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Resolving Differences

18 Nov

On November 7, 2013 Austin Talks published a rebuttal to several articles that had recently appeared in the Chicago Tribune (http://tinyurl.com/knwxl3y). The author, Dwayne Truss, offered strong counterpoints to the continual onslaught of negative press. His arguments were thoughtful and well presented. His experience as an advocate and board member has given him the ability to understand how to successfully negotiate adverse and somewhat cynical viewpoints.

Many of us understand that disagreements are a healthy part of the body politic but are we teaching our young people how to resolve conflicts? In an academic article titled Why We Have Been More Successful at Reducing Tobacco Use Than Violent Crime (http://tinyurl.com/myw2g9z), the authors suggest that efforts to combat violent crime are fragmented and that it has proven to be difficult to generate support for preventive programs and policies.

Teens often believe they have no choice in a disagreement but to fight. This can be blamed in part on the media’s need to highlight violence as well as the misguided societal view that avoiding a fight is a sign of weakness. Conflict resolution can be used to countermand these issues, as well as the lack of control that many teens experience. It offers methods to work through and resolve disputes that do not involve violence and can, if properly implemented, create a win-win situation for both of the parties involved.

The actual techniques are amazingly simple but it is necessary to understand how they work. The first is to teach both parties to listen to one another. Listening is not simply waiting your turn to speak; instead it is hearing what the other person has to say without passing judgment or interrupting them if you disagree with their version of the story. Both people need to agree upon what the issue really is; bringing baggage from previous conflicts or the opinions of others obscures the real problem. The final component is respect, something that even adults sometimes lose track of when in a heated disagreement. It is important to understand that showing courtesy and respect for a differing viewpoint does not diminish your own. Solving a problem or resolving a disagreement is not about declaring a winner; it is about finding a solution that can satisfy both parties.

Conflict doesn’t have to be negative as it provides everyone with an opportunity to examine their attitudes and beliefs in light of other dissonant viewpoints. Implement these strategies in your own life as well as modeling them for the teens that you come into contact with. There are more even more techniques on-line in http://tinyurl.com/kwhh257. On this anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, this quote is especially appropriate “So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”

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Tune In for Good News

25 Jun

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Gaynor Hall wrote an astonishing piece for WGN TV website (http://wgntv.com/2013/06/24/media-and-violence-in-chicago/) on a topic we have all talked about, that of the media and its coverage of violence in Chicago. For quite a while now I have had a Google alert for the Austin neighborhood and almost every feed I get has the words shot, dead, or wounded somewhere in the headline. I rarely open them, not because I do not care about the individuals whose lives have been taken for petty and often irrational reasons, but rather because it makes me feel helpless. I also admit that I chose to let my writing reflect Thumper Rabbit’s philosophy “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.” And yes, I do realize I just quoted a cartoon rabbit from a 70 year old Disney movie; the value expressed is an integral part of my life.

In her piece, Hall spoke to Robert Douglas, a college student whose life went off track after the senseless death of his brother as well as Suzanne McBride, journalism professor at Columbia College, and several local publishers. While all of them offered valid points, I was most astonished by Suzanne McBride, until I read her bio on the Columbia College site and realized she is also the founder of AustinTalks.org (http://austintalks.org/). She pointed out that if all the media covers in Austin is crime, it does a disservice to its readers and to the community as violence “doesn’t really tell…the rich history and life for… (the) communities.” The on-line publication Dnainfo.com/Chicago (http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/2012-chicago-murders) made the decision to tell the personal story of every homicide victim, granting them dignity in death but more importantly, recognition of their life.

The take away from this is that we need to combat the so-called scoreboard coverage, as N’Digo Magazine publisher Hermene Hartman so aptly named it. Headlines such as “Six Shot in Austin Over the Weekend” do little to move us to take action and so very often make people tune out. Instead, as a community, we need to tell family narratives, tracing the people who have achieved success, in spite of the odds, or talking about the resiliency of individuals in our families and communities. We need to acknowledge the positive and show that the people who do not make the ten o’clock news matter more as they are the ones who define our individual sense of self.