Peacebuilding Simulation: Stephen Pelle

By Cate Malek, University of Colorado

Stephen Pelle


Your family has lived in the Maren area for generations. Your great-grandfather moved to Blue River to become a Mendozan. His fishing business failed miserably and he opened a general store instead. Your family has owned the store ever since. The store is only slightly more profitable than the fishing business was. Still, your family has stayed on in Blue River. Although the poverty is sometimes stifling, your family prefers the wide-open land in Maren to the cramped and hectic cities out West. Your older brother was the first in the family to graduate from college. He went to a prestigious Western college and never came back to Maren. You also went to a Western college, but after graduation, you came back. The only explanation you could offer was that Maren is in your blood. You couldn't live anywhere else.

However, you didn't want to take on the burden of the family store. For as long as you can remember, the store has always been hovering just above bankruptcy. Instead, you decided to go to the police academy.

An Emerging Conflict

Conflict Emergence

Tensions or grievances can persist over long periods of time without resulting in a noticeable conflict. This phase is the best chance to fix things. Once a conflict starts to escalate into violence, the parties may become too invested in "winning" to let the conflict go.

You like being a policeman. The crime rate in Maren has historically been low, despite the tension between the different cultural groups. However, you are disturbed by a recent rash of violence. First, it was the rapes, then the vandalism, and finally the immigrant man found badly beaten on the beach. The final incident was the most disturbing of all to you, because you have a good idea that several of your family members were involved in the beating. But you don't have the evidence to prove it.

You have been at odds with your family for years over what they term "the immigrant problem." When you come home for Sunday dinner, your mom has forbidden the conversation to stray to the topic of the immigrants who are coming by the hundreds from the East. It is not that you completely support immigration. You are just as concerned as the other residents of Maren that the immigrants are taking already scarce jobs and driving down already low wages. What disturbs you is the violent undercurrents that invade any conversation you have with your family about immigration.

You come from a huge family. Your parents have more than four brothers and sisters each and you have entirely lost count of how many cousins you have. Plus you married a local woman and her family is just as large. Sometimes you feel you are related to the entire town.

Because you are a policeman and your wife, Kathy, is a teacher at the local school, you both have secure salaries and you live fairly well by Maren standards. However, many of your family members are struggling. Some of them are still trying to eke a living out of the fishing industry. At first, with the influx of Westerners, your family hoped that the family store would finally start making a decent profit. But, the Westerners built their own stores over in the rich neighborhoods outside of Blue River. You can see the despair that has seeped into many of your family members' attitudes. You can also see that their despair is starting to turn into hatred and that they're directing all their hatred towards the immigrants.

It is common knowledge among the Mendozan community that there are several anti-immigration groups that meet secretly from time to time. Not surprisingly, you have not been asked to join. The largest group is called the Vigilantes. Everyone knows that they have violent intentions. Not only that, but the Vigilantes often fail to distinguish between the immigrants and the Marenese. They refer to all of them sneeringly as "shorties," which sounds sort of endearing, but is most certainly not.

The current mayor of Blue River is a Marenese man named Mike Green. Most of your family distrusted Mike at first. But, over the first three years of his term Mike has treated the Marenese and the Mendozans completely equally. In fact, one or two times, he has actually jilted the Marenese community in favor of the Mendozans. Mike's behavior had actually earned him a grudging legitimacy with your family and most other Mendozans.

However, recently, Mike has been leading a crackdown on the Vigilantes and the rest of the anti-immigration groups, which has put him back in your family's bad graces.

The mayor's crackdown has made things awkward for you. While you have a strong hunch that a fair number of your family members are in the Vigilantes, they are careful not to talk about it around you and you don't have any overwhelming evidence against them. You are hesitant to pursue the matter. Although you take your job as a cop seriously, you consider your family your first priority. You know that pursuing the Vigilantes would pretty much get you exiled from the family.

You've been able to justify your position until now. But now, with the beating of the immigrant man, it has become impossible.

It was your partner who found the immigrant man beaten on the beach. He said the man had been beaten with the back of a pistol and was in critical condition. It was likely that the Vigilantes had caught him attempting to swim to shore. At dinner that Sunday, several of your relatives, including Kathy's brother, Andre, could barely contain their smugness.

"Whoever those Vigilantes are, they're doing a fine job," Andre said, giving you a significant look.

Your response was to stand up and walk out. You have not been back for Sunday dinner since.

Things are not much easier at work. Many of the other officers are Marenese and they are putting pressure on you to find out more about your family members. You tried to talk to your wife about the problem, but she just got upset when you suggested that her brother is involved in the Vigilantes.

You go about your business hoping that everything will just blow over. One afternoon, the police chief pulls you aside. He tells you that he is almost certain that Andre is playing a leadership role in the group and that he wants you to keep an eye on him. You can't see anyway out of this fix.


  1. What can Stephen do to de-escalate the conflict in his community? Think about ways to improve the quality of communication between the different groups in Blue River.
  2. What are possible triggering events that could move this conflict from the early escalation phase to full escalation?
  3. Where is the common ground between the groups in Blue River?
  4. Where are the areas of real difference, issues that the various groups will never be able to see eye to eye on?


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

When you arrive home that night, you realize that something is wrong. There are too many cars parked in front of your house. When you get inside, you see Kathy looking bedraggled and crying. Friends and family surround her. You cross the room and sit down beside her. Your mother-in-law glares at you.

"Where were you?" she asks. "We've been trying to call."

"I've been out of the office all afternoon," you answer. "What happened?"

Slowly the story comes out. Kathy was attacked. It was most likely an immigrant, because she couldn't understand what he was saying. She screamed and managed to fight him off before he could hurt her, but she is badly shaken.

"What did the man look like?" you ask.

"I don't know," Kathy says. "He was short. Brown hair. Andre went to look for him."

"What?!" You jump up. "Your description could be of hundreds of people who live in this town. What is Andre going to do? Where did he go?"

"To the beach," Kathy says quietly, "to stop him from getting away."

You run out of the house calling for backup as you go. Your feelings are mixed. On one hand you feel intense guilt about not protecting Kathy. But, your overriding feeling is that whatever Andre is going to do is only going to make the situation worse.

Twenty minutes later, you have reached the beach. You see other cop cars pulling up silently beside yours. You tell the other officers that you think some members of the Vigilantes are planning to attack an immigrant on the beach tonight. You and the other officers move quickly across the beach. About a mile away, you come upon a group of men in black balaclavas standing in a circle. As you get closer, you can see someone crouching in the middle of the circle. You tell the other men to surround them and grab as many as you can.

"Make sure you get that man in the middle too," you tell them.

You are far outnumbered. There are five policemen including you and about 10 masked men. You have no idea how this will play out.

Once you have the masked men surrounded, you shout, "Freeze! This is the police!" Chaos ensues. There is scuffling and the sound of shots. When the dust settles, you are holding the man in the middle and the other officers have captured about six of the masked men. Three have escaped and one has been shot. He is lying on the ground badly injured.

"Arrest everyone," you tell the officers.

"Even the victim?" someone asks you.

"Him too," you say. "He might have attacked my wife."

One of the other officers pulls the mask off the injured man.

"Oh man, call an ambulance," you tell the officer. It is Andre.

It takes a few days to sort out the aftermath of that night. Andre was shot in the leg and he is recovering in the hospital. The man the Vigilantes captured could not conclusively be proven to be Kathy's attacker. When looking at a lineup, she consistently chose other men. The police now have in their custody the inner circle of the Vigilantes. The police chief and the mayor are very happy with you. They have nominated you for a medal, but you have asked them to retract the nomination. When asked why, you told them it could only make things worse. As you predicted, your family has pretty much kicked you out. You are no longer invited to Sunday dinners (although of course you weren't coming anymore anyway).

You and Kathy have talked the problem over. Kathy agrees with you that arresting your family members was the right thing to do. She finds the idea that the Vigilantes were prepared to hurt an innocent man just as distasteful as you do. Still, you are both worried about Andre. He has been struggling lately. He earns money however he can, by fishing and helping out in the family store and whatever else he can think of. Still, he and his wife have three kids and Andre seems to be in a constant state of unemployment. You suspect that it was probably his problems with money that drove him to find an outlet with the Vigilantes.


  1. What are some ways Stephen could help Andre's family?


Organizing the Third Side

Now that Andre has been arrested, things are even worse for his family. Andre's wife has to leave the kids with other family members while she goes out and tries to earn money for her family. You feel this situation will only cause your family to become more bitter and hateful. The families of your other relatives who were arrested that night on the beach are in the same difficult situation. You feel intensely guilty for making things even more difficult for your family than they already were. You're not sure what the solution to this situation is, but you decide to go to Mike to ask for amnesty for Andre and your other family members. Mike is a reasonable man and you've always respected him. Maybe he can help you out.

When you go and talk to the mayor, he is sympathetic. He says he understands that arresting Andre and your other family members creates its own problems, but he says he doesn't have the authority to grant amnesty. Besides, he said, he just cannot give the message that groups like the Vigilantes will be tolerated in this community.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is justice that is not designed to punish the wrongdoer, but rather to restore the victim and the relationship to the way they were before the offense. Restorative justice requires an apology from the offender, restitution for the victim, and forgiveness of the offender by the victim.

"I have to protect the citizens of this town," he tells you, "and forgiving violence is not the way to do it."

You tell him you understand and leave his office feeling dispirited.

When you get home that night, Kathy tells you that she has spent some time on the Internet doing research. She wanted to see if anyone else had been trying to find a solution to this problem. She hands you two thick packets of information on something called restorative justice. You read them that night and you carry them in your pocket the next day, occasionally pulling them out to look at them.

This could work, you think to yourself. It might be crazy, but it might just work.

From what you are reading, a restorative justice process would require the perpetrator, Andre, to get together with his friends and family and have a dialogue or a mediation with the victim and his friends and family. A facilitator would lead the process. Everyone would decide together what reparations would be best for Andre to make. The purpose is to make things right, and at the same time heal the rift between the parties involved. It seems to you that this would be preferable to simply locking Andre up and letting his family suffer. That wouldn't help the victim; nor would it help Andre or Andre's family. Restorative justice could help all three, and even if it didn't work, at least it would give Andre the chance to see the immigrants' point of view. You make another appointment to see Mike.

You are disappointed that the mayor is not sympathetic at all to your new idea.

"Restorative justice?" he asks with surprise. "I think restorative justice is for petty crimes like theft. The Vigilantes are a hate organization. I'm pretty sure they meant to murder that poor man they found on the beach and you want Andre to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with him and then go free? I don't buy it. The Marenese and immigrant communities will never buy it either. Besides, like I told you, this is out of my control."

You feel yourself getting angry. Is the mayor even listening to you? You've thought this through and you really think it might work. And you are a cop! You understand the criminal justice system better than the mayor does. You decide to give it one more try.

"Mike, have some vision here! Look at the long-term. If Andre goes off to prison, his kids are going to get even poorer and even more bitter and hateful. By sending their father to prison, you're just increasing the possibility that his kids are going to grow up to be just as prejudiced as their father. We have a chance to change things right now, to break this cycle, but you're only concerned about your reputation."

The mayor is staring at you open-mouthed. You worry that you've said too much. Then he responds:

"Okay, maybe this does make sense. Why don't we both talk with the prosecutor, and see if he is willing to drop the charges if Andre goes into a victim-offender mediation program. But I'm relying on you to be the one to set this up and see it through, and if it fails — if Andre or any of the other Vigilantes attack again — you'd better believe I'm going to do everything I can to get the book thrown at them!"

You nod in astonishment and leave. In the next few weeks you spend all your free time researching restorative justice and contacting organizations that specialize in it. You write to an organization in the West that has a good reputation and is willing to come in and work with you for a fairly low price. Mike agrees to hire them. Now comes the hardest part: convincing Andre to participate. Kathy agrees to talk to him. You figure he'll take the news better if it comes from her, not you. And you're right. Andre agrees to the restorative justice immediately. Kathy says she didn't mention to him that it was your idea. Everything is set to begin.


  1. What would the benefits and drawbacks of using restorative justice in this situation be?
  2. What problems and sources of opposition might Stephen run into?
  3. How might he overcome them?
  4. Were there other strategies Stephen could have used in this situation that might have worked better than restorative justice?


Spider Webs

You have heard of good things going on in the city of Blue River. Susana Hayek, an immigrant woman, has put together a successful affordable housing project. For a while, your mother-in-law, Evelyn Hart was helping out with the project. But she had a falling out with Susana after your wife was attacked and dropped out of the project.

You also hear that a Westerner named Emma Thornton has started a successful co-community soccer league. 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 and the police should be doing the protecting, not vigilantes from any group.

You don't think too much about these developments, though, as you're too busy to worry about rumors.


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



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 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 as the fight spread into the streets of Blue River, some of the 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 underground organization called the Marenese Defense Association or 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. It is clear that two men were shot, but it is more difficult to say who shot them and why. The members of the MDA say they never fired their guns. They blame the police for the shootings. When the police conduct an internal investigation that pins the shootings on the MDA, the Marenese community denounces 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 is segregating 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.


  1. What are some ways of de-escalating a conflict?
  2. Which of these methods could Stephen use in this situation?


Finding the Facts


If conflict is fueled by suspicion, assumptions and misunderstandings, then one of the simplest ways to defuse it is to find out the facts of the situation. Every conflict resolution process needs a solid base of facts to stand on. However, it can be difficult to obtain accurate facts.

You, too, are badly shaken after the riot. You had been called in to try to calm things down that night. You had never thought that the people of Maren could become so violent so quickly. Watching people who you had attended school with breaking windows, looting, lighting things on fire, you honestly felt as if civilization was cracking into pieces. You had heard of the MDA from other police officers, but you had blown them off as a joke. But, there they were that night, grim-faced and well armed. You know the two men who are in the hospital well and you are angry. After all you have gone through! Your own family treats you like a stranger. The fact that the MDA felt they needed to take things into their own hands is an insult to you. Even worse is the fact that they are blaming the violence on the police instead of taking responsibility for it. The night of the riot was complete chaos. You do admit it's possible that one of the younger police officers could have accidentally shot someone. However, things would have never gotten so out of control if the MDA hadn't added weapons to an already volatile situation. You are furious. You feel the Marenese community is entirely ungrateful for every conciliatory move you have ever made towards them.

The only bright spot in the whole situation is that Andre was still in jail during the riot. If he hadn't been, you know he would have been right in the thick of the violence and would probably now be dead or in jail for a very long time. You can't even look Mike in the eye. Why didn't he go after the MDA the way he cracked down on the Vigilantes? You are starting to believe that he is biased and untrustworthy.


  1. How could finding out the facts of the riot help Stephen?
  2. What would be the best way to conduct a fact-finding investigation?


Preventing Violence

It is your wife who slowly talks you out of your depression. She tells you she felt the same anger after she was attacked. She tells you that it is quite possible that the Marenese community is ungrateful and that Mike is biased, but that the only thing you can do now is to go on with your life.

You take your wife's advice and throw yourself into your restorative justice project. You are hoping that if it goes well, it will put you back in the good graces of your family. You spend a lot of time reading up on the topic, and in the back of your head, an idea starts to glimmer that maybe, if this works, you could quit the police force and open a restorative justice center in Maren.

Average citizens impact a violent conflict in two key ways. First, they can speak out against violence. The history of the twentieth century is filled with examples of men and women forming political movements that changed the course of history. Second, individuals can practice alternatives to violence in their daily lives.

Your first priority is to prevent another riot from happening. 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 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, another riot. Really, any additional stress would be more than Maren could handle. You want the people of Blue River to work together, so that if the worst should happen, they will have some defense against it. You hope that the restorative justice project and the projects started by Emma, Susana, and others will act as a sort of immune system for Blue River, preventing further outbreaks of violence.

The date arrives for the restorative justice process to begin. The representatives from the firm you hired to conduct the process arrive in Maren. They go into more detail about the process with you. You have decided not to participate, since Andre doesn't trust you. Your wife, however, is planning to be involved. You know that she is nervous. She believes that Andre is only participating to avoid jail time and she thinks he might sabotage the process.

The process is spread out over three days. The first day, Kathy comes home exhausted. The second day, she is just as tired but seems hopeful, lighter somehow. Finally, the third day comes and she can tell you the results.

She says that the results are by no means conclusive. She thinks that Andre and the man he attacked, whose name is John, have a better understanding of each other, but it would be pushing it to say they like or respect each other. They have agreed that Andre will have to do some prison time, because of the severity of his crime. However, it is less than he would usually receive and he is expected to make up the difference with community service. He has been assigned to work with Susana Hayek, the woman working with the Marenese Church to build housing for families who are in danger of losing their homes. Kathy says that Andre is angry about the assignment, but that he will do it to get out of jail time. You look at Kathy, worried. "So, it sounds like this whole process wasn't that successful?" You wonder what Mike will think, after he took such a big political risk to help you.

Kathy smiles at you.

"No, there is some hope," she tells you. She says the person who was really affected by the process was Evelyn.

"Evelyn?!" you ask, surprised. Your mother-in-law is just about the most stubborn woman on earth. For her to change her mind is next to a miracle.

Kathy tells you that Evelyn was really moved by John's story. So moved that she agreed to help Susana again with the housing project and this time extend the project to immigrants. Kathy hopes that with his mother on board, Andre will slowly come around to letting go of some of his prejudices. You are pleased to hear this, but surprised. What a strange ending to this story.


  1. Do you consider the restorative justice project successful?
  2. What are examples of historical "perfect storm" cases where a previously peaceful area suddenly became violent?
  3. How could the third side be used to prevent future incidents of violence in Blue River?


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

The months pass. Andre and Evelyn put in a lot of time on the housing project and Andre really enjoys doing construction. He says that when he finishes with his jail time, he might take up building houses as a career. It would be a far better way to support his family than fishing.

Evelyn tells you that Mike approached her and Susana and asked them if they would be willing to put together crisis response teams from the group working on the housing project. Basically, these would be small groups of ordinary citizens who would be prepared to take action in the event of another violent situation like the last riot. Evelyn thinks it's a great idea. She thinks the teams could really help to prevent more violence.

The other big event involves the soccer league that one of Kathy's fellow teachers has put together. Emma Thornton is a Westerner who made the highly unusual move of taking a job with the public school in town instead of the private school that most of the Western kids go to. Last year, Emma started a soccer league with kids from the Western, Mendozan, and Marenese communities. It was a resounding success and one of her teams won second place in the national championships. The league is on its second season now and although many families have refused to let their children play because of the riot, the rumor is that the teams are even better than last year.

You have always loved soccer, so when the time comes again for the national championships, you are glued to the television. You are amazed by how good these kids are. Maren has sent three teams to the championships, one for each age group, and all the teams seem unbeatable. You are amazed when the younger two teams win first place in the championships. On the night of the final game, the one between the oldest players, the bars are packed with people all in a celebratory mood. Evelyn invites you to come watch the game at a sports bar downtown. It seems that, for the moment, you have been forgiven. It is a great game and the Maren team wins! Everyone explodes into celebration.

The next night, you are out at a sports bar celebrating the game. When the news comes on, you expect the championship to be the top story. Instead, the anchor leads with the death of one of the Mendozans who was shot in the last riot. All of a sudden you realize how precarious this situation is. You are surrounded by drunk people and the tension is beginning to rise between various groups. It doesn't seem to matter that the Maren team was made up of kids from all different communities; the old prejudices are still coming out. Not again, you think.


  1. What can you do to de-escalate this situation?
  2. What could the third side do?


Limiting Escalation

You scan the bar, trying to get a read on the situation. A conversation between a Mendozan and a Marenese man is becoming heated. Their drunken comments have turned aggressive. You can hear shouting outside. You can't hear what they're saying. There is not much of a police presence downtown tonight. No one was expecting trouble.

You catch Mike's eye. He is sitting across the room with his friends and family. A look of panic crosses his face. You call for backup as the mayor hurries over to your table. You frown at him. "Looks bad, doesn't it?" you ask.

He nods. You hear the sound of glass breaking outside.

"Oh, no," Evelyn says. "I've got to find Susana."

Evelyn sees Susana across the room and hurries to talk to her. You see Evelyn consult quickly with Susana as the two women quickly leave the restaurant. Soon you hear Evelyn shouting at the Mendozans out in the street to go home. Although it is softer, you can hear Susana's voice too, breaking up a fight. Other people from the crisis response teams leave the bar and join Evelyn and Susana in the streets.

The backup officers you just called come flying to the scene. You quickly apprise them of the situation. Your first concern is the MDA. You see William Luchard walking quickly down the street with some other men who you know were involved in the organization. William was let out of prison just a few days ago. You hurry over and stop them.

"Where are you boys going?" You ask.

"Home," William says. "It looks like the police have this well under control."

You don't know whether to trust him. You're afraid that he's going for weapons like he did last time. You think about arresting them, but what could you possibly charge them with? Just then, you see a large group of parents of soccer players leaving the bar. They are a mixed group, both Marenese and Mendozan. You ask them to escort the men home and they agree.


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.

You look around the street again and see something amazing. The crisis response teams are doing a remarkably efficient job of sending everyone home. They move from group to group, breaking up fights and shaming everyone into leaving. It is strange to see large men listening to small, angry women. The glass you heard breaking was a shop window, but that appears to be the extent of the damage. The police are milling around with nothing to do, telling the few people remaining on the streets to go home. The mayor finds you and asks you what happened. You shrug at him, bewildered, and tell him.

"We didn't even have to arrest anyone," you say.

The whole thing is over so fast that you start to doubt yourself. Maybe it wasn't such a big crisis after all. Maybe you're just a little too tense, overreacting a little. But looking at Mike, you can tell that he was scared too. You say goodnight and join the crowds heading home.


  1. What are some of the underlying causes of the riots that still need to be addressed?
  2. What can you do to help resolve them?


Reaching a Stable Peace

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.


  1. What should the MCO do to prevent future violence?
  2. What are some ways the quality of communication between the different groups in Blue River could be improved?



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 the mayor predicted, Maren still has many challenges to overcome. In fact, it seems there are more disputes than ever as people from different culture groups try to work together for the first time. Still, it seems better to have the disputes 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. Emma starts a chapter of the MCO in the Western neighborhood in Blue River. She hopes to educate them about how they are affecting the Maren locals, and apparently she does some good because the economy starts to improve. You quit your job as a police officer and start a restorative justice center in Blue River. You know it is a risky move and you are afraid you won't be able to make a living at it, but Mike is supportive and your center quickly becomes successful. The violent incidents in Maren decrease to almost nothing. Although Maren is still a poor region with diverse communities struggling to work together, people now have a sense of hope and momentum. You feel like things are starting to change.


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