Resolving conflicts


“I don’t want anything for Mother’s Day — it’s a silly holiday fabricated by Hallmark Cards to sell more of their products!” This was my mother’s response to my inquiry at age 7. Of course we always celebrated the day; mothers are the best! It seems there are many “appreciation days” that exclaim the wonderfulness and importance of all kinds of things. Guacamole Day is Sept. 16. Jan. 3 is Toss a Fruitcake Day. And there is the classic and important date of May 9 — Lost Sock Memorial Day.

While it’s easy to poke fun at a lot of these recognition events, here’s one to which we should pay attention. Oct. 18 is a day that is celebrated internationally, though not very well known here on Martha’s Vineyard: International Conflict Resolution Day. In this case, we have the chance to recognize an incredibly important practice that should be part of all of our lives and at all levels. Think about the concept. Resolving conflict is tremendously important for the world’s leaders, county government, the JV hockey team, in each of our homes, on the playground, at our jobs. Everywhere. Each one of us can work to resolve a conflict. You know what to do.

Put yourself in another’s shoes. How should a president talk to a king? How can a governor understand the view of a selectman? How can a neighbor understand a neighbor? A parent understand a child? If you put yourself in another’s place and try out their perspective, you can see a way to communicate.

Tell the person you want to resolve the conflict. Just by telling them, you can make progress. Many of us walk around thinking the conflicts can’t be solved because the other person doesn’t want to work at it. Be the one who makes the first move.

Listen. Listen uncritically. Listen without interrupting. Listen with an open mind. Ask questions to understand, not to judge. Check that you fully appreciate what you think you heard. Don’t think about what you are going to say next. Instead, clear your mind and open your heart to what is being said by the other person.

Here is a challenge; during the week of Oct. 15, and especially the day of Oct. 18, try to resolve one conflict. Any size, any situation. The first step is to identify a conflict. Step two: Imagine yourself in the other’s position, and then tell the person you want to solve the conflict. Then listen and listen and listen some more. Keep trying. Keep talking. Keep listening.

If you can’t get things moving, we can help. We are the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program. As part of a statewide network of community mediation programs, we provide mediation, facilitation, and conflict resolution support here on Martha’s Vineyard for both court and community cases. Our mediators are trained and Massachusetts-qualified. Our principles are voluntariness, confidentiality, neutrality, self-determination. These principles guide all our work. We make sure that all mediation clients are participating by choice, that they know we keep the process confidential, understand that our mediators are neutral throughout; and that the solution lies in the good sense and fairness of those involved in the conflict.

A proclamation from Gov. Charlie Baker, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, has declared “Community Mediation Day” in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Whether called International Conflict Resolution Day or Community Mediation Day, it’s a day when we can pay attention to our own role in working for a more peaceful world.

We live on a small Island, and often bump into the same people. Frequently. Good or bad, it happens, and always will. What better a place, then, to really address, and work on, effective conflict resolution? We may not celebrate other days of appreciation, but the concept of conflict resolution is worthy. A day each one of us can work to resolve a conflict is a day we can make a difference — in our homes, schools, towns, country, the world.


Bill Jacob is on the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program. M.V. Mediation may be reached at 508-693-2999, or



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