Peter Johnston Speaks to the Omar Khadr Group

by Grade 9 student Julia Milden, Grade 11 student Olivia Krusel, and Grade 12 student Kaeleigh Fletcher

Last Friday, April 16th, was an incredible and exceptional educational experience for SMUS Senior School students who attended a special meeting of the Omar Khadr Group to hear Peter Johnston, an international negotiator, deliver a keynote speech. The Omar Khadr Group is a student-run collection of enthusiastic students and teachers dedicated to researching and understanding all sides of the extremely controversial human rights case involving Omar Khadr, a Canadian child soldier detained in Guantanamo Bay. Instead of jumping to conclusions, these students strive to learn from experts on all aspects of the issue.

Mr. Johnston is a negotiator, mediator, and advisor whose advice has been sought worldwide; working with Wall Street bankers, UN officials, political leaders, and entrepreneurs. His achievements have been officially recognized by the United States government for their positive economic and social impact. Mr. Johnston treated the Omar Khadr group to an evening of his thought-provoking expertise through a lecture and film study, where the Harvard-educated professional used the film Twelve Angry Men to discuss and model lessons in influence and decision making.

The night opened with a brief summary of Mr. Johnston’s negotiating activities, including a description of the negotiating process, the objects of negotiation and some prime examples of how assumptions and influence can contribute to the negotiating table. He taught the audience several tools relating to negotiation and used many examples from the film to describe several stereotypes that people form as a result of their assumptions and, what he referred to, as the ‘Ladder of Inference’.

Mr. Johnston used the viewing of the classic film Twelve Angry Men – a 1957 highly acclaimed movie in which a jury starts out with almost unanimous conviction, that the man on trial for murder is guilty. However, the group of twelve individuals is slowly convinced by one juror, that there is doubt about the man’s guilt and that his innocence is a possibility. The film dealt with assumptions based on race, age, schooling, and background, as well as how people are drawn to certain facts in order to support their position while at the same time ignoring other facts that run contrary to their beliefs. Mr. Johnston paused the film several times in order to explain or discuss the tactics used by Henry Fonda, in his role as Juror #8, to negotiate through the emotionally-charged-setting to convince the other members of the jury to come to an agreement through application of psychology, empathy, and communication.

After the film, Mr. Johnston presented a highly informative and in-depth presentation on the lessons which could be learned from the film, and how the roles, assumptions, and negotiations that took place in the film could apply to Omar Khadr’s situation. Overall, the audience learned not only how negotiations often work between governments and independent bodies, but also how to be objective when looking at evidence in order to be sure that all sides of the story are being treated equally.

Mr. Johnston proved to be a very gifted motivational speaker who provided the audience with much to think about. The Omar Khadr group left the evening with a new set of tools, not only use in evaluating the human rights case under consideration, but also for application to the never-ending negotiations of life and school.


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