Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1958
During this last election cycle, the rhetoric form both political parties has reflected the patterns of hate. Although division, distrust, and rancor between political parties is not new, it is worsening. This trend is a threat to our ability to grow our economy, preserve our freedoms, and provide opportunities for all Americans to thrive.
We as citizens hold the power to stop the slide. If you are willing to change the way you talk and listen, and demand the same of both those who would seek to represent you, and of the media you consume, our country’s divides would begin to heal.
The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison. Reach out, freedom lies just on the other side. We should have liberty for all. – Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1992
If you believe in the aphorism “united we stand, divided we fall,’ reach out and start a new conversation. Use dialogue not debate. Listen for and share the stories of wisdom that can illuminate our next steps.
At this time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify -as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize – is more important than ever. – President Barack Obama, 2017
Take a chance won’t you?
Posted in Dialogue
Tagged communication, community, democracy, divides, government, hate, healing, Martin Luther King Jr, partisan, peace, politics, stories of wisdom, storytelling
Last month I was sitting with friends and discussing recent events at the University of Missouri. One of those present – an African American – said with sadness “it’s getting to the point where I hope there isn’t another African-American president in my life-time. I don’t remember it ever being this bad.” Another member of the group replied: “Sometimes you have to lance an infection so it can heal. What first comes out is ugly but that’s what starts the healing.”
Since then I have been thinking about wound care, and what we as facilitators can learn from it.
First, like an infected wound, unresolved conflict festers. When lanced, or when the stitches previously put in place are pulled, there is often an explosion, and at least a quick leeching out, of the infectious agents and residue. Opening the wound allows this not just to be released; it allows the infectious agents to be examined and removed, and the infected site to be cleaned and treated.
The worst infections are healed through “open wound care.” This is a slow process, requiring constant care and vigilance, until the surrounding tissue begins to heal itself from the inside out. When that happens the tissue becomes lively and vibrant. Still check-ins are needed at regular intervals to prevent the infection from recurring.
Healing an infected wound takes considerable time, setbacks are not uncommon. Patience and perseverance are required.
Even when the wound seems to be healing well – or closes on the surface, pockets of infection may remain. Ongoing monitoring is still required, and use of the surrounding muscle may cause pain. There is a need to go slow, to remain vigilant, and to be patient.
We have a long history of hate. Dialogue can help us heal. Yet that dialogue needs to be ongoing, consciously worked at, not sporadic. Vigilant monitoring with a readiness to intervene when needed is required to sustain progress and restore us to to health. In this season of peace and hope it is worth remembering that we each have the power to speak up, to pursue dialogue with others, and to disturb the patterns of hate when we hear them. Working together we can make 2016 a better, healthier year.
“America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance won’t you? Knock down the fences which divide.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, hate, healing, patience, perseverance, vigilance
It’s ABA Mediation Week 2014, and the theme for this year is “Stories Mediators Tell: From Rookie to Veteran – Exploring the Spectrum of Mediation”. We are excited to be able as part of Mediation Week to share this interview with Bill Johnson who is a veteran at helping communities through conflict. Bill was first trained as a mediator in 1985, and he incorporated that training into his work as the President and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester New York (1972-1993), and as the 64th Mayor of Rochester (1994-2005). After several additional years (2006-2013) as the Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, he is heading a consulting firm focused on “bridging differences to build strong communities” — Strategic Community Intervention LLC. If you are concerned about distrust and divides within our communities, listen to the following interview and find out what can be done to heal those divides, even after events like those that recently occurred in Ferguson, MO. You can also download a summary of Bill’s thoughts and experiences here: SCI –Police and Communities Collaboration, 10-14.
Interview With Bill Johnson of SCI
Note: This video was filmed using VTC Stream.
Posted in ABA Mediation Week, Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, In The Field, Online, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged ABA, Bill Johnson, civic infrastructure, community, Conflict, Dialogue, Ferguson, healing, listening, mediation week, Missouri, public disputes, SCI, Trust
Listening is at the heart of any productive effort to resolve conflict. At times, it’s the only action that can help people move forward. Real listening is hard work. It requires adequate time and space. It’s not the kind of “listening” that we often observe in public disputes. It’s not the kind of “listening” that takes words out of context and fits them into an alternative narrative of who is right and who is wrong. Nor is it “listening” in order to pull out components of a possible “solution” that can then be offered to “stop” or “settle” the conflict. It’s not the “listening” that takes place in scheduled forums where people are allowed to “have their say” within time limits and with no assurance – or even real expectation – that what they say will be taken into account as future decisions are made. All of these alternative forms of “listening” — which are frequently evident in public disputes — breed cynicism rather than hope.
Genuine listening requires an active willingness to put aside our own thoughts and opinions as we listen, so that we can hear and consider experiences and perspectives different from our own. It requires some sense of humility, interdependence, and a desire to think through what the next step might be, together. It’s the kind of listening that President Obama was inviting when he stated that building trust between communities and citizens and police would “require Americans to listen and not just shout. . . That’s how we are going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other not simply divide ourselves from one another”. Taking the time to listen this way is worth the effort. Through listening we learn more about ourselves and each other, and that learning feeds real change.
Others involved or observing the recent unrest in Ferguson also emphasized this kind of listening. The St. Louis Post Dispatch called for dialogue involving “some introspection that allows us to both recognize and learn from our region’s still strong racial divide. . .” Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson recognized both the despair that lay behind signs reading “I am a man” and “Black lives matter,” and that these signs represented an invitation to connect, to acknowledge the people behind them, and to genuinely listen to what they had to say.
As columnist E J Dionne stated, “. . . how we discuss and debate the events in Ferguson really matters.” This is because we need to “step outside the usual boundaries of our discord” if we are going to rebuild trust within our communities. The very act of genuine listening stretches those boundaries and changes how we think. How we define “community” is determined in part by who we are willing to invite into our conversation – – who we are willing to offer a listening ear to, and thus recognize as inextricably related to us. Genuine listening is the hard work of democracy, and it is the responsibility of both citizens and those in appointed or elected positions.
Before we can find “solutions” or “move on” from a deeply rooted conflict that erupts in our community, we need to create safe spaces for listening and sharing. This includes a mix of informal processes like listening circles or conversation cafes hosted by individuals, churches, or civic groups, and formal processes that are supported with a commitment from those in power to act, and act collaboratively, on what is heard. And then we need to actually listen to each other, share, and build on what we have learned. Like tributaries to the Mississippi, it takes many listening conversations, small and large, and flowing together, to build the trust that sustains community.
Posted in democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, Ferguson, healing, listening, Missouri, public disputes