I participated as a facilitator last night in another of the Days of Dialogue sessions being held around the city this year, on the very timely topic of the future of policing. One of the subjects my table discussed was fear: for example the fear claimed by police officers who have sometimes pulled the trigger on an unarmed suspect. Is that fear justified? Are better means available of de-escalating those situations? We also talked about the fear of confrontation that sometimes causes people to shy away from talking to others with whom they find themselves in conflict. The police officer at our table suggested that many problems can be resolved directly between members of the community. Calling the cops should not necessarily be the first step, since that can sometimes cause a dispute to escalate. It's the same in the law business, I added. Many conflicts would be best resolved directly between the parties, before calling in their lawyers. Many of the lawsuits I've been involved with over the years have been perpetuated because of the parties' fears of communicating with one another, and the misunderstandings that this lack of communication creates. In that connection, I couldn't help but mention the little problem I've recently been having with my noisy neighbor, and how I was nervous about trying to resolve it myself.
Inspired by the police officer's comment, when I heard my neighbor this evening at it again in his makeshift garage recording studio, I worked up the courage to walk over and introduce myself. I met his dogs, his house guests, and then the offender finally came upstairs. I pointed out that he might not have realized that my bedroom faces the street directly across from his garage, and that especially at 1 or 2 in the morning, I didn't appreciate being awakened by his music. Maybe headphones would be a good idea. He apologized. He thanked me for coming over. He promised to keep it down. We shook hands.
We talked about much bigger problems at last night's Days of Dialogue session than loud music: The burdens of history; the implicit biases that can often steer us wrong; the corruptions of power; and other weighty and important issues. It was an informative, and even healing program for a lot of people. It proved once again that the format of small groups of people sitting at round tables talking and listening to one another's perspectives, has enormous power to resolve conflict and promote better understanding.
As a bonus, I obtained the immediate practical benefit of solving one small problem for my family. I was not expecting that just thinking and talking about these issues would have such an immediate payoff. But fear of confrontation is no small part of the cause of conflict and violence in our society. Trying to find a safe way to communicate with adversaries we are often afraid to confront is no small part of the solution to resolving conflicts and reducing violence.