By Cate Malek, University of Colorado
Your mother is Marenese and your father is a Mendozan. When your parents married, there was such an outcry from both of their communities that they decided to move to the West, where it wouldn't be such an issue. The move was difficult for your parents because they were both close to their large families. Still, they found good jobs and you attended good schools. During the summers, you traveled with your mom back to Maren to stay with her family. (Your dad's family wanted nothing to do with you.) So you grew up knowing about the Marenese culture. You always wanted to be more a part of the Marenese community. You love their relaxed culture, with the long lunches and big parties and close relationships. At university, you majored in Marenese Studies. It was in college that you learned about all the discrimination against the Marenese that had gone on for centuries and it made you furious. That's one of the reasons their culture is so different from Western culture: they simply haven't been given the opportunity to join the country of Perades and so they've done things their own way.
You began to feel angry all the time. You would go on long tirades in your classes about class and ethnicity and how unfair it all was. You barely even recognized yourself, you were so angry.
After you graduated and began looking for a job, your anger settled into a clear, steady focus. You got high grades at university and took a job at a non-profit organization that advocated for Marenese rights. After several years there, you went back for an advanced degree in Marenese studies and then you decided that the best way to help your community would be to go live in Maren.
You felt welcome as soon as you moved here. Your grandparents were happy to see you and there were many friends who you remembered from your childhood. Soon after you arrived, you began to date a Marenese woman and a year later you were married. The universities in Maren are small and underfunded, but you felt you could make a difference there. You quickly found a job teaching and your classes became immediately popular. Many students and non-students would audit your classes just to hear what you had to say. You began to publish regularly. You wrote about how prejudice against Marenese and immigrants still continues today. You wrote about the unspoken class system that exists in Perades and how the wealth of the Westerners is based on the labor of the poor Marenese and immigrants. You began to give talks around the country and in Maren. The talks were always well-attended and your books sold quickly. You were pleased and thought that maybe because of your work and the work of other influential scholars in Marenese studies that things would finally begin to change. You hoped that your Marenese relatives and friends would finally start to rebel, to protest the years of mistreatment at the hands of the Peradeans.
Nothing happened. You continued to speak and to write and students continued to admire you and to flock to your classes. But in the end, they were passive. Occasionally some students would get together to protest unfair treatment of immigrants or something like that. But as the years passed, very little changed. You were starting to think that it would take a full-on revolution to end the poverty and despair that had settled over Maren.
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.
When the Westerners began to migrate to Maren, you couldn't believe how prejudiced they were. They came for the cheap land or for artistic "inspiration," but they treated the residents of Maren as if they didn't exist. They moved to the outskirts of town, went to their own schools, opened their own shops and just stuck to themselves. However, because their shops and restaurants don't close for the long Marenese lunch, they are starting to put the Marenese and the Mendozans out of business. Not only that, but the Western shops and restaurants tend to hire illegal immigrants and pay them below a living wage. This means that once the Marenese lose their own businesses, it is difficult for them to find other jobs that will pay them enough to live on. You can barely stand the hypocrisy. Instead of adding to the region they're living in, the Westerners are actually making it poorer than before. Not only that, but they don't even seem to notice.
Because of your Mendozan father, you are tall and can pass as a Western Peradean. Also because you grew up in the West, you don't have the Marenese accent. Because of this, Westerners will often treat you as one of them. They tell you the most amazing things. They tell you they have no idea why the Marenese treat them with hostility. They also tell you that Maren is starting to get too dangerous for them and they are planning to go back to the West. You're praying they do. They are so stubbornly unaware of how they affect the world around them.
Even more disturbing to you than the coming of the Westerners is the resurgence of the Vigilantes. The Vigilantes disappeared from this area about thirty years ago. However, at their height, the group was extremely violent. Your relatives describe that time as one of intense fear.
You love your father, but you can't understand his family. Their backward, ignorant thinking frustrates you. You don't know any of your father's relatives well because they refuse to associate with you. You do know that they are just as poor as the Marenese, but instead of admitting that and working together with them, they choose to identify with the Westerners instead. You're not sure what has caused this new resurgence of the Mendozan Vigilantes, but you do know that you will do everything in your power to stop the group from reaching the level of violence they did before. You decide to hold a community meeting.
You are surprised to see almost everyone from the Marenese community at the meeting. Some immigrants have come along too, but most of them don't speak enough Peradean to understand the proceedings. You are touched that they have decided to attend the meeting anyway.
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
You start the meeting by thanking everyone for attending. Then, you launch right into the point of your talk. You talk about the hypocrisy of the Westerners and the Mendozans, how they ignore Marenese needs and rights and how it is futile to try and make them listen. You are starting to get more passionate as you talk. You feel as if you are speaking well, that your words are fiery and powerful. You remind your audience of the fear of those years when the Vigilantes were at their peak. You tell them that you don't want your friends and your family, the people you hold most dear in your life, to ever be that vulnerable again. You tell them that it is time for the Marenese to become full citizens of Perades.
"We have been living in this country for centuries," you remind them, "and yet we still act as if we just crawled off a raft yesterday!"
Your audience is getting excited. They are starting to cheer and clap after everything you say, pumping their fists angrily when you talk about the Vigilantes.
Then you address the immigrants. You ask one of your relatives to translate for you.
You tell the immigrants that they live incredibly hard lives and that it is unfair that they made a dangerous journey to this country to escape persecution in their own countries only to be faced with more hate and violence. You tell them that the Marenese will help them and will try to protect them as much as possible. The immigrants at the meeting are touched by your words. Some of the women have tears in their eyes.
After the meeting you are buzzing with adrenaline. You can't believe how well it went. You feel like change is in the air. You chat with some of the audience members and then you and your wife get ready to leave. But, before you can go, a young man taps you on the shoulder and asks if he can speak to you alone. You tell your wife that you'll catch up with her in a minute and move off into the next room with the young man. There, a group of men is gathered looking grim. You recognize some of your students who smile at you. The rest of the men, you know by sight. They tell you that they are tired of talking and ready to take action.
Finally, you think to yourself. They tell you that they have been secretly talking to the men in the Marenese and immigrant communities and that they have put together and underground network to defend themselves against the Vigilantes. They call themselves the Marenese Defense Association or the MDA. They are all armed with guns and have been holding secret meetings and trainings. They ask you if you would like to be their leader. You are a little flattered, but the idea is laughable. You are an academic, not a fighter. You decline the leadership position, but tell them you support their goals and will join the organization.
In large-scale conflicts there are often individuals who take militant, non-compromising, and often violent approaches to the problem. Although they are often seen as heroes, extremists can prevent the de-escalation of a conflict.
Over the next few months you attend the MDA's meetings regularly. You are impressed with the discipline and focus of the group. You start with small goals, simply patrolling the streets and protecting your community. But after a few months, the group starts to set larger goals. They say that if they can't make the Vigilantes and the Westerners listen to them, then they will fight for independence for Maren. You know that is a crazy idea; Maren can't possibly become independent. But you'd been reading Marx and other radical theorists for a long time and thinking that some sort of revolution might be needed to finally assert the Maranese rights. So you don't discourage them much, and continue to meet with them.
You don't tell your wife about the association, but you suspect she knows something. When you tell her that you are going to play poker with the boys, she gives you a worried look and tells you to be careful.
One day, you open up the paper to find that the Vigilantes attacked an immigrant on the beach the previous night. The police interrupted the attack and arrested the Vigilantes involved. The article says that this should end the resurgence of the Vigilantes. You find that hard to believe.
At the next MDA meeting, the group decides that the recent news does nothing to affect their plans.
"This is no longer a defensive group, it's an offensive group. We will move towards independence for Maren and the Marenese," someone says.
You are somewhat frightened, but also excited by this powerful new group.
|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. You didn't see the beginning of the fight, so you can't be sure which story is right. But it's very hard to believe that one of the highly disciplined MDA members was waving a gun around for no reason.
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. The MDA sounded the alarm and everyone went home to get weapons and then returned to the scene of the violence. When you got there you found yourself in an all-out riot. When the smoke cleared, two Mendozans had been shot and went to the hospital in critical condition. You never fired your gun, but you had been threatening some Mendozans with it and the police took you into custody. You are released the next morning though, as they can't find anything to charge you with. You are proud of being arrested. After so many years of talk and study, you are finally taking action.
The night of the riot was complete chaos and you're still not quite sure what happened. You know that you didn't shoot anybody and you strongly suspect that none of the other members of the MDA did either. Nevertheless, the police deny their responsibility, and an internal investigation points a finger at the MDA, though it doesn't name names and no charges are filed. You view the police investigation as a complete whitewash. You wouldn't put it past Blue River's police officers to try to cover up their mistakes and blame it on the MDA. You think it is unfortunate that people were injured in the riot, but you view it as a necessary evil. The people in power are not going to give up any of that power unless they are forced to.
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 this bad. A line has been crossed and many people fear that it is too late to go back. The newspaper reports that many people are buying guns for their households, hoping to protect themselves in case the violence continues. The Western community has begun to segregate 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. 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.
You are surprised when people seem ashamed of what you have done. Your wife is not happy about it at all. She tells you she knew from the beginning what you were involved in. Apparently one of the members of the MDA told his wife and she told all the other women in the Marenese community. However, she makes it clear that she thought that you were simply a defense organization, something to keep the Marenese community from feeling so afraid. She thinks the riot was crazy and irresponsible. She is especially upset because one of the Mendozans shot during the riot was your daughter's soccer coach. He is now in critical condition in the hospital. When you try to explain that you were trying to protect the Marenese community, your wife scoffs and asks you why then it is only Mendozans who are in the hospital.
The next person to come see you is Mike. You and the mayor have never been friends. You view him as a typical politician, always making compromises instead of pursuing ideals. He views you as something of a troublemaker. Thus, you are expecting a lecture from him about what you've done. Instead, you are surprised at what he has to tell you.
He says that he has known about the MDA for months and that he has been asking himself why he never did anything about it. He smiles at you and says,
"I think the truth is, I like the idea of the MDA. I remember only too well the heyday of the Vigilantes and I never want my friends and family to be victims again."
You are surprised. You wonder what the mayor could possibly be getting at. Does he want to join the MDA? He continues,
"There are two main approaches you can take towards an adversary you are in conflict with. The first is an 'enemy image' approach, which tends to conceal your adversary's humanity. The second approach is to look at your adversary as a human being, what I will call the 'search for humanity' approach." — Juan Gutierrez
"But ultimately, the MDA does not fit into my vision for Maren. I have this idea that the best thing for this region would be for the Mendozans and the Marenese to start working together to develop a win-win solution for all the communities in Maren. We're all poor. It's a problem. We need to do something about it. When the Westerners got here, I was overjoyed. With their investment, Maren could develop a viable economy. But with all the violence recently, I'm afraid the Westerners will jump ship before we get a chance to see what they can do for us."
Once again you are surprised by the mayor's response. All this time you thought he was a bureaucrat and it turns out he's an idealist. Still, you have some problems with his argument. You tell him,
"I do see where you're coming from, Mayor. But, it seems a little simplistic to me. This country has deep issues with ethnicity and class and we're not just going to all get along overnight because we play on a soccer team together. Plus, how can I trust you anymore? Your 'police investigation' was a complete scam."
Mike shrugs and smiles again.
"You're absolutely right. I often do make things too simple. All the same, I don't see how shooting up the town is going to do much to improve these race and class issues you're talking about."
You and Mike talk for a little longer. He tells you that many of the Vigilantes who were caught have gone through restorative justice instead of serving jail time. You have read about that. It was the idea of a police officer named Stephen Pelle.
"I know you weren't charged with anything, so you don't have to participate in a restorative justice program, but you might find it interesting and useful to sit down with some of your adversaries and see if you can work together to solve your problems."
You are doubtful. You don't want to sit down and talk with Mendozans, and you don't want to have to help replace their damaged property or otherwise "make nice." So youI tell the mayor you're not interested.
You still don't agree with the mayor, but you appreciate that he didn't lecture you. You want to believe in his vision for Maren, but you know too much about the hatred and violence in Maren's history to believe such a simplistic vision will work.
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.
However, the mayor doesn't give up easily. He calls you a few days later, asking if you would participate in a new initiative of his, a joint fact-finding process to investigate the riot and the police response to it. He wants representatives from all the communities in Maren to do a new investigation of what happened the night of the riot and then present their results to the public to clear up the confusion. He has asked you to represent the Marenese community. You are skeptical, but are flattered that he trusts you enough to invite you to be on such a committee. So you agree to do it. You especially want to make sure that this investigation isn't a whitewash.
Participating in the investigation is an interesting experience for you. As you find out more information, you become less and less certain about what happened the night of the riot. It is starting to become clear that while one of the Mendozans was indeed shot by the police as you suspected, the other one was probably shot by a member of the MDA. You feel somewhat foolish for being so sure of yourself.
A Viable Third Side
|"When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion." — African proverb|
You have been reading in the newspaper about the restorative justice process that some of the members of the Vigilantes are going through. Mike has hired a firm from the West to facilitate the process and the first hearing has just been completed. The first man to go through the process was Andre Hart, a Mendozan who you remember hating, even as a child. Reading the newspaper interview with Andre, the restorative justice project seems to have had a very minor effect on him. However, the newspaper reports that the process profoundly affected Andre's mother, Evelyn Hart. Both she and Andre are now helping with a co-community affordable housing initiative. You can only wonder what the result of this strange alliance will be.
Meanwhile, excitement has been building around the national youth soccer championships. Last year, a Westerner named Emma Thornton organized a youth soccer league that drew from Marenese, Western, and Mendozan students. The league was extremely successful and three teams went to nationals and did very well. Emma was able to keep the league going a second year, in spite of the riot, and this year the teams are reported to be even better. Even though it is only a youth league, the teams have garnered a lot of attention. Somehow the people of Maren have decided that this is their opportunity to prove that they are just as good as the rest of Perades.
Your daughter is devastated about her soccer coach who was shot in the riot. Apparently, she really respected the man and she believed her team had a chance to go to the championships. However, although her team will not be going, she has been following the teams who are and she hopes that one of them will take home the national championship. When the day of the championship comes, you let your daughter drag you to a local sports bar, where your friends and family are gathered to watch.
|"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|
There are three Maren teams competing, one in each age group. The two youngest teams play first. They play beautifully. Amazingly, they both come in first place in the nation. Everyone watching the games is extremely excited, screaming and chanting. The final and most important game is the oldest team. Last year, they came in second place. This year, they are looking to bring home the championship.
You can't believe how well they play. It's surprising to see kids from Maren's three communities working together so well. The players are tall and short, slender and stout, they have all different accents, but they have learned to play together and have developed a unique style that is nearly unbeatable. You watch as they beat team after team. Finally, it is time for the final game. It is a difficult one, but they eventually win 3-2. Maren has come in first in all three age groups! It's a miracle!
The next night, you go to a sports bar downtown with your family to celebrate the soccer teams' win. When the news comes on, you assume that the soccer championships will be the top story of the night. But instead, the anchor leads with the death of one of the Mendozans who was shot during the last riot. He never woke up from his coma and died in the hospital. All of a sudden you look around. Everyone is drunk and the mood of celebration is starting to turn darker. This is exactly the situation that led to the last riot.
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 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. There aren't many police officers around. You are scared. The Mendozans are angry about the death of one of their own. You have no doubts that they will want to make the Marenese pay. Your first instinct is to go home and get your gun. You look around for other members of the MDA and you catch the eyes of two of them. Your wife grabs your arm, but you pull away and meet the other men in the corner of the room.
They are thinking the same thing you were. They say they have been stockpiling weapons for just this situation. Just then, three things catch your eye.
The first is your daughter. She has burst into uncontrollable sobbing. The man who died in the hospital was her soccer coach.
The second thing is a fleet of police cars flying to the scene.
The third is Mike walking quickly towards you.
You think quickly. It is possible the MDA could prevent Marenese people from getting hurt tonight. But it is also possible that if you bring weapons, more people will get hurt than necessary. There are clearly enough police officers to handle the situation. It is time for you to gather up your family and go home.
"Look, the police are already here. My daughter's a wreck. We're heading home," you tell the mayor.
As you leave the bar with your wife and daughter hurrying along with you, crying as they walk, you can tell that the situation is already under control. Groups of people are streaming out of the bar and instead of going home, they are taking it upon themselves to stop the violence. You see Susana Hayek, a Marenese woman and Evelyn Hart, a Mendozan woman, going from group to group, breaking up fights and sending people home. Still, you have a difficult time persuading the other two men not to come back with guns. They are not as convinced that the riot is over.
"Where are you boys going?" Stephen Pelle, one of the Mendozan police officers asks as he stops you.
"Home," you say. "It looks like the police have this well under control."
Stephen looks doubtful. You can feel your anger rise up. Just like a Mendozan to focus on you instead of protecting the innocent civilians who may be getting hurt in the riot. Just then, you see a large group of parents of soccer players leaving the bar quickly. They are a mixed group, both Marenese and Mendozans. Stephen asks them to escort you home and they agree. You have to admit it was a good strategy on Stephen's part. You are glad you weren't arrested again and now you don't have to worry about the other two men. There's no way this group of parents is going to let anyone return with a gun tonight.
You look around and see that the streets are clear. The police are telling the few people still milling around to go home. No one has even been arrested.
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. You join the crowds heading home.
Reaching a 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.
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 this community is still very polarized. You wonder how long this period of peace will last. Mike announces a town meeting to promote open dialogue about some of the town's conflicts. He also wants to announce the results of the fact-finding investigation, which has concluded its process. As you already knew, since you were part of the team, the fact-finding committee has concluded that one of the injured men was shot by a police officer, but a member of the MDA shot the man who died. You were not surprised about the police shooting, but you were surpised that the MDA was responsible for the one death that occurred. You wonder how the public will react to that. The night of the meeting, hundreds of people show up. You are impressed that so many people are showing an interest, but you are worried that the results might spark a new round of anger. Mike steps up to the stage to begin the meeting. He starts:
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. This is useful, you think, but it will take a lot of work by a lot of people to make any real changes. 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. Given how well the fact-finding committee worked, you think this might work as well. You decide to call them, to volunteer your assistance.
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 communities try to work together for the first time. Still, it seems better to have 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. 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 she asks for your help in that endeavor. Apparently you and Emma 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 in Maren decrease to almost nothing. Although Maren is still a poor region with diverse cultures struggling to work together, people now seem to have a sense of hope and momentum. You feel like things are starting to change.
- What would you have done differently from William in this story?