People aren't born into this world knowing how to solve conflicts. Most of our parents weren't trained either, so they were unable to teach us what they didn't know. We all do the best we can with what we know. As children, we learned how to solve our problems by watching how the adults in our lives solved theirs. We watched everybody: our parents, siblings, other relatives, neighbors, friends, teachers, and our political and business leaders. So, as we matured, we began to randomly use different strategies out of the different problem-solving tools we saw and copied. We continued to use those that worked best, and discarded others that may actually have escalated the problem.
As we approached adulthood, we found there were times when nothing we tried worked to peacefully resolve the dispute. However, we continued doing the best we could, having no idea there could possibly be other methods that could have more peacefully and successfully resolved our disputes. Then, we grow up, are now adults and the stakes are much higher. We get into a relationship, begin a job or career, even lead a corporation or a country, and we continue to use the same conflict resolution and mediation strategies we learned as we grew up.
We all, at some time in our lives, may disagree with someone over something. This often results in arguments and intense verbal battles that may escalate to physical violence, enter the cycle of revenge, go to war, or simply kill all of our enemies in a mass genocide. We can even go to war with ourselves when we are overly self-critical and denigrate ourselves, and constantly feed ourselves negative self-talk. I know this personally, because I have used the same conflict reslution methods most of my life and watched others, even government leaders, do the same, without much consistent success. I never knew that such things as conflict resolution and mediation existed and were something that could be taught, studied and practiced. What a revelation! Many other people go through their lives without this revelation, and so the cycle continues. This war against ourselves and others, at whatever level of escalation in which we find ourselves, removes the dignity, respect, compassion, and sense of humanity and human rights that belong to ourselves and others. It's no wonder there's such a pandemic of bullying, domestic violence, abuse, litigation, violence, and war in the world!
I can't help but think, can we do better? Should people have to wait most of their lives to learn how to better solve disputes, simply by accident? Removing this huge deficit of knowledge on how to use mediation and conflict resolution strategies through widespread training and review would help in so many areas. At home, people would be better equipped to peacefully solve family disputes before they escalate into domestic violence or divorce. At school, students would know how to peacefully solve their own problems rather than resort to bullying or playground violence. This could be applied even in elementary schools when there is a simple disagreement on the playground or in the classroom over a ball or pencil. At work, we may have disputes with co-workers, management, contractors, or clients. In government, we may have disputes with other departments, branches of government, or other governments. If we were all taught, and consistently reviewed over time, how to peacefully resolve our conflicts, at any level of escalation, I honestly believe we would live in a very different, more peaceful world than we do now.
As a teacher, I just happened, by chance, to volunteer for my school's Peer Mediation Team to be trained to train others in how to guide people through the mediation process to peacefully solve their own disputes. All members of the team then trained a group of student volunteers to become peer mediators on the school playground during recess. Prior to the introduction of this program we, like many other schools, experienced problems on the playground ranging from disputes over turn-taking or possession of a ball, to outright bullying and the rare occasion of minor violence (shoving, pushing, etc.). These disputes would then follow the students into the classroom and sometimes off school premises after the school day had ended, growing into a much larger, angrier dispute that often now involved many other students, and sometimes their parents. Over the many years that I was a part of this team, we saw a significant decrease in playground disputes, as more and more untrained students were trained by their peer mediators. This program has also decreased problems in the classroom and after school incidents because students are resolving their disputes immediately. As a classroom teacher, I also model and teach the very same strategies to my students, as well as model this to their parents in meetings and phone conversations.
While I firmly believe that conflict resolution and mediation strategies should be taught to all people, I also know that this will not solve all disputes. If, at the same time, people also reflected more about themselves, learned the physical, emotional and experiential origins of their triggers for anger and other emotions, and then truly worked through these to resolve these internal wars, we could end all wars before they could begin. All members of humanity would finally be able to live in peace with themselves, each other, and our environment.
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