Sandy Hook: A Time for Change
by Cherise Hairston
I was moved to write something and do something regarding the tragic loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My aim in this is to reach out to those who understand the importance of our work. We must not give up increasing awareness about community mediation and the need to support our work. I do not aim to preach or judge but to express the sorrow I feel and the frustration of the missed opportunity to support the work of community mediators who day in and day out help reduce conflict and violence in our community. Please accept this expression from that place of concern and love for the well-being of our human family/community that weights heavy on my heart…
A Heavy Heart
I am deeply saddened by the Sandy Hook event of this past Friday and the loss of innocent lives. For me, this reminds me of why I became involved in community mediation 16 years ago and why I am passionate about helping people find the middle ground between each other and search for constructive and productive options for their concerns and frustrations. Without this type of engagement, too often the small slights and hurts, along with the big ones, often lead to conflict, aggression, and violence. Mediation is not a panacea for all the problems and conflicts that affect us, but learning to talk about the hard stuff in the spaces between us, is a good place to start.
Peacemaking Happens Every Day at Community Mediation Centers throughout the Country
Just this past weekend at the Dayton Mediation Center in Dayton, Ohio, 16 of our over 80 volunteer mediators conducted 5 mediations that involved 16 parents and children. The anger and frustration was thick in the air. People were upset, fearful, angry, revengeful, aggressive, all natural when we are in conflict, but our volunteer mediators were there providing constructive and solid support to these families. Our volunteer mediators like yours are the angels here on earth. They are people, many having worked a full week, taken care of their families, working to finish school or just survive make time in their lives to give back to their community. They are willing to give up their Saturdays to serve others selflessly week after week here at our Center. Our volunteers and staff help support constructive dialogue within families, community members, and other organizations in the community day in and day out like you all do. This is the power of community mediation but so few people, especially those who can provide the financial support we need to survive, know that our Centers are a powerful force for violence prevention and reduction.
This is such important work--work that too often people are unaware of and can’t take advantage of. Community mediation is an untapped resource in our communities that are fortunate to have a Center. We need more people to connect the dots about the role our work as conflict engagers can have in helping constructively engage conflicts.
Searching for Hope Amidst Great Tragedy
This tragic event provides the unfortunate opportunity to help others to consider changing the way we talk about critical social issues. With every tragic event that happens that involves gun violence, we start a rancorous and divisive debate on guns, gun control, 2nd amendment rights, and the reasons why people resort to violence. Yet, very little changes in our understanding of the issues or each other. We have the collective knowledge and everyone’s voice is needed to do the hard work changing our present contentious debates around our most critical social and community issues.
We all can improve our ability to do this by learning to listen closely and deeply to others, be respectful and open to the expression of their deeply held beliefs and values, and learn how to engage our differences and perspectives in dialogue along with the principles of non-violent communication and heart-centered communication. I long for the day when we all, but particularly our politicians (at all levels and on both sides of isle) stop debating issues and seek dialogue around the important issues facing our country and the world. We don’t have to agree with each other but we owe it to each other to hear each other out, open our minds to other perspectives, and seek the middle way, the middle ground that exists.
When There Is Despair, Do What You Can Do
I plan to do what I can as a member of our human family and as a community mediator to help my community to connect the dots on the importance of CR curriculum in the schools and the importance of supporting and using CR processes like mediation and facilitation and other restorative justice processes to help people engage their concerns and issues effectively. Reach out to your family members, to your elected officials, to your religious and spiritual leaders, to all those who care about finding ways to create safe and healthy communities for everyone.
I encourage each of you to use your voice and encourage your volunteers and those who support community mediation to help those outside our field connect the dots better on the role of conflict resolution, mediation, and providing constructive forums, like mediation, where people can be supported to have difficult conversations around the issues that are important to them.
We have to be the change we want to see in the world.
A Call to Action
Please, I urge each of you to do what you can to make peace real, not just a catchy slogan. Share this with others who can help us further the important work of community mediation centers and the volunteer mediators who support the creation of peace every day in our communities. Peace is possible if we can get better at opening our hearts and minds as far as they can open, learn to listen more closely and without judgment or evaluation initially to each other, and find the courage to speak out and work for constructive conflict resolution engagement.
May each of you who reads this find comfort and peace in your lives.
Cherise Hairston, a native Daytonian, joined the Dayton Mediation Center as a volunteer mediator in 1996 and later became a DMC employee as a Mediation Specialist in 1999. She joined the Center to do socially valuable work and give back to the community. She completed her Bachelor or Arts in Political Science and went on to study Conflict Resolution at Antioch University McGregor, graduating with an MA in 1997. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Nova Southeastern University and expects to graduate in 2012.
Cherise has completed extensive advanced mediation training and is a “Certified Transformative Mediator” through the Institute for Conflict Transformation. She continues to be involved with the Institute whose mission is to expand the transformative approach to mediation via research, training, publications, and connections with transformative practitioners throughout the world.
Cherise’s areas of concentration and interest are: Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice, Research, Teaching and Training, African-American Indigenous CR theory and practice, women and peacemaking, and Diversity Issues.
Additional articles by Cherise Hairston