My advice to anyone entering a conflict, either as a party or a conflict resolver, is to learn about the landscape — not just the geography, natural resources and climate, but also the cultural landscape. What values guide decisions? What are the economics, politics and history of the place?
And, so when I was invited to Uppsala to speak to graduate students studying environmental conflict resolution, I immediately turned my attention to the Swedish landscape. I began, of course, by binge-watching Swedish TV shows and movies. There is a wealth of nail-biting Swedish entertainment out there — “The Bridge,” “Johan Falk,” “Beck,” “Modus,” “Wallander” – all excellent.
We just finished the “Sandhamn Murders,” which I highly recommend. A troubled policeman with an ex-wife in the wings meets a gorgeous, bicycle-riding, flower-arranging, gourmet-cooking woman, mother of two supremely healthy children, who is unhappy in her marriage. As they flirt and misfire with each other, horrific murders are committed by the last person you would suspect. The setting is an island of summer homes owned by vacationers who wear very natty, color coordinated casual wear and poor locals who mostly repair boats and drink a lot of beer. All this screen time in the interest of understanding the Swedish “landscape” has been perfect for a non-academic, TV addict like myself. I admit that this style of immersion is like learning about the US Southwest by watching John Wayne movies and “Breaking Bad.” But I have come a long way from my previous “landscape of Sweden,” which was pretty much limited to pickled herring, Santa Lucia with candles on her head, winter sports and Northern Lights. (more…)
I had coffee with my friend Miriam the other day. As we sat down with our cups at a local coffee shop, she said proudly, “This is my fourth thing today.” Miriam is a poet and a wonderful, rambling thinker. I was intrigued. What do you mean a “thing” I asked her.
She explained that every day she does ten things. They can be fun things, hard things, boring things, any kind of thing. (I was relieved to hear that our coffee was a “fun thing.”) She seemed to want to explain, with nervous laughter, why she did ten things each day, but I was already way ahead of her. Each day would have an order, a calculation, each thing I did would have a legitimacy – it would be a “thing.” No more would I slog through the day and wonder at the end, “what was that all about?” I would have a mental list of things that I did, proof of a good, productive day.
Living in a rural area outside Santa Fe, we are masters of our own waste, free of pesky rules concerning style and content of compost facilities. Our “facility” is about the size of a small bedroom or a large closet, contained within four walls of straw bales, stacked two bales high. It is divided into two cells, one where the fresh offerings go, and the other where the compost is left for the final conversion to soil. I know there are those with other systems, plastic barrels that you roll on the ground to activate whatever the composting agents are, and plastic bins that sit in a frame and you turn with a crank. They adhere to strict rules about what goes into the bin – only fresh vegetables. — but the result can be disappointing, smelly and slimy.
We, on the other hand, are equal opportunity composters. There is nothing in the animal or vegetable kingdom that is not welcome. Our compost bucket takes all vegetable matter (the older the better), as well as chicken carcasses, fish bones, paper towels, egg cartons, stale crackers, sour milk, old wine, and leftovers whose identity is masked by a thick layer of blue, green or gray fuzz. Egg shells and coffee grounds are treasured. (more…)
My field of conflict resolution seems to have exploded lately with workshops to help people deal with racism and bias. Believing that this is a critically important focus these days, and wanting to answer the call, a Hispanic colleague and I have facilitated several workshops for agencies, nonprofits and others. We help attendees (usually a mixed group of White and People of Color) tell their stories — stories that reveal the power and dynamics of historical trauma, unintentional bias, institutional racism, and more. Hopefully, these sessions are enlightening, provocative, and lead to more awareness of how to deal with each other in these volatile, divisive times. But the real learning comes from our own experience and a willingness to examine what lies within us.
And so, here is a story…
Washington DC was gorgeous. Late July, not too hot, clear skies, slight breeze. My work ended a day early and I was in the mood for a little nature after all those buildings and monuments. I heard the lotus blossoms were in full bloom at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and grabbed a cab from my downtown hotel. The driver had apparently never taken anyone there before, but I showed him the address on my phone and we took off, through downtown, brief stretches on highways, in and out of neighborhoods. I saw the signs fly by – Kenilworth Avenue, Anacostia, Baltimore, etc. – and luxuriated in the cocoon of the cab, not needing to know anything of where I was. (more…)
We lost a special friend this fall. Nicky Garoffalo was 64 years old and lived in Utrera, Spain, south of Sevilla, with his sister Maria and her husband Pepe. Nicky had Downs Syndrome and lived a full and rich life, touching many lives and leaving us all the better for knowing him. If you know others with Downs Syndrome, this will probably have special meaning for you; if not, I hope that it will open your eyes to what you are missing!
Nicky was born in Albuquerque, which is where my husband Roberto met him. They became fast friends and hung out together, two guys in their 20s, cruising Albuquerque in whatever pickup Roberto had at the time. One of the bonuses for me when I met Roberto was gaining Nicky’s friendship, too.
There were challenges, of course, for Nicky and his family. Albuquerque was not able (or willing?) to provide meaningful support for them. Nicky was robbed at a bus stop, taken advantage of by some drug dealers, and had no real way to contribute to society. Widowed, his mother moved to Spain, believing that the culture and society were better equipped to accept and support her and her son. She was right. It was a great move for Nicky. (more…)
Back in 1980 we had a gigantic apricot crop in Seton Village. We were all trying to give them away to our neighbors who already had too many. One aggressive neighbor, standing in our patio trying to give me a bag of apricots, declared that he would make an apricot pie and that it would be the best pie in the village. Hackles raised, I challenged him. I had my own apricots, far better than his, and I was no mean baker. We would have all the villagers judge, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would win. He was just as sure. This was the birth of a tradition, the Seton Village Pie Bake, held annually during the summer months. We just held our 38th, but more about that later.
I put flyers in all the village mailboxes (about 20) announcing the contest, and inviting any neighbors who wanted to compete to bring a pie. My rival and I were not worried. Other pies would only highlight the superiority of ours. The day came and villagers arrived on our “plaza,” the small open space on which our houses face. There were several pies, and once they were finished off we voted with secret ballots for the best one. (more…)
The reintroduction in 1998 of the Mexican Gray Wolf in New Mexico and Arizona has been controversial to say the least. There are those who praise the federal action and are rooting for the endangered species to make a full recovery. And there are those who see the wolf as a predator, threatening their livestock and rural way of life. The fear has driven some to put their children in special wolf-proof cages to wait for the school bus at the more remote stops.
For the past 20 years I have watched the conflict rage, the two sides digging in, littering the landscape with fear, insults, and righteous outrage. Always looking for the common ground, my mediator self has been pretty discouraged.
But there was one bright spot. Kevin Bixby, founder and executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, asked me to facilitate a workshop in Alpine, Arizona, near the border between the two states and epicenter of the wolf battle. As an environmentalist, he had a lot of nerve to even drive through Alpine, let alone convene a day-long workshop for local ranchers. I was fascinated. Why would any wolf-hating local give this guy the time of day? (more…)
There are intractable conflicts rooted in history all over the country. Conflicts over flags, over statues, over celebrations, over naming of public places, over school curriculum, and on and on. Sometimes it seems that only a miracle could resolve them. Well, I am proud to announce that a miracle has happened, right here in Santa Fe. But I must begin with the history, because as with many conflicts that’s where it all began.
In the late 1500’s Spanish conquistadors marched from what is now Mexico north in search of the famed cities of gold. Anyone they met along the way was astounded at the sight of these armored, spear-carrying, bearded strangers and sent them on. “Oh, the cities of gold? Yes, they are about 100 miles to the north.” Reaching as far north as what is now Colorado and as far east as what is now Nebraska, they finally gave up the search and settled along the Rio Grande, running north to south through what is now New Mexico.
My mother was born in 1914 and was raised in between the wars to love the American flag. She remembered fondly parades on the Fourth of July and other occasions where the flag was carried with loving pride. She was an activist in the 60s, and critical as she was of our government for the Vietnam War and for civil rights abuses, she hated to see the flag defiled. She always saw it as a beautiful symbol of our best intentions and held that affection for it through protests, marches and demonstrations.
From a generation younger, I missed out on that innocence. Burning the flag, your draft card, your bra – it all seemed fair game to me. For me the flag came to represent a blind and heartless nationalism. In fact, like many of my kind, I chose not to display a flag on the Fourth of July, or any other time. It seemed to have been high jacked by “the other side,” or more accurately, I abandoned it and let them have it.
My husband, a Vietnam veteran, has hung onto the flag, refusing to let it become a pawn in the “us versus them” battle. He realized after a few months of combat, that he and the others were not there to defend democracy but to support an unpopular government. Like so many in every war, he fought for his fellow Marines and to survive until his tour was up. Angry as he was at the US government for the lies it perpetrated to justify that war, he never gave up on the flag and wears a flag decal on the back window of his truck.
The great thing about yard sales is the element of surprise. Will you sell that top-of-the-line jig saw made in Switzerland, only used a couple of times, still in its fancy case? Will someone not be
able to resist that shawl in beautiful earth tones from Bali? What about the Japanese vase made out of a fat section of bamboo, so simple and elegant?We had a yardsale today and none of the above sold. No matter. It was a great day, and I’ll tell you why.
I was selling a dozen or so Easton Press books. They are the classics, leather bound with fancy gold (real gold, they say) lettering and designs on the covers, gold edged pages and elegant illustrations. I inherited them and although they are handsome on a bookshelf, they just didn’t look comfortable on our bookshelves. They needed another home where they would be loved.
Two sisters came along, shorts, pierced ears, cute purses and ball caps. The younger one saw the books. “Ohhhh. I love books! These are so great! I just love them!” and she picked up one, petting the cover, fingering the gold embossing. She opened it lovingly, cooing over the print, the illustrations, and generally being a really enthusiastic teenager.
“Do you have Of Mice and Men?” She was almost afraid to ask. It was a long shot that it would be one of the dozen in the box. (more…)