Community through Trans-formative Conflict Resolution: Patrick Ashton at TEDxFortWayne 2013

one hundred years ago what was the leading cause of death in the United States well here at the top for pneumonia influenza tuberculosis and diarrhea diarrhea yes from cholera and intestinal parasites from drinking polluted water well in the developed world today no healthy person expects to die from these diseases why not well inventions like vaccines discoveries like antibiotics public health education and public works like sanitation and water treatment but if you can go back 100 years and interview people back in the early 20th century and say do you think that people will a lot of people will die from these epidemics they'd probably shrug their shoulders and say well of course I mean what can you do but we tamed those epidemics didn't we well what if fighting in violence were like that and we just didn't know it what if we could prevent epidemics of fighting and violence or at least drastically reduce their negative effects well it's not conflict that's the problem I want to emphasize that conflict is a lot like fire it has a dual nature on the one hand if you've witnessed an out-of-control house fire building fire you know how terribly destructive fire can be on the other hand we humans are the only animal species that controls fire and what it's what makes civilization possible so it's not conflict itself that's the problem and contrary perhaps to the suggestion in the title of my talk it doesn't inevitably need to be busted constructive conflict in fact can surface problems it can bring people together in common cause it can clarify goals and beliefs and it can promote individual growth and collective social change on the other hand conflict can destroy people in relationships and disrupt communities and so really it's the destructive conflict that needs to be busted well I'm an urban sociologist when I moved to Fort Wayne about thirty years ago I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were over a hundred neighbourhood associations most of them at least somewhat active given my long-standing interest in the study of community I joined my neighborhood association board and served on it for nine years well we did the usual things that these boards do sponsored community potlucks summer picnics association wide garage sales but we also fielded calls and complaints from neighborhood residents you need to do something about my neighbor what are you gonna do about them they parked their car in front of my yard they don't mow their lawn often enough they have that tree that drops fruit and leaves in my yard what are you gonna do about that of course we'd always say to them did you talk with your neighbor now two people in the note by the way these kinds of problems and people in the know now includes all of you because I'm about to tell you these kinds of problems are called very famously the barking dog problems or in the case of the Beagle I guess the howling dog problems because they most frequently did involve barking dogs my neighbor's dog barks all the time you need to stop that dog from barking or they let it out in the middle of the night and it barks and barks to come in and wakes us all up stop it and when we said did you talk to them they'd always say no you can't talk to that knucklehead you know they won't listen I just called the police or I just called the city and filed a complaint well the police can come out of course but if they don't actually witness a crime being committed there's nothing they can do and most of the things that neighbors complained about in truth were not really violations of city ordinances or neighborhood codes so the police were frustrated the city officials were frustrated the residents were certainly frustrated and we and the board were frustrated I knew there had to be a better way so I looked around and I found it community mediation now community mediation has been around for about 40 years it's a process of structured dialogue between the parties in a dispute mediated by trained volunteers the trained volunteers are neutral facilitators they're what William ury one of the founders of the Harvard negotiation project calls the third side not an advocate for either party not a judge not an arbitrator but a neutral facilitator they truly are the destructive conflict Buster's and they're who you need to call well the mediators are not there to solve the disputants problems for them rather they're there to empower the disputants to discover and develop their capacities to solve their own problems and through the discovery of common ground to transform the relationship between them in a positive way the goal is for a triple win a win for each of the parties in terms of their underlying interests and a win for the community as a whole in terms of increased livability and peacefulness now in the mediation process the mediators encourage the parties in the dispute to tell their story first of all to the mediators and then to each other through using active listening techniques which include restating that is restating the facts as they're discovered reflecting underlying emotions and summarizing new understandings and common ground as its established they ensure that the parties feel heard by deep listening they encourage the parties to find their voices and tell their stories now why is storytelling important well we humans evolved as storytellers for several million years while the human species has lived on the earth before the invention of writing it was the only way to pass on culture to tell stories this is a Paleolithic cave painting perhaps ten thousand years old yes it shows the hunt but more importantly it shows the storytelling about the hunt the way that people passed on knowledge and skills and myths and legends and beliefs and perspectives well the invention of writing of course has provided other ways of telling stories but we're still compelled by stories right we still enjoy good stories today and we engage in storytelling whether it's around the campfire or whether it's around the table sharing office gossip but storytelling is crucial to the mediation process because storytelling encourages perspective-taking well I never knew you saw it that way I just assumed something else storytelling also stimulates empathy well I can understand how you'd feel that way now I want to distinguish empathy from sympathy because the two are often confused in the popular mind I think sympathy is when you feel bad for somebody oh that poor person I feel so bad for them whereas empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes I feel your pain storytelling also encourages the discovery of new possibilities the goal is not compromise meeting in the middle which were often taught is the solution to everything let's just meet in the middle let's divide it in half but rather it's about collaborative problem-solving in a context of enlarged possibilities now interestingly enough these are the same skills we need for democratic dialogue talking to each other about really important things consider these three phrases talking at talking to and talking with talking at is what most of talk radio and indeed political speeches are the speaker has no intention of listening right there just declarative in nature this is what you should think this is how you should feel talking to is sharing information like in a lecture like in what I'm doing right now talking with on the other hand is a mutual exchange of perspectives of ideas and when we engage in these kinds of behaviors we can come closer to the achievement of democracy now imagine that we had centers or public spaces in our neighborhoods where we could learn practice these skills where we could talk with one another to peacefully resolve conflicts to discover common ground that we have and to respectfully acknowledge differences these kinds of places are called third places not home not work somewhere neutral but shared and these third places are forums for the third side now these places would of course look different in different kinds of neighborhoods in some neighborhoods they may be drop-in storefront community centers in other neighborhoods they might take the form of expanded bus Hut's this is a design a colleague and I did for an international design competition it's an expanded bus hunt that's available for four-season use why because there are solar collectors on the roof and wind turbines nearby that provide heating and cooling as needed but what's more important about this is there's lots of seating permanent tables for playing dominoes cards checkers chess writing a letter people still do that or getting on your iPad but more than just a place to wait for the bus it's a place to hang out a place to talk with your neighbors to catch up on the neighborhood gossip to exchange points of view on current issues to learn other people's stories a place to build community in other neighborhoods you might take the form of coffee houses or cafes this is a cafe in our more than a cafe in a Central City neighborhood in New Orleans appropriately named Cafe beckon sealed the reconciliation cafe it's a community center on the first floor a cafe on the upper floors community mediation centers community meeting places community education in other neighborhoods perhaps the location would be community shared tool sheds or shared toy sheds but the forum of course is not what's important it's the process the process of collaborative problem-solving and democratic dialogue you know children born today are likely to be alive at the dawn of the 22nd century it's amazing to think about isn't it well our children and grandchildren look back at our times today with the same mixture of pity and sadness that we look back at those terrible epidemics of the early 20th century or will they look back at our times and say that was the moment they got it that's the moment they stemmed the epidemic of fighting and violence and restored democracy like the scientists and public officials of the previous century we can use inventive –mess public education and public works to build communities that are capacity enhancing compelling and collectively accountable we can do this are you in thank you

  1. This video was submitted with the incorrect title. It should be titled: "Who Ya Gonna Call? Conflict Busting to Build Community and Democracy." (Look at the first slide 10 seconds in.)

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