Why can’t we just sit down and talk?

Photo: NorwayUN/Johannes W. Berg.

We live in an increasingly polarized world. A world filled with fake news, threating accusations in comments sections, mistrust amongst people and nations, and a lack of mutual understanding and dialogue. It is this absence of dialogue and understanding that, in some cases, is the precursor to violent conflicts and war.

PublishedSep 2, 2019
Executive Director
Nobel Peace Center


South-Africa’s anti-apartheid icon and the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, once said that dialogue is the best weapon for lasting peace.

I have personally seen the real cost of weapons – in countries like Sri Lanka, Sudan, South-Sudan, Iraq, Colombia and Syria. Places where forces of death and destruction has been victorious in the battle against peaceful dialogue. Poverty, anger and despair rule the land. There are generations of broken dreams – dreams of a better life and future. Wouldn’t it be better to sit down and talk to each other instead? To try, just one more time, another round at the negotiation table?

Ill Lars Tornøe

This is the backdrop of Nobel Peace Center`s idea of the “peace bench”. Dialogue is sometimes not enough to avoid conflict and war, but it is a necessity in order to achieve lasting peace. That is why we wanted to create a bench that force adversaries to sit near each other. After all, it is better that people invade each other’s personal space, then countries.

We wanted to create a space where leaders, decision-makers and people in power can sit down and engage in close conversations, listen to each other with mutual respect, and eventually solve their shared problems. That is why it was important to place the “peace bench” outside the United Nations’ HQ in New York City.

In September, world leaders and dignitaries will flock to the UN and attend in the General Assembly. My hope is to see U.S. President Trump and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in constructive dialogue on the bench. Or maybe with four Congresswomen? My dream is to see Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas in deep conversation on the bench. And I wish to see Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó – who both fight over power in Venezuela – together come up with a plan to find a peaceful solution for their country.

Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

Nelson Mandela was a worrier, but the weapons he used varied over time; the hands of a boxer; the gun of a soldier; knowledge of the law; and the wit of a seasoned politician. But after 10 years in a prison cell on Robben Island he said:

"The best weapon is to sit down and talk."

Let us encourage people in power to do as Mandela: sit down and talk to your enemies. Try again, even though you failed the first timearound. Sit down and find common ground and mutual understanding before giving up – hopefully on Nobel Peace Center’s new peace bench.

The bench, commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center, designed by Snøhetta, aluminium by Norsk Hydro, and constructed by Vestre. The bench was unveiled at United Nations HQ, Mandela Day, July 18th, 2019.

Article first published (Norwegian), 19 July 2019.


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