In spite of the years of transformative PPI stories, I was still skeptical. How much of an impact could playing basketball with the opposing side really have on the lives of these children? The theory behind the whole concept is sound, using goals unrelated to the conflict to help humanize the other side. But the crux for me was whether or not people’s lives were changing on the ground. My time with PPI – ME was brief, a few practices and games, some trainings, a long bus ride, and conversations with some of the girls in the program; but after a week I can say that PPI – ME is an unusually successful program. The secret, however, is not what I expected it to be.
An Israeli father who has a teenage daughter in the program described his experience to me in the following way:
“It wasn’t until I met the staff that I felt at ease having my daughter in the program. They are responsible people who love the kids and you can see that the kids love them.”
The theory, although sound, isn’t the secret. The model, although proven, isn’t the secret. It is the remarkable staff, participants, families and culture of love an accountability they have created that has turned a basketball program into an ever-expanding, cross-cultural family that heals deep wounds and transforms countless lives.The Arbinger Institute, a consulting group and partner of PeacePlayers International, calls this type of culture the responsive way. Responsive meaning that when we respond to one another, we respond to one another as people who have just as many cares, worries, hopes and dreams as we do. Arbinger teaches that true responsiveness exists not in our behaviors toward one another, but on a deeper level they refer to as our way of being. At any given time in our relationships, our way of being can be one of two ways, responsive (open to others’ humanity) or resistant (closed to others’ humanity). When others respond to us, they respond more to our way of being than to our behaviors. When the concerned father’s heart was put at ease, it wasn’t the basketball drills or on-court discipline of the coaches that made the impact; it was the staff’s responsive way of being that he was responding to.
One last example of the impact of PPI – ME’s responsive way: My last day of basketball with the kids was spent in the town Zichron Ya’akov for a “twinning” (joint game) with the girls from Jerusalem (mostly Palestinian) and Zichron (Israeli). The girls were split into two teams with both Palestinians and Israelis on either side. One rarely sees this close of a game. The teams went back and forth all game, finally ending in a tie in double overtime. Any athlete will tell you that after a game that close, your first desire isn’t celebrating with the other team. However, after the teams shook hands everyone in the gym gathered for the PPI cheer. “We are PeacePlayers!” My experience with PPI-ME has led me to believe that this cheer is more indicative of responsive way being than a simple basketball program.