We are in a period of significant societal transformation—with the COVID-19 outbreak and racial justice movement. The actions we take, as individuals and as institutions, will have a lasting, profound effect on our collective experience.
In my varied roles within this community, I see tremendous potential to create a stronger society IF we navigate this time of conflict well. It requires each of us to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations, and we need to have them with a spirit of openness and a willingness to listen, understand, and grow.
Navigating conflict, in ways that maintain, restore and rebuild relationships, is as old as human history. We have sat in circle discussing harm and addressing accountability. We have asked for support from others to facilitate tough conversations. This practice of coming together in a way that enables us to truly see and understand our fellow humans comes from an ancient interest and need to stay safe by remaining in community with one another.
In this moment that we find ourselves, I keep reflecting on other times in history where significant social change occurred. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was one of these times. Communities mobilized, catalyzed by feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, and for some, optimism and hope.
This period of uncertainty, change, and conflict contributed to the birth of community mediation centers, via the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act established the Community Relations Service within the Department of Justice, which was referred to as “America’s Peacemaker for Community Conflict.” A few years later, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funded the formation of neighborhood justice centers, which were the precursors to today’s community mediation centers, such as your local Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County.
We are again in a pivotal time of history, filled with uncertainty, change, and conflict. People may be motivated to seek solutions through litigation or violence. In Olympia, we are seeing demonstrations that occasionally result in destruction and arrests. In addition, as our state reopens from the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, we are seeing a rise in tenant-landlord disputes, housing insecurity, struggles for at-risk youth, and family or neighbor conflicts.
I know from experience that the best solutions emerge when we work together - when we convene people with diverse viewpoints and interests, who are willing to show up, without thinking they have all the answers but with an interest in creating a future that works better than today.
As we tackle difficult topics such as police brutality, racial inequality, socioeconomic disparities, our emphasis needs to be on dialogue - to facilitate difficult and courageous conversations. We need to think deeply about how we handle conflicts and develop skills to create more peace in our lives and communities. We need to work on understanding, especially when we disagree with what is being said.
At the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County, we focus on listening and learning to understand how we can offer space for individuals and groups to have voice, seek healing and address needs. When we can do that, people begin to make informed decisions for the common good.
We can build towards our common humanity, our sense of unity, our shared need for safety and security, and our desire to remain in community with one another. We can choose to stand together.
Jody M. Suhrbier
Executive Director, Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County
Director Member, Resolution Washington
Director of the Board, National Association for Community Mediation
2604 12th Court SW, Suite B
Olympia WA 98502
PO Box 6184
Olympia WA 98507
ERP Program: Monday–Thursday 9am–5pm
Federal Tax ID: 94-3130662
Contact US (360) 956-1155
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