Enhance Productive Patterns and, When Warranted, Establish New Patterns for How the Community Solves Problems
- Develop ways to enhance relationships among diverse groups by fostering constructive contacts across groups that include:
- Working toward building understanding and communication across divides (e.g., Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders talking about how they deal with day-to-day issues they all face),
- Positive, even enjoyable, interactions (potlucks, cultural art and music festivals, community celebrations),
- Extensive interaction, in which friendships develop, such as regular meetings,
- Activities that help participants realize that their common values outnumber their differing values, and
- Use of educational workshops on how to have difficult conversations to foster peaceful interaction.
- Plan regular meetings of spokespersons for various interests to share matters of concern to their interest groups with public officials and with each other.
- Educate leaders making public statements to refer to the community’s shared goals and its customary practices of resolving differences through decision-making and dialogue rather than unrest.
- Consider a process in which stakeholders discuss what they would like their community to be, compare that with the existing community, and develop a plan to achieve their desired
- Work with media to develop a plan for using the media, including social media, to convey what is occurring to the broader community.
WHY TAKE THIS STEP?
Communities stand a better chance of stemming the most damaging civil unrest and lasting bitter divides if residents broadly:
- Enhance trust during tranquil times so that they are more likely to work together to resolve a crisis;
- Develop a shared sense of community identity that all interest groups can support and serve as a reason to preserve peace;
- Become aware of the costs, in the broadest definition of that term, of violent and rampaging civil unrest; and
- Become accustomed to resolving their differences without violence or damage to what they value in their communities.
RESOURCES FOR COMMUNITY PROBLEM SOLVING
- Robert D. Putnam & Lewis M. Feldstein, Better Together: Restoring the American Community (2003).
- Susan L. Podziba, Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes (2012).
- The Consensus Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement (Lawrence Susskind et al. eds., 1999)
MORE DETAIL ON THESE STRATEGIES
Developing these approaches or enhancing existing approaches so that they become part of the entire community’s customary practices can be challenging. But a careful plan that sets up mechanisms and establishes patterns for communication and joint problem solving can result in a community that reacts with resilience even when facing difficult problems.
Beyond these basics, communities will be more resilient if they have built relationships across segments of the community. Rabbi Victor Urecki of Charleston, South Carolina talks about strategies that at first did not work and later, after a course correction, have created cordial relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in that community, relationships that seem unshaken by world events:
The religious leaders got together many years ago with the idea of talking and sharing the issues most important to each of them. Some groups wanted to talk about abortion, some wanted to talk about social action, others wanted to talk about anti-Semitism, etc. Each person was talking about a separate issue that was important to him/her. The religious leaders were talking at each other and the relationships broke down. This was not effective. Now, the group gets together, but rather than talking about these “hot button” issues, they all began the relationship in a simpler way: talking about their days, what’s going on in their congregations, what’s going on in their lives. For example, one religious leader is able to say, “I have a congregant going through a difficult divorce, here’s what I’m doing. Have any of you had this experience? What did you do?” These conversations have been a great experience for all involved because the different religious leaders are all able to support each other. Now, they’re able to have the more difficult conversations about the “hot button” issues if they come up. They talk as friends first and as colleagues second.