Transcription of Senator George Mitchell for the show Making Peace, #113

Lisa:                This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to the Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast, show #113 airing for the first time on Sunday November 10, 2013. Today’s show is called Making Peace. The Dalai Lama once said the only true guardian of peace lies within a sense of concern and responsibility for your own future and optimistic concern for the wellbeing of others. Guests on today’s show include individuals who fulfill these criteria and are true guardians of peace. Maine’s former senator George Mitchell, Meg Baxter, President and CEO of Mitchell Institute, and Ethan Pierce, Mitchell Institute scholar. We hope you enjoy our conversations with them and are inspired to reflect upon the ways in which you may be a guardian of peace in your own life. Thank you for joining us.

It’s not often that I get to sit across the microphone from someone who has had such an interesting part in the making of history over the last several decades. Today is one of those days. I feel really fortunate to be in the studio with Senator George Mitchell, who is like me, a Bowdoin College graduate and also like me in Mainer, born and raised initially in Waterville. I’m really, I don’t know, very honored that you took time out of your extremely busy schedule and came in here to talk to us today.

George:          Well thank you. It’s a pleasure for me. I appreciate you having me on your show.

Lisa:                I feel like I have some of a kindredness to you and your family because I’m the oldest of 10 children. I know that you come from a relatively large full time family, also catholic family in Waterville. You have, let’s see, four siblings, is that right? You have four siblings, one has passed away?

George:          I’ve three older brothers, one of whom passed away and a younger sister, five in all.

Lisa:                I’m wondering how that worked into this life that you’ve made for yourself of sort of being in the middle of conflict.

George:          It was a very important and formative part of my life. I tell the story often humorously, but with serious intent that I owe everything to my brothers because growing up in Waterville, my three older brothers were very prominent athletes, very good athletes. My brother, Johnny, led Waterville High School to the New England High School basketball championships in 1944. One that turned him in when all six New England states were participating. My two other brothers are Paul, the oldest and Robbie after Johnny, who are also very prominent athletes, and I came along and I was not as good as my brothers. In fact, I was not as good as anybody else’s brother. I became known around town as the Johnny Mitchell’s kid brother, the one who is isn’t any good.

As you might expect, I developed a massive inferiority complex and highly competitive attitude toward my brothers, which continues to this day. We have a great family, loving relationship, but it’s competitive. I’m driving to Waterville later and going to see my brothers and talk with them about our past exploits. Theirs mostly in sports and they put with me for being such a lousy athlete.

From that competition, developed a determination. From the inferiority complex, developed a desire to succeed and move forward. I was very lucky. I don’t know about your family background, but my mother was an immigrant to the United States from Lebanon. She came here when she was 18 years old. My father was the orphaned son of Irish immigrants. His parents had been born in Ireland, came here, but he never knew his parents. He was raised in an orphanage in Boston. After several years in the orphanage, he was adopted by an elderly couple from Maine who ended up settling in Waterville, and they found themselves next door to my mother, whose sister had preceded her as an immigrant and who had also settled in Waterville. My mother couldn’t read or write. She worked nights in textile mills in Central Maine for all of her adult life, 11 o’clock at night to 7 o’clock in the morning. My father left school after the third or fourth grade, we’re not quite sure, and worked a lifetime of hard labor and he ended up as a janitor at Colby College.

From my parents, I learned that hard work is necessary and pays off. From my earliest days, I worked at a variety of jobs. I worked my way through Bowdoin. My parents had no money to afford my going to Bowdoin, but Bowdoin helped me out by arranging for me to have several jobs. I worked pretty much full time while I was at Bowdoin, a variety of jobs and then after service in the army, overseas, I returned and went to Law school in Washington at Georgetown University, and they had a night school, so I worked full time during the day.

Out of that, as you know, from even larger family out of that competition comes a drive and the desire to excel and to do the best you can at whatever you do. I’ve to say you’ve said very kind things about me, but you’ve been remarkably successful in your life coming from a large family camped here in Southern Maine, and congratulations to you for all of that. It’s, you mentioned you’re honored to have me on, well, I wanted to be on your show.

Lisa:                Oh well, we have this mutual admiration beside it going on. That’s why we’re talking. The story that you gave about Robbie during the book that you wrote Making Peace, which was regarding the Northern Island Peace Accord. It really, it was kind of at the same time touching but also very telling. You mentioned that of course, his wife Janet had called by you were in sort of the thick of things and then it looked like things were going poorly. His health was bad. You remembered a time that he had gotten the concession to work as a janitor or cleaning in a couple of different locations, and what he would do was sit and talk on the phone for an hour or two hours and you would be the one cleaning the classrooms or the office space. He said to you, “Well I’m management. This is why I’m making more money and this is why you’re doing what you’re doing.” You said, “Well someday I want to be management though.”

George:          My brother Robbie was a great guy, a real entrepreneur. He died in his 60s from leukemia and we all miss him very, very much. I still see his family quite often. I yesterday had lunch with one of his daughters and her husband, but I learned a lot from him. Very early in life, he became an entrepreneur, almost incredibly when you think about it. He had a variety of businesses while in high school. One of them was the jobs you talked about. He got what he called the concessions.

There’s a contract to do the janitorial work at first the Waterville Boys Club and then a state agency office which was next door to the boys club in Waterville. He said to me if you’ll help out, I‘ll split the proceeds with you. I said “That’s great.” I already had a number of jobs and this would mean a lot. I did all of the cleaning, everything, the one thing you didn’t mention was the toughest part cleaning all of the latrines in the boys club. That’s when I knew I wanted to get an education and to not to have to spend the rest of my life cleaning the bathrooms in the boys club. Then I would get down next door to clean the state agency office.

Meantime, Robbie the entrepreneur, would sit at the Director’s desk at the boys club, call his girlfriend who later became his wife and talk on the phone for couple of hours. The first week he gave me $2 and 50 cents each for the two cleaning jobs I’d do and I thought that was terrific. Months later, I found out inadvertently, completely inadvertently that he was being paid $15 a week for each so he was getting 30, giving me 5 and keeping 25, and I did all the work. When I confronted him with it, he said which you said quoted, he said “Look, I’m management, you’re labor. I got the concession. Without me you wouldn’t have a job, so be thankful for what you got.”

He did a number of other things. For example, while he was still in high school, he bought a cotton candy machine and in the summers, one of the jobs I had, he hired me through a friend of mine. He would take cotton candy machine on a pickup truck. He’d rent a pickup truck, have someone drive it with cotton candy machine and the two of us boys to a fair. We would go to all the … in Maine, in the summer there is a fair almost all every week, and in the area of Central Maine, we went to Winthrop Fair, to the Skowhegan Fair, to the fairs all around.

He would find and rent a space somewhere on the fair grounds and this friend of mine, his name was Ronnie Stevens and I would be there all day selling cotton candy. It’s a very profitable business. He paid us $2 a day. One time after particularly a long hard day which we took him a lot of cash, when we were picked up, my friend Ronnie said to Robbie, he said, “Robbie we’re doing all the work, look at all this money we’re giving you. Don’t you think you should pay us more than $2 a day?” Robbie said, “Well, you know now that you got me thinking about it. He said I’ve got to pay for the pickup truck. I’ve got a mortgage on the cotton candy machine.” We didn’t know what a mortgage was. It sounded impressive. He said, “Well I’ve to pay for that.” He said “I’ve to pay a lot of taxes.” He said, “I don’t think I can afford to give you guys $2 a day, how about $1 a day?” Well I pulled Ronnie back. I said, “No, no, no Robbie, we’ll take 2, we’ll take 2.”

He started another job. He opened a golf driving range just outside Waterville. All of this while in high school. He promoted sports events. He promoted entertainment events. He brought to Waterville then one of the most famous circus, Clown Acts in the country a guy named Henry Kelly long since passed on. He was a great guy. A real entrepreneur, someone I learned a lot from and someone I truly loved. We shared a bedroom together for most of our growing up with seven people in a pretty small house in Waterville. I spent many an hour listening to Robbie at night. He would lull to me sleep not with lullabies but with stories.

Lisa:                You’re on the Dr. Lisa radio hour and podcast. We’ve long recognized the link between health and wealth. Here to speak more on the topic is Tom Shepard of Shepard Financial.

Tom:               Making peace with your finances is easier said than done. We spend a lifetime being programmed by our beliefs and behaviors interacting with our inherited nature. Making peace with all of that is one of the biggest steps forward you can take. It’s a step that can certainly remove a lot of anxiety from your life.

Consider this scenario that a lot of us have gone through or that you maybe going through right now. You’ve money to support yourself and your family, but it’s not always there at the right time or you don’t believe that you can access it. That happened to me recently and also in a big way in 2008. Like you, I’ve experienced these financial highs and lows. It feels as though you’re on some kind of a strange roller coaster and then you’re constantly wrestling with what you want versus what you need. If you got bills and really want to pay them off, you start to living in the past so you can move forward.

Finding peace in the middle of our culture can make it difficult to make good financial decisions especially if you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. The first step is to stop and breathe. Look around. Walk around. Talk to people. Trade and commerce are going to happen. Money is what makes it easier.

Like Shepard Financial on Facebook and we’ll help you evolve with your money peacefully.

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Lisa:                I’m going to read something from your book, Senator Mitchell. It really is, I think, good background for people who don’t know that much about Northern Ireland and I must admit I have Irish in my background, but I don’t know as much about Northern Ireland as I probably should.

Northern Ireland is an advanced modern society. Its people are productive, literate, and articulate, but for all its modernity and literacy, Northern Ireland has been divided by a deep and increased hatred into two hostile communities by centuries of conflict. They’ve often inflicted physical and psychological hurt on members of the other community, and they have been quick to take offense at real or perceived lies. They have a highly developed sense of grievance. As one of the participants in the talk later said to me, “To understand our Senator, you must realize that we in Northern Ireland will drive 100 miles out of our way to receive an insult.” Each is a minority. Catholics in Northern Ireland, Protestants on the island of Ireland, each sees itself as the victim community constantly under siege, the recipient of a long litany of violent blows from the other.

This seems to be a scene like you’ve encountered in lots of different places, also when you were the envoy to the Middle East. This deep-seated pain that just goes back generations and generations, and is this listening that you’ve described that enables you to sort of at least hear the pain from the people so they know that you have an idea of where they’re coming from?

George:          Yes a root cause of human conflict in different parts of the world and different areas of history has a profound sense of victimization on the part of people. They believe they have been victimized by the other side. We humans are so capable of rationalization that once your persuade yourself that you are a victim, you are then able to take actions that you otherwise might not take. It justifies things that you wouldn’t otherwise do, this sense of victimization. That is a very important key to unlocking any conflict to understanding the origins, sources, and continuing reasons for that sense of victimization.

Here’s a good example of it. When President Clinton made his first trip to Northern Ireland, I arranged the visit for him. On the first night after a long day of travel, late at night, we met with the leaders of the two opposing factions, Jerry Adams representing the Nationalist or Catholic side and Dr. Ian Paisely representing the Protestant Union side. The President was tired. I was tired. We said, “Hello” and the first one was Paisely. He launched in with a 30-minute statement. Literally, 30 minutes he spoke uninterrupted and it was entirely a history of North Ireland as seen through the eyes of a Protestant, and it was 100% a recitation of the bad things that Catholics had done to Protestants. There was not a glimmer of recognition that there might have been something going the other way.

Then when he left, Jerry Adams came in and delivered the mirror image of that from the Catholic side, an uninterrupted 30-minute statement of the grievances, the terrible things that had happened to Catholics at the hands of Protestants, and again, no recognition whatsoever. No acknowledgment that it might have been two ways. It’s a clear indication, evidence where none is needed that victimization is a driving force in conflict and you have to understand it, you have to address it, and you have to figure out where to deal with it if you have any hope of resolving these conflicts.

The reality again in human affairs is, while it’s not always 50-50, it’s very rare that it’s all one way. That is, most times people have there are some bases for grievance, but you’ve got to open them up to is the reality that the other side has grievances too. You have to find a way ultimately, and this is the most difficult task to have not just individuals but the society as a whole, put the past behind and look to the future. The truth is you can’t resolve or satisfy every grievance. You can’t bring comfort to every person who suffered. What you must try to do is to learn from those tragic experiences and develop a way to avoid repetition of them among others in the future. It’s a very, very hard thing to do and many people can’t do it.

After we got the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the Government asked me to come back to participate in border approval. The agreement was subject to a referendum in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. It would take effect only if approved by majority of voters in a free open democratic election. Both ultimately did approve it.

In the course of the campaign, the Governments asked me to meet with the families and survivors of victims of the conflict. These were women whose husbands and sons had been murdered. People whose families had been killed by bombs, lot of assassination and gruesome killing had occurred, and they thought that the men, mostly men, few women who had perpetrated these acts were criminals, but the men and women who had perpetrated the acts thought of themselves as freedom fighters. They constantly compared themselves to George Washington’s army at Valley Forge. One man’s freedom fighter was another man’s murderer.

I met with the families and tried to explain to them that the peace agreement included provisions for the early release of some of the prisoners, not immediate, but they had a process by which they could get out before the full term of their sentences. Families found that hard to accept. They still do. I don’t think I ever persuaded anyone of them to support the agreement, but I think I was able to get them to understand why it was important to move forward for the society as a whole so that other women in the future would not be sitting where they were sitting, having watched their husbands or their sons or their daughters die.

You are absolutely correct to identify that as one of the key elements of conflict and one that must be addressed. First by understanding and that means sympathetic listening, genuinely hearing what they have to say. I sat for hours and listened to these families describe the incidents that led to the death of their loved ones. Being sympathetic to it, at the same time, trying to make the case that you simply cannot expect that a conflict will go on and somehow bring relief to everyone. What it will do, will be to bring more grief to others. That’s the way it ended.

Lisa:                It was interesting to notice that instead of setting deadlines that ended up being kind of, it seems that ended up being fairly effective. Either we are going to do this by the state or we are not going to do this by the state. It is from my understanding it worked in the Northern Ireland case. It didn’t work as well with the Middle East.

George:          That’s right. It’s a risk. There’s no doubt about it. In Northern Ireland, it was an act of desperation. The process was failing. We had been at it for nearly two years. The murder of a Protestant paramilitary leader in prison by a group of Catholic prisoners two days after Christmas in 1997 had touched off a retaliatory series of assassinations. Bombings and conflict were accelerating. The ceasefires had been shredded, and I felt that the process was in a state of terminal decline and would be overwhelmed by the violence unless we did something dramatic.

I was on a flight from Dublin, Ireland back to The United States in mid February 1998 that I devised a plan for an early unbreakable deadline. It was hard to do. I had to convince all of the parties, the 10 political parties and the two Governments who agreed because I had no power to impose anything upon them, but I made the case that you have to act. It is a risk and they were several quite articulate opponents to my plan. Primarily government officials who had lived with this conflict for years, and who were desperately afraid that that was zooming again. What’s called as troubles actually was a series of periodic outbreaks of violence. We don’t like to acknowledge this, but in human affairs, technology has advanced more rapidly in the ability of people to kill each other than in almost any other area.

Each time violence broke out it was at a higher level, more people being killed. Today, one person with very little resources can manufacture a bomb that can kill dozens, hundreds of people. You don’t need large numbers, you don’t need large amounts of money, and it’s become really very difficult to control as you can see from the news around the world today.

In the end, you have to try to work it out and you have to adapt to the circumstances. After we got the peace agreement, many reporters said to me, “Senator, this took nearly two years. You ended it when you called the deadline. Why didn’t you establish a deadline 12 months ago, 18 months ago?” I said, “I had it wouldn’t have worked.” I said, “Just the timing was an act of desperation.” As I described in my book down to almost the last minute, it was right on the edge and it could just as easily have failed as succeeded.

The credit really goes to the political leaders of Northern Island, men and women of enormous courage who had spent their lifetimes in conflict, ordinary people just like us, but rose to the occasion, partially out of fear. They were very, very frightened because they knew that if they failed, the conflict would resume immediately with deadly consequences for both sides. They knew that the amount of killing would increase significantly and that the violence would be far more savage than it had been in the past and so they did it.

It’s fashionable in our county, in most countries, particularly in democracies to ridicule politicians, to make fun of them, to insult them, to assume the worst of them and some of it’s deserved, but there are many people in public life who are there for the right reasons and when they meet at the intersection of history and conflict are able to do the right thing, for the right reasons, and get the right results and those were the political leaders of Northern Ireland at the time.

Lisa:                As a physician and a small business owner, I rely on Marci Booth from Booth Maine to help you with my own business and to help me with my own life fully. Here are few thoughts from Marci.

Marci              When asked, most of my clients say the same thing about what keeps them up at night. Money. Making certain cash flow is there to meet day to day operational needs. Oh my gosh, is payroll going to be able to make it? When we dig deeper, we understand that those sleepless nights are symptoms of poor planning and forecasting. More often than not, the reasons for not doing it are lack of time and a lack of resources. Here’s a suggestion. Instead of living in fear of the numbers and losing sleep over them, make peace with them by paying closer attention to the financials and creating positive cash wealth. I’m Marci Booth. Let’s talk about the changes you need

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Lisa:                Somebody who is born in 1933, which was the last entry and in between two wars and at a very different time, what types of things have you learned over the course of your life that you would like your kids to take away as your legacy?

George:          There’re pretty much the things we’ve talked about up to now. First patience, be patient with people. I myself was for a long time an impatient person, young, ambitious, aggressive, not paying enough attention, not listening carefully enough to what others were saying, not just through their words, but through their actions. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. Not one of us achieves our aspirations every day. We all fail.

The important thing is to try and when you do fail, to resolve to do better the next time, even knowing that perfection is limited to the Lord above and doesn’t exist in any human being, so be patient with others. Be understanding of someone who has difficulties. In the case of my children, they lead a life vastly different from mine, and the real challenge is how do you not do everything for them so that they develop a sense of self-reliance, a sense of independence, a sense of worth, what are things worth. That’s a hard challenge, I think in many respects tougher than the opposite.

When I was a kid growing up, nobody ever said we all have to work. It was part of life. Everybody understood it. My parents were very poor. As I said earlier, my mother couldn’t read or write. My father had a very limited education, but they had a very firm belief that in this country if their kids had a decent education they could get ahead. Though my parents died without wealth, they had succeeded. They were wealthy in the sense of success in accomplishing their objective of having all of their children go on go to college and do much better in life than anyone could have imagined at the time, myself included, and my brothers and my sisters.

How do you instill in children a sense of a commitment to hard work, to dedication, not just in studies but also in work and in life generally, and at the same time a sense of compassion and empathy for those who don’t have it. One of the most formative periods of my life was my senior year in high school. I was 16 years old. I graduated from high school when I was 16, very insecure. My parents didn’t own a car, I really had never accomplished anything. Younger and smaller than most of my classmates and in that year my father lost his job. It was a disaster like nothing I’d ever experienced before since.

My father was not educated, but he was intelligent and he was a very proud man. It had a devastating effect upon his self-esteem, and it had a devastating effect on me. My three older brothers were gone at college. There was no talk on my going to college because seeing I would have been completely out of range given my father’s circumstances. That year nearly destroyed him. It had a tremendously profound effect on me. I was very lucky I ended up going to Bowdoin and getting all the help there and thank God my father got a job.

After a year, he got a job as a janitor at Colby College. Now people would say that being a janitor is no big deal, but I have to tell you that job saved his life. it saved his self-esteem. He finally was a productive member of society. One of the problems in our country now, in my judgment, is that there is not enough attention paid in public policy in trying to generate economic growth and job creation and employment for our citizens. Too much attention paid to a lot of other things that I think, while they may be important, aren’t as important as that.

There also has to be an understanding, and I used to really bristle with anger and had to control myself, contain myself, and I’d hear people ridicule, insult, make fun of people who’re unemployed. Some of who may have been cheats, that’s true in every society. You’re a doctor, there are doctors who cheat. I’m a lawyer, there are lawyers who cheat. Yes there are people who cheat on unemployment, but the vast majority are men and women just like my father desperate for work, desperate to do something to regain their self-esteem, their sense of self-worth, to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and look in their children’s eyes.

My father couldn’t look into my eyes during that year. He always looked away. I don’t think I heard him laugh for 9 or 10 months. It was just tough, and it’s tough on people now. If I have a message or a lesson, it’s to those who are young and healthy, the best source of satisfaction in life is work. Do something meaningful and be good at it and work hard at it and good things will happen to you. To those who are successful, you have to remember where you came from and remember we’re all one family, we’re one community, and we have to be understanding and sympathetic to those who are less fortunate than we are and do our best to help them, not through a handout, but making it possible for them to have the same opportunities they want. I’ll close with these words.

In America, no one should be guaranteed success but everyone should have a fair chance to succeed. Everyone should have a chance to go as high and as far in life as their willingness to work, their dedication and their talent will take them and that means they get every chance in life through good education, good nutrition, good care, all of the things that we want for my kids. If we set a standard that said that every other kid should have in life what we want for our kids, we couldn’t have a better public policy than that. Well, thank you for having me.

Lisa:                Well thank you Senator Mitchell. It’s really been a privilege and I can say that Bowdoin has done well by making sure that you got your early education and your family has done well by making sure that you were raised with a sense of competition that has brought you as far as it has. I appreciate you being with us today.

George:          Thank you.