Solving problems in ways everyone wins, no one loses

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

Variety may be the spice of life, but it also can be the fuel for conflict.

Our unique perspectives clash. How do we resolve our differences?

There's the developer trying to meet a demand for new homes. He's using the gravel pit at the end of a formerly quiet cul-de-sac night and day. Those who live near the gravel pit start to complain of the dust, noise and traffic. Can the developer's desire for gravel and the neighbors' desire for a peaceful place to live both be achieved?

A state agency identifies a site for a halfway house. Those who live nearby react defensively to the news. They fear the character of their neighborhood will change. Mis-information flies and the tension escalates. Could this conflict be avoided?

Increasing floatplane noise heralds the growth of one person's business, but for other residents it's more than a distraction. It means the degradation of their way of life. Can the business co-exist in harmony with the neighborhood?

A group of Kenai Peninsula residents has been meeting for a year laying the groundwork for a Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue. The center's mission is "to strengthen community by providing safe forums, learning opportunities and skills for the constructive expression of differences and resolving conflict."

That might sound a little too touchy-feely for a culture in which those with a take-charge, dogmatic attitude are often viewed as strong and decisive, while those wanting to explore options and build consensus are seen as having too much time on their hands.

Those opposing approaches, however, frequently share a common position: wanting to watch the bottom line. In more than monetary ways, mediation and community dialogue are far cheaper than the alternatives of litigating a problem away, leaving a problem unsolved and left to fester, or settling on a solution that leaves a community polarized for years.

Those behind the Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue hope to give residents win-win options for solving problems, instead of the traditional way of tackling problems in which one side wins and the other side loses. They hope to help residents explore options that would never be raised in an adversarial environment.

This year the group plans to offer some basic mediation training, create a volunteer pool of mediators and launch pilot mediation programs in three areas: victim-offender, parent-teen and neighbor-neighbor.

Mediation has the potential to resolve conflicts by introducing a neutral third party before those conflicts grow into situations, for example, where police are called and criminal charges are filed or before a neighborhood is polarized by opposing viewpoints. A typical situation might be that a neighborhood dispute over noise, pets or someone's junkyard could be settled without intervention by police or appeals to government agencies.

We've all been in positions before where we couldn't see the forest for the trees. Mediation and dialogue have the potential to improve our vision. A greater understanding of problems is achieved. The nature of dialogue is that there's respect as people talk and as they listen. It's the "two heads are better than one" principle in practice.

Those who are working to make the Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue a reality deserve the community's applause and support. People who want to get involved with making the center happen are invited to the group's monthly meetings, which are held the fourth Tuesday of the month from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Kenai River Center on Funny River Road.

If you've ever wanted a way to be part of the solution and not the problem, getting involved in the center is one way to do it.

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