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Why Do We Need to Gather With People Who Don't Agree?

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

A recent murder in South Providence, Rhode Island has instilled uncertainty and heartbreak across the downcity area. The police have charged a suspect but are thin with press details. What seems clear is that alcohol, anger, and an argument added up to murder, as reported by WJAR.

The victim’s brother teared up as he talked about Ivan, who was shot and killed while the two partied after hours. “I don’t think my brother’s ever been in a fight his whole life,” Runnell said. “He was just a clumsy kid who always wanted to party."

"It’s shocking. It’s tragic. It’s like the whole family feels it," his sister, Dinell added.

The number of murders in the US rose by nearly 30% over the last few years, largely driven by increases in firearm homicides. As with any headline-grabbing trend, reports about murders unleash a flurry of theories—largely unsubstantiated—for what is driving the increase. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many people to have uncertainty in their lives, which has led to anxiety and other mental health issues. The Brookings Institute argues that many people mistakenly blame protests and low morale among police. The Brennan Center suggests that other critics of crime escalation condemn rising crime on criminal justice reform or on progressive prosecution trends in major cities.

Myths and theories contribute to resulting divisiveness and create disagreements, turmoil, and anxiety. Each side has valid concerns about firearms homicides. While it is easy to attribute fault, it’s important to remember that crime increases are mostly concentrated in disinvested and structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods. Poverty, lower educational attainment, and high unemployment are synonymous with higher crime rates.

It’s important to have difficult conversations to make community progress. Yet awkward dialogue about crime can lead to anxiety. Separateness creates barriers to everyday talk. Trauma can force us further apart rather than bringing us together as a unified community. The gaps can seem enormous and impenetrable.

We can look inward and do all we can to heal ourselves. We need to face our feelings, even though it's normal to want to avoid thinking about a traumatic event. Self-care means doing our best to eat nutritious meals, get regular physical activity, and obtain a good night's sleep. More than anything, we need to be patient with ourselves.

Family members can find consolation from a place such as the VictimConnect Resource Center, which provides confidential support and help to find recovery strategies. Dougy Center also offers a wide range of resources for people of all ages who are grieving before and after a death.

When we’re ready, how can we begin to have difficult conversations with others who disagree with us when pain on both sides freezes us? For a community experiencing trauma, self-protection measures tend to come first, and they generally prohibit honest sharing that can move everyone toward understanding and meaning-making. For outsiders looking in, a lack of strategies to deal with others’ agony can make people on opposite sides turn inward and reinforce individual forms of defense and security.

Instead of citing a particular group or geographic area as the cause for crime and violence, perhaps it’s better to focus on solutions. Discussions can address place-based factors that influence violence, but they should also encourage approaches that bring in actors outside of the criminal legal system. Potential techniques can center around increasing informal contact opportunities between neighbors, active listening, instilling a greater sense of safety, improving public health care, implementing violence prevention programs, seeking workforce development funding, or advocating for intergenerational community development.

The Community Tool Box is a free, online resource for those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change. The program promotes community health and development by connecting people, ideas, and resources. An important component is to make sure that those most affected by the problem are participating in a solution. This could mean that one group needs to commit to improving its cultural understanding and appreciation -- often referred to as cultural competence -- with regard to other groups in order for those groups to feel welcome.

The Center for Mediation and Collaboration RI provides a safe, accessible, and confidential environment where people and organizations can engage in constructive dialogue, effectively manage conflicts, and resolve disputes in a constructive, self-determined, and confidential manner. They work to foster better listening, communication, and collaboration skills in our communities that will result in improved personal and professional relationships and will strengthen the future for all.

An organization like Cortico can also help. They recognize that these times demand better listening channels and stronger civic spaces where input shared by community members sparks more informed and transparent decisions from our leaders. The Local Voices Network (LVN) combines the analytic power of modern AI with the ancient techniques of human dialogue and listening. The collaboration between Cortico and MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication enables advanced research and prototypes to be integrated into the LVN platform.

Regardless of which approach we take, whenever we gather people who don’t agree, we have an opportunity to build trust and respect. We also learn that we can challenge each other without blame and fear, which means our relationships with other people and organizations improve greatly. Managing conflict effectively means speaking up respectfully and engaging in dialogue with others who hold differences of opinion about topics that are important to us. As we come together across divisive lines, we raise our concerns and truly listen to each other to better understand all our concerns. We build stronger, healthier relationships as we do so.


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