The term "peace on earth" has pretty much become a joke.
It's a phrase often repeated throughout the holidays (as well as from the mouths of beauty pageant contestants), yet it's a wish that's getting harder and harder to have faith in. From youth violence to gay bashing to the many ills caused by the Bush administration, solving problems via aggression has practically become an accepted norm. Our court system and prisons are packed, recidivism keeps going up. It's time to face facts: On its own, the system is not enough, and it's time to try something new.
Luckily for us, that's exactly where RESOLUTIONS NORTHWEST comes in.
While most people only wish for peace on earth, Resolutions Northwest (RNW) is working to make it happen. RNW is a mediation/conflict resolution nonprofit whose goal is simple: to change the world by changing the way we communicate. It's an organization that gets people with real disagreements to come together and work on a peaceful solution—and in most cases this service is provided FREE OF CHARGE.
Here's a true story from the RNW case files: A 14-year-old boy burglarizes and ransacks a neighbor's home. The victim calls the police—yet doesn't want him arrested, because she knows the boy's family has fallen on hard times. The boy is arrested anyway. Fortunately, the juvenile court refers the case to Resolutions Northwest for "Victim/Offender Mediation Services" giving victims the opportunity to face their offenders, and work out some sort of restitution that's agreed upon by all parties.
The woman in this case was given an opportunity to sit down with the teen who wrecked her home and belongings, and was able to tell him how his actions had hurt and disappointed her. After a long discussion, she began to learn more about the boy's home life (and financial situation), school (he had been skipping classes), and hobbies (he was very interested in computers). With the help of an RNW mediator, the two drew up an agreement: The boy would attend all his classes, and help the woman repair the damage he had caused to her home.
He did exactly as he was asked, and the "victim" in this situation forged a new bond with the teen, and actually ended up giving him a computer of his own.
You may not have heard of RNW and their successes, because all their cases are kept strictly confidential. But I can share with you their success rate: Over 90 percent of RNW's mediations have been successful in solving the conflicts in question. Plus, 97 percent of clients would recommend the services. Here's another stat that should pique the interest of most taxpayers (even those who don't believe in conflict resolution): Mediation has been shown to be 10 TIMES less expensive and four times better in reducing future crime than the court system.
Considering how our court system is a huge financial drain on taxpayers, and how the prison system is pretty much a joke when it comes to rehabilitation, these stats clearly show that if mediation (for non-violent or non-sexual crimes) were implemented earlier in an offender's life and on a wider scale, our society would be a much different—and decidedly better—place.
But RNW isn't just about offering victims the restitution and closure a courtroom can't provide, or setting youthful offenders back on the right track—they resolve neighborhood disputes as well, from blaring stereos to barking dogs to arguments over property lines. These may not seem to be big problems initially, but for the people involved, it's a drain on the quality of life and the sense of belonging as a member of the neighborhood.
RNW has also recently leapt into the deep end of the pool by attempting to take on one of Portland's most heated and contentious issues: gentrification. While many community meetings consist of white people bemoaning gentrification, or excusing it by insisting they've improved the neighborhood, RNW recently tried a different approach: getting white people to listen. They asked local African American leaders to choose people from their community to express in a public forum how gentrification had directly affected their lives—without having to deal with excuses or interruptions. Many in attendance were extremely moved by the stories they heard, and thanks to its success, RNW is planning even more meetings.
Is RNW doing enough? Maybe, but they don't stop there. Besides victim mediation and community building, they work to bring fractured families back together. Family problems—especially those between adults and teens—can be incredibly complex, and need a trained mediator to help sort it all out. And who better to talk to teens than a teen mediator? As it turns out, RNW also trains teenage volunteers in the conflict resolution process—which must be a huge relief to a troubled teen who has someone to talk to besides a room full of squares (i.e., you and me).
In fact, teaching young people the art of conflict resolution is one of RNW's most important programs, offering peer mediation training for elementary, middle, and high school students. Every year, they hold the Oregon Peacemakers Conference, which brings together teens from all over Oregon to the convention center for a jam-packed day of workshops revolving around making peace and change happen. These workshops include seminars on cultural understanding, listening techniques, gender roles, managing volatile situations, and tons more. It all goes back to teaching non-violent resolution early, because, simply put, kids who learn to respect cultural differences today don't grow up into the George Bushes of tomorrow.
From my own perspective, that's a big part of why my wife and I became interested in Resolutions Northwest years ago (she even eventually went on to become a RNW board member). We were tired of feeling the world was politically spinning out of control and there was nothing we could do about it. What we found with Resolutions Northwest was a hope that if more people learned to settle conflicts in a rational and thoughtful way that respected the differences of others—this world would be a much different place indeed. Our jobs would be easier, our home life and relations with neighbors and landlords would be less contentious, our kids safer. And that's just the everyday stuff. Just think how different our lives would be if our political leaders had been taught conflict resolution and how to respect cultural differences at an early age? While it may be too late for them, RNW is busy preparing our future.
That's why I'm proud that the Mercury is giving all the proceeds of the 2007 Online Charity Auction to Resolutions Northwest. Ready to stop talking about it, and really give "peace" a chance? Bid generously for some of the great items in this year's auction, and know that every penny goes toward making the phrase "peace on earth" a little less of a joke.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER AT RESOLUTIONS NORTHWEST? They are currently taking applications for mediators (and other volunteer positions), and can especially use those who are bi- or multi-lingual. They train you—you make the world a better place. Check them out at resolutionsnorthwest.org, or call 595-4890. Donations are also welcome! Got a problem with someone that seems impossible to solve? RNW is just a phone call away—and as stated earlier, most of their services are absolutely FREE.