mediation

Disarming Our Speech

POLICE BRUTALITY, the Affordable Care Act, climate change: When people with differing convictions on issues such as these come together for conversation, some prefer to first set aside the issues and focus on building relationships, while others want disagreements front and center. In his book I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations With Truth and Love, Biola University communications professor Tim Muehlhoff says relationship and honesty are necessary for progress to be made.

“If every conversation we have with others is about the issues that divide us, the intensity will hurt the communication climate,” he writes.

For example, he offers the hypothetical story of an evangelical Christian who wants to share his faith with a Muslim co-worker. Over lunch, the colleagues take time to learn about each other’s differing religious convictions, but the conversation doesn’t invade their work relationship. Back at the office, they return to their easygoing, day-to-day relational habits.

It’s a mistake to begin conversations by trying to convince others of our position, Muehlhoff says. It is better to listen with a sincere desire to understand what the other person believes and why they believe it.

“Position-centered individuals view others as a collective whole based on gender, race, education level, social position, political affiliation, religion, and so on. Individuals are grouped into large, often stereotypical categories and are treated accordingly,” Muehlhoff writes.

Person-centered communication views those with whom we disagree as “unrepeatable souls created by God.”

As we approach differences, he advises that we ask ourselves: “Are we relating to a person or someone’s analysis of them? Do we allow individuals the freedom of self-definition? Have we boxed people in according to stereotype? How much of my communication is shaped by pre-judgment?”

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Four Questions for Tyrone Parker

Tyrone Parker, top row in red, with Alliance of Concerned Men participants.

Bio: Tyrone Parker is the executive director of Alliance of Concerned Men (ACM), a nonprofit that works with youth living in high-crime areas in Washington, D.C.

Website: allianceofconcernedmen.com

1. What event or episode in your life has most informed your passion for working with urban youth and families?
One was the loss of my son, Rodney [who was killed in 1989]. The other was the record number of homicides within the District of Columbia. The District was once considered the “murder capital” of the United States.

When we first got started with the intervention program, it was due to a 12-year-old kid who was shot in the nation’s capital on the day of the Clinton inauguration. If you would’ve gone 10 minutes on East Capitol Street, you would’ve seen the inauguration with a major celebration. And 10 minutes down the same street, you had a whole community under house arrest. After that, we came together as a group to form the Alliance of Concerned Men.

2. What sorts of services and programs does ACM provide?
We teach a number of skills to at-risk youth, including gang intervention/prevention and mediation, workforce development, life skills training, leadership development, coaching for re-entry, and youth gang conflict resolution.

3. Can you describe your vision for a “murder free D.C.”?
I imagine communities of youth where the key is that they don’t believe they will die before the age of 18. It offers so much to the city as a whole to give the youth the opportunity to say, “I will get to age 21.” They can begin to invest within themselves and consequently in their family and community. That’s one of the principle factors—to begin to give hope to individuals who do not see hope.

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The Impossibility of Being Known

Eye photo, Greg Soybelman/Shutterstock.com

Eye photo, Greg Soybelman/Shutterstock.com

I've been navel gazing again and wondering how we come to know ourselves. I wonder what that right balance is between our inner-barometer of self-knowing and that external one that people reflect back to us. "Ubuntu," (I am because of who we are) or all the various "I am..." statements: "I think therefore I am" (Descartes) or "I am what I am and that's all that I am" (Popeye)...What statements might we add to this list? Bishop Desmond Tutu expands the notion of Ubuntu thusly: 

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

I'm trying to wrap my mind about how we construct the self. Judith Butler, Catherine Bell (ritualization) and others inhabit my mind lately. Ritual, tradition, story, identity... the list goes on and on ...

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