alderfer Fisher (Anabaptist Christian)

The question I face is this. Can I follow Jesus and obey his command to go and teach, without a conversion agenda?  My unorthodox answer to this question is a resounding “Yes.”  Then I am faced with a follow up question.  Can I refuse to proselytize and still be a Christian?  My answer to this second question is “I hope so.”
It is in this vein that I make the attempt to expand the boundaries of orthodoxy and define a most generous orthodoxy1, in the hopes that I can have my cake and eat it too.  I can follow Jesus without turning my back on my Anabaptist Christian roots.  I can adopt a post-colonial theology that redefines (as in defines again) the original message of Jesus.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Regardless of our spiritual tradition, we all talk about how humans should relate to each other, and this description of the way of the healer is written in those terms. It is proposed as a lingua franca, a basis for discussion, a working document among the different religious and secular traditions. It is not proposed as the true meaning of religion nor as the unification of all religions, nor does it affirm any way to empower people to behave well. It is an attempt to answer the question, how can we live together, being different?

It will be updated from time to time to reflect the discussion on this site. This is version 2 (August 2011), and we're quite sure there is much here that can be improved. Please help by commenting or by submitting a post.

A lot of this has to do with risk.  The most risky path is the one which tries to avoid all risk.  The question is not how to avoid all risk, but what risks to take.  Taking risks can be very difficult for those who have been traumatized by violence.

Table of Contents:
I. The healthy community
What unites us
Why we value difference
Our commitment to engage each other
Our service
Our community has no borders
Eating together
II. The healer at war
Appropriate coercion, even violence
Reaction to an attack
Calm your enemy's fear
If you get the chance, serve your enemy's personal needs
Listen to your enemy
Invoke the trustworthy opponent in your enemy
Ask for justice
Create a committed healthy relationship of opponents
Forgive what can't be undone
Problem solve

I. The healthy community

This section describes what we mean by a healthy relationship or community.

What unites us

In a healthy community or relationship we are not unified by having the same opinion. Our unity is based on our desire to relate to and care for each other, even and especially when we deeply disagree. One model is a good mother's love of her grown children. Even if they've turned out very differently than she hoped, she wants a relationship with them anyway, and they all grow from that sometimes difficult life together.

Unfortunately many of our communities of choice--marriages, organizations, religions--stress unanimity of opinion as the source of the unity of the community. The way of the healer would have us relate to people who see things differently from us. We want to build and live in communities where the value of having divergent opinions expressed in the community is well worth the cost of struggling with those different opinions. Indeed the struggle itself is seen as very productive.

If a relationship is utterly peaceful, someone is oppressed.  We are too different, and too finite, to never have any problems.

Why we value difference

In an efficient economy different people do different tasks for each other. One person gets really good at, say, teaching kids how to read, while another is really good at fixing cars, and so on. They're all specialists, they all need each other, they all serve each other, and the result is way more efficient than if they each tried to do everything for themselves.

So it is with our understandings. We all have different understandings, and we're all better off if we put those understandings on the negotiating table. Each of us has some light. Being finite, none of us is capable of seeing the whole thing. And it's always possible that some of what we believe is flat wrong. Our best defense against our own ignorance is the table where we struggle with the different understandings of our neighbors.

In chess one can know at any particular position what all the legal moves are. In human relationships, there's no list of possible moves. With all our imagination we often don't consider the right move. We didn't reject it--we just didn't think of it.

But necessity is the mother of invention. The pain of conflict, the difficulty of staying committed to persons who are very much opposed to our position, of struggling with them to find resolution of something that seems to be impossible to resolve, can result in the creation of something really new that neither would have thought of unopposed.

Our commitment to engage each other

We do not mean that all opinions are equal. Some ideas are better than others--that's why we struggle with each other, because we each think the other is wrong. But if we are secure in the commitment of our community to respect us, and not walk out on us, and not coerce us, we can consider changing our ideas.

We are not agreeing to disagree. That's a way of avoiding conflict, of stopping the struggle, of writing each other off. We are agreeing to a respectful, sustained struggle with each other over our differences. The table, with everyone's perceptions clearly voiced, is a process that may change us.

A healthy relationship is supple and sustainable. We can live in a space negotiated from the space of those about us, secure in a set of negotiable borders. Not secure that this turf is ours forever, but secure in the feeling that we can negotiate, survive, whatever boundary shifts our neighbors might ask.

Our freedom doesn't end "at the tip of our neighbor's nose", it begins there. Being finite, we sometimes trespass, we step on our neighbor's toes, yet we can weather our differences, we can forgive, we can profit and learn from our different points of view.  We can be ourselves.

Conflict avoidance is a form of deception. It writes off the possibility of a real relationship. Dealing with another person isn't, can't be, always pleasant. It can be exciting. A conflict avoider shirks responsibility, enables the bad behavior of the other person, and abdicates leadership. A leader is necessarily in conflict with their group, else he or she is following, not leading.

We negotiate.  We live by asking.  We ask, ask, and ask again.

Our service

Our table is more than a table of ideas, it is a relationship between humans. We want a relationship with each other, so we are not immune to each others needs and troubles. If one of us has a need, that request goes on the table. We take some risk gambling that staying in community with the needy will be sustainable.

Our community has no borders

Strangers are welcome at the table, we serve all. That is the meaning of hospitality--that we will try to start a relationship with all comers.

Eating together

Eating together celebrates our negotiating table, and our respect for each other as trustworthy even though we disagree. If you cannot eat with me, then there's a real human problem that must be addressed.


We describe a relationship or a community as healthy to the degree that their unity is not based on unity of opinion, but a desire to relate to each other. The people involved want a relationship even if they deeply disagree; they listen to each other, are respectful, voice their point of view, ask for what they want, gamble that the other is trustworthy, negotiate, don't avoid conflict, don't walk out, and don't use coercion.

Life in a healthy community or relationship is a constant risking that our differences destroy us, healing of the trespass of our differences, profiting from our differences, attending to each others' well being, and celebrating our relationship.

II. The healer at war

This section describes how the healthy community deals with those members--all of us at times--who sometimes don't act in a healthy way. It is the same way that the healthy community deals with an external enemy who would destroy it.

The root task of government is to meet our fears--to give us security, to keep social order, and to deal with our enemies. Here we describe an alternative way to provide security, one not based on coercion, or violence, or territory.

This site promotes healing as a strategy for most enemies even if they appear to be evil, especially if they are leaders bearing responsibility for a group of people. It is difficult for persons who wholly lack empathy to become responsible for large groups.  Taking some risk that such an enemy has a trustworthy side is rational.  

Appropriate coercion, even violence

A good metaphor for appropriate coercion, even violent coercion, is a surgeons scalpel. While surgery can definitely be beneficial, no one believes that the root of health is cutting.  Every use of a scalpel is a wound that will have to heal. The incompetent should never wield a scalpel. Surgeons--exclusively highly trained people--use it only where they can anticipate the undesirable effects, and know that they can control those effects, and that the benefit of the surgery outweighs the injury that is done. We don't use it for tuburculosis, or malaria, or dozens of other diseases.  The scalpel is never the source of healing.  But its appropriate use can be life saving.

So with violent coercion.  If your child starts to run into the street in front of a bus and there's no time for talk, you grab them by the collar.  Even if they think you are mean or if they get scratched by your fingernails.  Even if they get angry at you, or if your relationship suffers. The value of stopping them is high, and you have a good relationship and the time to heal the wound inflicted on the relationship when you coerce them.  The risks are known and low, because any negative effects can be anticipated and dealt with in time.

So the criteria for use  of violence are knowledge and risk.  That is, violence can be used when the need is great and the risk is very low that the consequences of the resulting trauma are beyond our certain knowledge to heal.

The attempt to control a situation by long term coercion is analogous to daily surgery to correct a chronic problem--there can be no healing.

Libya is a hard case <written August 2011>.  Whoever comes to power in Libya will owe their position to violence.  The downstream costs of that violence are beyond anyone's ability to calculate.  A movement which began in nonviolence succumbed to faith in violence, the faith that the violent can only be overcome by violence. One has great sympathy for them, the justification these people used was that there was, under Gaddafi, ongoing violence whose trauma was intolerable.  But as long as violence carries the day, little new has happened. We have to learn to use violence only when it is not beyond our competence, and for that to happen we need alternatives, such as the following.

Reaction to an attack

All of the following assumes you and yours are under attack, or have good reason to think that you will be soon. The enemy might be in your family or community or at work, might be just a pain or might be armed, might be a group, a nation, extremists, whatever.

The usual response to conflict is to treat the enemy and think of the enemy as if they were subhuman, which polarizes the conflict. Healing is the opposite of polarization. A healer speaks to an enemy as if that enemy represented the very best that humanity can aspire to.

The general strategy of healing is to turn your enemy into a trustworthy opponent within a healthy relationship, so that the conflict can be lived out within that relationship. The problem is how to get your enemy to listen to you, and how to get them to begin to trust you, when they have incentives not to. You've got to get through to that part of their personality which is trustworthy. As a healer you gamble that even a terrible person has a trustworthy side, and you engage, betting that you can invoke that side.

Calm your enemy's fear

If someone has attacked or injured you, they assume and fear your counter-attack. You want to forestall their fear before you start. Provide a safe place. Signal that you will not hurt them, that they are safe. They have need of safety, and so do you.

If you get the chance, serve your enemy's personal needs

If they under a threat, help them. Show them you value their physical well-being. Give them food, fix their house, give them clothes, support them, do whatever service you can provided that you respect their dignity. This builds trust that they are safe with you, and begins to show what it is like to live in a healthy community.

Listen to your enemy

If you and your enemy don't speak the same language, get a good translator, someone who can help you understand the cultural differences as well as the language differences.

Your enemy and you see the world differently, else there wouldn't be a conflict. Having a different point of view means that in some way you have different cultures, and speak different languages (even if they're the same language in the usual meaning of the word). Your knowledge of your enemy might be a caricature, a simplified sketch--you need to flesh that out.

If someone has steeled themselves to attack you, it is often in response to some trauma, or to some problem they see no other way of solving. Find out what trauma they've suffered or what problems they face. Ask them. Listen carefully, and feed back their story to them in your own words, so that they know you have heard them, and they hear you making their point clearly. Listening can take a lot of time. Invest in listening to a potential enemy before a conflict heats up. Even when damage is ongoing, risk some damage to yourself in order to make sure your enemy has caught the idea of how to listen well--because you're about to ask them to listen to you.

Invoke the trustworthy opponent in your enemy

You need a trustworthy negotiating opponent, so speak respectfully, even reverently to your enemy. You can't trust your enemy (yet), but you must take some risk that your enemy has a trustworthy persona somewhere inside them. All viable humans do. That persona is your best friend since it can ambush your enemy from within. Whenever you speak, speak to that part of your enemy--as their core identity, since that is what you wish them to be. So speak to your enemy as if they were that persona, wholly. Speak respectfully, humbly, even reverently to them. You have to get them to identify with it. It goes without saying that you must speak from within your own trustworthy self. This makes you both vulnerable.

If you start from a belief that your enemy cannot be a trustworthy opponent, then you believe they are sub-human, and they will sense your belief, and the relationship will polarize into a normal conflict. Risking that they are as fully human as you are is key, it is the hardest part of being a healer.

Ask for justice

Ask the trustworthy opponent for whatever you need to survive. Not the whole solution to the problem, just what you need to survive for now. Once you find that they are listening to you, and that they are treating you as a trustworthy opponent, and that they have given you breathing room, you can go on to the next steps, else you've got to repeat the steps up to this point. Be patient and insistent, and don't let go.

Do not beg your enemy for mercy. Do not speak to whatever insecure persona is running the enemy's life right now.  Speak to the persona in them that is fully human, that has a sense of justice.  To it you have no need to beg. You have a claim on its sense of justice, press that claim boldly.


Betting that your enemy can become a trustworthy opponent is dangerous. Preemptive violence is not something you can use while you are trying to invoke your enemy's trustworthy persona. If you persist in the attempt to heal, your enemy may use violence first against you, and if they do, you may lose. That is the risk you take--your desire to have a relationship with them is what's keeping you from either fight or flight.  If you fight or flee, healing will not happen, not that day.

It's not that you do not have the right or responsibility to constrain an enemy that is about to destroy you or someone else, if you can be very sure of doing so. But this is a very risky move. At best, it will prevent an irreversible loss, and thus create time for healing of the relationship.

If you do not succeed in quickly controlling the situation with coercion, the conflict will polarize and escalate further. And if you do succeed in controlling the situation, that control must eventually be lifted for healing to occur. Control by one party makes a healthy relationship impossible. Control is not the basis of security. The sole secure situation is a healthy relationship.

Create a committed healthy relationship of opponents

Institute a sustainable series of meals or meetings where you struggle with your differences. Invite your enemy to a regular meal, or accept their invitation to eat with them, even at some cost to your normal dietary observances, or find some other visceral way to show that you and yours can accept them even when they are your opponents and stay that way, even when you think they are terribly wrong, and vice versa. Let them see that you are a trustworthy opponent--the best person they can work with to explore this issue, eyes that can see what they cannot. Commit, both of you, to not letting each other go, to keep at the struggle in a sustainable way. Build in some times of rest and relaxation, and seize on opportunities to do things that are positive together.

Forgive what can't be undone

Restitution, making amends, is good and can help cement the new identities and the relationship, but there's no way to fix the past. Damage done is done, and will have consequences forever. You can't get that world back. So at some point you have to be willing to give up that world, and accept a new one downstream from that damage. If you want a healed relationship with your enemies, you are going to have to forgive them those costs to you that can never be recovered.

Problem solve

You need to find out what you can do that benefits them, and what they can do that benefits you. The benefit might be indirect, it doesn't matter, just so it is more than the costs. Finding that solution might take a long time, but as long as you can continue a trustworthy negotiating relationship there is hope, for that relationship is the best incubator of solutions.