TED | William Ury: The Walk From “No” to “Yes”

Find The Eighteenth Camel

There is this Middle Eastern story of a man who willed to his three sons his 17 camels. To the first son 1/2 of the camels, to the second son 1/3, and to the third son 1/9. 17 doesn’t divide by any of those numbers. Conflict arose, and they decided to go to a wise old woman for assistance. After thinking about it for a while, she said, “Here. I’ll give you one of my camels.” Now with 18 camels, the first son took 1/2: (9), the second son took 1/3: (6), and the last son took 1/9: (2), and they had a camel left over and they gave it back to the woman.

Somehow, we need to find our “eighteenth camel.”

We are all one family; all 15,000 tribes of us. The question is how do we deal with our differences given our propensity for conflict and given our human genius at devising weapons of enormous destruction?

I think I’ve found the secret to peace. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. It’s not even new.

The secret to peace is us; it’s us who act as a surrounding community around any conflict who can play a constructive role.

I call this system the “third side,” the friends, communities, allies, neighbors who surround the “two sides” who are having a conflict.

The fundamental way the third side helps is to remind the two parties what is at sake. When you’re in a conflict, it’s easy to lose perspective, especially since we are reactionary machines.

When you’re angry, you’ll make the best speech you will ever regret.

Go To The Balcony

“The balcony,” is the metaphor we use to say the place where we get some perspective.

Middle East Conflict

I think I’ve got a first step. Not a solution, but at least a literal first step.

What is the story there? What is the origin story of the Middle East? 4,000 years ago, a man walked across the Middle East, and the world has never been the same again. He stood for “unity” of the family, as he represents us all. His basic value was respect, and kindness towards strangers; hospitality. Abraham is the third side of the Middle East.

Think about that for a moment.


What is terrorism? Taking an innocent stranger who you treat as an enemy who you kill in order to create fear. What is the opposite. It’s taking an innocent stranger who you treat as a friend in order to sow or create understanding, respect, and love.


What if we took the story of Abraham and used it as an antidote to terrorism? How would you bring that story to life?

People should not just be told a story, they need to experience it.

How do you do that with Abraham? You go for a walk. [As an anthropologist, walking is what made us human.] You re-trace the steps of Abraham. In walking, you are side-by-side facing the same direction. If I were to stand against you face-to-face, you would feel threatened. But if I walk shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s no problem. Who fights when they walk? That’s often why in negotiations, when things get tough, they go for a walk.

What about inspiring a path, a route that followed in the footsteps of Abraham?


To do this is to make Abraham’s life present, visible; still alive.

Thousands of people have begun to walk the path.


It’s not just about psychology, it’s also about economics. Because when people walk, people spend money.

You have made me visible in a village where people were once ashamed to look at me.

This is the powerful result of walking.

To change the game, you have to change the frame. From Hostility to Hospitality, from Terrorism to Tourism.


I have yet to see one conflict that could not be transformed. It’s not easy, but it is possible. It simply depends on us, taking the third side.

Let me invite you to take the third side. Go up to someone different (culture, color, ethnicity), and engage in a conversation, listen to them. That is a “third side act.” That is walking Abraham’s path. After a TED talk, why not a TED walk?

  1. The secret to peace is the third side.
  2. The third side is us.

When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion. – African proverb.

If we are able to unite our third sides of peace, we can even halt the lion of war.

— VIA —

Very well done.

I have a great appreciation for this, and I refer you to my Hiking the Jesus Trail, post. I think it is important to recognize the complexities that surround conflict resolution in light of listening to a talk like this.

The incongruence I see in this talk is simply that Abraham did walk, and thousands after him, in the spirit of hospitality. Thousands continue to walk, even today, and to perform those acts of hospitality and love. Yet, conflicts, somehow, still pervade. And what happens when the third side becomes another “side” in the issue, with their own agendas, and depravities?

So, all that to say, I think there’s more going on than this simple idea, though I do believe this is a critical and powerful idea that must be taken into consideration. May my critical observation not take away from the inspiration this talk can give to people who are willing to go and take a walk with a stranger…or even an enemy.

About VIA



  1. Great talk at TED Ury, and I believe as a Syrian, this walk would win heart and understanding on both sides.

  2. Umar usman

    What a wise way of uniting the children

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