Practicing Third Side Thinking

One of the books our students often read as part of the first course, Introduction to Humane Education -- which focuses on education and communication -- is The Third Side by William Ury. Ury's book describes strategies (prevent, resolve, contain) and roles (provider, teacher, bridge-builder, etc.) for managing and solving conflict. He outlines a way of looking for resolutions outside the us vs. them, either/or paradigm that many of us have been taught.

One of our M.Ed. students, Nadia, wrote about two ways she has used the "third side" strategies in her own life, and we wanted to share her experiences with you:

"Provider: A few weeks ago, my mail carrier started delivering mail later and later every day. I could see that she was in a hurry. She would zoom into the cul-de-sac with her small truck, quickly open the mailboxes, quickly stuff them with mail and zoom out fast, sometimes leaving a few box lids hanging open. I did not mind receiving my mail late as long as I received it. But then, she started skipping on ringing the doorbell to deliver my registered mail. From where I work, I could see her come and go, and when I went out to fetch my mail I would find the “come and pick up your package from the post office” notice in my mailbox. I knew that mail carriers were required to attempt to deliver registered mail once before leaving a note for the recipient. Then one day, I received no mail, which had not happened before. Since I was expecting a particular piece of mail to be delivered that day, I was frustrated. The mail I was looking for did not show up in the following week either. I had to contact the sender and the post office to inquire about it. I was starting to feel angry towards my carrier. I thought about what I could do to resolve this problem and also prevent a potential confrontation with her. I ruled out talking to her directly. I thought that she was stressed and would possibly act defensively. I also ruled out talking to her boss as a first action, because I was afraid that she might get angry and not deliver some of my mail. Then, I wondered if she has a frustrated need that I can help with. She probably needed to feel recognized and appreciated, particularly now, when she is working harder. I decided to leave an early Christmas card in my mailbox for her with a “thank you” note and a gift card. It worked. A few days later, she saw me in the yard and stopped by to thank me. Now she knows me by name and delivers my mail to the door.

"Mediator: I am friendly with two of my neighbors, and they are also friendly with each other. At least that was the case until a conflict arose between them due to a porch light that one of them left on all night. This porch light bothered my other neighbor because it shined very brightly and directly towards her bedroom window, which forced her to keep her bedroom blinds closed all the time. I thought this might be an opportunity to practice my mediation skills and invited them both for tea. When they arrived, I told them that I wanted to practice mediation with them as a school assignment. First I asked the neighbor who left the light on to tell us why she does it. She said that she lives alone and she feels safer when she can see her front and back yards clearly at night. Then the other neighbor talked and explained that she likes to sleep with her bedroom window open, or at least a little bit cracked -- even in the middle of the winter. She said that she has slept that way for 80 years and that she feels suffocated if she cannot open her window. The bright light shining in was preventing her from opening the window. We discussed using a lower strength porch light. My neighbor agreed to use a 60-watt rather than a 100-watt bulb, but that was not going to be enough. Then I suggested installing a bulb socket that rotates/swivels so that the light could be made to shine in another direction than the bedroom. Both neighbors thought that this was a good idea, but the cost of having it installed was a problem. In the end, they decided to share the cost of the installation. We drank our teas with the satisfaction of resolution and rejuvenated friendship."

Nadia found great strategies for connecting, building bridges, negotiating, and solving problems while reducing conflict. Imaging how much better the world could be if our first instinct weren't often to criticize or to look for someone to blame during conflict, but to search for creative, meaningful, peaceful ways to resolve problems.

The next time you witness or experience conflict in your own life, look for creative ways to address the issues. And read Ury's book to gain insights into resolving conflict peacefully.

~ Marsha


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