(Editor’s Note: In light of the recent Township meeting where conflict arose over building heights and other issues, Attia Qureshi, a conflict resolution professor at U of M, has a few thoughts about how to bring civility back to the OMP community. And if you’ve got something to say about anything related to the Old Mission Peninsula, write it up and send it to me, [email protected]. -jb)
I have a question for you, my dear Old Mission Peninsula neighbor: what type of community do you want to live in?
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When I moved to Old Mission in 2019, I didn’t think I would last in Northern Michigan. After spending more than a decade in San Francisco, Denver and Boston, the culture shock was huge – but I had resolved myself to give it a year.
Through that year, I developed a love for this community: the connection I built through joining the OMPEF (Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation) board, running into people I know at the park, and the amazing natural resources we have available to us. Countless experts have proven that we are happier and healthier when we are connected to a community and are giving back to it.
On the flip side, we become depressed, isolated and lonely without that connection. After having lived in cities for so long and then moving to our intimate community, that certainly resonates with me. I get to see the impact of giving back directly on people I know, which fills me with joy and deep satisfaction.
I’m sure many of you feel the same way – treasuring that neighborly connection and tight-knit community on our small but mighty peninsula. We can turn to each other for help, use our collective resources to improve all our lives, and have daily connection through windshield waves or quick hellos. And I believe all of that is currently at risk.
I’m a professor of conflict resolution at the University of Michigan and consult in leadership and conflict resolution for large organizations, so I feel uniquely qualified to raise this concern. Yes, we have conflict on the peninsula – it’s not the subject of conflict that concerns me, but the way in which we disagree. There will likely always be disagreement, which is natural, but the disagreement has taken on a tone of jeering, bullying, berating and even name calling. This degrading tone is destroying the fabric of our community.
If you think of our community as a tapestry, we can either have respectful disagreement where we work out the knots gently and with care, or we can be harsh and brutal as we yank thoughtlessly on the threads and ultimately tear them, leaving a gaping hole. Unfortunately, today’s political environment and what we see on the news makes the yanking and tearing seem acceptable to some – it’s not. I can guarantee it will accomplish nothing and will make things worse.
In conflict resolution, we say “be hard on the issue and soft on the people,” but instead, we are being hard on the people and not even discussing the issue.
The way to actually resolve conflict is by coming together in respectful dialogue, where we can all share our perspectives and find a path forward. From my experience, most conflict is resolvable if approached this way.
On the other hand, when we approach conflict with sharp comments and pointed attacks, it destroys our ability to find common ground and a reasonable solution. No one likes to be attacked or bullied, and no one should have to be – it’s never anyone’s job to “put up with it.” Ever.
What it does is make us feel more protective of ourselves and entrenched in our positions, meaning that we don’t want to engage because it hurts. Of course it hurts! No one is immune to harsh words, and we can sometimes forget that people are human, our neighbors, and not just figureheads representing an entity. What we are seeing repeatedly across the country are people trying to give back and do good for a larger purpose, and they just can’t take the abuse anymore and have to leave.
Where does that leave us? With less capable, less caring, less dedicated people working on our behalf, which ultimately means our community suffers. We will end up with less, we will end up being worse off, we will be more isolated and even more lonely.
If you look around at the interactions happening in-person and online within our community, we are at a tipping point. People are starting to lean into the harshness and abuse, and I would implore you to lean out. Imagine your child or spouse being attacked and bullied the way some people currently are in the community – what would you do? Is it acceptable? What would you hope others would do? There IS an answer: stand up against it.
Each of us can change the dynamic – we can insist that it is unacceptable to behave that way in OUR community. We can call it out every time we see it, and we can call it out gently: “It sounds like you have strong feelings around this and have something important to share. Is there a way you can do that so it focuses on the subject and your needs, rather than attacking people?”
It may feel like an overwhelming problem, or that it’s too late, or it’s “someone else’s problem.” We are not helpless in this situation, and we can change it – but we must do it collectively. We have to be allies for each other and insist on treating each other with respect, even in disagreement. When enough of us stand up and say no, this isn’t acceptable, it WILL stop. People will change their behavior, and we will be able to come back together as a community to resolve and move past conflict rather than get stuck in it.
So, I will ask you again: what type of community do you want to live in? It’s my responsibility, and yours, to act in a way that preserves the interconnected loveliness of our community. Let’s take a stand and insist on civility toward each other. When you see someone violating that, say something – and together, we can repair the tears that have been made, and come out even stronger.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb