The Third Side

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.


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