Interview: On Conflict and Peace with Priya Parker
Back in early December, after a contentious election and in the midst of the strangest holiday season, I had the privilege of speaking to Priya Parker, an expert in conflict resolution who has worked on peace processes in the Arab world and with everyone from the Museum of Modern Art to the Obama Administration. Her work helps us take a deeper look into how we can meaningfully connect and come together.
The author of The Art of Gathering, the host of the New York Times podcast Together, Apart, and my dear friend, Priya helps people have complicated conversations about how we come together and the reasons we find ourselves coming apart. She guides people through moments of tension and transition, and it was my great, great honor to talk about how the art of gathering can inspire our work and improve our lives.
Suleika Jaouad: Priya! Welcome! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other in person. How are you holding up?
Priya Parker: I’m okay. Like each of you, I’m “Covid good” for three weeks or four weeks—and then I crash. Sometimes it's because of an event, and sometimes it's totally unexplainable. I crawl into bed and refuel, and then I come back. We’re nine months into this thing, and I’ve found that at times I need to psychologically exit and then choose to re-enter.
SJ: In addition to “Covid good,” we might need to coin a new term: “Covid bedridden.” That’s when the existential dread creeps in and it’s difficult to get out of bed.
PP: Absolutely. I’m a big napper. My Indian family naps a lot. In India, people leave the office, go home and eat lunch as a family, and maybe there's an hour nap, and then you go back to work. Somehow that's traced its way over. My Iowan and South Dakotan side is like, “This is not the Protestant work ethic.” But I pick and choose based on what serves.
SJ: So speaking of your Iowan and Indian halves, I want to start by quoting this little passage from The Art of Gathering that resonated so deeply with me, being half-Swiss, half-Tunisian. You write, “I strive to help people experience a sense of belonging. This probably has something to do with the fact that I have spent my own life trying to figure out where and to whom I belong.” Tell us a bit about your background and about that search for belonging.
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