The Peacemaker: Handling Conflict without Fighting Back or Running Away (Student Edition) by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson

Conflict in human relations is as old as humanity itself. But what distinguishes humans from other creatures is how they can resolve conflict without resort to aggression. This is the central message of The Peacemaker. The book is especially addressed to the youth, as there is a lacuna in moral guidance for them.

One of the strengths of the book is how the authors showcase the utility of the Holy Bible in solving human conflict. At a time when acts of violence and anger are high among the youth, training them in Biblical principles can mitigate these negative tendencies. The book is also valuable to adults such as parents, teachers and pastors, who are in a position to cultivate Biblical principles in their wards.

Statistics point out how instances of teen violence have steadily increased over the last two decades. These troubled teenagers need love and guidance, for punishment is shown to be an ineffective deterrent of violence. It is this love and guidance that the Holy Bible offers. By promoting reconciliation and forgiveness among the country’s youth, they are set on the morally upright path.

The book should be lauded for exposing young readers to the idea of God’s unconditional love. It is this kind of recognition and respect that youngsters crave the most. Once won over through love in this fashion, their minds are malleable to be cultivated in peaceful methods of conflict resolution.

One of the key suggestions in the book is how to convert adversities into potential opportunities. It urges young people to look at conflicts as opportunities for growth, empowerment and learning. For example, conflicts can be used to define and defend one’s rights while equally conceding that of the opponent’s. One can learn to balance and bargain for an equitable solution for all parties. Conflicts can make the individual learn the value of moderation, for so often small strife can snowball into a grand problem. Moreover, such challenging situations can help people develop forgiveness and humility. In these ways, The Peacemaker is rich in scriptural counsel for the youth.

The authors should be appreciated for the key insights they offer. For example, they contend that to for the youth to live morally fulfilling lives, they have to assimilate the spirit of the Gospels by their own volition. Commitment to cherished values and principles is a matter of personal conviction. No amount of persuasion from teachers, however clear and well-intended, will achieve this end.

Another laudable feature of the book is how the authors encourage the youth to constructively confront conflicts. This is a much tougher option than simply evading the issue or choosing an easier route. By training our minds to meet challenges head-on, albeit in a civilized and upright fashion, we do not fall into the fight-or-flight response we had evolved in our primitive state.

As for the weaknesses in the book, the exclusive reliance on the Bible for moral guidance is a little limiting. Sure there are many valuable lessons to be gleaned from Christian theology, but morality and spiritual guidance transcends particular religions. The risk in citing the scriptures for all guiding principles is that the student will come across contradictory passages. The tendency to take the scriptures as literal truth can also clash with the student’s education in science and rationality.

The Peacemaker can also be criticized for undermining secularism in American schools. Just as separation of Church and State exists in national polity, it stands to reason to adopt the principle of separating Church from School. At a time when American schools are becoming more cosmopolitan and liberal, this throw back to an ancient and rigid belief system is anachronistic.

Ken Sande & Kevin Johnson, The Peacemaker (Book – Student Edition): Handling Conflict Without Fighting Back or Running Away, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2004.