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Making the Shift Happen, with Neighbors and Politics

“The shift” is often imperceptible in mediation. What starts out as a heated and contentious business negotiation suddenly turns to a rational exchange with voices even and tempers cooled.

Soon after, folks in the room are finding their own way toward an agreement, generating their own solutions, testing them and finding resolution.

It’s a process we see every week at Advoz, a Lancaster nonprofit that offers mediation and restorative justice services.

And it’s a process for which we can see a real need in our current national political struggle.

But how do we get there? How can we make the shift happen in America?

President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that a deal had been reached to reopen the federal government. The partial federal government shutdown had lasted 35 days — the longest in U.S. history.

Congress and the White House now have until Feb. 15 to negotiate a deal involving the thorny issues of immigration and border security. As a mediator, I see this as a clear opportunity.

The pain of the shutdown was not felt equally. The pain of federal workers, contractors and their families is what we honor in asking the question: How can we, the American people, help to avoid another such impasse?

It would be easy to suggest mediation tools for lawmakers to find common ground and make the big “shift” happen. But the opportunity before us is not just a political one, it’s a cultural one. If we citizens can’t talk to our neighbors about divisive issues, how can we expect our representatives to do that?

So what follows are a few ideas, many of which were articulated in the best-selling book, “Getting to Yes” (Fisher & Ury, 1981), for how to approach the current moment as an opportunity — for our elected representatives and for ourselves:

— Separate the person from the problem: What do you deeply want in our national political debate? What does that look like in your life, day to day? How can you talk about that in terms of your own story (rather than blaming or comparing)? What does your neighbor, your representative deeply want for themselves and our shared community? Can you ask them?

— Explore underlying interests and needs below publicly stated positions: Your neighbor may say they want “border security” or “border freedom” but there may be deeper interests. What might they be for you? For your neighbor? Can you ask your neighbor about his or her deep needs and concerns? Can you model courageous vulnerability to share your needs and concerns? Can you listen without judging, advising and assuming, and stay curious?

— Make an offer: As you struggle in a difficult conversation, you might find an opportunity to contribute something constructive. The shift happens, in part, because one person has the courage to recognize or appreciate the other, to create or suggest something new, to contribute positively despite feeling threatened.

Perhaps ask: “I wonder what it would like if our kids … .”

What can you offer to move the situation forward one step? Voicing this once is not a guarantee, but it is at times a surprising antidote to a cycle of critical one-upmanship, blame and defensiveness.

Conversation starters

Need a few one-liners? These could be used in many conflictive situations — or with your elected representatives — to shift a conversation toward breakthrough:

  • “How were you personally affected by the government shutdown?”
  • “Could you tell me more about that?”
  • “What do you hope for our community and our country?”
  • “What values do you think that we share as a community? As a country, even across party lines?”
  • “Could you imagine a positive path forward toward our shared values?”
  • “What can you offer to move this situation forward just one step?”
  • “Here’s what I can offer.”

Finding common ground

In 1995, I landed in Northern Ireland to study what had been a 25-year run of seemingly endless violence, division, discrimination and political impasse among the Roman Catholics and Protestants there.

But working amid the din of bombings and political bombast were Catholic and Protestant clergy, lay leaders and politicians in quiet conversations with paramilitary leaders. Those secret conversations, some lasting nearly 10 years, led to a permanent ceasefire of the major paramilitary organizations, followed by a long series of political discussions and agreements. Everyone I met on the street seemed to still be in a state of disbelief, asking the question, “How could such a shift just suddenly happen?”

As members of the greater Lancaster County community, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless and disempowered in the face of seemingly intractable national conflicts. But we live in a diverse community right next to people who share very different positions with equally passionate conviction.

In our own backyard, we have an opportunity to apply the lessons of mediation, to find our own common ground through quiet conversation.

If we can do that, we can join Northern Ireland and hundreds of other unsung peace processes around the world, leading our representatives to sit down — out of the glare of media cameras — and look each other in the eye, and hear each other in a new way.

That’s the kind of leadership that can make America’s big shift happen, not just in the weeks ahead, but during the many inevitable challenges — and opportunities — to come.

Christopher Fitz is executive director of community engagement at Lancaster-based Advoz: Mediation & Restorative Practices, which was created by the merger of Conflict Resolution Services and the Center for Community Peacemaking. Mila Pilz, executive director of program operations at Advoz, contributed to this column.

This article appeared on the Lancaster Newspaper Op-Ed section on January 27, 2019.


Advoz Works with 900+ in Annual Report Highlight

We’re excited to see increasing stability and growth as Advoz’s had its first full fiscal year as a merged entity ending May 31, 2018. This report outlines the many people engaged in our dialogue programs along with the funds raised and expended for that work. The graphs do not depict the nearly 100 dedicated, skilled and trained facilitators, mediators and trainers who donate their time to  make resolution and restoration possible and affordable for so many.

Thank you for your contribution towards Advoz’s growth this year through meaningful dialogue. If you want to continue your support into 2019, you can get involved by making a donation or volunteering.


Adding Voice Upstream

Chris Fitz
Executive Director, Community Engagement

I was on a family hike with my wife and kids a few weeks ago. We descended a wooded trail into a beautiful glen, hearing the ever-louder creek and its gushing current below. But reaching the bottom, we found human-made trash strewn on the bushes and trees around us. Broken boards, twisted roofing, television sets, and yes, even a kitchen sink. A flood had literally scattered the contents of homes more than a mile downstream. We were struck sober and dumbfounded from the imprint of nature’s violence months later.

At Advoz, we see the impact of another kind of violence scattered downstream. Violations in schools and around our community end up at our doorstep months after they occur, often leaving behind a traumatic imprint on those involved, directly or indirectly.  And the “cleanup,” like at our creek-side trail, is a lot more difficult and costly after the flood has spread its damaged goods for miles downstream.

One of Advoz’s founders, Lorraine Stutzman-Amstutz, recounts a formative story in which she was asked to mediate with two boys who tried to fight at their school. They had been immediately suspended when the administration learned of their plot.

“What have you learned?” Lorraine asked.

“Not to fight in school,” one of the boys said. They admitted to planning another fight, but this time, out of school.

Lorraine then asked them why they wanted to fight in the first place. As it turned out, there had been a genuine misunderstanding. The disrespect that one of the boys had heard was false. In fact, the younger boy had looked up to the older. The ice was broken. And the two agreed to sit beside each other for a week at lunch and send the message to their friends that the fight was off, saving face and making peace at once.

As the two were leaving the room in a lighter mood, one stopped at the door, turned to Lorraine and asked, “hey, how come we didn’t see you before we got suspended?”

That’s a question we are increasingly asking ourselves and our partners, especially in area schools. What preventative, responsive and restorative actions are we taking before reacting with isolation, punishment and shaming?

“How come we didn’t see you before we got suspended?”

Youth after restorative dialogue in their school

Approximately 1/3 of Advoz’s restorative dialogue cases originate from area schools. Because of time delays, many participants from these incidents refuse to participate in a restorative process. Our downstream vantage position often fails to serve those involved in the original violation. Both schools and those challenged in their system always have a fresh stream of crises to keep them busy. With increasing social isolation and tech-related dysfunctional responses to conflict amongst our youth, a new vantage point is needed to help face the inevitable floods our communities face.

One recent case we facilitated illustrates the challenge and the promise. A sophomore with special needs becomes agitated in class, lashing out and pushing her teacher. She is charged with simple assault and leaves the school district. More than a year later, Advoz sees the case. Much has happened, but the student and teacher have never gotten a chance to address the incident directly. Both agree to a restorative dialogue which happens outside of the school. And the student, now a junior, her family and the teacher emerge with a sense of closure.

“We had a clear path forward. At the end, there was closure, a sense of healing,” the teacher recounted.

The teacher, who is also a coach at the high school, is talking with Advoz about how we can work more closely with his school.

“We can use more restorative justice. Advoz plays an important independent role, different from our school or law enforcement.”

The nationwide epidemic of school threats and shootings, has woken public attention to the need for preventative work. But this violence is symptomatic. In 2017, 28% of Lancaster County students, grades 6-12, reported being bullied in the past year, up 50% from 2015, according to the state PAYS survey. Clearly a more holistic approach is needed to work upstream and build a culture of peace in our schools and community.

In conversations with school officials, we often hear from staff overwhelmed with lacking time, energy or money for intentional work to improve school culture. Meanwhile, others downstream—in police, courts and prisons—face the impact of violence and trauma downstream with a limited toolset that often isolates and shames those involved. They too benefit from complimentary, restorative approaches.

Just two years into its merged work, Advoz has worked with more than 900 people in restorative dialogue, mediation and training. All that has been accomplished with support from many of our visionary readers who value the unique role Advoz plays in healing the harm of violence and preventing it.

Last year Lancaster County spent $68 million on public safety and court-related expenses. As our annual report attests this year, we have offered a transformative, complimentary alternative to the services around us, all for a tiny fraction of that cost. And we’re not sitting passively, waiting for the next incident. Here’s how our programs work together:

1. Downstream: Restorative Justice enables people to find healing from harm and make things right after an offense.

2. Midstream: Mediation invites participants to resolve active disputes as they emerge.

3. Upstream: Training equips people and institutions who are often using our other services with skills and forms for handling conflict and discipline before it washes downstream.

Advoz has extensive history working downstream. Continued satisfaction surveys show that people experience healing, relief and empowerment in restorative justice and mediation. Just last month, we received a note with a donation from an anonymous participant (below).

  Our upstream training and educational work is just as rewarding, but more challenging to sustain. Yet, existing relationships with courts and schools situate Advoz ideally to address those underlying needs with training education. 

“Advoz” is a name derived from Latin and Spanish, meaning “adding voice.” The merger of mediation and restorative justice programs has empowered us to look beyond the crises that come our way each week and ask, how can we add voices to the equation that keep this from happening to the next youth? The next victim? The next family?

As a member of Advoz’s network, we invite you to add your voice upstream with us. Here are a few ways:

1. Think about your school, business, congregation or other group to consider how Advoz could help build a restorative culture of peace there, and give us a call to discuss training ideas;

2. Might you have training skills that you could offer to our community? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Go to www.advoz.org/volunteer to let us know of your interest to help;

3. Make a monthly donation to Advoz online at Advoz.org —> Donate or with your billpay system. There may be ways to multiply your impact like a company donation matching program, minimum IRA distribution or naming Advoz in your will or estate plan.

Peacebuilding scholar-practitioner John Paul Lederach suggests that “Voice” equals “power” + “meaning.” Like my family’s excursion on the flooded trail, we can all meaningfully participate, picking up the downstream items we find or walking upstream. But no matter how you contribute to Advoz’s work, you are meaningfully empowering untold hundreds more in our community.


Advoz at One Year

Maybe it’s the work we do with youth. Maybe it’s seeing the dramatic about-face change of heart in a conflict or crime. Maybe it’s the “a ha” you’ve had seeing your own relational skills make a difference around you. It’s clear after one year merging two storied organizations, that you and 2,500 others follow Advoz for slightly different reasons. But there is one big thread: change.

In Advoz’s first year, we’re seeing change in exciting ways. A surge of interest in Circle Process and deeper dialogue training, especially with schools, has doubled the number of people served. It also means that Advoz is becoming more community-involved as the graph (below) suggests. Thank you for supporting this change journey.

Advoz is serving the community in a large way with historic numbers in comparison to what we did as the Lancaster Mediation Center and the Center for Community Peacemaking. We served nearly twice the number of folks as in 2016, with a nearly equal number of youth and adults (860 and 833 respectively). The large part of those served came from the Restorative Schools Training in which 650 people took part, 450 being students from the School District of Lancaster. service that has grown quickly is the customized training, where we worked with 145 youth and 292 adults in various community groups. We have blossomed in our first year as Advoz and will continue to extend our roots to build a stronger foundation for reconciliation in Lancaster County and beyond.


Learning about Anger: Intern Reflections

When I think about my time at Advoz, I do not think about anger at all.

 

But, earlier this week, I observed some juvenile court hearings. I listened to the offenders in their own words while also hearing the judge’s rulings. I became not only angry with the idea of these offenders being challenged in their lives by the impact of their decisions, but also how beneficial mediation or victim-offender conferencing could have been in such situations.

Throughout the Spring semester, I was the Communications intern at Advoz. I had started in February, just as the merger announcement was about to take place – you could say it was a busy first week!

Looking back, most of my projects involved working within the database, adding pages to the website, and creating social media posts. However, the highlight of the semester was the Around the Table event. There was much for me to do leading up to May 4th, including scheduling some of the Silent Auction items & Sponsor posts you may have seen on Facebook as well as helping to organize the content for the Event Program.

Because my internship dealt with a lot of the “behind-the-scenes” projects in the office, it was wonderful meeting many of you during the event and being able to put faces to names! Listening to Dr. Arun Gandhi speak with such insight was truly inspiring, and it was a great way to end the event. As Dr. Gandhi mentioned, “Anger is like fuel in our car. We need it… but we must learn to use it constructively.”

Overall, interning with the staff of Advoz was one of my personal highlights of the semester: no anger here, by the way, just lots of coffee and laughter! I was extremely grateful for the experience, and I know everything I learned -especially the notion of focused, constructive anger to facilitate restorative justice- will stay with me going forward.

Hayley and Zoie

Hayley (right) enjoys the post-event meeting with fellow Advoz intern Zoie just before graduating from Millersville University.


Start with ‘discourse about discourse’

May 1, 2017


This was published May 1st, 2017 in OP-ED in print and online. Copyright © 2017 LancasterOnline. All Rights Reserved.

The April 8 article on the visit of Jonathan Haidt (“America’s Uncivil Discourse”) is a reminder of how the need for civil discussions is a central concern of this era, perhaps a lost art. Our political and cultural divisions are starker than ever. “Discourse about discourse” sounds like self-indulgence until we notice that many cultural traditions — and contemporary conflict resolution methods — take this step very seriously.

Ground rules, as they’re called in modern conflict mediation, are fundamental to the success of any dialogue. Where people share linguistic and cultural norms, ground rules often function invisibly. But in situations of escalated tension with diverse assumptions about “normal,” conversation about conversations is necessary. That’s the state of America today. Our diverse schools, businesses and communities are increasingly microcosms of a diverse society, including its conflict.

The insight of ground rules suggests that neither Haidt nor those he criticizes for demanding “safe spaces” are wrong. What may be wrong is prescribing the rules. Each challenging dialogue will have its own needs and goals. More likely than not though, people will want similar guidelines — respectful listening, equal chances to speak, refraining from putdowns, etc.

The point of creating ground rules for each conflict is not to shape unique guidelines. It’s to get buy-in for the eventual dialogue.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested that democracy be periodically remade so that each generation could renew its sense of ownership. Similarly, in heated debate with diverse norms, our communities and institutions can be strengthened by inviting people who want to join the dialogue to jointly build that conversation from the ground up. Then when we begin the deeper conversation, we’ll be speaking in a space safe enough for everyone to be part of the change they seek.

Christopher Fitz
Executive Director of Community Engagement
Advoz 


Arun Gandhi’s jokes in visit, ‘I think you have convinced me that i should move to Lancaster’

Richard Hertzler | Staff Photographer
Arun Gandhi, an Indian-American author, scholar and political activist and a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, speaks with Chris Fitz, executive director of Advoz, after his meeting with a panel of representatives from Lancaster outside the Lancaster Marriott.


Published May 5, 2017 in Lancaster Online. Copyright © 2017 LancasterOnline. All Rights Reserved.

May 5, 2017

After listening to a diverse group of Lancaster County residents describe their community at the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square Friday morning, Arun Gandhi said it reminded him of the story his grandfather told of the blind men and the elephant.

In that story told by Mohandas Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi,  six visually impaired people felt various parts of the elephant. One who felt the legs said it was like a tree. Another who held the trunk said it was like a snake. Someone else who touched the body said it was like a wall.

To get a true picture of the animal, you need to put all of those pieces together. The same, he said, is true of a community.

Gandhi is a peace activist, author, journalist and agent of change. He founded the  M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Rochester, New York. He visited Lancaster at the invitation of Advoz, a nonprofit agency dedicated to transforming  conflict and building community through face-to-face dialogue programs. Thursday evening, he addressed 500 people at Spooky Nook Sports.

He spent Friday morning listening to 22 county residents from different backgrounds and walks of life describe their community.

What he heard was a belief that over the past 30-plus years, Lancaster has become more diverse, more accepting of outsiders, and better for it — as evidenced by the fact that Lancaster city is the No. 1 area for refugee settlement in the country on a per capita basis, according to the BBC.

Joe Moore, a member of the Lancaster Friends Meeting (Quakers), spoke of the racial, cultural and ethnic diversity in the city.

Deepa Balepur,  president of the Indian Organization of Lancaster County, said members of her community have easily integrated into life here.

Mukaram Syed, a business consultant and board member of the Islamic Community Center of Lancaster, said that from the outside, Lancaster looks like a closed community, but “it has a big heart. In seven years, I have seen Lancaster’s fabric change.”


“We will dissolve into your community like the sugar in the water. I think that’s a wonderful symbol of how we should all live in a community where we enhance each other and sweeten each other by our presence.”

~ Arun Gandhi


 

Richard Hertzler | Staff Photographer Dr. Arun Gandhi an Indian-American author, scholar and political activist and a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi is shown speaking to a panel of Lancaster representatives. To Gandhi’s left is Thomas Ryan, Lancasterhistory.org and at right is Leroy Hopkins, retired professor from Millersville University.

 

Mayor Rick Gray attributed people’s acceptance, in part, to the underlying influence of the peaceful and respectful Anabaptist community.

Others addressed the local work ethic and deep history of Lancaster — how the promise of religious freedom guaranteed by William Penn and the adherence to democratic principles have contributed to the  fabric of the community.

When asked his impression of what he had heard, Gandhi quipped, “I think you have convinced me that I should move to Lancaster.”

Noting the diverse perspectives  presented Friday, Gandhi referred not only to his grandfather’s story about the elephant but about Zoroastrians, who left Persia sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries and sought a home in India, which was then ruled by various kings. One king, Gandhi said, held up a full cup of water and told them that like the full cup, there was no room for them.

At that point, one of the Zoroastrian leaders took a spoon of sugar, stirred  it  into the water and said, “We will dissolve into your community like the sugar in the water.

“I think that’s a wonderful symbol of how we should all live in a community where we enhance each other and sweeten each other by our presence.”


Were you around the table with Dr. Gandhi? Complete the “talk back!”

If you had any doubts about the hope and resilience for adding voice in South Central Pennsylvania, I imagine they are now erased. The turnout, the participation, the generosity and the feedback in the last 24 hours from Around the Table is humbling now to receive. Thank you for being part of this special experience.

Add your voice one more time in this 3-minute survey on the event by clicking on this link: https://goo.gl/forms/b06xdAcNLHbotSB92.

We have reached 1,000 Advoz fans on Facebook! Click here and push us to a new level!

We are tallying up the fruits of your incredible generosity now, but before we have a final tally, I welcome you to post your own photos to social media and or enjoy a few here and on our Facebook page. Include #AroundtheTable2017 and #AddYourVoice and our username: @AdvozPA on both Twitter and Facebook.

Before he left, Arun Gandhi shared with some of us how our conversations are like a story of seven blind people describing an elephant. None of us can describe fully what the elephant is, but together, when we speak clearly and listen–we begin to see the big picture, the whole community. Thanks for adding your voice, for listening and for furthering Advoz’s work of transformative dialogue.

 


Restorative schools is a first benefit of merger

CCP, CRS join to offer proactive, responsive and restorative conflict services under one roof

February 16, 2017 was a bitter, cold and blustery day, but that didn’t deter a stalwart band of peace-builders from venturing onto Lancaster’s Penn Square to “flash” the new name and merger of Lancaster County’s two long-serving organizations addressing conflict and crime to form a one-stop-shop for face-to-face dialogue programs: Advoz.

Pronounced “ad-vōss,” the word comes from the Latin for ‘voice,’ inherently meaning, ‘adding voice to dialogue.’ Its expanded mission, to transform conflict and build community with face-to-face dialogue programs, was discerned by consensus by the boards of both founding organizations.

Lancaster has a rich tradition of leadership in building peace. The Lancaster Mediation Center (later CRS) was founded in 1980 early in the US mediation movement. Similarly in 1994, LAVORP (later CCP) was formed at an early stage in the restorative justice movement. By 2017, both organizations worked in ever more proactive ways with people in conflict and have come of age.

The merger now allows Advoz to take a new proactively with local schools. With restorative practices technique of inclusive dialogue and classroom circle process, Advoz is part of a movement gaining steam nationwide to reverse the harmful trends of zero-tolerance discipline that exclude youth from their peers and increase their chances of lifelong criminal involvement. In 2016, 30% of juvenile justice cases referred to restorative justice from around Lancaster County happened at schools. Already underway at the School District of Lancaster, Advoz’s Restorative Schools project will equip more schools to address harm in youth violations “upstream” and prevent needless justice system involvement.

Lancaster County has been unique in Pennsylvania having two active services for mediation and restorative justice. While such services are legislated in other states because of their effectiveness and efficiency, our programs have thrived because of cooperative relationships with our county courts and generous community contributions.

Your support has made possible the joining of two leading programs in an even more effective and innovative force, bringing together more than 60 highly trained volunteers with a streamlined administration and board of directors. Your involvement—donations, event participation, facilitating, volunteering, praying, spreading the word—your voice—helps to realize the potential of our community to truly transform conflict into an opportunity for growth.


Arun Gandhi to recount boyhood lessons with grandfather

In what is shaping up to be a unique and interactive kickoff dinner event for Advoz, Dr. Arun Gandhi will literally speak “around the table” in an in-person interview  with Scott LaMar, WITF’s Radio Smart Talk host, who is also receiving the first Dignity in Dialogue Award on May 4, 5 pm, at Spooky Nook’s Olympic Hall.

Arun Gandhi grew up experiencing bullying and racism as a youth in South Africa, but learned about peacemaking and reconciliation during the two years he lived with his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi. The elder Gandhi, a lawyer, pacifist and an activist, became the leader of the Indian independence movement.

Dr. Gandhi founded the M.K. Gandhi institute of Nonviolence in Rochester, NY, to help young people achieve a nonviolent, sustainable and just world. He has authored and edited several books on nonviolence, social justice and his grandparents’ legacy.

The event theme, Peace: The Next Generation asks, “How do we build a culture of peace in a divisive world, particularly for our youth and succeeding generations?” And the event will facilitate conversation on the theme around every table to add your voice. Find out more and register at:  AroundtheTable.org.

Register for Around the Table