Community Conferencing Center: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation

courtesy CCCOne evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between 2 wolves.” One is Evil. It is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed”.

Community Conferencing relies on the brilliantly simple idea of shifting the focus from who did what and how can they be punished, to who has been affected and how to repair the harm. When people come together in a conference, they don’t even have to agree on what happened. The conversation draws out ways to work together to make it better. The facilitator is something of a magician, subtly guiding the process and creating the setting for the group’s compassion and wisdom to blossom.

I love the stories. At board meetings, we get to hear about recent conferences. The stories are vividly and animatedly told by Lauren, Cindy, Nel, Schoene and/or Nikki. These stories have drama, amazing characters, intricate detail, and seem almost always to have a happy ending, although not in the Hollywood sense. Since this is real, it is much, much more powerful. The staff members convey a robust respect for conference participants, as well as a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to facilitate. It does not matter what people are accused of. As Lauren says, “They do not flinch at anything.”

Conferencing works. A recent Department of Juvenile Services study shows that children who participate in Community Conferences have a 60% less likelihood of re-offending than if they enter into the DJS realm. At the last facilitator training, Lauren put forth an inspired vision for Maryland: conflict resolution centers based in every community, giving everyone access to low- or no-cost services to settle disputes instead of going to court. These centers would give people the resources to settle their conflicts themselves, with Conferencing as one of the choices.

Last year, I gave myself the gift of attending the two-and-a-half-day facilitator training. I was struck by how useful the lessons are, not only for Conferencing, but for any human endeavor:

  • Trust the process
  • Keep it simple
  • People have the capacity to figure things out themselves
  • Emotion plays an important, powerful role; do not fear or suppress strong emotions
  • Allow the natural wisdom that we have as individuals, as communities
  • Allow people to connect as human beings
  • Each person has a chance to share their story
  • Impeccable preparation allows improvisation in the moment
  • Fair rules + fair play = fair outcomes
  • Define, don’t defend
  • The outcome is never predictable
  • Enjoy the ride
  • It’s not about you

I support the vision of community-based conflict resolution. Check out this amazing organization and use it, learn from it, support it.

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