When you’re the middle child with a brother 3 ½ years older and a sister 3 ½ years younger, you grow up learning a lot about disputes. You also learn that many things are not fair and you get to hear your parents remind you ad nauseaum that life isn’t fair, so get over it. Hit your big brother and he pounds you; hit your sister and parents punish you big time.
Since all three of us made it to adulthood, I guess we somehow learned to settle our disputes.
How do you settle disputes? Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to attend an orientation at the Dispute Settlement Center of Orange County, a non-profit mediation organization based in Carrboro. Their mission is "to promote and bring about the peaceful settlement of disputes and to prevent the escalation of conflict through mediation, conciliation, facilitation, and training."
Executive Director Frances Henderson and board member Pamela Gibson Senegal conducted our session and told us that they have been in existence here since 1978 and that they are considered a national leader in the use and availability of mediation. They explained their full range of services and of particular interest to me were the youth programs, where kids are taught skills that they can use to manage conflict.
We saw a videotape that featured staffer Will Dudenhausen teaching kids in a public housing neighborhood team-building games that develop conflict-resolution skills. The young people indicated that they had learned to handle the kinds of conflicts they experience each day, and they noted that they understood the value of using their heads instead of their hands.
In addition to the other youth programs such as training peer mediators in the schools, the Center conducts a restorative justice for youth program. Trying to build relationships between people after a criminal incident, first-time juvenile offenders and their victims meet in mediated sessions to discuss the crime and move toward conciliation through apologies and possible restitution.
There is a “Family Table” program to teach parents and teens in family conflict situations how to manage their conflict. The family mediation program helps separating couples have productive conversations and other couples build and strengthen their partnerships. Assistance is also available to help work through difficult family situations such as sibling relationships, care of aging parents and property disputes.
In the general mediation program, neutral mediators, many of whom are trained volunteers, assist parties with their issues. The participants might be self-referred, or referred by attorneys, magistrates, police, County Social Services, the Superior Court, or other such organizations. The mediation might focus on family, work, or neighborhood conflicts, but the goal is the same — finding options to resolve the conflict.
In addition, a public disputes program provides meeting facilitation, multi-party mediation, and conducts conflict assessments, designs dialogue, and decision-making processes, and provides training and education programs. You might know someone who has been a member of a board, committee, neighborhood group, or business that has benefited from this program.
To extend their reach and serve as many people as possible, the training program works with individuals, businesses, schools, non-profits, and governmental agencies to build their conflict management, mediation and meeting management skills. Some training programs are custom-tailored for organizations and others are open to the public free or for a small fee.
And if that’s not enough, the Center last year began a “Generation Peace Art Award,” where local high school students can win a cash award for creative expressions about conflict resolution and speech. Funded by an anonymous donor, awards were presented to students for their visual arts and literary arts submissions.
The Center funds their programs with fees for service, government allocations, the Triangle United Way, various foundations, and contributions from our community. Because of the generous support that they receive, they are able to offer their services on a sliding scale, depending on the client. I highly recommend contacting the Center to see how you or your group might benefit from their offerings. Contact them at (929-8800) or their website <www.disputesettlement.org>.