Peace. The Good Message. Unity — Three principles for good governance and community.


The Peacemaker Principles are a gift from the Haudenosaunee people, known incorrectly as the Iroquois. When followed with integrity, these Principles provide a model and process for communication that fosters awareness, respect, and unity. The story of the Peacemaker Principles goes back hundreds of years to a time when a man known as the Peacemaker came to the area occupied by the six nations when they were involved in a bloody civil war. After bringing peace among them, he offered these as guiding principles in their interactions among themselves and with outside groups. The Peacemaker Principles have been maintained and observed since that time.


The Peacemaker Principles


  1. Peace

I come from a peaceful place; I hold the peace.  I do not bring unresolved grief.

We all carry grief (“anything that is not peace is grief”). It might be about something that happened over breakfast this morning, or it might have to do with an event that happened years or centuries ago. This Principle says that when we enter into an interaction with someone else, we do not bring that unresolved grief to the meeting.

There is also a message under the words themselves: we need to recognize and engage with our need for healing of whatever grief we carry. One encouraging part of the Peace Principle is that we can enter an interaction with the conscious knowledge that we have set aside our grief and a commitment that it will not influence us in that meeting. It’s also a reminder that if grief does come up, usually as an overreaction to something that happens in the conversation, we can acknowledge it and just set it aside. Sometimes easier said than done; this is when it is valuable to have a friend or a facilitator who can invite us to remember the Peace Principle.

This Principle suggests a tone for any interaction that is quite different from what most of us are accustomed to. I believe it has tremendous potential in a world that has grown increasingly accustomed to expecting or even provoking conflict in communication. This is a better way.


  1. The Good Message

When I speak to another human being, I will choose my finest words.  I first honor the other person; second, I give them my message.

I love the term “finest words.” It is an imprecise but inspiring phrase whose meaning suggests honesty, completeness, clarity, brevity, respect, and other qualities of communication that will make a message easy to hear.

All of us have been in the situation where we felt tension even thinking about a meeting or conversation. The Good Message principle asks us to find something good to say to the other person at the beginning of the interaction, before we get into the substance of the discussion, before we give them our message. Next time you are anticipating a difficult discussion, think about what you might say that would honor the others there before you give your message. You may find that your attitude to them and to the meeting shifts to a better place, and the interaction becomes more harmonious.


  1. The Unity Principle

We offer our good messages to one another, back and forth, until we agree on what is to be done.

This Principle seems straightforward: we talk until come to a place of unity. But what if no agreement is to be found? At that point, it is recognized that all parties may take independent action, having done their best to come to a place of agreement but without success. The agreement is that there is no agreement.

In an ideal world, this would happen rarely or not at all. But we live in a world where some conflicts are very deep and seemingly unresolvable. This Principle requires that communication continue until it is clear that no agreement is possible at this time. The Good Message principle means that both or all parties have had the opportunity to understand the other party’s position. The parties separate without agreement, but (it is to be hoped) with respect.


What can go wrong?

What if you decide that you will apply the peacemaker principles, but others don’t? This can seem like an invitation to the other party to dominate the discussion with bad manners and force of voice or personality. Regardless of their behavior, you can be in the interaction and be safe. You can still abide by the Peace Principle and follow the principle of the Good Message. You are offering them the opportunity to do the same. The backup for when this doesn’t work is in the Unity Principle. If you offer your message three times (that’s the Haudenosaunee way; you will find your own path) and the other party does not respond in kind, you take whatever action is in your interest without any further attempt to achieve unity. You have done your best, with integrity, and you have respected the Peacemaker Principles as well as the situation allows.

Where the Principles work well

One final comment: one of the most successful applications of the Peace Principles, in my experience, is in small teams: small organizations, volunteer groups, and not-for-profits. These situations often involve small numbers of people who are motivated more by passion to achieve good things in the world than by a desire to create good relationships. Where there is conflict there is usually pain and dysfunction, and the people involved as well as those on the periphery may welcome ways to address the conflict positively and respectfully. Their small numbers and the close and ongoing interactions are fertile ground for planting and growing the Peacemaker Principles.

This takes commitment, time, and work; and it’s worth it.

Share With a Friend

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *