U.S. Diplomacy with Iran and the Ethics of Sitting Together at the Table

It is a diplomacy built upon an ethic whose goal is the sustenance and joy of all of humanity. It … Continued

It is a diplomacy built upon an ethic whose goal is the sustenance and joy of all of humanity.

It is an ethic built upon the logic of commensality, of sharing a table meal, where bread represents the basic needs of humankind that sustains life and the wine represents the pleasures of life that make life worth living.

The First Step Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program is a good thing that could be the beginning of a positive peace between the United States and Iran. It could be a pivotal moment that moves the Middle East from perpetual war to neighbors living together as friends. However, for such to happen there needs to be a shift in our thinking from just war to just peace principles and practices, there needs to be a shift from a power-over mentality to one of power-with. There needs to be the courage to take a risk for peace.

One just peace practice that we see working in the diplomatic efforts to solve the problem of Iran’s nuclear program is the practice of cooperative conflict resolution. The practice seeks “creative solutions that each can affirm and support.” Each side respects the other as an equal partner. According to a definition found in the book “Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, ad Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War” edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite: “To truly engage in this kind of initiative, participants must be willing to listen carefully, understand the perspectives of their adversaries, and suspend judgment, even though they may personally disagree.”

This six-month agreement is basically an exercise in building trust. Will both sides keep their ends of the bargain, including restraint in imposing more economic sanctions on Iran? I sincerely hope so. And this is where the ethic of commensality enters the conversation. This ethic says that the human condition is one of living to maintain ourselves and to enjoy living. We want this for ourselves, but we also want it for all of humankind, including our adversaries.

The sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians, many of whom are young people who will become the future leaders of Iran. They are paying close attention to these negotiations and how we conduct them. Will the United States and our P5+1 allies—the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union–treat Iran with a neo-colonial, power-over, “do what we tell you to do or we will beat you up one way or the other” disdain, or will we treat it with the respect with which we ourselves would want to be treated—as an equal sovereign power with certain rights?

There was joy in Iranian streets when this agreement was announced because ordinary people could see that their lives would be better. One U.S. Congress member thought it was tantamount to spiking the football in the end zone. This is evidence that this person is ignorant of just peace principles and practices that look for win-win solutions. Rewarding Iran by easing the sanctions is the carrot in the idea of carrots and sticks to help move diplomatic negotiations forward. There are too many voices in Congress that speak about only sticks in this scenario. When ordinary people both in the United State and in Iran see diplomatic efforts working, they will insist that their leaders continue such efforts because we are tired of war.

During this Thanksgiving time, when many of us will be sharing a table meal with family and friends, with people for whom we desire only the best, it is important to recognize the possibilities of the ethics of the table meal and the diplomacy based on it. We want to share the abundance of life and our own love and goodwill with even our adversaries. Thankfully, such is possible and is the basis of the hope for peace on earth.


Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

  • Joel Hardman

    Did Jesus not say, “Tis better to nuke than to talk”?