Terms like “negotiation,” “peace,” and “diplomacy” are grandiose and frequently used without a clear definition. The reality of a peace agreement in Northern Ireland is fact and how that process occurred–despite enmity, politics, culture, and history, is the story of George Mitchell, a U.S. special envoy:
The true art of peace, negotiators know, lies in our ability to deal with the mighty weapon of language.
Mr. Mitchell’s great skill was that he learned to embrace silence. He sat at his table, listening to speech after speech. He soon found out that perhaps no other culture in the world has as many skilled and loquacious loudmouths as Ireland, north and south. (The old joke goes that Irish people with Alzheimer’s forget everything except the grudge.) He pitched himself against the tenacity of the fanatics.
He was unpaid and initially unheralded, but he fell in love with the people and allowed them to talk through their vitriol. He tried never to take sides — he split a feather down the middle and encouraged both halves to take flight.