The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen October, 2001

in this issue

Understanding Does Not Equal Agreement

My Perspective: Much to Cheer, But Bombing a Mistake

6th Annual Roundtable Brings Mediation Community Together

About Us

You Can Help

To help bring relief to the victims of the September 11th Attack and their families, consider contributing to one or more of these organizations.
Choose among various organizations and funds that are providing disaster relief, both in the US and in Afghanistan.

Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund
Disaster assistance provided to people in need without charge.

Save the Children
Help kids cope with the tragedy.

Welcome to the second issue of The School Mediator. The response to our premiere issue was wonderful, with feedback and ideas coming from around the world. This is truly an incredible medium!

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The fall foliage is at its peak here in Massachusetts, with glorious red-orange trees that make one's heart jump.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

This month's feature article applies one fundamental principle of conflict resolution to the events of September 11. (We have postponed the exploration of "mature" peer mediation programs for a future issue.)

Understanding Does Not Equal Agreement
An understandable climate of grief, rage, and fear now pervades American life. Given this highly charged context, and given the severity of the threat we face here in the United States and around the world, it is imperative that we carefully consider our response to the events of September 11th.

One of many fundamental principles of conflict resolution we would do well to remember during this crisis is this: Understanding someone does not equal agreeing with them.

No reasonable person can excuse or agree with terrorists whose barbaric actions result in the death and injury of thousands of innocent people.

But an essential tool for resolving a conflict to one's satisfaction-and preventing it from recurring two or ten years down the road-is to understand everything one can about one's adversary. What motivates them, psychologically as well as politically? What are their stated goals? Their implicit interests? What forces shaped their tactics and their ideology?

We need to study their writings, research their backgrounds, and if possible, speak with them face to face. Only with accurate information can we create strategies that will enable us to effectively resolve the crisis.

It is unrealistic to think that we could or should talk with those directly responsible for last month's attack. The terrorists' actions clearly demonstrated that they are callous criminals, deserving of the harshest punishment possible under domestic and international law.

But what of the large numbers of people, especially in the Muslim world, who appear to support the terrorists' cause even though they abhor their methods? We need to learn from these people, allies and potential allies many of them.

Who wants to talk to those with whom they are in conflict? No one, of course. Most of us would prefer that they just disappeared from the face of the earth. But even leaving aside moral considerations, killing one's adversaries is not an effective way to resolve a conflict.

With the war drums beating ever louder, some accuse those trying to understand the terrorists and their supporters of being too lenient on them, or worse, of blaming the people and policies of the United States, the victims, for the actions that were perpetrated against us.

But we give away nothing substantive by understanding our adversary. We do not limit our courses of action. Nor do we imply that their behavior or aspirations are any less repugnant.

In addition, when understanding is given to one's adversary, it has a way of engendering their understanding of us in return. Experienced mediators, young people included, have seen this process melt seemingly insurmountable differences.

As we address the current crisis, we must strive to do what is essential to resolve any conflict, be it in the school yard, the boardroom, or on the international stage: understand, not necessarily agree with, our adversary. Only then will we be able to create a resolution that is both acceptable and durable.

Click here for a series of conflict resolution principles and accompanying questions that can help adult and student mediators formulate an effective response to the events of September 11th.

My Perspective: Much to Cheer, But Bombing a Mistake
I have been impressed by many of the actions taken by the Bush administration in response to the September 11th Attack, most notably his differentiation between the terrorists and the overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs, his use of a variety of approaches to weaken the terrorists, and his efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan.

But I am troubled and discouraged by our military response and the accompanying inflammatory rhetoric. To my mind, it is short-sighted, brings us uncomfortably close to the terrorists' modus operandi, and sends the wrong message to the world community (especially during this, the first year of the United Nations' Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World). Most importantly, because it continues the cycle of violence, military action will almost certainly lead to more terrorism and a continued climate of fear.

Bush and our allies have a unique opportunity to galvanize and unite the world community in non-violent opposition to terrorism in all forms. The best way to do this would be to bring the full force of international law to bear upon the terrorists and their supporters. Although this path requires more time and is not as emotionally satisfying, it sets us on a course that is beyond reproach, that will inspire the confidence of all nations, and that can be effective over the long term.

No response can completely nullify the threats that we face. But this strategy, if combined with a sincere international effort to explore and eradicate the root causes of terrorism, would enable us to create a more secure and lasting peace.

I have posted two wonderful papers on our website that elucidate this approach. One, by Canadian academic Toh Swee Hin, is entitled Education for a Culture of Peace: Lessons from September 11th and Beyond. The other is An Appeal to Restraint and a Call to Action in a Moment of Crises, co-authored by eight Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. I hope you find them of interest.

Your thoughts?....
6th Annual Roundtable Brings Mediation Community Together
Seventy peer mediation coordinators, representing almost 50 school districts, gathered in Lexington MA for a day of fascinating discussions with colleagues. Many report that they have already begun to improve their mediation programs by implementing ideas they learned at the Roundtable.

The keynote address was given by Professor Diane Levin of Wheelock College, an internationally recognized expert on how popular culture influences the way young children resolve conflict. Dr. Levin's enlightening remarks inspired us to activism and helped us understand the often unhealthy roots of students' approaches to conflict.


 About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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