The Telos Group: a story of peacemaking

Telos Group members gathered looking over a foreign city

The Telos Group is a nonprofit organization that is creating a community for peace around the United States and around the world. It encourages individuals to be peacemakers by facilitating conversations across lines of difference and equipping them to help reconcile seemingly intractable conflicts at home and abroad.

With the help of Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Program, a selective six-month management and leadership development experience that accelerates the work of America’s highest-performing nonprofits, The Telos Group has gained access to tools and frameworks to amplify their efforts to replace violence, division, and distrust with empathy and to expand training for peacemakers across the United States.

How The Telos Group Began: A Story Of Peacemaking

The 14th century poet Hafez warned, “The small man builds cages for everyone.”

In 2004, Greg Khalil, a progressive, California-born and bred lawyer of Palestinian ancestry, would have built a cage for Todd Deatherage — if they had met in the United States. They come from very different cultural backgrounds and political ideologies, so Greg would never have seen Todd as someone he could never work with, much less like.

At the time, however, Greg was advising Palestinian leaders on peace negotiations with Israel while Todd, a white Evangelical Christian from Arkansas, was a political appointee in President George W. Bush’s State Department. If he went ahead and built that cage for Todd, Greg would have no chance of working with him to advance Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. He told Stand Together Foundation’s March 2022 Catalyst Summit, “I knew if I was serious about peace, Todd was exactly the person I needed to reach.”

To help Todd better understand the Palestinians’ perspectives, Greg invited Todd to spend a day engaging Palestinian stories and realities. Todd later told Greg the experience was life changing. It helped Todd empathize and began to help him see a larger set of stories and opportunities for peace.

At a coffee shop in the United States five years later, Greg proposed another radical idea to Todd: he wanted to start an organization that would take diverse groups of U.S. leaders and members of their communities to Israel and Palestine to hear from people on the ground, just like Todd had done. He wanted to create a community for peace.

The Telos Group was born. For Telos, the first step of forming a community of peacemakers is to immerse a cohort of people in a shared, transformative experience — the signature Telos trip.

The Telos Group Is Bringing A Community For Peace Stateside

After hundreds of leaders joined trips to Israel and Palestine to hear stories there, alumni of the program came to Greg and Todd with yet another idea: bring these events to the backyards of American families. These alumni wanted to help their fellow citizens come together across the most difficult issues our society faces such as immigration, racial justice, and poverty.

At the heart of The Telos Group’s peacemaking work is storytelling. Greg told the Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Summit that storytelling can be both cage and key. We tell stories about our enemies, and we blame them for all that is wrong in the world. But sharing stories across difference also has the potential to free people of their conscious and unconscious biases.

In the United States, The Telos Group has sponsored trips to New Orleans, Montgomery, Selma, and Jackson for law enforcement to hear stories of how racial injustice has impacted Black communities. These immersive trips provide one-of-a-kind communal deep dives into the lives, realities, and cultures of conflict or post-conflict spaces. They provide an unparalleled opportunity for experiential learning, relationship development, and conflict transformation.

The Tools To Be A Peacemaker

The Telos Group also has two podcasts. One tells the stories of everyday, but radical peacemakers and the other unpacks the day’s headlines and looks at how a community for peace can respond to current events to create a better society for all. In addition to the podcasts and hosting domestic and international peacemaking trips, Todd and Greg have developed a set of 12 keys, or principles and practice of peacemaking.

At the heart of The Telos Group’s framework is ownership. The 12 keys recognize that every human being — from teachers to diplomats, artists to politicians, stay-at-home parents to entrepreneurs, students to police officers, liberals to conservatives, activists to faith leaders — must take responsibility for being a peacemaker in their community.

People cannot continue to blame the enemies they have put in cages and expect things to improve in the world, Greg told the Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Summit. They have to humbly learn and do the work of peacemaking.

“If you do this locally, you do this universally,” Greg concluded.

Learn more about Stand Together’s free speech and peace efforts.

Click here to learn more about how The Telos Group builds a community for peace. Click here to become a Catalyst like The Telos Group.