In one of the articles in this issue the word ‘Lessons’ appears explicitly in the title, but in the titles or contents of all the other articles the emphasis on learning lessons is implicitly present. After all, when anyone of us writes something for others to read, the urge to share a meaningful experience is usually somehow present. We may not always think in terms of a learning experience, but there may indeed be elements of information and/or suggestion. What we communicate may therefore contribute to the receivers’ equipment for living life meaningfully. More specifically, however, if we write for an academic journal, our motivation will usually be to pass on what we have learnt from our research: findings, discussions and recommendations.
Switching to the perspective of the readers – to whom a foreword is obviously addressed – it may be worthwhile to consider a few aspects of receiving and responding to ‘lessons’. Sometimes one may feel tempted to shelve a new lesson in an in-box for possible attention later, or to summarily brush it aside as irrelevant. There are those of us who may happen to harbour unpleasant memories of having had ‘lessons’ inculcated into us by teachers or parents. Some of us may even have developed a deliberate or a sub-conscious allergy against the process of being taught lessons. From the keenly observant and intellectually receptive readers of an academic journal, however, such an evasive orientation should not be expected.
What may indeed be expected from the readers of this journal is, firstly, a receptive but not uncritical mode of reading. The articles in this issue take us into the contexts of six countries, regional organisations and an international organisation. The ‘lessons’ are therefore to be assessed according to their appropriateness for the contexts concerned, but also in the light of their possible (aptly accommodated) applicability for other contexts – particularly the context of each reader.
We can appreciate the way in which the various authors provide us with insights into the interests, perspectives, motives, policies and actions of the parties concerned. Obviously, such understandings can only penetrate to some depth, and will leave further intuitive thinking and inquisitive questioning to us as readers. Nevertheless, we should be able to either agree with the conclusions and recommendations of the authors, or to modify them according to our own critical thinking, experience and expertise.
Having read an article, we secondly have to move into the mode of responding. Although the word, or metaphor, ‘lesson’ may remind us of our childhood responses to formal lessons, we should now be able to think more deeply and widely. In those days, our typical reaction was to memorise content and be prepared to give appropriate feedback in a test or examination. There were the cases, however, when we embraced bits of learning as worthwhile belongings for the rest of life. In our present era of outcomes-oriented education (and less of an obsession with mere content), more learners may have such an experience. It is something of this kind that may also happen when an academic article is read in which an innovative insight or a best-practice suggestion is shared. But then, of course, the acquired insight or skill has to be put into practice. We learn by doing, and inversely, by doing it becomes evident to ourselves and to others that we have indeed gained the learning concerned. Especially when the doing takes place spontaneously and creatively, it shows that the learning has been internalised.
With regard to the articles included in this issue, there are of course country-specific and profession-specific learning possibilities. Very few, if any, of our readers may be directly involved in international, regional or national peacemaking or peacekeeping operations, or in making or implementing peace agreements, or in promoting environmental security, socio-economic development or labour arbitration. Still, in some way or other, we may be able to pass on or disseminate a significant message, which might reach and influence a key figure and help to transform a conflict situation. Or we may accept and cherish a new idea or skill as another bit of life-long learning and put it to use later on.
What we should anyway remember, is that situations and people keep changing – as clearly shown in most of these articles. Something that was previously impossible may become a beckoning opportunity. Factors that were weak on their own may become combined and exert unexpected leverage. Each situation is unique, but experience from one unique situation may lead to creative wisdom in another.
We wish our readers fruitful reading and far-reaching responses. The example of sixteen unsuccessful peace agreements before a successful one may on the one hand encourage us to think out of the box, and on the other hand inspire us to persevere without abandoning hope.