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Living A Life In Full

Feb 1, 2019

In 2006, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Dr. Mari Fitzduff as we co-edited The Psychology of War, Conflict Resolution and Peace, a three-volume series that was published by Praeger Press. Our mutual publisher, Debbie Carvalko, acted as a matchmaker to pair us up, and I’m honored that she did. I knew of Dr. Fitzduff by reputation as a Professor and Director at Brandeis University, where she founded the Master of Arts Program in Conflict and Coexistence—which to date has graduates hailing from over 70 countries.  I also knew that she was an Irish-American educator, writer, and academic, and had helped to set up the first university courses in conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. In 1988, she wrote a training book called Community Conflict Skills, which was used particularly in the Northern Ireland conflict. Since its original publication, it has been translated into Indonesian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and a number of other languages to help countries dealing with ethnic strife.

What I didn’t know was her origin story. Here are some highlights:

She was a nun for 18 months, after which she started protesting in university. In 1968/69 the university was closed, and Mari was influenced by Vietnam, Marxism, and radical ecumenism. She met Gadhafi in Libya in 1973, and then met and married a man from Northern Ireland who she met on the revolutionary committee in the university. For their honeymoon they traveled around the world for two years on a budget of about a dollar a day each, visiting community projects around the world.

They spent a year in South America, traveling in what turned out to be a pirate’s boat from Panama to Columbia—illegally of course. They were briefly arrested in Argentina for spending time cleaning the sewers in a barrio with some liberation theology-priest-friends who were subsequently imprisoned for a number of years. That was followed by a year in Asia. They went to Petra and slept outside in a car with some friends working with refugees as there were no hotels. She was briefly kidnapped (for an afternoon!) in Afghanistan and they were held up by bandits while traveling from Sudan to Ethiopia and also shot at while sleeping in a tent at the Kenya border.

When they came home they set up a wood workshop in her husband Niall's rural homeland and lived self-sufficient life on $10 a week for a year. They had two kids and then got caught up in the war. Interestingly, Niall's family were settlers from Scotland 300 years ago and Mari’s family were Ulster lords who were driven out by his family. Their old fort was nearby where they lived, living in what was called The Killing Fields as there was the second highest murder rate in Northern Ireland and thus began her career—establishing the first mediation service in Northern Ireland , which is still used for sticky political issues to this day.

After that, she was the Director of UNU/INCORE, a joint initiative of the United Nations University and the University of Ulster, which conducts policy-relevant international research on conflict issues around the world.

More recently, in February 2017, she published her latest book, Why Irrational Politics Appeal - Understanding the Allure of Trump which examines the allure of Trump, how his success ties into the hopes and fears of many Americans, and calls into question the limitations of our democratic system.

Mari is an amazing person, with an amazing life story, doing amazing things. This is an episode not to be missed!

Mari has lived her life in full and in the service of so many others. The world is a much better place with thanks to her.