‘Refining the experiment & going again.’ Member Spotlight: Nick Adlington

Nick Adlington, an accredited mediator, a psychotherapist in training, and the founder of go-dialogue, was interviewed by Emma Bohman-Bryant, MBBI Writer, on January 9, 2018

For Nick, the entrance into peace-building, a word that gives him pause for thought, has been a journey. Growing up in a small town outside Coventry, in the middle of England, Nick explains that he has, “always had a passion for adventure and experience.” After leaving school at 18 years old he traveled for a year in different parts of the world, which he describes as “a challenge to the assumptions and judgment I had learned.” He goes on to say, “I had no idea really, about how other people lived. We all initially grow-up in our home silo, and then somehow, we find out more as we grow older. For me, arriving in places such as New York and Bangkok, at 18 years old, by myself, was a shocking experience.”

This integration of other perspectives and norms into his life continued at university in the North of England, followed by a year of teacher training, and then two years as a VSO volunteer in rural Zimbabwe. At university Nick studied with people who he describes as having “very different perspectives to my own and the predominant culture which I grew up in,” and then describes how working in Zimbabwe was “a significant lesson in a different way of living.”

Nick emphasizes how these experiences have shaped his views of the world and the challenging task of living peacefully in it. After returning to the UK from Zimbabwe he went on to work for VSO in London, Canada, and Nepal over a six-year period. He talks about his secondment as Country Director in Nepal, “going to work in Nepal was a huge challenge. The VSO program was going through considerable change at the time, and the country was in the midst of civil conflict.”

Nick elaborates on the challenge when he says “what I learned in Nepal is, that in times of conflict, it is difficult to plan for a future. On a personal level, people turn inwards, naturally focus on survival. Building something more cohesive and relationship-based becomes difficult.” After Nepal, Nick returned to the UK and went through a period of significant personal and professional change.

“My experiences in Nepal, and great changes in my personal life around 2003, shaped me onto a whole new course,” he explains, “as I had previously been as a teacher, I wanted to become a practitioner again.” Therefore, Nick chartered a course that would lead him, via many years at Great Ormond Street Hospital, into training as a Gestalt Psychotherapist. He explains these years as “challenging.” He goes on to describe life-changing experiences of managing his own conflicts, “I think the most polarizing thing we can do in peacemaking, is neglect to talk about conflict. The most salutary lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, are through managing my own inter-personal conflicts and the emotions that come with this.”

Perhaps then we get to the heart of what drives Nick. He talks about a world that is “more cohesive and understanding of itself, with people willing to go on a journey for themselves, looking at their own behaviors, ways of being, and responsibilities of how they exist with others around them.” This interest, particularly in individuals’ responsibilities, is at the core of his work as a Gestalt Psychotherapist. He explains that “Gestalt practice focuses on change through relationship,” and locates the heart of this change in the “here and now.”

Nick describes peacemaking as “something we can do in every moment of every day, both within ourselves, and when we meet others.” He describes every interaction with another human being as a potential act of peace.

Along the way, Nick has embraced peacemaking as a grassroots activist. He talks about times over the past ten years when he stood on the streets of London offering out postcards with positive messages written the back such as “Have a great day,” and “You are Wonderful.” He elaborates “I set-up an organization called We are Human for a while which aimed to promote the good in human relationships.”

Nick’s central project going forward is “go-dialogue” his self-started enterprise focusing on dialogue as a mechanism of peace. His aim is to create forums for dialogue on a global level, that he hopes will enhance mutual understanding. “Contact is essential for a sense of mutual understanding. What I have learned of value, I have learned through contact with others.” Last year Nick experimented by setting up circles of chairs in central London locations and seeing what emerged as people sat down to talk. He talks about the experiment, named Meeting Point, with some hesitancy, “Umm, if I’m honest, I’m not quite sure what was learned, I feel like the outcomes are still being digested. I think how such spaces are pitched to the public is key, so that people can feel comfortable to sit and talk. I worry that people might have thought I was going to try and sell them a vacuum cleaner!” Despite this, Nick thinks that “communication is a lot simpler than we make it sometimes”, and adds, “I can feel something new emerging. It’s a matter of refining the experiment and going again.”

Nick explains that for him, peacemaking needs to work on and at many different levels, including the levels of international policy-making and grassroots activism. However, Nick is cautious about the words ‘peace’ and ‘peacemaking.’ He believes that “sometimes, there can be a narrative that says ‘peace is good, conflict is bad’ which then tends to polarize.” He describes polarities as “central to almost every conflict.”

Instead, Nick posits that a wider and more nuanced meaning of the word ‘peace’ could be needed or at the very least a continued dialogue about what we mean individually and collectively by the term “peacebuilding.” This, he states, is like a ‘duty of care’ towards the subject of peace, something that we are all passionate about and that “brings us together under the MBBI banner.”

For Nick, this is one of the reasons why organizations like MBBI are so important. Having been to a conference in October at MBBI, he notes that “it was inspiring to meet lots of other people who are interested in the same sorts of thing. It provides a meeting point for people who have similar interests to come together and support each other in the work that they are trying to do.” He describes how he has at times felt isolated in his life. “The paradox is that I don’t always find relationships easy, and my default is to withdraw. However, what I’ve learned is that co-operation is essential to achieving a greater goal. MBBI is essential as a meeting point for people who wish to co-operate with each other on peace and conflict.”

For those who are just coming into a journey of their own, Nick would “encourage people to experiment and find out what part of the peace-building jigsaw they are excited about. If they are not sure how or how they want to fit, give it a go.” Nick was inspired at the conference by Ken Cloke’s description of what makes a good peace builder – audacity and humility.

It takes quite a lot to live both of those, it takes bravery…If we want to create a world that is more peaceful, we need to take risks and be creative, create the conditions for blameless experiment; and understand that we will never know even the half of it!