Why We Need Nonrivalrous
Space Now More Than Ever

Watercolor painting of the planet earth on a dark blue background.
What do we do when the world seems to be on fire?

One of the best parts of my job is speaking to people who are working every day to build peace in their communities. Some of these are professional peacebuilders who work in non-profit or governmental organizations. But most are people who see their “normal” professions as a work of peacebuilding. A business leader investing himself in helping the next generation of business leaders understand their influence beyond their company’s bottom line. A singer-songwriter who brings his talents to communities dealing with conflict. An academic seeking to push her colleagues outside their comfort zone. 

They work in diverse places. Uganda. Ireland. Thailand. Minneapolis. Los Angeles. Atlanta. Every story is different, beautiful, and unique. Yet there is so much in common. 

The common theme right now is that almost everyone I speak to feels like the world is on fire. A Palestinian friend lamented that it felt like twenty years of progress in building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians evaporated on a violent Saturday morning in October. A Ukrainian friend shares photos of young soldiers from his city killed on the front lines. A friend in Zimbabwe laments how chronic economic instability undermines his work. 

The bad news piles up. Urgent challenges are everywhere. 

At a time when there are such urgent needs, why does unRival focus our energy on creating nonrivalrous space for leaders? Such nonrivalrous space is a trusting, intentionally non-performative space that focuses more on who a leader is than on what they have accomplished. 

Why do we invest ourselves in this intentionally slow work when the world is pressed by such urgent problems? We invest our energy in creating such spaces of trust because we believe that these dangerous, conflicted times in which we live need nonrivalrous spaces more than ever. 

Nonrivalrous space allows us to slow down, take a breath, consider the problem more fully, and draw deeply on the wisdom of others, especially those who may see the challenge differently than we do.

Nonrivalrous space allows us to slow down

We need nonrivalrous space more than ever because a misplaced sense of urgency can divert us from the true problem.

True urgency exists. When a building is on fire, or someone is gravely wounded, urgent action is essential. Beyond these emergency situations, we all face challenges within our work where our experience has taught us how to respond. But much of our work is not so simple. It requires us to face complexity with wisdom. In such situations, meeting urgency with urgency is rarely effective. 

Nonrivalrous space allows us to slow down, take a breath, consider the problem more fully, and draw deeply on the wisdom of others, especially those who may see the challenge differently than we do.

Intense challenges make us want to respond. They can call out the hero (or wanna-be-hero) in us. We all long to be able to respond well. Slowing down can help us see the challenge more clearly and respond more wholly and humanely. 

We need nonrivalrous space more than ever because acting too quickly can mean leaving behind the very people we need. Particularly in the West, we prize efficiency and impact. These can be good impulses, but they must be balanced with the slower, consensus-oriented wisdom that arises from other traditions. Cultures that prize efficiency and impact above all else (even in the peacebuilding world!) can diminish voices that contribute slower, more creative approaches with longer-lasting effects. 

At their worst, efficiency cultures instrumentalize us, creating a hierarchy of human value that prizes those who act quickest. Nonrivalrous space creates an opportunity for diversity of thinking and space for a more holistic approach to emerge. 

Nonrivalrous space is perhaps more about growing peace than building peace. It is a slow process of cultivating, tending, and nurturing peace and the mighty, fragile humans that seek it. 
Swatches of watercolor separated by white space.
Nurturing peace and those who seek it

Finally, we need nonrivalrous space more than ever because the work of building peace in our communities is hard and takes a toll, physically and emotionally.

A peer recently shared that he sees many networks to sustain action but few networks that provide support. Where are the spaces where we can lament the pain we see without feeling forced to jump immediately to action? Where can we dream with others outside our immediate context who understand what we face? Where can we ask the hard questions that our professional spaces don’t easily allow? 

The nonrivalrous space we seek to create strives to allow these conversations. At its best, it allows for a creative edge where diverse people can see challenges with increased clarity and act more wholly toward peace. 

We respect and appreciate those who react when a fire breaks out. Such swift action is essential, often bringing time-tested solutions to urgent situations. We believe that nonrivalrous space complements this work, creating space for slower, more deliberate, and more creative reflection that leads to a different sort of action. 

Nonrivalrous space is perhaps more about growing peace than building peace. It is a slow process of cultivating, tending, and nurturing peace and the mighty, fragile humans that seek it. 

Please consider these other blog posts about the Artisans of Peace program:

Want to learn more about how unRival Network and the Artisans of Peace program are disrupting rivalry and advancing the cause of justice and peace? Click here to access our free resource, Peace is Possible.

Hold onto hope with us.


When we resist rivalry together, there is hope for peace.

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