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.


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.

Taking action

June 30, 2008

Those of you who know me personally know that I am not very good at making decisions, particularly when it comes to personal things. Well, one of the things about which I have recently been plagued by indecision is volunteering. I am eager to volunteer somewhere, doing something for other people in my free time rather than only engaging in activities that are purely for my own enjoyment. I have spent hours browsing lists of non-profits and volunteer positions, but I have not been able to settle on something. I feel as I have an abstract ideal in my head of what exactly this volunteer position looks like, and nothing that exists in reality perfectly matches that ideal. When I look at any concrete volunteer opportunity, I am frozen by doubts – what exactly will be required of me? what if I don’t like it? what if it causes me to have a negative view of people instead of a positive one like I am hoping? what if I don’t like working with people? what if this doesn’t have enough people interaction? And so on. And so, I am stuck in a mode of inaction.

However, today I took action. I came across some opportunities posted on craigslist with a local organization called The Emergency Family Assistance Association. They provide “food, financial assistance programs, emergency shelter and transitional housing programs,” as well as work with other local organizations. They had several types of opportunities posted and in my email I expressed interested in two of them: guiding families through the food bank and helping them with their food selection, and interviewing people to assess their needs. I am more interested in the latter, but I thought it might be easier to start with the former, to ease into volunteering.

It does not perfectly match my ideal volunteer position (does anything?), but I chose to act on this opportunity because it involves direct interaction with people in need, which is something I would like to gain experience with. It is not as directly related to peace and non-violence as I would like, but I feel that it is somewhat related: meeting people’s basic needs of food and shelter is critical to creating a peaceful community.

In the end, I can not know exactly what volunteering at EFAA would be like, or what I could gain from the experience, until I try it. With this realization, I broke myself out of my indecision and emailed the volunteer coordinator. Now here’s hoping I receive a positive response and get to pursue this further!

Gas prices and meeting people’s needs

June 19, 2008

I’ve been thinking about gas prices recently. I am, personally, pleased to see the prices rising, because when you think in terms of cost to the environment, gas should cost much more than it does now. I also hope that more people will be encouraged to use alternate means of transportation as gas prices continue to rise. However, I am also sheltered from the rising costs of gas. That is, I already use alternate means of transportation for the vast majority of my various trips in and around town, and thus I buy gas quite infrequently. In addition, I could afford to pay that much for gas if in fact I needed to.

I don’t usually express these thoughts (in particular, pleasure to see gas prices rising) when talking to other people because most people express concern over how much of their salary they are spending on gas. Sure, there are some people who are just lazy: they earn plenty of money to fill up the tank of their SUV, they could easily bike or take the bus to work, and they still complain about the cost of gas. I don’t have sympathy for such people. But there are other people who really do not have such options. This hit home when I was on my bicycle trip in eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. This part of the midwest consists of tiny towns and large farms separated by many miles; there are no buses and many of the small towns do not even have grocery stores. What can you do when you live on a farm in eastern Colorado and the nearest grocery store is 20 miles away? A 40-mile round trip by bike to buy groceries? I don’t think most people will go for that.

There are several possible responses to those people who are truly affected by the rising cost of gas. We could say “too bad, sucks for you” and let them sink in to poverty, we could subsidize the price of gas, or we could work on putting alternate means of transportation in to place. The first option is not productive and will result in unhappy people who have to struggle to make ends meet. The second option will encourage people to continue to behave in a way that harms the environment. The third option is the most productive: it will support the people’s needs in an environmentally friendly way. Although it seems like the second option, subsidizing the prices, is addressing people’s need, it is actually addressing a false need. It says, “these people need to be able to buy gasoline, so we better make sure it is affordable”. But, in fact, people’s need is not to be able to buy gasoline. Their need is to be able to get where there are going. If we provide them with a good, usable alternative to driving where they need to go, then their need to buy gasoline will disappear. In other words, by looking at the actual needs of people we can start to think of positive actions that both encourage environmently friendly behavior and address those needs. Subsidizing gas prices is a false solution. So, back to my pleasure at the rising gas prices: yes, I am pleased about it, but I am not pleased with the government’s response to it. I think it is a recipe for disaster if the prices continue to rise (and then be subsidized) without the government starting to seriously and actively work on alternate means of transportation that meet people’s true need: the need to get somewhere.

In general, different people in different life situations have different priorities and needs. One of the most critical things one can do to create and maintain peace is to take the time to truly listen to people and figure out what will address their particular, individual needs. Only by doing this will we be able to solve problems and conflicts in a sustainable and peaceful manner.

From seeing injustice to being a revolutionary

May 17, 2008

Last night I watched the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries“, which tells the true story a young Che Guevara and his friend who traveled through South America on a motorcycle (and various other means of transportation) in the 1950s. Che Guevara was in medical school at the time and the second part of the movie focuses on three weeks that the two spend in a leper colony in Peru. The movie itself is really good, probably one of the best movies I have seen (this was in fact the second time I watched it). It has adventure, but it is not just adventure; it also shows the variety of injustices that the men observe during their travels (including within the leper colony). Overall, the story is told with both sensitivity and a sense of fun, and Che is depicted as a sensitive man who is deeply moved by the injustices they see.

It is difficult for me to reconcile this depiction of Che Guevara with who he was later in life: a communist revolutionary who was deeply involved with Cuba and is known for leading men in guerrilla warfare. I realize that the way he is portrayed in the movie is not necessarily entirely accurate of who he actually was, but it is based on the journals that he kept, and in these journals, according to the wiki page about him, he does describe being moved by injustice (the following is from a 1960 journal entry:

I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize at that time that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming famous for making a significant contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people.

I find it a bit sad that someone who so deeply wanted to help people felt that the way to do this was through violence. I suppose that he was not the only revolutionary like that. In fact, I imagine that many of the people who start or participate in revolutions are in fact trying to fix a perceived injustice. Why do so many people so readily turn to violent means to accomplish such lofty goals?

I too am saddened by the injustices I see in the world, and I too want to help people. But I feel strongly that they way to do this is most definitely not through violence. I think that the most significant way to make this world a better place for everyone is through helping to create lasting peace. An idealistic goal, I know, but what else are ideals for? I believe that peaceful revolutions are possible, and that it is not necessary to use violence to remedy injustices.

In spite of my misgivings about Che Guevara’s later life, I do highly recommend “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

Will changing yourself change the world?

April 27, 2008

As I discussed in my post on Deepak Chopra’s book, Peace Is the Way, his basic premise is that everything begins with you. That you need to transform yourself and if enough people transform themselves, we will have a global movement of change. I think this is true, in the sense that we will not have global change until enough individuals have changed. However, how many people are going to pick up Chopra’s book or some other book and go through a transformation because of it? Not enough. The problem is that the people who are the most ingrained in the ways of violence and war, and who are the most violent, are not very likely to even see that something is wrong with their outlook on life, let alone pick up a book such as Peace Is the Way and change their ways because of it. I am persuaded by Chopra’s words, but I was already a non-violent believer in peace before reading his book; it only served to reinforce what I already believed.

In a comment on my post on the Golden Rule, a.s. wrote that teaching the Golden Rule alone is not going to be enough, because the people who do harm to others have themselves been harmed (most likely as children) and thus are simply doing what was done to them. I agree entirely with this, but I will admit that reading this comment made my hope shaky for a while. The intent of that post, however, was not to say that all we need to do is teach everyone the Golden Rule and things will be fine. Rather, I was simply inspired by the fact that the Golden Rule is a globally and historically shared value, and thus there is hope that we can reach a point someday where everyone recognizes this as part of their shared humanity. I do realize that there is a lot of change that needs to occur before we get to that point, and I was able to bring my hope back by remembering that we can do things to help that change occur.

Although the two paragraphs above may seem somewhat unrelated, they are linked by thoughts that contributed to my understanding of the fact that for me, changing myself is not enough. I believe that in order for change and the way of peace to come about, those of us who already believe in and follow the way of peace need to take positive actions that help others reach that way as well. I am not content to sit alone in my room saying “I believe in peace”; I need to do something more, something that reaches out to people who have been hurt and cannot find the way of peace, or something that helps transform the parts of our society that detract from a way of peace. If I sound vague, it is because I have not yet figured out what this thing is that I need to do in my life, that will fulfill me and be contributing in this positive way.

However, I do have a good idea of the things that I think contribute to people being unable to embrace peace. These things include children who are hurt and not allowed to heal, children whose creativity and critical thinking are stifled, the treatment of criminals in our society, poverty, and racism and sexism. Relying on people who have been hurt in these ways to find the way of peace and go through transformations by themselves is not going to be enough; we need to put in place support systems to help these people (who are unfortunately the majority by far) and work on fixing things at the source. I hope to find meaningful work in my life that contributes in a positive way to one of these issues (or another that I may not have thought of right now).