Mike Dettmer speaks during the public comment time at the combined meeting of the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission | Jane Boursaw Photo
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(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.

Attia Qureshi

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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

Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan

5 COMMENTS

  1. Attia, Your thoughts are on target and I hope you believe they apply to both sides of an issue and to both those with power and the powerless. After a Board is elected, speaking out is the only available option to express concerns by those without power. It has been my experience here in Peninsula Township that there has been little to no true dialogue by the two parties in a conflict. Those in power feign to listen for three minutes to the concerns of the other side. Rarely if ever do they either acknowledge and address those concerns let alone engage in a dialogue. I am sure your training and experience will tell you what the result of that type of indifference has on the aggrieved party.

  2. As i saw only one person reached the heights of uncivility and it wasnt any one clapping or going oooo. It was someone losing it calling people’s enthusiasm bs. If a few seconds of clapping or oooing when threatening to shut down the meeting fits your definition of a situation requiring conflict resolution, then i suggest you not attend your university’s football game between Michigan and Michigan State. You would probably be overwhelmed by the “mob” like screaming at each other.
    I find your one sided and prejudicial view of the meeting not unexpected.

  3. Attia, appreciate your 4 year view of the world on OMP, but unfortunately it lacks both context and history. As a conflict resolution professor, I think you would agree that “how we got here” is equally as important as where we are. You do not resolve conflict without context and history. This is not “today’s news” on OMP, it represents decades of issues with governance on OMP. This was merely the boiling point. My suggestion to you would be to not add fuel to the fire by attempting to call out well intended residents who are sick of the my way or the highway governance in the township, and volunteer your skills to the township to help them understand the right way to both avoid and resolve conflict. In fact, your skills could be invaluable in getting the wineries and township to sit around the table, revisit the accepted settlement that the township recinded, and use that as a first step to create peace and harmony in working together and collaborating for a better future on OMP. In 23 years of living here I have never seen it as bad as it is today, but I remain hopeful that with collaboration and compromise, we can find a better path forward.

  4. Attia,

    Thank you for writing in to express your opinion at the inappropriate behavior at the township meeting on Nov 14th. I am appalled that an elected/appointed official of the township would use such language at a public meeting, not only ONCE but TWICE. If one were to call BS on something, it might be wise to make sure that one’s own hands were clean in regards to open office hours, fulfilling the required statutory obligations of the elected position, and managing the functionality of the township personnel and business operations.

  5. Thank you Attia for addressing this subject. Your “ 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” is correct. We all want this. Too many times based on the procedures of our public meetings we do not have opportunity for dialogue. Public speaks first ( no dialogue or question and answer) and then our officials speak and we citizens do not have any further chance to correct errors in statements. And oh there are lots of errors. I welcome your becoming involved in facilitating dialogue on important issues in the future. Perhaps we need public input sessions. I remember this being done in the past. Regards, Curt

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