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.


Keeping the Thanks in Thanksgiving Conversation

Will your family be hosting a circle dialogue this Thanksgiving?

Many families have a tradition of going around the table and answering the question, “what are you thankful for this year?” This is a great example of an impromptu circle– just grab a talking piece (you can create one or just grab the salt shaker) and set the ground rules that when one person has that talking piece, everyone else is listening!

Remember, others will follow if you set a tone of openness and vulnerability for your circle! Promote strong dialogue with your family and friends this holiday seasons with the following tips:

Conversation starters to spice up your holiday table talk:

  1. What does it mean to you to give thanks?
  2. What expressions of gratitude would leave you feeling most appreciated?
  3. Who at the table would you like to thank personally and for what?
  4. If you could share Thanksgiving dinner with one famous historical figure, who would you choose?
  5. What question would you ask them?
  6. What are you looking forward to in December?

Tips for a constructive conversation:

  1. Avoid starting questions with “why”
  2. Start sentences with “I”
  3. Ask open-ended questions—questions that have more than a 1-word answer
  4. Use your good listening skills–that means no interruptions, watch your body language and try to paraphrase the facts and feels of the speaker
  5. Ask for clarification before making assumptions

 

Best wishes for a fun and productive conversation!


Meet Miles Iati, Advoz program intern

Advoz:  What are you studying these days?
Miles:  I am a psychology major focusing on developmental and social psychology. I am interested in research and study of trauma, childhood disorders, and addiction.
Advoz: Why were you interested in learning and serving at Advoz?
Miles:  I was initially attracted to Advoz because I thought that the Restorative Justice Conferencing would be a great way for me to get experience working with kids and to practice communication and conflict resolution skills. Now that I have finished the training and completed a few cases, I feel as though I have a good understanding of Advoz’s mission, and I’m looking forward to continuing to volunteer even after my time in the office. 
Advoz: What’s your favorite part about interning for Advoz so far?
Miles: I enjoy exposure to all the programs and trainings that Advoz offers. In addition to the Conferencing training, I also enjoyed participating in the mediation training.
Advoz:  Where do you plan to take the skills and principles learned at Advoz?
Miles:  I plan to use Advoz skills eventually as a school psychologist. Like the communication skills in Advoz’s trainings, I’ve gained some very valuable skills for my professional development.

Meet Erin Lee, Advoz program intern

Meet Erin Lee, our full-time program intern this semester. In her first month, she’s already brought a wealth of organizing and research talent. So let’s get to know her!

Advoz: What is your focus of study?

Erin: Social work with a sociology minor. My main interests include community development, social policy and administration.

Advoz: Why were you interested in learning and serving at Advoz?

Erin: I believe the mediation and restorative practices Advoz offers are essential to maintaining a well-balanced community. When our communities are balanced, there are so many benefits like mental and physical health, an increase in opportunities to develop essential skills for people to contribute the community.

Advoz: What is your favorite part about the internship at Advoz so far?

Erin: I would defiantly have to say, the diverse expertise and skills each staff member has.  When we are in a staff meeting, or brainstorming ideas, I am always learning new ways to analyze and think.

Advoz: Where do you plan to take the skills and principals learned?

Erin: I am currently applying to graduate school for my master’s in social work, concentrating in macro social work.

Advoz: Is there a story about a favorite scar that you can tell?

Erin: My favorite one happened when I was in elementary school cooking dinner with my grandma. I was chopping carrots to make a salad, and I ended up stepping backwards and dropping the knife right down into my foot. I don’t quite remember my reaction (probably tears), but I remember looking down and seeing the knife in the middle of my foot! Thankfully, the knife was small, and I didn’t have to go the emergency room. But I still have the scar on my foot as evidence that I should never be chef.

Say hello to Erin if you happen to come by the Advoz office on North Duke Street. And our Open House is coming up during the Extraordinary Give, Friday, November 16th, when Advoz hosts cappuccino (or chai) and biscotti on the house! More at www.extragive.org/organizations/advoz


Listening Lowers the Learning Curve: a Design Intern’s View

Lauren Runkle is Advoz’s graphic design intern for the summer. She is a rising senior at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster, PA. 

I barely had a grain of knowledge about Advoz before starting as a graphic design intern here this summer. So at first, it was a struggle to communicate the cause through graphics. Of course it helped to research the website and newsletters to give me a taste of this grassroots organization and what it does. However, I achieved better understanding by listening to stories and even attending one of the trainings, the Basic Mediation Training in May. It is amazing to see relationships in the community heal through peaceful and restorative measures as opposed to traditional, punitive methods, and it’s clear that we need more of what Advoz does. I have tried to let Advoz’s positive results inspire me as I worked on various projects.

Translating Advoz’s mission was not only challenging conceptually, but also technically. Because Advoz does not have easy access to expensive graphic design programs, most of the files I worked with are from Microsoft and my graphic design training never associated Microsoft Office as a go-to platform. So I was somewhat concerned in the beginning as the learning curve was steep and sometimes difficult trying to make software do what it wasn’t designed to do. Thankfully, the learning curve has tapered off, and I no longer feel intimidated by using Word or Publisher for design-related tasks.

Interning at Advoz has been a wonderful experience. From presentation materials to blogs to social media to supporter relations, I feel proud of what I have accomplished here, helping to tell the Advoz story with images as well as words. I became more aware about an extraordinary cause, and I contributed my skills to help it accomplish its goals to reach out in the community. I am grateful for the opportunity of the working with Advoz.


This is how we rolled Around the Table

We are still savoring the inspiration and generosity that flowed from Around the Table, our annual event on April 19. So I wanted to share a few nuggets of inspiration with you…including a hint of the positive feedback that we heard (so far) with the “word cloud” above. If you were there, you can still add your voice to feedback on the event.

The 2018 Around the Table selfie

Our community’s peacemakers — the official 2018 Around the Table selfie with MCs Brock Miller and Chris Boyd (left), Advoz executive director of community engagement, Chris Fitz (front left), Advoz executive director of program operations, Mila Pilz (back right), Dignity in Dialogue Awardee Amanda Kemp (center) and special guest Janet Connors (right).

Together, speakers and guests brought a down-to-earth message of hard-won dignity, challenging dialogue and grace-filled change around our tables. Some highlights included:

  • The clear innocent voices of singing children from SWAN4Kids.
  • The bare honesty of Amanda Kemp’s silent pause in the interview conversation with Scott LaMar,
  • The painful and forgiving experience of Janet Connor’s restorative work, having “power-WITH” youth, even in grief,
  • The enthusiasm of teacher Rob Fennimore using Advoz and restorative practices in his own teaching,
  • The generosity coaxing by Tim Keller and his auction team as they energized the crowd both on Advoz’s mission and support,
  • The honored leadership of outgoing board president, Miles Yoder, as he passed the “talking stick”-baton to incoming president, Lucille Connors,
  • The enthusiastic bidding and involvement of the audience throughout the evening.

Here are a few snips from the evening…

So the fundraising results are in, and 2018 will go down as one of Advoz’s most generous evenings yet. The gathered audience contributed nearly twice as much per person that night as in prior years, netting more than $24,000 toward Advoz’s work this year.

You can see and share some beautiful event photos on Facebook and below. And while you’re there, be sure to “like” Advoz on Facebook or follow on Twitter @advozpa.

And please be sure to thank the many companies (below) that led this event from its inception. We look forward to inviting you again in 2019 around the table as we continue to “walk the talk” in our thriving, striving, peaceable community.

With gratitude for our 2018 Around the Table Sponsors, Supporters and Bidders, and to so many others who furthered Advoz’s reconciling work Around the Table in 2018.

Chris Fitz, Mila Pilz and the 2018 Around the Table Team

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Emily Kelly brings organizing, business skills to Advoz

We are excited to welcome the newest member of the Advoz staff team, Emily Kelly, our administrative and volunteer assistant. Emily brings a host of business and organizing skills, having graduated from Messiah College and studied both Peace & Conflict Studies and Business Administration. Having herself experienced entrepreneurial success in real estate, she will now be applying her considerable organizational skills and energy to Advoz’ mission.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work every day for an organization with a mission that I deeply believe in,” she relates.

Emily moved to the City of Lancaster in 2016 and is grateful to be part of an experienced team building peace in her community. At Advoz, she hopes to increase her own personal communication, incorporate those skills into other areas of her life and train to become a mediator. When she’s not serving Advoz, she enjoys going to the gym, leading a Bible study and having a home that is intentionally open to other young adults.


Circle Process: What Needs to Be Heard

By Circle Process facilitator Daryl Snider (names and details changed to protect privacy)

This was the first time everyone had come together since the conflict arose. I felt an odd mixture of stress and delight from the eight people as they arrived for the Circle Process. They had been close before it all exploded, and the strong feelings were evident, differently in each person. Some were quiet and stiff, while others were chatty and joking. Our gracious hosts served coffee and tea.

As the Circle started, even the jovial participants tensed up—a natural response in a situation that feels dangerous. As a Keeper of this Circle, however, I knew from listening to each of them that they feared hurting others as much as getting hurt themselves.

“Terry” was almost shaking. Some had warned my co-keeper and me that Terry might derail the whole process. At first, Terry had been reluctant to engage at all, but after we listened to their story and concerns, Terry was willing to give this Circle a try—to everyone’s surprise.

We started with a light warm-up activity, building a sculpture together out of random scraps of wood and construction materials. We took turns around the Circle placing an object in the sculpture or rearranging them until everyone was satisfied. I noticed that even here, different approaches stood out. Some had a clear vision of what they were building. Some were being polite and careful not to disturb what others wanted to do. Some seemed determined to undo what others did. And some took risks, placing objects in precarious positions. We shared laughter and enjoyed this diversion, with a focus on building something fun together. The ice was melting.

Janet Connors working through grief and anger with teens using a circle process.

The Circle shifted to talking about “values,” and together, we listed shared values that help us be at our best, committing ourselves to them: honesty, openness, listening, empathy, respect, grace.

Then we began rounds of the Circle with guiding questions, passing the Talking Piece from one person to another. At first folks were worried about offending others or saying the wrong thing. Eventually, it was Terry—the live wire—who pushed us forward saying, “Let’s just say what needs to be said.” Pretty quickly then, that’s what happened. There were many tears as people shared their pain and their love for each other. No, their friend hadn’t suddenly become an awful person; they were hurting or afraid. Apologies were offered and readily accepted. It was time for our Circle to close, and everyone was talking freely.

This Circle did not resolve everything, but it started something in motion. There was relational mending yet to do and a larger community to involve. But the Circle provided a space safe enough to say “what needed to be said” and hear what needed to be heard. The result was real and sacred connection, renewed trust, and confidence that we can indeed get through such things—and come out stronger and wiser.