Peacebuilding Simulation: Emma Thornton

By Cate Malek, University of Colorado


Emma Thornton

Background

You moved to Maren with your husband and your three sons two years ago. You weren't happy about the move. You liked living in the city and Maren seems like the middle of nowhere to you. Not only that, but while your husband has his dream job with a tech company, it has taken you a year to find a job. You applied over and over to the private high school with no luck. You have finally accepted a position at the public high school in Blue River, the next town over. You are teaching your specialty, literature. But you have also been roped into teaching a couple of gym classes, despite the fact that you have almost zero athletic ability.

You are nervous about your new job. The Maren Public Schools have a reputation as being tough places to teach, especially for outsiders. You know you will stand out because of your tall, thin stature and your Western accent. The recent outbreaks of violence worry you. But, you are also frustrated with the stance of many of your neighbors who have stopped going into town and refuse to associate with the locals. In your opinion, if people are going to live in Maren, they should at least try to get along with the people already living here.

On your first day of school, your worst fears are confirmed. Your students are at best unmotivated and at worst downright rude. They talk all through lit class and make snide comments about Westerners. Gym class is even worse. You ask your students to do some running, but they outright disobey, sitting on the lawn and not moving a muscle. When you get home that night, your husband listens to your story and then suggests that you quit the job. He says the private school has an opening for a tutor and that maybe it would be a better fit for you. But for some reason, you don't want to quit yet. You tell your husband that you'll try this job at least until Christmas.


Rising Tension

Conflict Emergence

Tensions or grievances can persist over long periods of time without resulting in a noticeable conflict. To read more about the factors that transform such tensions into an active conflict, click here.

Things aren't going well in Maren. The Vigilantes, a violent anti-immigration group that has been dormant for thirty years, has recently been attacking immigrants. The immigrants, in turn, have been blamed for a series of brutal rapes. In addition, some Marenese kids vandalized one of the new tech firms. The Marenese kids are also harassing any Western kids who come into Blue River, polarizing the Western and Marenese communities. Most Westerners stay as far away as they can from town. But now your job requires you to go right to the heart of the conflict every day.

The semester drags on. Your literature classes aren't quite as bad as they were the first day, but there isn't much improvement. The only good thing about them is the insights you get into Blue River's culture. You're realizing why the Marenese and the Mendozans are so hostile towards the Westerners. The poverty of the locals is startling, especially in a relatively rich country like Perades. You're starting to think that maybe the Westerners shouldn't have segregated themselves so completely. For instance, if the Westerners were pouring as much money into the Maren public schools as they are into the private schools, things at this school might actually improve. On the other hand, after one of your abysmal literature classes, you feel happy that your kids aren't going here.

Surprisingly, the gym classes are what you look forward to every week. Walking home one day after school, you noticed some of the local kids playing soccer. You stopped to watch, impressed by how good they were. You were surprised to find out that there was no soccer league in Maren. Your boys are soccer players, too, and although the private school has talked about putting together a league, there really aren't enough kids interested in playing to start a real team. The Maren schools, on the other hand, don't have the money or the personnel to devote to a league. You have decided to turn your gym classes into a mini soccer league. You divided your kids into teams and they've gotten really into it. Since then, gym has gone much more smoothly.

One night, as you are eating with your family, you're telling them about the soccer league at school. Your sons start complaining about the lack of a soccer league and that they're tired of living in the middle of nowhere. Your husband is getting a pained expression on his face. To break the tension, you suddenly blurt out an idea that's been brewing in your head. What if the private school kids joined the local kids to put together some teams? The private school could contribute money and the public school could contribute players. Your sons look doubtful, as does your husband. You're not quite sure why you're so insistent about the idea. After all, it could be a complete failure. But, by the end of dinner you've convinced your sons to talk to their classmates and find anyone who would be interested in setting up a league.

Questions:

 


 
 
  1. What more could Emma do to de-escalate the conflict in her community?
  2. Think about ways to increase communication between the different groups in Blue River.
  3. What are possible triggering events that could escalate the conflict in Blue River?
     
     
     
  4. Where is the common ground between the groups in Blue River?
     
     
     

 


Taking Action

The Third Side

"The Third Side is not some mysterious or special 'other.' It is us. The missing alternative to force and domination is in our hands." — William L. Ury

The next day, you make an appointment with the principal of the private school, Matthew Ballack, to discuss your idea. He turns you down flat. He tells you that Marenese and Mendozan teenagers have been harassing kids from the private school and he doesn't want to be responsible if the soccer league leads to more incidents of violence. You argue with him, telling him that you think that if the kids from different groups got to know each other better, that it might actually decrease violence. The principal tells you you're naïve.

"Even if the locals learn to accept Westerners, there are even deeper rifts between the Marenese and the Mendozans. You would have to be a miracle-worker to make this league work," he tells you.

You leave disheartened. Nevertheless, just for curiosity's sake, you bring up the idea in gym class the next day. You are surprised when your usually surly students jump on the idea. They are especially excited by the possibility of leaving Maren to compete against teams around the country. You feel sorry that you got their hopes up for nothing.

That night, your husband shows you an ad he clipped from the local paper. The mayor of Blue River, Mike Green, is offering money for projects that might decrease the tension and violence in the Maren area. However, he is only offering a small sum for each project, which will not be enough for the league. You decide to set up a meeting anyway.

You meet with Mike during your lunch break the next day. He is excited about the idea, especially because you are a Westerner who is interested in working with the local community. However, he agrees with you that the money he has to offer will be nowhere near enough to cover the cost of the league. He is also frustrated that the principal of the private school has been so unhelpful. Mike sits and thinks for a second.

"Look," he tells you, "I would be willing to double the amount of money I'll give you for the project, but that still won't be enough to fund the league. We should talk to Principal Ballack together and see if he is willing to match the money that I'm donating. That will give you enough to start the league and then if it's successful, maybe the private school will be willing to take over funding."

Questions:

  1. Do you think that the soccer project is a good idea?
     
     
     
  2. What problems and sources of opposition are likely to arise?
     
     
     
  3. How might they be overcome?
     
     
     

You are impressed with Mike. He seems like a creative man who is doing all he can for his community. Still, you are nervous about going back to talk to Principal Ballack, especially because of the icy reception he gave you last time.

You and Mike meet with Principal Ballack two days later. You can tell that he is somewhat annoyed to see you back again. However, he sits and listens patiently to your plan.

When you and Mike have finished talking, Principal Ballack sighs and says wearily,

"I can see that both of you are committed to this plan. However, many of the parents at my school are very suspicious of the local community, and rightly so. My students no longer feel safe going into town. If something were to happen to one of my students because of this league, I would be held responsible and I just don't know if I want to take that risk."

Questions:

  1. What do you think of Principal Ballack's concerns?
     
     
     
  2. Can you think of any ways to address his fears?
     
     
     

 


Organizing the Third Side

Mike looks irritated. He takes a deep breath and then begins,

The Third Side

Third siders act in a community threatened with destructive conflict as an immune system acts in a body threatened by disease. Average citizens such as teachers, journalists, artists, and police officers can play key roles in preventing, de-escalating, and resolving conflict.

"Mr. Ballack, I appreciate your concern and I understand that you are trying to act in the best interest of your students. However, I'm not sure if I have conveyed the seriousness of the current situation in Maren. I view the recent influx of people from the West as a tremendous opportunity for Maren. However, if the residents of Maren remain polarized due to reasons of class, outward appearance, and culture, it will only create more tension and violence. That will put your students at even more risk than they are at now. By helping build bridges between communities, you would be diminishing the risk to your students, not increasing it! My fear is that this conflict will escalate to the point that you Westerners will pull out of Maren and move back home. I view that possibility as a loss for the citizens of Maren and also for you. In my opinion, the only way to de-escalate this conflict is to facilitate more contact between diverse groups of people. This soccer league would be an ideal way to do this."

You quickly pipe in,

"Not only that, but I am also a parent at your school. I have three boys currently attending. Although I realize that many parents will be against this idea, if I am willing to let my children participate in the league, surely there must be other parents who think the same way I do."

Principal Ballack smiles and shakes his head.

"Alright," He says. "I'm willing to give this a try. I'll match your funds, Mike. And if the league is successful, my school will continue to pay for it. However, I warn you that if there is any trouble, I will pull out immediately."

You break into a grin. "Thank you so much, Mr. Ballack."

It is not until you get home that you realize how much work you've signed yourself up for. You know almost nothing about soccer, much less how to set up an entire league. You feel overwhelmed but determined.

Questions:

  1. What problems is Emma likely to face?
     
     
     
  2. What strategies could she have in place to deal with these problems?
     
     
     
  3. In what ways could her project help to de-escalate the conflict?
     
     
     

 


The Bridge Builder

Over the next few months, you devote almost all your free time to the soccer league. Your students are very enthusiastic about the idea. Your sons are more nervous than excited, but they still recruit fifteen other kids from school who want to participate.

Bridge Building

"A relationship operates like savings in the bank; whenever an issue arises, the parties can dip into their account of goodwill to help deal with it. Often not a discrete activity, bridge-building [the act of building relationships] takes place all around us, sometimes without us even perceiving it — at family meals, on school projects, in business transactions, and at neighborhood meetings." — William L. Ury

Altogether, between the Marenese, Mendozan, and Western communities, about 180 students try out for the teams. You divide the kids into nine teams. There are three teams at each age level. You are able to find coaches remarkably fast. In the spirit of promoting community cooperation, you make sure to choose coaches from the Westerner community, the Marenese community and the Mendozan community. You set up a game schedule for each age group with a tournament at the end. The winner of each tournament will go on to compete at the national level. You realize that nine teams is a little small, but you're hoping that more kids will join next season.

Once practices start, you divide your time between the nine teams, stopping by to make sure everything is going smoothly. It's a lot of work. Maren is a large area and you find yourself regularly driving from town to town, checking up on the teams. You also quiz your boys after every practice to make sure they feel comfortable and safe. You have told everyone participating in the league that they must be on their best behavior and if they're not, that's the end of the league. So far, everyone seems to be complying.

The first major problem with the league is that the playing styles of the Western kids and the local kids are completely different. The local kids are better soccer players, much more aggressive, but also more prone to break the rules. At school, your students complain to you about it. They tell you the referees are biased and only call violations on them and never the Western kids. You try to be as stern as possible when you tell them that if they are going to compete at a national level, they are going to have to learn from the Western kids about playing by the rules.

At home, your children complain about the local kids, telling you they think the locals are trying to injure them on purpose with their extremely aggressive moves. You tell your sons that the best professional soccer players are aggressive; it is just a different style of play. You even suggest that the Western players might have something to learn from the local kids.

Your speeches have an effect. The kids from different community groups are still awkward around each other, but they are also learning to work together on the soccer field. They are developing their own style of soccer that you think might actually be extremely successful when they play at the Perades championships.

However, several months into the season, you encounter your second problem. One of the kids from the Mendozan community is a natural bully and he's started to harass the other kids on his team. Unfortunately, some of his Mendozan teammates are starting to rally behind him. They are harassing both the Western kids and the local kids equally, but you know it will be a disaster if word gets back to the Western parents. If they pull their kids out, you know the team will fall apart and probably the league too.

You sit down with the Mendozan kids who have been causing the problems. You tell them that if you hear one more bad report you will kick them out of the league and the other players on their team will have to forfeit. You're not sure if you've had any effect on the kids. When you talk to their coach, a Marenese woman, she says she can barely control them.

Question:

  1. What are some other joint project ideas that could help mobilize the third side?
     
     
     

 


Building Trust

However, after the talk, the problems stop abruptly. It seems the Mendozan community has decided that the soccer championships are Maren's chance to prove to the rest of the country that the citizens of Maren aren't backwards rednecks. The Mendozan kids aren't going to risk getting kicked out of the league.

Between teaching classes and running the soccer league, the fall passes quickly. The best teams in the league are planning to compete in the national championships. To your surprise, the entire town of Blue River seems to have gotten caught up in your soccer experiment. Families offer to lend you vans to travel in and to make food for the trip. Five Marenese families and seven Mendozan families want to travel to the tournament to cheer on the teams from Maren. Not to be outdone, three Western families volunteer to come along as well. On the day of your departure, the local newspaper puts a photo of the entire soccer tournament caravan on the front page. You have to laugh at how seriously everyone is taking this. However, you are also very proud of the kids.

Managing Trust

While strong personal relationships alone cannot bring about conflict resolution, they can help to transform the conflict and make it easier to resolve. Relationships between opposing sides help to build trust, improve communication, and increase tolerance.

The trip goes smoothly. For many of the local kids, this is their first time out of Maren and they are incredibly excited. However, once you get to the tournament, the excitement quickly turns to nervousness. The kids are afraid they're going to lose and embarrass their families and friends back home. You have to admit that you're fairly nervous as well.

However, that nervousness quickly dissipates once the kids begin to play. They are focused and driven. The teams in the two younger age groups do well. They both lose in the next to the last round. However, your son's team, which is in the oldest age group, is doing amazingly well. They beat team after team, until finally they make it to the final four. The first two teams they play are tough and you can tell the kids are exhausted, but they persevere and win. They have made it to the final two and they are playing against a team from the richest region in Perades. Your kids play well, but this team is cutthroat. The other team beats Maren by two points.

Amazingly, everyone in the caravan acts as if they had won the tournament. They celebrate all night. When you return to Maren, everyone greets you as if you were conquering heroes. Apparently it is enough for the citizens of Maren to know that their kids can compete at the national level.

What cheers you most is that in the midst of the hubbub over the tournament, something far less obvious has been happening. The kids participating on the soccer league have become friends. Playing together has forced them to begin to respect each other. You were surprised the first time one of your sons asked if he could go over to one of his Marenese teammates' house after school, but it is now a regular occurrence. Now when you go to town, you stop to chat with the parents of other soccer players.

When you, Mike, and Principal Ballack meet to assess the first season, you agree that it has been a resounding success and Principal Ballack agrees to fund the next season.

Question:

  1. What can you do to solidify the progress you have made with the soccer league?
     
     
     

 


Spider Webs

"When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion." — African proverb

You have heard of other good things going on in the city of Blue River. Stephen Pelle, a police officer in town, arrested the leaders of the Vigilantes for beating an immigrant man.

You also hear that Susana Hayek of the Marenese Church has started a very successful affordable housing project in town. It seems to you that things are changing for the better in Blue River.

However, there are still problems in Maren. In the newspaper, you read about a shadowy group called the Marenese Defense Association or the MDA who are stockpiling arms in order to protect themselves from the Vigilantes. You wonder why in the world they feel the need to do that since most of the leaders of the Vigilantes are in jail.

You don't think too much about these developments; you're too busy. Three months pass quickly and then it is summer vacation. You're thankful for the rest.

Question:

  1. What third side roles are being played in Maren and what roles still need to be filled?
     
     
     

 


Escalation

Escalation

Escalation is an increase in the intensity of a conflict. The number of parties and issues tends to increase, tactics become heavier, malevolence increases, and overall destructiveness generally increases as well.

It started as a drunken brawl on a hot July night. In the beginning the fight was between two men, one Marenese and one Mendozan. But from there, the facts get a little fuzzy. Some say the Mendozan had been harassing one of the busboys at the bar, a young Trinerean immigrant man, when a Marenese man stepped in to defend the immigrant. Others say it was the Marenese man who started the trouble, that he had a gun on him and he was bragging about it and showing it off.

What is certain is that the fight spread into the streets of Blue River. Some Mendozans used it as an excuse to target Marenese property, breaking windows and spray-painting buildings. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the Marenese community was prepared for exactly this situation. Some members of the MDA, who had spent the last few months training, went home to get weapons and then returned to the scene of the violence. The introduction of weapons turned the already escalating conflict into an all-out riot. When the smoke cleared, two Mendozans had been shot and went to the hospital in critical condition. The police arrested fifteen people, including William Luchard, a professor at the local university.

Here the story gets blurry again. Although it is clear that two men were shot, it is more difficult to say who shot them and why. The members of the MDA say that they while they were armed, they never fired their guns. They blame the police for the shootings. When the police conducted an internal investigation that pinned the shootings on the MDA, the Marenese community denounced their findings as a whitewash.

In the weeks after the riot, the people of Maren and the town of Blue River especially are shaken up. Although Maren has always had its problems, no one ever expected that it would get to this point. A line has been crossed and many people fear that it is too late to go back. The newspaper reports that many people have bought guns for their households, hoping to protect themselves in case the violence continues. The Western community segregates themselves further from the rest of Blue River. There is talk of plans to build several gated communities in the hills. The Mendozans, Marenese, and immigrants have withdrawn into their respective communities, avoiding any activities that would require them to associate with outsiders such as soccer practice or going into town to shop. The streets in town are so deserted that you fear the economy will be threatened. The citizens of Maren seem to be holding their breath, waiting to see what is going to happen next.

Questions:

  1. Now that the riot has occurred, what should Emma's next steps be?
     
     
     
  2. What possible problems does she need to prepare for and how should she do it?
     
     
     
  3. What are methods of de-escalating this conflict?
     
     
     

 


Preventing Violence

To your surpise, you get a phone call from Mike Green, the mayor. He says that you are one of the best conflict resolvers he knows of, and he wonders if you'd come sit down with him to brainstorm ideas for rebuilding trust and relationships between the different groups in town. You don't think you know anything more than he does, but he was good to you, so you don't want to let him down. You agree to meet on Friday at 10:00.

Questions:

  1. Knowing what you now know about conflict dynamics, why do you think this happened?
     
     
     
  2. What are you going to tell Mike about rebuilding trust and relationships?
     
     
     
  3. What do you think he (or you or others) can do to prevent more violence from occurring?
     
     
     
  4. What are some nonviolent methods that oppressed groups can use to get their needs met?
     
     
     

Although you promised to help Mike, the riot leaves you in shock. You have put your heart and soul into the soccer league and now it seems your work has been for nothing. You had hoped to start the fall soccer season in August to get a jump-start on training, but nobody is showing up for practices. You have become good friends with people in both the Marenese and the Mendozan communities in the last few weeks and they seem like such good people. You can't understand how all these friendships fell apart so quickly and just because of a drunken brawl.

"In some respects, the whole field of conflict resolution is about finding alternatives to political violence. People and governments have, of course, turned to war and violence throughout history. However, that does not mean we are doomed to a life of political violence." — Chip Hauss

For several weeks, you fall into a depression. You have become terrified of another riot. What scares you most is a "perfect storm" situation that would push Maren from a relatively peaceful place to one of conflict and violence. If things continue as they are, you feel that the people of Maren will forget the riot and life will return to normal. However, if a crisis were to occur, you know that Maren is not strong enough to handle it. Because of its location on the ocean, hurricanes occasionally hit Maren. You can imagine that in the wake of a natural disaster, Maren could dissolve into chaos. You can imagine other worst-case scenarios: an economic recession, a case of police brutality. Really any additional stress would be more than Maren could handle.

You tell your husband you want to leave Maren for good. He is sympathetic, but tells you he wants to ride it out for a while longer. After a while, you get tired of moping around and start feeling angry. You put so much work into this league and so did all the kids who participated. Is it really going to fall apart because of these petty prejudices? You wish the people of Blue River would learn to work together, so that if the worst should happen they will have some defense against it. You wonder if your soccer project and the work that Stephen, Susana, and others are doing could act as a sort of immune system for Blue River, preventing further outbreaks of violence. You decide to take action.

Your first step is to go house-to-house, talking to some of the families you know best. Everyone is friendly and happy to see you, but you also start to realize how frightened and angry everyone is and how deep the prejudices in Maren run. The Mendozan families are terrified of the MDA and they say they'll never forgive them for shooting two members of their community. The Marenese have been thrown back into the days of terror when the Vigilantes were at their peak and the Marenese were afraid to go out at night.

The Westerners don't understand why Blue River has become so violent and are beginning to suspect that there is something intrinsically wrong with the locals. None of the parents will allow their kids to return to soccer practice. You give up. You don't know what else to do.

 


Mobilizing the Moderates

Moderates

Most groups in a conflict include a substantial number of moderates — people who, while they may feel passionately about an issue, are also open to hearing the other side and exploring opportunities for compromise. Moderates have a special ability to transform destructive conflicts.

It is the kids who give you the first sign of hope. Your students tell you that they have been talking to each other and they have decided they want to keep playing. They have been looking forward to soccer season all summer and they're sure that they can win the championship this year. Your family says the same thing. Your oldest son is in his last year before graduation and he knows this is his only chance to win the championship. The problem is getting enough parents to give their permission. You brainstorm with your class and together you decide that the best thing to do would be to bring all the parents together in a big meeting. You think that if they just talk to each other, then maybe that will help to alleviate some of their fears. You ask some of your students to talk at the meeting, to let their parents know how important the soccer league is to them.

The turnout at the meeting is lower than you hoped. Out of the almost 200 families you invite, only about 50 come. Furthermore, it seems that some kids lied to their parents about the purpose of the meeting because some of them leave angrily when they see families from other communities at the meeting. You are nervous when you get up and talk, but you do it anyway. Looking out at the audience, no one seems very receptive to what you have to say. In fact, more families get up to leave. However, once the kids stand up and start talking about how important the league is to them, the tension in the room begins to decrease. You stand up again and ask if anyone is interested in restarting the league. Now there are only about 30 families, but they say they are willing to give it a try. You are starting to feel excited. Thirty players isn't much, but it's better than nothing.

For the rest of the evening, you open the floor to dialogue between the families. You talk about everyone's fears and lay down ground rules to help them feel a little safer. You all decide on neutral places to practice, so that no one has to go too deep into hostile neighborhoods. You also talk about strategies to keep the kids from opposite communities from harassing each other.

Practices begin again and you are very pleased. Probably because they have had to fight so hard to play, the kids are even more dedicated than before. You are also amazed at how respectful they are towards each other. Even better, as other parents see that the teams are practicing again, they decide that maybe it wouldn't be so bad for their kids to play too. You work with Mike to publicize the league as much as possible. You are hoping that when the parents realize that they are preventing their kids from a possible national championship, they will change their minds.

Now you have about 50 families participating. It still isn't very many, but it's enough. The kids are playing incredibly well and you have high hopes.

Question:

  1. What could Emma do to use her soccer league to increase cooperation and prevent violence?
     
     
     

 


A Viable Third Side

"As you look around and wonder how you can contribute to the wider community, you don't need to start from scratch. Instead, begin with what you already do and add an extra third-side dimension. Parents can help their children learn how to deal with conflicts constructively. A teacher can weave a conflict resolution strand into the subject matter, whether it is history, social studies, or languages. A journalist can spotlight emergent conflicts for public attention. The key is to identify your distinctive competence and incorporate it into what you do every day." — William L. Ury

About halfway through the season, you realize that the soccer league has some incredible possibilities. It is forcing people into contact who otherwise would not be speaking to each other. You decide to use this potential. In the name of keeping the league safe, you organize weekly parent potlucks, where you can come together and discuss problems and concerns. Your idea is that if people from the different communities just have a chance to talk to each other, then it will be more difficult for them to form negative stereotypes of each other. You remember how afraid you were of the locals when you first moved to Maren, but now they are some of your best friends.

You are afraid no one will come, but to your surprise about 10 families show up. The dinner is actually much less awkward than you predicted and you find yourself having a good time. You continue to hold the dinners every week and you hope that this time the friendships formed won't break so easily.

One day, Mike calls you up. He says he is impressed with the work you have been doing with the soccer league and he is wondering if you would be willing to take it a step further. He wants you to talk to the soccer parents and coaches and set up crisis response teams. Basically, they would be groups of ordinary citizens who would be prepared to take action in the event of another violent crisis. You agree immediately. You talk to the other parents about it at your next potluck dinner and they are very receptive. You spend the rest of dinner brainstorming some approaches you could take if you are ever confronted with another riot situation.

The months pass and it is time again for the national championships. You are incredibly nervous. Your kids have been playing hard, but the simple fact that there are not as many teams in the league means that they have not had a chance to practice their skills. If your teams do badly, you are afraid that it will be the final nail in the coffin of your soccer league.

But again, the kids surprise you. They are focused and determined. It starts with the youngest team. They are unbeatable. They make it to the final 10, then the final four and then, you can't believe your eyes, they win the championship! The next oldest age group repeats the pattern. They win too! Then it is time for the oldest players to compete. The competition is fierce, but they win the all-Perades championship. The outcome is beyond your wildest dreams.

Question:

  1. What else could Emma do to use her soccer league to promote the third side?
     
     
     

 


Limiting Escalation

De-escalation

Conflicts do not escalate indefinitely. Eventually, they reverse direction, decreasing in intensity until they are forgotten or resolved. However, de-escalation tends to proceed slowly and requires a lot of effort.

The next day, everyone gathers around to watch the news coverage of the games. The kids are excited; they've never been on TV before. However, the top story is not the national soccer championships. Instead, it is about the death of one of the Mendozans who was shot in the riot. The story is brief and you want to know more. This could be very bad news for Blue River. It could even mean another riot. You try to call home but get no answer. You feel a knot in your stomach. You wish you could just get some information.

Your husband doesn't call you back until after midnight. You ask him what happened.

"It was crazy, Emma," he tells you. "I was at a restaurant downtown when we heard the news about the death of that poor man. Things started to get tense almost immediately. Some fights broke out and I heard glass breaking outside. I was scared. I was sitting with a group of parents of soccer players and we decided it would be safer if we all left in a group. We heard police sirens. But you know Evelyn Hart and Susana Hayek, the women who are building the houses for the Marenese Church. Well, Evelyn is Mendozan and Susana is Marenese. Those two women were out there breaking up fights and yelling at people to go home. So we decided to help out. The soccer parents and coaches went out in the streets and started sending people home. The whole thing was over and the streets were clear in under an hour. I still don't know how it happened. Only one shop window was broken and that was the extent of the damage."

You are incredibly relieved. Maybe you were just overreacting. You have been under a lot of stress lately. But your husband's voice had sounded shaky on the phone. You have a feeling that things could have gone very differently tonight.

Questions:

  1. What are some of the underlying causes of the riot that still need to be addressed?
     
     
     
  2. How could you help resolve them?
     
     
     

 


Opening Channels of Communication

Over the next few weeks, Blue River seems the calmest it has ever been. In fact, you can't remember the last time the streets downtown were so full of people. Still, you know that the rifts in this community run very deep. You wonder how long this period of calm will last. Mike announces a town meeting to promote open dialogue about some of the town's conflicts. The night of the meeting, hundreds of people show up. You are surprised that so many people are showing an interest. Mike steps up to the stage to begin the meeting. He starts:

Stable Peace

In 1978, Kenneth Boulding introduced the term "stable peace." He defines it as "a situation in which the probability of war is so small that it does not really enter into the calculations of any of the people involved." In order to reach stable peace, the underlying issues that provoked the conflict in the first place must be resolved.

Good evening, everyone, and thank you for coming out tonight. I have noticed a profound shift in the culture of this town in recent weeks. I view the simple fact that so many of you have gathered here this evening as a victory. The problem with preventing violence is that there is no way to know how bad things could have gotten if no one had taken action. However, I firmly believe that just a few weeks ago, the city of Blue River was on the brink of disaster. The animosity between the various communities trying to coexist in Maren had reached dangerous levels. Although I know that not all of Blue River's problems are solved, I hope that we can move into the future as one community working together. I also hope that we, as a city, can realize that our true enemy is not each other but the animosity that divides us. I now want to turn this meeting over to Scott Anderson, the head of the joint fact-finding committee, who will explain their findings.

The meeting proceeds smoothly. People are concerned about what they hear, but they do not appear angry. During the course of the evening, many people step up to the stage to share their concerns and ideas about what should be done to prevent future problems. You are glad that these problems are out in the open, but you soon realize that there are way too many people at the meeting to have a real discussion. One of the most positive outcomes of the evening is Susana's and Evelyn's suggestion that they start a community group devoted to reducing tensions in Blue River. They want to call the group the Maren Citizens Organization or the MCO. You hope this group will solidify some of the positive changes that have occurred in the past few months.

Questions:

  1. What underlying issues still haven't been addressed?
     
     
     
  2. What else could be done to improve the quality of communication in Blue River?
     
     
     

 


Transformation

Conflict Transformation

Many people believe that conflict happens for a reason and that it brings much-needed change. Therefore, to eliminate conflict would also be to eliminate conflict's dynamic power. In transformation, a conflict is changed into something constructive, rather than being eliminated altogether.

As Mike predicted, Maren still has many challenges to overcome. In fact, it seems like there are more conflicts than ever as people from different communities try to work together for the first time. Still, it seems better to have these conflicts out in the open, rather than festering under the surface. Susana's and Evelyn's organization, the MCO, attracts a large following and soon, hundreds of people are regularly attending meetings all around Maren. They continue their work building houses and offering food to struggling families. But they also expand their services, offering community mediation and sponsoring a series of public dialogues on problems facing Maren. You decide to start a chapter of the MCO in your neighborhood. You hope to educate your neighbors about how they are affecting the Maren locals, and apparently you do some good because the economy starts to improve. Stephen Pelle quits his job as a police officer and starts a restorative justice center in Blue River. The violent incidents decrease to almost nothing. Although Maren is still a poor region with diverse communities struggling to work together, people now seem to have a sense of hope and momentum. You feel like things are starting to change.

Question:

  1. What would you have done differently from Emma in this story?