The Third Side

July 31, 2008

My aunt sent me a link to a great resource on conflict resolution, The Third Side. Although I am familiar with the concept of not taking sides in a conflict, I had never thought of it as “the third side” before. When you take the third side in a conflict, you are (quoted from the website):

  • Seeking to understand both sides of the conflict
  • Encouraging a process of cooperative negotiation
  • Supporting a wise solution – one that fairly meets the essential needs of both sides and the community

Among the many resources on the website, the most intriguing to me initially was the descriptions of the 10 different roles that one can take in relation to conflict. I spent some time reading the detailed descriptions of each one, and I found it quite enlightening. There was nothing especially new or startling to me, but the examples and the breakdown of roles connected some things in ways I had not thought about before. The roles are the following (summaries taken from the headings on the page I linked earlier):

  • The Provider – Enabling People to Meet Their Needs
  • The Teacher – Giving People Skills to Handle Conflict
  • The Bridge-Builder – Forging Relationships Across Lines of Conflict
  • The Mediator – Reconciling Conflicting Interests
  • The Arbiter – Determining Disputed Rights
  • The Equalizer – Democratizing Power
  • The Healer – Repairing Injured Relationships
  • The Witness – Paying Attention to Escalation
  • The Referee – Setting Limits to Fighting
  • The Peacekeeper – Providing Protection

I encourage you to click on the link above and read about each role in more detail. The first three roles are meant to prevent conflict, the next four help resolve conflict peacefully, and the last three contain conflict to try to keep it from escalating. Although I think all the roles are important – conflict is inevitable – I am most drawn to the ones earlier on the list. I prefer to direct my efforts towards preventing conflict or resolving it peacefully.

I think I am perhaps most suited for being a bridge-builder, mediator, or healer, because I am an excellent listener and communicator. I have been interested in mediation for some time; I was trained as a peer mediator in high school, although I did not have the opportunity to facilitate many mediations. I feel that mediation is a concrete activity I can do where I will be making a direct impact on creating a more peaceful community. I am hoping to find a way to get involved in mediation again sometime in the near future.

Bridge-building stood out to me as I read about these roles, perhaps because I had not thought about it for awhile and I think it is an absolutely critical aspect of peace. As the website says, “The more bridges we build across the chasms of culture and distance, the harder it becomes to demonize others.” Exactly. Conflict, especially violent conflict, arises most easily when the individuals, communities, or nations involved are engaged in an us versus them mentality. They see the group they are in conflict with as “the other,” people with whom they have nothing in common and thus who they can see as less than human. Bridge-building involves bringing people together in activities that require them to work together and communicate. For example, an experiment by psychologist Muzafer Sherif in the 1950s “demonstrated that a common task, such as jointly pushing a truck to get its engine started, helps reduce negative stereotypes and build friendships – far more effectively, in fact, than simply bringing the boys together to socialize.” I recall that when I was a teenager, I heard about a project to bring Israeli and Palestinian children together. I felt inspired by such an idea and thought that it was a definite way to peace. These children would not be able to fight each other when they grew older if they played together when they were young, right? I still believe that this concept is crucial to creating and sustaining peace.

I am glad that the role of the healer is recognized as important. People have angry and hurt feelings about things and they need to be able to express and process these feelings in a constructive, non-violent manner, so that they do not feel the need to act upon them violently. The healer provides the space for people to process their feelings; they listen and acknowledge without judging and thus allow people to heal.

Although both the bridge-builder and the healer are roles that I think I could “play” well, they do not seem as immediately accessible to me as mediator. That is, I do not see where in my immediate community I would play these roles, whereas mediator is more clear: there are community mediation programs in my city.

I find that these roles can help explain and focus the somewhat disparate topics I write about on this blog. The fact the peacekeeper is a containing role, as opposed to a preventative or resolving role, perhaps explains my slight disillusionment about UN Peacekeepers that I wrote about in an earlier post. When I write about food and sustainable living, I feel that it is primarily the role of the provider that I am addressing. I may, as an exercise, pay attention in my future posts to what role is most relevant to the topic of the post.



July 27, 2008

Sometimes I look upon the world and sense an infinity of possibilities. In these moments, I feel capable, confident, hopeful, inspired, creative. I feel ready to take on the world. Alas, these moments, though recurring, are fleeting.

The most powerful moment of possibilities for me is mornings. Every morning, but particularly early, sunny, blue mornings, when I awaken, I know that there is an entire fresh day ahead of me and I feel that it is full of possibilities. There are so many things I can do, so many ways I can be, so many thoughts I can have in this day that I face. No matter whether I slept well or not, I wake up ready to act. I am my most productive in the mornings, at whatever I wish to be productive at – work, organizing, cleaning, making shopping lists, writing blog posts. As the day continues, though, I lose the sense of its fullness. I languish in the afternoons, feeling that the day is escaping me, that there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. At least I know that the morning will come again and I will once again face possibilities.

Another powerful trigger of possibilities for me is libraries. I love to wander through the stacks and bask in the knowledge that I am surrounded by a multitude of thoughts, ideas, facts and entire worlds. In a library, I feel that the possibilities of things I could learn about, of ideas in the world, are endless. A library has the power to feed my hunger for learning about new things, and thus it is full of possibilities.

The infinity of space is another source of possibilities for me. The moments when I am gazing up in to a wide open sky, standing on a mountaintop, or watching the ocean disappear over the horizon make me feel that everything is wide open and infinite. I sense my smallness against these great land-, sky-, or sea-scapes, but at the same time I feel inspired and hopeful. I feel empowered to set aside the every day trivialities and instead focus on the important possibilities of my life.

What about you? What makes you feel inspired or that the world is full of possibilities?

I’m baaaaaack

July 23, 2008

Ok, well I haven’t actually been gone this whole time (I was out of town for a week) but for some reason I haven’t felt inspiration for blogging in the past couple weeks. For one thing, I’m trying to cut down my procrastination while working and consequently I’m spending less time reading other blogs and browsing the internet, which translates to finding out about fewer things I would potentially blog about. However, I think I’m also feeling a bit discouraged – or perhaps distanced – from thinking about peace. The thing is, issues related to peace do not often play into my everyday life. I live a very peaceful life in general: I live in a small town, and my neighborhood has little violence or crime – in fact none that I have noticed or been aware of; I do not often have serious conflicts with other people; and I earn enough to easily purchase all that I need without worry. Granted, perhaps I do not have conflicts with others because I naturally communicate in a peaceful manner. But my point is that much of the violence and war that is currently going on in this world has little perceived direct impact on my everyday life.

Now, I know that it does actually affect my life. Things like the economy, the environment, and the well-being and happiness of the people in my environment are affected by violence and war in the world. And, for me, simply being aware that such violence is occurring is enough to affect my perspective and attitude towards things. Still, I can only read so many articles about violent events or look at so many non-profits trying to make a difference or read about so many approaches to conflict resolution before I start to feel distanced from it all. I feel discouraged reading about mediation and conflict resolution techniques because the impact they may have had (and I know there have been some successes, although I wonder how long-term those successes are) seems so small compared to all the wars, genocides, and other violence. Then there is the domestic violence, rape apology and general misogyny that I read about on feminist blogs, areas where it seems that so little progress has been made. I think, perhaps, like I discussed in an earlier post, I have reached a point of information overload. I have been paying attention to issues related to peace so much that I have started becoming desensitized to them.

I want very much to make peace relevant to my life; that is, to take actions that I feel are making progress towards creating peace. I would like to work with people, as I feel that would give me the most satisfaction in feeling that I am doing something meaningful. However, I have yet to figure out what this type of work (either volunteer or paid) would be. For the moment, I am volunteering at a food bank, but I’m not sure it is quite what I have in mind (however, I have only been there twice so far and I’m sure there is much I will gain from the experience). I also feel that in order to take this action, whatever it is, I want to study peace and conflict resolution more formally, or with at least more direction, than I have so far. I don’t want to continue just reading news articles and browsing the websites of non-profits aimlessly, but rather I want to read such things with a goal in mind of what I want to gain from reading it or how I want to approach the topic mentally and analytically.

Writing this blog is one way that I have been hoping to find more direction for my interest in peace, but I think so far I have been interested in and been inspired to write about such a diverse set of topics that it hasn’t yet helped with giving direction! Perhaps I am simply still at the exploratory phase, but now, in addition to continuing to explore, I also want to work on narrowing my interest to something more focused.

Having violent thoughts

July 5, 2008

Every so often something upsets or frustrates me so much that I actually feel like doing something violent. Having such thoughts scares me, because I do not want to admit that I am capable of having violent thoughts. At the same time, however, it allows me to recognize that feeling angry is universal, and part of creating peace is being able to deal with anger and violent thoughts in a healthy manner.

I am thinking about this today because it happened to me last night. I was extremely tired and went to bed early, but I was kept awake for several hours by people setting of firecrackers in the parking lot outside my apartment, that my bedroom faces. It was supremely frustrating. Earplugs had no effect, it was too hot to close the windows (which wouldn’t have done much good anyway), and I would be just drifting off when there would be another bang, startling me awake. I could feel my heart rate go up and the adrenaline pumping. I was so upset and frustrated that I found myself thinking about punching something – or someone.

When I have such thoughts I come the closest to understanding how violence happens. I know that I would never act upon my violent thoughts, but I can sort of see how someone who lacks the inhibitions and experience I have would simply not stop at the point of having the thoughts. I can also understand that physical situations can affect one’s level of anger; I suspect that I would have been slightly less upset last night if it had not been so hot. Thinking about this leaves me wondering what are those inhibitions and experiences, that make me confident that I would never act upon the violent thoughts I sometimes have?

I think the most significant thing is that I have experience with healing anger in a healthy manner. It is possible to heal such feelings without hurting another person (for example, by punching pillows and crying) and I know from experience that this will make me feel better than actually punching another human being would.

I know also that it would simply make things worse to go out and start hitting someone. It will alienate the person and put them on the defensive (not to mention physically harm them), and I know that this is not a productive way to solve conflicts. Because I know this, I know that I would never act upon a violent thought. I am also simply not capable of actually harming another human being; it is not something I can imagine myself doing when it comes down to really picturing it. The violent thoughts I have are mostly abstract. I feel anger towards someone, and I feel like physically doing something to release that anger, and so it becomes a mental idea of targeting that release of anger towards the person. But in fact I cannot truly picture punching someone.

Releasing anger in a healthy manner is one thing, and an important and necessary thing, but it is not everything. When the reason you are angry is caused by another person, you are going to get angry over and over again until the person stops doing whatever they are doing. This is where conflict resolution comes in. I am not going to go into detail about conflict resolution (there is plenty of material on that topic for another post, or several), but in the best conflict resolution each person gets to a point of understanding to some extent what the other person needs in that particular situation. Only once each person’s need is recognized and acknowledged by each other person will it be possible to find a solution that satisfies everyone.

In summary, the ideal way to deal with violent thoughts is to first heal the anger you are feeling in a healthy way that does not hurt others, and then to work on coming to a solution with the cause of your anger that will satisfy the needs of everyone involved. Both of these aspects require the person to have experience and knowledge of the techniques to do these things. I have experience with both and thus I am capable of recognizing, even in the middle of having the violent thought, that I would never act upon it. Other people do not know as well as I do what to do with their angry feelings, nor do they have the skills to solve a conflict with another person non-violently. I am pleased that to help with the second aspect, the conflict resolution, my city offers community mediation. If my neighbors were continually doing something that bothered me I could try to request mediation through the city.

In the situation I was in last night, I did not in fact do anything except eventually fall asleep once the noise stopped. However, it turns out that my neighbors were in fact breaking two laws, a county noise ordinance, and a law against firecrackers of all types within the city limits. If I had realized that at the time (I looked it up this morning), I would have called the police. Even though I did not, it makes me feel a little bit better to know that the city and county have reasonable laws about noise and safety. Although I have issues with police and punishment (again, food for another post), in this situation I would have felt comfortable calling the police because I did not feel comfortable confronting the people myself. Since they were in fact breaking the law, I would have gladly let the police inform them of that. I am not confident that being arrested or fined would make them understand why it was against the law or how seriously it was disturbing other people, but in this particular situation I do not feel the need to pursue it further, since it was a one-time occurrence.

A grassroots campaign for sustainability

July 1, 2008

I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, recently, and it has been getting me thinking in particular about locally grown food. I think eating more locally is going to be critical to future sustainability – it just takes too much energy to transport (and keep fresh during the transportation) mass quantities of food, not to mention the energy it takes to grow food in an industrialized manner. Growing food locally allows for (in fact, requires) a single farm to grow diverse crops or raise diverse livestock, which is much more sustainable and, if done right, require far less (possibly none) artificial pesticides and fertilizers (which take energy to make). Go read the book and you will see what I mean; Pollan describes a farm with an incredible amount of symbiosis going on, such that the only thing the farmer has to purchase in order to raise beef cattle, pigs, chickens for eating, and chickens for egg laying, is some chicken feed.

As I was thinking about these things, I remembered a booklet I had picked up at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago from the Boulder County Going Local organization. I flipped through it and found an article about a really awesome grassroots community farm. Called Community Roots, it exists in a suburban community: the farmland consists of several front and back yards of standard suburb houses. You can volunteer your yards for their project and they will farm them for you! I think this is such a cool idea. Although I love lawns, they are really a bit of a waste of energy, especially in a semi-arid climate such as this one – they require watering and mowing and don’t provide anything in return. Turning them into food-producing pieces of land is a great use of space. I am even more thrilled about this community farm because it is only a mile or so from where I live! Unfortunately, I don’t have a yard to contribute, but I am definitely going to look for their booth the next time I go to the farmer’s market. I love the idea of buying food grown so very locally.

The thing I struggle with about trying to eat locally is that produce, the primary thing that it is easy to buy locally, does not make up the majority of my diet (although perhaps it should) – breakfast cereals, bread, milk, eggs, cheese, nut butters, and a variety of canned goods play a large role in my diet as well, and it is not so easy to obtain such things locally. I have bought some cheeses at the farmer’s market, but they are expensive artisan cheeses only, not something I would necessarily want to use for my run-of-the-mill scrambled eggs or burritos. I saw in the booklet I was reading that there is a farm that sells eggs at the farmer’s market, so I will have to look for them. However, I fear that there are still going to be many things I buy at the supermarket for quite a while still.