The smallest ingredient, if well prepared and mixed into the mass, is the one that has capacity to help everything else grow. What’s needed for sustainability is not a quick fix, but the dynamics of things that replicate that which is good for the collective whole.

John Paul Lederach

The following is excerpted from a conversation with globally-renowned peace builder John Paul Lederach, who recently joined us as a special guest in session two of our new live, online course, Grateful Hope: Passion for the Possible.

Complete transcript available below

Are you interested in learning more about how grateful hope can help you open to what is possible, find your purpose, and embrace uncertainty without toxic positivity? Grateful Hope will be available on-demand beginning June 5, 2024.

Learn more and register during our presale here.

Video Transcript

Joe Primo: The other metaphor that you have that you speak about so beautifully that’s also transformative for paradigm shifts, of course, is “cultivating yeast.” Tell us about cultivating yeast, and maybe you could put a little of a through line in there too, and how that might expand our perspective on reframing hope in really challenging situations.

John Paul Lederach: Well, I was trained as a sociologist and I always was given the notion of critical mass much more from the perspective that it had to do with the turning points where when enough people believe something, there was kind of this shift. And so your inclination is toward quantity when you hear the phrase critical mass. So, are there enough people? Is this movement in the street big enough? Will the campuses in our country right now suddenly have a groundswell of things that are going to shift everything because you know, there’s going to be like this notion of critical mass.

So I shifted my metaphor. And I said, I think what we’re actually working with here is the theory of critical yeast. And by virtue of shifting from mass to yeast, I was placing the emphasis on, in a bread-baking metaphor, if you will, that the smallest ingredient, if well prepared and mixed into the mass, that smallest ingredient of yeast is the one that has capacity to help everything else grow.

And that what’s needed for sustainability is not a quick fix quite often, but the dynamics of things that replicate that which is good for the collective whole, that which creates a capacity for something good to grow across the whole. And it permitted us to look more carefully at how change happens. You know, quite often resolution is focused so much on finding what the solution is for a particular moment that we lose sight that the bigger picture that we’re looking with is how do you sustain the transformative dynamics that permit the particular moment, opportunities, and possibilities that come from acute conflict to open up towards something that actually touches what it is that’s producing this in a way that moves it to a new level of understanding and into better and more significant relationships. And I think at the core of much of what I’ve done is that I think the real key is not the genius of any given solution. It’s the genius that we’re working on a shift in the quality of our relationships.

Because ultimately I think our security, our safety, our peace is not connected to the quantity of our weapons. It’s connected to the quality of our relationships. That’s where it really sits. So how do we get to a place where we’re continuously focusing on the elements of our relational dynamics and the structures that we are a part of, that institutionalize those, that would permit us to move in a direction that is creating both healing and well-being and I think a sense of collective wholeness that is not about a particular and immediate solution quite often.

John Paul Lederach

John Paul Lederach

About the author

John Paul Lederach is Senior Fellow at the foundation Humanity United and Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame.  He works extensively as a practitioner in conciliation processes, active in Latin America, Africa, Southeast and Central Asia. He is the author of 24 books and manuals, including The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (Skyhorse Publishing), and The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (Oxford University Press).