It seems, maybe, for all we complain about it, we all love conflict.
Republicans and Democrats tearing at each other over sequestration, same-sex marriage, gun rights, taxes — even the first lady’s appearance at the Oscars — we can’t agree on anything.
While it’s to be expected, it’s not good for us. Not as a country, a state or a society.
Overlooked on Monday while the media chased down conflict, a group gathered to promote legislation that seeks to eliminate much of what gums up our system and makes compromise so rare.
I, along with many of my colleagues, introduced a bill that would support peaceful and lasting resolution to conflicts on issues ranging from child-custody legislation to intergovernmental disputes. This legislation creates an Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution, which would be housed at the Bureau of Mediation Services, and would work to support peaceful, efficient and lasting resolutions to conflicts.
Hibbing water shortage
You need only go back a few days in the pages of the Star Tribune to see the importance of this resolution. My hometown of Hibbing is confronting something most of us who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes would have thought unthinkable: a water shortage. The water we all use comes from deep aquifers, and demands have increased faster than replenishment.
Hibbing claims that Hibbing Taconite’s mining efforts are causing water shortages in the area. The city has asked the Department of Natural Resources to get involved with negotiations with the company.
More complaints of this nature are likely in the future. Ethanol plants, farmers and people who live near these big users of water need to find answers, and they can’t count on the state DNR to pick a winner in these disputes.
These are not win-lose scenarios; they have to be win-win.
Uses community mediation
I authored this bill because I believe that individuals of all ages and backgrounds can resolve their own disputes — effectively, inexpensively and peacefully. This office would encourage the use of mediation for intergovernmental disputes and utilizes community mediation in areas such as public safety, youth development and education, landlord/tenant concerns, employment, neighborhood disputes, and the court system.
These services would save cities and counties money by reducing reliance on the courts and law enforcement. They would also build stronger communities by finding enduring and effective solutions to conflicts.
The Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution will promote the broad use of mediation by providing grants to private nonprofits or entities that assist in resolution of disputes, ensuring that all areas of the state have access to services.
The office also will provide technical assistance and best practices, educate the public and governmental entities on mediation options and promote collaborative dispute resolution practices, such as the Minnesota Solutions model, used to resolve more major disputes of public concern, utilizing collaborative processes through facilitated meetings until consensus is reached.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Alice Johnson, has been a volunteer mediator of Mediation Services of Anoka County for 20 years. She has seen firsthand the transformative power of mediation and how it strengthens and helps families, neighborhoods, students in trouble, juvenile offenders and so many others.
It’s time to find real ways for us all to work together through conflict. The tide has turned; we all want this. This office sets up the opportunity to let this happen.
Rep. Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, represents District 41B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.