241st Meeting – December 2003
Psychologist at the Burma
A talk by Richard
Hans Bänziger, Mark Barrett, Quenton
Buckler, John Cadet, Jim Campion, Sunited Chaiyakul, Bernard D. Davis,
Gabaude, Sachie Kageshima Herzog, Sirirut Katanchaleekul, Ray Kaulig,
Kenyon, Annette Kunigagon, Mike Long, Seng Maw, Maggie McKerron, Sayaka
Richard Nelson-Jones, Nathalie Otis, Somkoan Piboonrat, G. Lamar
Chongdut Robert, Damoong Sarotho, Peter Schupp, Jason Taylor, Patrice
Leslie Warren, Edward Wilgress. An audience of 28.
Gorsuch’s summary of his talk:
last three falls, I have been in Thailand
and Yangon and talked with people
the problems along the Thai-Burma border. While my knowledge is
limited, I have made some observations that arise from my background
that you may find of interest. These are about ways of thinking, types
interaction that I have not found that are instrumental for peace, and
of conflict resolution that my explorations suggest could be useful. I
very interested in checking how consistent these are with what the
you for inviting me to share with this Northern
interest group. I must begin by noting my limitations, which are
First, I speak neither Thai nor Burmese, and so have had to rely on
and what bilinguals could tell me. Second, I have had little time in
setting; particularly compared to the time many of you have had here.
only excuse for speaking is that I have a different base from which to
observations that you may find of interest. My major professional role
of a social psychologist. Note that this is NOT a clinical
psychologist, who is
concerned with mental illness. Instead a social psychologist is
normal people in relationship to each other. I have taught in graduate
of psychology and have published research in a wide range of areas.
major social psychological expertise that has been relevant to my Thai
Burma experiences could have been in several areas but was in my
how people think (with a couple of cross-cultural projects) and my
terms of conflict resolution. The former was research with modes of
USA, Black Caribs in
Iranians in villages and towns. Given my strong research background,
resolution has been an unusual area for me in that I have published
the area. My experience has come from teaching and from involvement in
mediating conflicts in Californian congregations. I was invited into
activity by other faculty, Newton Malony and David Ausberger, when they
contacted by congregations to help them with a major problem. I quickly
that my social psychological perspective contributed to that work in
I felt were very useful. I have continued to occasionally mediate a
So with that background, how did I
in Thailand and Burma?
Through our Disciple of
Christ missionaries, namely the Eubank family. We have known Joan and
Eubank since they first came to Thailand
in 1960. They were the people who led to my first experience in Thailand when I spent part of a
sabbatical at Payap
while my wife, Sylvia, helped the Eubanks work with their Ligay
also got to know David Eubank, first casually as the son of Joan and
then as an adult when he came to study at the school at which I teach,
Theological Seminary. He stayed in our house first in a one-room
then, after he married Karen, in a two room apartment. He once got me
a mountain, a hobby of his, and we have also spent some time together
In the mid-1990’s, after his
David became our
Disciple missionary here in Thailand.
Since he is a proficient– even world-class -- outdoorsman, he
missionary work towards the areas with no roads, and in particular with
ethnic groups along the Thai-Burma border. Of course, that border has
traditionally been open with everyone freely moving back and forth.
To make a long story short, David's
into the medical missionary model with some unique twists. The
from his love of the peoples, his commitment to serving God, the needs
peoples, and his past experiences with the outdoors. So he began taking
peoples not only Bibles but also simple medicines and the like on his
into the hills. Since the local people invited him into their lands
regard for the formal border, he ministered to people without regard to
boundaries. But the plight of the peoples on the Burmese side of the
particularly crucial. The result is the Christians Concerned For Burma
sponsors the World Day of Prayer for Burma and the Free Burma
for which David has trained some 15 indigenous teams for humanitarian
The teams are composed of a medic, nurse, pastor, and photographer /
rights violations documenter. They operate on treks which can be as
several months, going where no medical aid of any kind is available.
So when I had a year's sabbatical due
me at Fuller
ago, my wife and I decided to split it in thirds and take it for each
falls and spend it here in Thailand.
That choice was easy because of our friends here, including the Eubanks
also the Roberts whom we had met on our first trip. As is required on a
sabbatical, I bring a full workload with me on which I report when I
Since I was here, David wondered how he
utilize me. I
was quick to point out what he already knew - I am not a trekker and
just did not want to get in the way, but we would see what we would
that first fall, I was given the usual outsider introduction to the
groups’ problems in Burma.
We visited refugee camps and talked to leaders from the groups.
That fall David was conducting a
young people sent by their ethnic groups for training in
as writing news releases. That 4-day meeting was led by a professor
of Intercultural Studies.
David asked me to spend some time doing some training on what I felt
important. I told David that I had not grown up in a village and knew
little about the Burmese situation to feel that I had sometime to say.
did go up as an observer. So for the first 3 days I listened and
the evenings I spent an hour with each of the 4 teams which had been
the workshop. This was a stretching experience for me because
everything had to
be translated into Burmese, and then, for some, into their own
language. In the
group interviews I asked questions about how their peoples dealt with
and then told each group a moral dilemma to consider. David asked me to
hour the last evening, and I agreed but warned I might not go the full
And I didn't, I just went for 40 minutes. David was bunking with the
men, and he
reported that my talk was all they were talking about that night.
the communications training itself, it was the hit of the week. So we
that I could communicate with the young leaders of the ethnic groups.
Sylvia and I then went to Yangon.
We went to encourage the people there and to tell them of the World Day
Prayer. While there I met people at the seminaries and others working
or living there. This provided me additional information about the
what has been happening.
The second fall that we came here I was
meeting of ethnic leaders who came from 11 different ethnic groups. I
only outsider to have done so, but they accepted the idea because David
for me and perhaps because they had heard of my speaking the previous
topic was “From Destructive Conflict to Dynamic Peace: the Three
Approach”. We also went to Yangon again for a week, and spent time with
talking about the border situation.
This year my sabbatical plan is to
draft a book on
of my talk the previous fall. I scheduled it for Thailand
and the ethnic groups so
as to better understand the cross-cultural aspects of my approach to
I have again spent time at the border, visited Yangon,
and conducted a workshop on the topic of my last year's lectures, and
participated in another conflict training workshop.
With that as background, let me
summarize some of
observations. I would deeply appreciate your views on these as you are
who have spent much more time here than I.
first observation was a relative lack of clinical psychological needs
refugees. At Fuller we have, in cooperation with World Vision, a
training group on post-traumatic stress. But I could find only some
for that issue the first year I was here. Only in the second year did I
the major reason for that. When the SPDC troops move into an area, they
torture people. They just kill them all. There can be little
stress if people do not live through the stress.
I did observe that the young leaders
thought like other cross-cultural research had suggested. That thinking
oriented to a limited time frame, of perhaps a year. Longer time
periods can be
talked about, but such conversations have little personal meaning. Only
the major leaders have had enough experience outside of the classical
to be able to develop and carryout long term plans. The limited range
is illustrated by the planning of those living in a village being only
current year. For example, given the weather when the rice is planned,
are made for irrigation and harvest later that year. But a plan for the
following year is not very relevant since villagers cannot predict the
for next year. This short term orientation does work very well for the
but makes it difficult to plan and coordinate long term activities with
other. (My talk the first fall was designed to help them grow in this
Another observation is based in J. P.
Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC:
US Institute of Peace Press). His conclusion is that sustainable peace
in middle level leadership. This leadership includes business,
government, and educational leaders. The middle level is important
are in conversations with both the grass roots and the upper level of
leadership. While the latter make the peace agreements, those
work with support from the middle level leadership. So it is important
middle level leadership spend time together around critical issues.
very consistent with what a social psychologist is attuned to: patterns
My observation was that this is not happening among the ethnic groups,
happening between the ethnic groups and government people, and not
between the peoples of Burma
and the SPDC. In fact, I have been told, there is little communications
kind between the middle level government people and the SPDC.
Another observation is that the peoples
can use more training on reducing conflict and building peace. My three
approach seems to help fill that need. I tie it in with Lederach's
noting that Lederach says the middle level people need to be meeting,
little to say about the meeting itself. My three pillars approach is a
psychological approach which sets out how the meetings should happen to
destructive conflict and promote dynamic peace. When I participated in
classical conflict workshop here in SE Asia (set up before I knew about it and so not
including my approach), the participants were quite happy with it
except for one
point: they received almost nothing about what to do in a conflict. My
project starts where that workshop left off: with how to help people
interrelate in ways that build peace while meeting each's needs. And
workshop I did with middle level ethnic group leaders (average age =30)
spontaneously rated as worthwhile and valuable by almost every one of
participants, with the major suggestion being to make it longer. So I
writing my book, will be involving several from the peoples of Burma
me on it, and am making tentative plans to have it translated into
On the USA
front, I have come to the conclusion that people there, including our
government, have a major misunderstanding of the situation. They see it
a democracy vs. totalitarian question. They fail to see that the ethnic
minorities see themselves discriminated against by all Burmans.
set of Burmans with another will not, they suspect, stop the war along
border nor stop the persecution within Burma.
After Richard’s talk there followed a
question and answer session during which members of the audience asked
to clarify, and expand upon, aspects of his endeavors on the Thai-Burma
Richard L. Gorsuch, PhD
Professor of Psychology
Fuller Theological Seminary