A Strategy of Peace

“Do you remember yesterday morning when I drew a pyramid and divided it into two levels?” Yusuf asked. “I called one level ‘dealing with things that are going wrong,’ and the deeper level ‘helping things go right.’ Remember?”

Everyone nodded.

“Then you’ll remember how we agreed that we normally spend most of our time dealing with things that are going wrong, even though that isn’t ideal.”

Again, the group nodded.

“I’d like to give you more detail around that pyramid,” he said. “It forms a structure that governs everything we do here at Camp Moriah with the children, with the staff, and with you. It shows not only how to find peace, but how to make it. It shows how to replace conflict with cooperation.”

At that, Yusuf turned and drew a pyramid similar to the one he had drawn the day before. As before, he divided it between dealing with things that are going wrong and helping things go right. But then he divided it still further into six levels and wrote “Correct” in the top level.


Turning back to the group, he said, “When we’re trying to effect change in others, whether in a child, in a team at work, or in a region of the world, we are trying to correct them, are we not? We are believing that circumstances would be better if another changed. Right?”

“Yes,” they all answered.

“But that’s wrong, isn’t it?” Ria asked. “Thinking that others need to change is already a problem. Right?”

Yusuf smiled. “Do you think it’s a problem that you want your boy to change?” Yusuf asked Ria.

She frowned. “No, not really,” she said.

“If he doesn’t,” Miguel grunted, “his life’ll be a mess.”

Yusuf nodded. “So it isn’t as simple as saying that wanting others to change is a problem, is it?” he asked.

“I guess not,” Ria answered, suddenly unsure of her understanding.

“What would be a problem,” Yusuf continued, “is to insist that others need to change while being unwilling to consider how we ourselves might need to change too. That would be a problem.”

“Right,” Pettis agreed, “because you wouldn’t be able to invite others to change if you were in that kind of box yourself. You’d only invite them to war with you.”

“Yes,” Yusuf agreed. “And for one additional reason as well: To the extent I’m in the box toward others, my beliefs about their need to change might actually be mistaken. Maybe my spouse isn’t as unreasonable as I’ve been thinking, for example. Or maybe I’ve been overreacting toward my child. Or maybe the other team at work actually has some things right. I won’t be able to tell the difference between what changes would be helpful and what changes would simply be helpful to my box until I get out of the box.

“As we’ve discovered together over the last two days,” Yusuf continued, “the most important part of helping things go right is getting out of the box ourselves.” At that, Yusuf turned back to the board and wrote, “Get out of the box/Obtain a heart at peace” in the lowest level of the pyramid.


“For our purposes here,” he continued, “this is also the biggest thing that has been going wrong in each of our families. Our hearts have been too often at war toward our children and toward each other. So everything we’ve done together has been with the purpose of trying to correct that. And everything we’ve done to invite that change is detailed by these middle levels of the Influence Pyramid.”

“But they’re blank,” Lou objected, only half in jest.

“Let’s fill them in by considering an example, Lou,” Yusuf smiled. “Let’s say, for example, that you needed to change something about yourself.”

“Purely hypothetical,” Lou cracked. “I understand.”

“Yes,” Yusuf smiled again. “Let’s suppose when you came in and sat down yesterday morning that Avi had said to you, ‘Lou, you need to get out of the box!’ Do you think that would have helped much?”

“Well I think he did just about say that to me,” Lou laughed. Avi busted into a big smile at that as well. “But no, alone that wouldn’t have done much good.”

“What if when you refused, he punished you? Maybe he could have sent you to another room until you wised up, for example. Or maybe he could have withheld water or refreshment privileges from you. Do you think that would have helped you get out of the box?”

“Uh, no,” Lou said matter-of-factly.

“So you can see that correction alone rarely gets others to change,” Yusuf said. “It will help if I’m out of the box myself when I’m correcting, but even then it usually isn’t enough. So what else might help? The pyramid suggests four categories of action that when combined with a heart at peace create a strong invitation to change and peace.

“The first of these is what we have been doing during much of the last two days: we have been teaching.”

At this, Yusuf added “Teach & Communicate” to the level below “Correct” on the pyramid.


“It is no help to tell you to get out of the box,” Yusuf continued, “if you don’t even know what the box is. Likewise, any correction at work will be for naught if the people I am trying to correct lack the information they need to perform their jobs. It is the same in the realm of world events. If a country doesn’t clearly and persuasively communicate the reasons for actions it is taking in the world community, it invites resistance to those efforts. Whatever the context, if I am failing in my teaching, my correction will likely fail as well.

“Going deeper,” Yusuf continued, “it is no good trying to teach if I myself am not listening and learning. We’ve had some ideas to teach you while we are together, of course, but it wouldn’t have helped much if we ignored your issues and questions and simply taught according to our plan.”

At this, Yusuf added “Listen & Learn” to the next level of the pyramid.


Yusuf turned to face the group again. “We’ve been trying to listen to you all the way along,” he said, “and to speak to the issues you have been concerned about. Yesterday, I think I must not have been doing that very well, as you’ll remember that Lou thought I was ducking his questions.”

“Actually, I think it was more a case of him ducking your answers,” Elizabeth joked.

“Touché, Elizabeth,” Lou laughed. “Touché.”

Yusuf smiled as well. “This attempt to learn from you,” he continued, “actually goes back to well before you came here yesterday. Remember how we had you write to us about your children?”

Most in the room nodded.

“That was as much to learn about you as to learn about them. Avi and I have been thinking about you for months and have tried to organize our teaching in light of what we’ve learned.”

“On the subject of learning,” Avi jumped in, “another important function of the learning level of the pyramid is that it keeps reminding us that we might be mistaken in our views and opinions. Maybe an objective I’ve been insisting upon at work is unwise, for example. Or maybe a strategy I’ve been taking with my child is hurtful. Or maybe the lesson structure we had planned isn’t working, and so on. The learning level of the pyramid keeps inviting us toward humility. It reminds us that the person or group we wish would change may not be the only one who needs to change! It continually invites us to hone our views and opinions.”

“All of which applies as well to world events,” Yusuf agreed. “How effective will a country’s communications be if its leaders are not actively trying to learn about and from the people they are trying to communicate with? If we want change in the Middle East, for example, but remain ignorant about the people there and their thoughts and opinions, how effective will our teaching be? And if we are sure about others’ need to change but are unwilling to let what we learn from them inform changes in us as well, how much change are we likely to invite? If we are poor learners, our teaching will be ineffective. Failure at one level of the pyramid always undermines success at each of the levels above it.

“Which leaves us,” he continued, pointing to the diagram, “with two more levels to consider. What do you suppose might undercut my willingness or ability to learn from others and therefore the effectiveness of my teaching?”

No one responded immediately.

“How about this?” he asked, writing “Build the relationship” in the next level of the pyramid.


“What if my relationship with the people who work for me, for example, is poor?” he continued. “What impact do you think that might have on my ability to learn from them and the effectiveness of my teaching?”

Lou’s mind went immediately to John Rencher. It was clear to Lou that his poor personal relationship with Rencher made all of Lou’s work with the union more difficult.

“Or how about your relationship with the child you brought to us?” Yusuf continued. “Would you say it is strong and healthy?”

Shoulders slumped around the room.

“If not, I would wager that there is much you don’t know about your child, much that he has not shared with you. Your learning has been stunted as a result, and your efforts to teach and correct have therefore been undercut as well. Perhaps what you need to do is figure out how to build your relationship with your child. Put his problems aside for a moment. What does he like to do? Could you spend time doing it with him? What actions could you take to help build the relationship?”

Lou sat in memory. He and Cory had not had a heart-to-heart for years. They used to golf together, too long ago. He didn’t know what Cory wanted in life anymore, what he hoped for, or who he dreamed to be. Lou wasn’t even sure how Cory liked to spend his time. He just knew that no son of his was going to have a drug problem! Lou’s correction and teaching of Cory ever since had had little effect. And now he knew at least two reasons why: he had been too sure of himself to bother learning from and about Cory, and he had completely abandoned efforts to build their relationship. Everything between them the last couple of years had revolved around Cory’s drug problem. It was the subtext beneath every word between them—spoken and unspoken.

Lou shook his head. “How pathetic,” he said.

“What?” Yusuf asked. “What’s pathetic?”

“How I’ve been,” Lou answered. “It’s so obvious I should have been spending time trying to build my relationship with Cory, but that thought hasn’t even crossed my mind lately. It’s like the box has blinded me or something.”

“That’s not far off,” Yusuf said. “Think about it: if I’m sure I’m right, there is little hope of seeing where I am failing. So I keep trying the same old things—the same lectures, for example, and the same punishments. And I keep getting the same outcomes: others with problems. On the one hand, I hate it, but on the other hand, I get my justification, which is what I most want when I’m in the box. My need for justification blinds me to all kinds of possibilities. Even to the obvious ones.”

Lou shook his head in disgust.

“What’s in the last space?” Pettis asked. “Between ‘Build the relationship’ and ‘Get out of the box’?”

“You are,” Yusuf answered. “After a fashion anyway. When we at Camp Moriah are thinking about your children, you occupy the next space. That’s because this level of the pyramid is about building relationships with others who have influence with the person or group we are trying to help. You have the biggest influence in your children’s lives, so if we want to be a positive influence with your children we better have strong relationships with you. The pyramid reminds parents of the same thing—that they must build relationships with those who have influence with their children, beginning with their spouse. Or former spouse, for that matter.”

“How about with their friends?” Ria asked. “Are you saying we need to build relationships with them?”

“I hope that’s not what you’re saying,” Pettis spoke up. “I don’t want my daughter to have some of her relationships. That’s been part of the problem. I want her to pull away from them.”

“Has your detached denouncement of those friends invited your daughter to pull away?” Yusuf asked.

Pettis hesitated. “Not really, no.”

“Then you might think about applying the pyramid to your situation,” Yusuf said. “Let’s take a look at the overall structure.”


Looking at Pettis, Yusuf continued. “I take it you’ve been trying to correct your daughter’s choice of friends—maybe by talking her friends down, for example, or by limiting her ability to be with them.”

Pettis nodded slightly.

“My guess is that although you’ve tried to talk with her about this, the communication hasn’t gone very well.”

“That’s mostly true, yes,” Pettis admitted.

“If so, the pyramid invites us to think deeper,” Yusuf responded. “The next level deeper invites you to consider how well you have been listening to and learning from your daughter. Do you know what she likes in those friends, for example? Do you know what her interests are and why she has therefore chosen the friends she has? Do you know what struggles she is having? Do you know, for example, how your divorce has affected her?”

This revelation surprised Lou. He’d hardly even noted that Pettis was alone. He looked at the learning level of the pyramid. Maybe I don’t care enough about others to be curious about them , he wondered. The thought weighed on him.

“Or going deeper still,” Yusuf continued, “how strong is your relationship with your daughter? The healthier the relationship, the more likely she would be to consider your opinions about her friends. Have you been spending ample time with her to build the relationship?

“And then, finally, how about your relationships with others who have influence with her? With her mother, for example, and with her friends.”

Lou looked at Pettis, who seemed to be struggling.

“You know,” Yusuf continued, “I learned something interesting with one of my own boys. He had a friend I didn’t like either. Not one bit. I tried all the standard father strategies. I talked badly about the boy, kept my son from seeing him, and so on.”

Pettis looked up from his troubles at Yusuf.

“That’s why I could guess what you had tried as well,” Yusuf smiled. “When I was complaining about it to Avi one day, he told me that I should begin practicing what I teach! With that nudge, I began to apply the pyramid to the situation. In my case, my son didn’t begin losing interest in his friend until I started inviting the friend over to our house. And by then, I’d actually started to like the kid. I was almost sorry to see him go. Until I got out of the box toward my son, my efforts to separate him from his friends only made him want them all the more.”

Yusuf looked at Pettis, who appeared deep in thought. “The old saying ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend,’” Yusuf began, “is the arithmetic of the box. Subtract the box from that equation and you and your daughter may discover new answers.

“In fact,” he continued, looking around at the rest, “we’ll all discover new answers. If we apply it, the Influence Pyramid will guide us in all our interactions—in our homes, in our workplaces, and in the world. It will suggest actions to take while keeping our minds and hearts clear. It will help us improve our influence for good in every context, even the most difficult ones.

“That is,” he continued, “if we remember to apply the pyramid’s important lessons.”