There are many different kinds of conflicts that could benefit greatly from third-sider intervention. There were quite a few times that I remember witnessing fights that included verbal and physical assaults, but there was one altercation in particular that was prevented because of a third-sider intervention. I remember an incident involving two guys that happened while I was in high school at a football game. Although this somewhat of a stereotypical example, it stands out because these two guys were not just fist fighting, but were also threatening each other with weapons including knives.
The football field at my high school was laid out so that behind the bleachers were tennis courts and behind those were soccer fields that no one could see from the football field or bleachers. I was walking back there with a few friends when we noticed a large crowed gathered in a circle, and in the middle were two boys that were a couple grades above me. I am not sure what the issues were or what problems caused their conflict, but being young inebriated high school students with a crowed around them I am sure they were not important. I believe they were feeding off the crowed, showing what they perceived to be masculine characteristics. Luckily, instead of the whole crowed supporting their conflict and fueling their tensions to fight, there were third-siders that intervened to deescalate the conflict.
The first, third side role that was played was the referee. This individual stepped into the conflict to limit the fighting and set rules against using weapons such as the knives the two boys were carrying. The referee was able to remove these weapons from the fight, which limited the severity of the negative consequences that could have happened if no one had stepped in. Once these weapons were no longer permitted in the conflict, the two disputants still wanted to fight each other and that is when I stepped in as the peacekeeper. It might have been a dangerous decision to make seeing how I could have been harmed in the process of interposing between? the parties, but I did not want a fight to happen. I told them how they were being moronic in trying to fight each other and that this was an unnecessary way to handle their problems. Thankful, other people stepped up as peacekeepers and helped me preempt the violence before it started.
This role was needed and helped because by stepping in to enforce peace the two individuals did cease their fighting. The third role that was played by a different individual in the crowed was the healer. This person stepped up to try to mediate the two males. Even though they had stopped their fight, both of the disputants were still filled with anger and hostile tension. The healer talked to the two boys and encouraged each one to state their grievance. Eventually they did end up apologizing to each other. While remembering this situation I realize that if third siders did not step in to diffuse the situation then the witness would have played a key role. If the two individuals carried on with their fight and did end up using the weapons that they were threatening each other with, the witness would have been necessary to get help fast in order to prevent escalation of the violence. Thankfully, myself and other individuals did decide to intervene in the conflict and we were able to break the fight up before violence happened.
This example maybe a small-scale situation but it shows how anybody that is involved in or around a conflict can be third siders using the “power of peers”. Peer pressure and public opinion can be more powerful than the actual conflict and conflicting parties. From small-scale disputes like this example to large-scale conflicts, the community working as a cohesive and collective unit can prevent, deescalate, and promote resolution to any kind of hostile situation. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of third side roles is that any one can play them and everyone can contribute in intervening in conflict.
Note: To find out more about third siders, check out William L. Ury’s Article “Third Siders” on beyondintractability.org. Also see his website thirdside.org, or his book; The Third Side Penguin Books (September 1, 2000).