Water Man Spouts

Monday, April 25, 2005

Differences of opinion.

Years ago, while I was employed in my first social work position, I had the opportunity to meet a group of people who were involved in the Alternatives To Violence program. Most of the group I got to know were Quakers, who did volunteer work in the jails and prisons in the New York-New Jersey area. I spent a significant amount of time with them, and found that their program helped me not only in my work in jails, and with domestic violence groups, but also in my own life.I remember that some of the Quakers introduced this set of guidelines to the Haudenosaunee, or People of the Long House. It was funny, because the Clan Mothers said, "Oh yes, this is our system, too. It is part of the Power of the Good Mind." Some things were added as the program evolved, and so this is why I'm going to post two sections.Because I am human, I benefit from reading and re-reading these from time to time. I am pretty sure that a couple of the guidelines refer to me specifically, as an individual. Maybe others on DU will find some of this of interest. It is taken from my notes from some twenty years ago.Anytime two (or more) people are involved in any form of relationship, there is bound to be differences of opinion. If certain behaviors occur while those differences are discussed, it can lead to understanding and respect; other behaviors always lead to unnecessary arguments and hostility, and even violence.The following guidelines are useful in facilitating a discussion of differences in a way that leads to a minimum of aggravation, and focuses on arriving at an understanding that differences of opinion are okay. When we recognize that different opinions should not be seen as a problem that needs to be resolved, we have taken a large step forward.(1) Clarify as much as possible the nature of the differences.(2) Do not bring in irrelevant material. This includes: do not bring up past mistakes; and do not cite other people's behavior. When irrelevant material is brought into a discussion by another person, do not try to address it. Either say, "That has nothing to do with this discussion," or ignore it and get back to the issue at hand.(3) Do not be accusatory in any way.(4) Do not label or call people names. The best examples are "that's stupid," or worse, "you're stupid."(5) Do not attempt to blame the other person for anything.(6) Be careful not to give in to the urge to be hostile, condescending, irritable, or sarcastic.(7) If the discussion is "face-to-face," rather than on an internet site, try to speak in a medium tone. Speaking too softly or too loudly is disrespectful.Part Two(1) Seek to resolve differences by reaching common ground.(2) Reach for something good in the person(s) you are having a conflict with.(3) Listen before making any judgment.(4) Base your position on truth, to the best of your ability.(5)Be prepared to revise your position if it is wrong; be willing to admit when you are wrong.(6) Risk being creative rather than focusing on being "right."(7) Use surprise and humor.(8) Be patient and persistent.(9) Trust your inner self; you know if you are saying something to score "debating points" rather than reconcile differences.(10) Build community based on honesty, respect, and hope for a better future.The last point is that if you want to apologize to another person, it does not mean that you were wrong, or that you agree with the other person. It can simply mean that you do not wish to fight. This is equally true if someone makes an apology to you.I've spent the past two days thinking about these guidelines. For a variety of reasons, I have found myself straying from them in the past couple of months in some of my dealings with a couple members of my extended family. I recognize they are as important for me, as for any inmate I ever worked with. We are all "prisoners" from time to time.


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