In June 2010 I was invited to Bethlehem, to facilitate a workshop for peace workers from both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Perhaps it was I who actually learnt the most from it, especially about what anger can do to you. Back home I took the time to write an essay about it, as a support for those who wish to keep their spirit under such difficult circumstances. In June 2011 I sent it to those I had worked with in Bethlehem.


The invitation for the workshop came from Michael van Lay, who is stationed in Jerusalem with AGEH, a German NGO affiliated with the Catholic Church. He had participated in one of my courses on networks the previous year. The focus of this workshop, for mainly Palestinian and German peace workers, was to be on monitoring and evaluation, for which subject a German expert had been flown in. I shared some elements of network philosophy, focussing on energy and connection, and the Timeline method, which was appreciated by the participants.


I also listened. To the appalling stories of day-to-day practice. To the dilemmas they had to deal with. To their anger.


I also got the opportunity to look around... The dominant separation wall, visible everywhere. Security measures. Some two hundred Jewish settlers in the Palestinian area of Hebron, housed in a building under the permanent protection of an army of twelve hundred soldiers.  The whole area around it in the old town is utterly dead.



The anger also got a hold on me. Back home, I barely slept for a week, to the surprise of my wife; she had never seen me like this.


There is energy in collaboration, in vital space, in the sense that you are a meaningful part of something bigger. But there is also energy in anger, in resistance. That energy can easily lead to a path of mutual destruction.

This tested the theory about living networks. What is this energy? Idealism is nourished by dissatisfaction with reality. That energy can be very beautiful and useful. But when does it go wrong? And how can it be channelled back into something constructive?



Anger can take three forms, which lead to three patterns of behaviour in the Circle of Coherence:


Paralysing Anger:

Anger cannot find an outlet and is stored up inside. Doing nothing is considered safer than taking any course of action.

This leads to Freezing.  When this happens to many people in a structure, resistance disappears and the structure becomes stuck, which eventually leads to it collapsing easily.


Destructive Anger:

Anger seeks an outlet by trying to eliminate the perceived threat. This is about winning and losing. People justify their actions by pointing at the misdoings of others. Because both sides in a conflict are doing this, the anger escalates. This leads to a downward spiral and mutual destruction.

This is the pattern of Fighting. The structure destroys itself, at a huge cost.


Constructive Anger:

Anger is controlled and strategically deployed to stop escalating patterns. Unacceptable behaviour must be blocked, and also the perspective of winning and losing. Only then are the rival parties willing and able to seek out new connections.

In the Circle of Coherence this is the intervention of the Strategist.



It is not easy to convert anger into constructive action. It calls for compassion. It is not people who should be fought, but the conflict which has them in its grip.


Further Reading:

Mobilising Anger (essay... coming soon)


The Circle of Coherence