finding the right words again…

This piece comes courtesy of Cherise Hairston director of the Dayton, Ohio Mediation Center and was sent to members of the National Association for Community Mediation.  It’s worth a read.  Where are there places in our corner of the world to address issues of in-civility, dis-respect, and failure of desire–to communicate as human beings.  We need to remind ourselves that civil discourse sometimes needs a booster shot but the vaccine is available at no charge.

Dearest NAFCM Members,

If you did not have the opportunity to watch/hear President Obama deliver a memorial speech in Tucson last night for the victims of the Tucson, AZ victims, consider “googling” the speech on the internet or catching it on YouTube.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation or feelings about President Obama, this is a beautiful speech that speaks directly to our work as conflict resolution professionals:

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives-to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.” (emphasis mine)

I do not want to come off as “opportunistic” in the midst of this tragedy. However, I do see this as an opportunity as a field to work harder at spreading this message of civility in how we treat one another despite our differences. As a field, we hold deeply the belief that if parties to a conflict are supported in constructive ways (i.e., the use of conflict resolution processes, the use of third-party intervenors) that we can manage our most bitter conflicts, in ways that are peaceful and non-violent. We can agree to disagree while not seeking to decimate the character of the people we are in conflict with, or to even strike out and kill one another because we disagree with each other.

This message of managing conflicts and disagreements by peaceful means has been our field’s message. While we have always had a challenge of bringing forth this message to the public, we now face even greater challenges in bringing forth our message of constructive conflict resolution to the world because we, as a people, are constantly being exposed to so many  images of violence and destructive discourse between people. We especially see this almost daily on the news in the images of poisonous political discourse between politicians and pundits, between people of diverse political backgrounds on “both sides of the isle”.

These images of poisonous political discourse are everywhere and invade the public consciousness and promote the message that we can talk nasty to one another, make threats to harm or kill someone because of differing beliefs and values, and be disrespectful to one another failing to recognize that we all have the right to be treated with dignity and to not have our humanity stripped away from us because of our differences, or have our character assassinated because of what we believe.

“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized—at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do—it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds”

This is the challenge we face as a field in delivering our message of the importance of civil discourse between one another, despite our differences. We face the challenge of the ever increasing tolerance for violence and character assassination when we disagree with one another on fundamental issues of values and beliefs.  Many of our  political leaders, at all levels of government,  fail to realize that they have powerful influence and can set the tone on how we interact with one another. Unfortunately, many times they have failed to do so reinforcing destructive ways of interacting with one another.

From Obama’s speech:

we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American generation to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here—they help me believe. We may not be able to stop evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

President Obama has issued a call to all Americans (and the world) to be better. His words encourage me to be reflective and always remember that “the way” is always to tap into my  inherent capacities for “decency and goodness”. We all have this inherent capacity for decency and goodness.

The Conflict Resolution field in general, and Community Mediation in particular, must answer this call. We must find ways to unite our message with President Obama’s message and strengthen our efforts to bring the message of the importance of conflict resolution skills and constructive and non-violent processes for managing our conflicts and differences in constructive, civil, and non-violent ways.

“We recognize our own morality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame—but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”

May peace and love always be with each of you as you endeavor to do this important work of providing conflict resolution skills and processes to our fellow community members and to the peoples of the world.

Cherise D. Hairston

Dayton Mediation Center

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