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Youth will Learn Collaborative Way to Work out Differences

This post is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life. 

Dealing effectively with conflict is crucial for success in all areas of life, from the classroom to the workplace to the home. When conflicts arise among the high school students taking part in Mission Thrive Summer, they’ll participate in a proven, productive way to handle them.

Last week, the program’s crew leaders, Lydia, Morgan, Jeremy, and Kyle, prepared for those teachable moments in a training session on restorative conflict resolution. This approach uses collaborative, participant-driven methods to inspire positive change and problem solving.

Carolyn Chisholm, director of Real Food Farm, explained, “It allows students to think through their own problems and learn how to deal with them on their own.” The parties involved aren’t told what to do or what will be done to them. Rather, they have the opportunity to determine outcomes for themselves.

Restorative Conflict Resolution: How it Works

In the first step of restorative conflict resolution, called the “what’s happening” phase, the mediator asks those involved, “What’s going on?” in a non-threatening, conversational way. In spite of a mediator’s neutrality, it’s not uncommon for people engaged in a conflict to express anger and fail to answer the question clearly.

Mission Thrive Summer staff practiced restorative conflict resolution in role-playing exercises. Portraying a youth who was overheard speaking badly about a staff member, crew leader Morgan sulked and refused to cooperate. Real Food Farm’s education coordinator, Molly McCullagh, played the role of mediator with great patience. Despite Morgan’s obstinance, Molly steadfastly asked, “What’s going on,” demonstrating the proper technique.

Upon hearing a reasonable answer, the mediator begins the “who’s affected” phase, which aims to coax out feelings of empathy and understanding among parties. Showing crew leaders how it’s done, Molly asked Morgan how being bad-mouth made the staff member feel.

Morgan reflected and displayed empathy in her response: “(She) was hurt by what I said I guess.” For added effectiveness, Molly asked how Morgan would feel if she herself were bad-mouthed.

The final step of restorative conflict resolution is the “how can we fix it” phase. To demonstrate, Molly asked Morgan to take ownership of her wrongdoing and spell out the steps to rectify that wrong: “We know what happened, and we know how it made those who were affected feel. So now, what can you do to make this situation better?”

A much calmer, more cooperative Morgan thought about it and concluded, “I won’t talk bad about other people anymore.”

Ultimately, the success of the mediation training won’t be measured by crew leaders’ ability to prevent conflict during Mission Thrive Summer. Rather, it will be in their ability to deal with conflict effectively, leading students to ask themselves, “What can I do to resolve this conflict?” That’s a question the staff of Mission Thrive Summer hopes participants will consider long after the program is over.

 

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.