Presidio Sentinel San Diego
By Laura Walcher
Absent the 20th century world wars, can we remember a
time since, so filled with conflict, seemingly invading every aspect of our society, seemingly propelled by American’s thin-skinned, rash president? Tough times. All the more reason to recognize, honor and celebrate the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC)– resolutely deepening their programs and outreach, inspiring us to seek peaceful resolutions to our conflicts – and showing us how.
The organization’s annual Peacemaker Awards are coming up
In April – and not a moment too soon.
We asked Steve Dinkin, NCRC’s CEO, how he sees the world today, and how the organization addresses our challenges. Why, indeed, can’t we just get along?
LW: In writer Tyler Cowen’s new book, “The Complacent Class,” he says that Americans have “lost their mojo” – that is, unable to work up the interest or energy to solve our country’s problems. Heaven knows, that includes economic, racist, political and personal conflict! Yet these days, NCRC is all over the map, advocating for and teaching conflict resolution. Not exactly ‘complacent?’ Do you still think that “conflict is inevitable, but manageable?”
SD: Yes. Yet, I think that one of the biggest problems we face today is that society has become increasingly conflict avoidant. And that may very well be why we are in the state we are in now. People are hiding behind computer screens and smart phones to push back against one another, instead of having meaningful face-to-face conversations that help move issues forward. No matter how far technology takes us, nothing will ever replace the importance of a conversation between two people with differing ideas. We have to teach people how to respectfully disagree again.
LW. Somewhere in my “stacks,” I have a four-page brochure for a seminar called, “Dealing with Difficult People,” but NCRC goes ‘way beyond those challenging folk. Is conflict, mediation always about “difficult” people?
SD: On the contrary. Most people are reasonable and other-wise level-headed, but we all get pulled into conflict and tend to lose our cool when emotions take over. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s important to know that conflict will happen - and it’s okay. Just make sure you have the tools needed to deal with it properly when the time comes.
LW: Resolving conflict: isn’t it enough to say you’re ‘sorry!’ ?
SD: The idea behind successful conflict resolution is not that you have to constantly apologize or end up agreeing with the person with whom you are in conflict. In fact, if you offer a false apology, you are more likely to continue to have issues with that person, because, for you, the conflict is not fully resolved. But if you can agree to hear the other person, acknowledge that they have been impacted by the situation and work with them to move forward, that is often enough to get the situation resolved.
LW. Too much conflict today, we recognize, is between citizens and police. Is NCRC specifically addressing that now?
SD: We work with citizens and law enforcement in many ways. Through the County of San Diego Live Well Initiative, we facilitate discussions between residents of communities like Southeast San Diego or City Heights and local law enforcement, plus provide communication training to both citizens and police so that the two groups have an opportunity to interact in positive ways. We also train youth – from middle school to university students – in conflict resolution techniques, which touch on how to work collaboratively with those in authority.
LW. You’ve expanded NCRC’s services significantly – and importantly - to ever-younger teens, youth. What motivated you to establish , “Avoiding the Pipeline to Prison” – ?
SD: From 1980 to 2008 the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from 500,000 to over 2.3 million, making us the most punitive nation in the world! More and more, we have seen that youngsters get caught in this system. For many who are arrested for crimes such as vandalism or battery, the punishment doesn’t end when they serve their jail time. By then, they have missed school, disconnected from many positive aspects of society and become acquainted with other criminals. It’s easy for them to end up back in the system over and over again. So, we clearly need a new way of looking at how we deal with youth who have committed criminal acts.
The “Avoiding the Pipeline to Prison” initiative focuses on Restorative Justice - an ancient practice based on a timeless truth that restitution has greater value than retribution. It shifts the focus from legal rules to human needs and from punishment to responsibility. It addresses the personal impact of wrongdoing on the victim, the offender, their families, and their community. All parties work together to repair the harm, ensure accountability, and make a fresh start.
Restorative Justice works. It dramatically reduces recidivism. It eases symptoms of emotional pain among victims. It builds solidarity within communities. And, it lowers the spiraling costs of criminal prosecution and incarceration. Remarkably, in an era of growing political discord, restorative justice is winning support from conservatives and progressives alike.
LW: Does NCRC have any plans to address the current toxic Trump moves, and in his wake, increased racist, religious, cross-border, and international hostile activity? Surely non-peaceful!
SD: Society as a whole needs to unite to fight hate-speech, racism and violence. To this end, NCRC has joined forces with KPBS to launch a Community Heroes Initiative whereby four times a year, San Diegans will nominate community heroes who are making a difference in addressing some of the most contentious problems of our time. Once the “hero” has been selected, NCRC and KPBS will hold a town-hall meeting to hear from the hero as well as citizens, so that we may find common ground and solutions to many of these troubling issues. Starting in 2018, these four heroes will be recognized at the Peacemaker Awards Dinner.
LW. Fortunately, NCRC does see ‘peace’ in this year’s awards; possibly the world’s most urgent undertaking. Who are the Awardees this year, and why have they earned your attention, admiration?
SD: Our three Awards this year:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, for their "Teaching Tolerance" program. This award-winning, multi-media platform for building an inclusive society, is empowering educators across the country to guide students away from bias and conflict and toward empathy and unity.
Basketball legend Bill Walton and his wife, Lori, are being honored for focusing so much of their philanthropic service on their passionate belief in the value of civic spirit and the power of human aspiration.
And, Rachel’s Challenge is the organization named after Rachel Joy Scott's posthumous legacy of kindness that emerged after her death in the Columbine High School massacre. The work of this organization is transforming schools by disrupting patterns of bullying with a culture of compassion and civility. ###
The 29th Annual PEACEMAKER AWARDS, will be presented Saturday, April 8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency, La Jolla at Aventine, 5:30 – 9 p.m. RSVP: 619-238-2400, xl222; firstname.lastname@example.org