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.


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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.

I characterized the dichotomy represented by the two poles of the orange by asking the question “Does your religion challenge your notion of yourself, helping you transcend the barriers you have erected around yourself, making you reach out to others who understand the world differently; or does your religion erect a bulwark between yourself and others, fortifying and preserving you behind impregnable walls--you know the truth and they are ignorant, you will go to heaven and they to hell?” My mission wasn’t to convert Hindus to Christianity, but to convert fundamentalist Christians to hospitable Christians, and to call on my Hindu friends to do likewise.

Years later this simple idea became less clear as I began to see that I had compared the best aspects of my position with the worst aspects of the other (figure 2).

Figure 2.

Where the strength of my end was in learning and being hospitable, people like me could be tempted to avoid conflict, to cater to others, to be an enabler of others’ ill behavior, to be a coward in the face of wrongdoing. And the strength of the other end was in faithfully preserving and passing on the wisdom accumulated by the work of past generations in their traditions. They were concerned with the unpolluted survival of the information from the past, the survival of their culture and community and lives. Their temptation was control, and their weakness to see persons of other traditions as less fully human. To control they would impose their tradition on others by force, which they saw as bringing the blessing of full humanity. In the extreme, they would exterminate the other rather than live with them.

Recently I’ve realized that the best reaction to difference and conflict is what I call “communion” (figure 3).

Figure 3.

Communion represents a third option to fight or flight. The success of either fight or flight is the end of tension. The enemy is dead, or dominated, or placated, or avoided. Whereas the success of communion is life in tension.

Communion can be excruciatingly uncomfortable as we explore and face our real and hard differences. Communion means struggling together, not letting each other go, not walking out of our commitment to keep struggling with each other until we achieve a blessing. Our differences have no value if we sweep them under the rug.

What we bring to communion is our identity. We owe it to the other to be ourselves, in all our difference, because otherwise there’s no point, no value to the relationship. Communion is the name of our embarrassing life together, embarrassing because we offer ourselves and, in looking at what we have to offer through the eyes of someone really different, we sometimes feel shabby.

We need to be very hospitable to each other, so that we can bear what may be a very difficult labor while something new is born.

Fight and flight are well known. The peak of my triangle has an equally visceral short anglo-saxon fricative descriptor, though it doesn’t capture the labor of birthing that often characterizes communion. I point this word out solely to reassure those who fear that communion is just a nice abstraction, and that in real conflict situations humans will react according to their deep primal urges, not abstractions. I have hope that calling an enemy into communion can be as primal and deep a reaction to conflict as either fight or flight. It is certainly more difficult, in that it takes two to tango. If the other won’t play ball, and instead chooses fight or flight, what do you do? You don’t have to retreat to fight or flight yourself, you can persist in calling the other to join in communion, but it takes more of a skill set. Primary in this skill set is the faith that the enemy is not a subhuman monster, but truly has the potential to be a trustworthy partner. It is sometimes faith despite bitter evidence, but most religions teach that all humans except the most disabled have that potential. The skill is in making the other realize that you do too, and that there is much to be gained by life in tension.

Good sources of language describing the value of communion are ecology and economics, which study the tremendous efficiency of the vast cooperative interdependencies of markets and ecosystems. After a market or ecosystem has been knocked out of balance it takes a lot of work and pain to restore a richly diverse interdependence. This is the work of communion--it takes a lot of negotiation.

Either fight or flight mark the breakdown of growth towards interdependency. Trauma is what drives us from life in tension towards either fight or flight, and the patterns induced by trauma can propagate across generations, as the young grow up in abusive or conflict-avoiding home cultures.

The story of the blind men and the elephant is a great one illustrating our permanent need for diverse points of view--enemies. See the 4 minute video at

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