(KUNM Airdate: 8/25/06)
"There is plenty to do, for each one of us, working
on our own hearts, changing our own attitudes, in our own neighborhoods."
~ Dorothy Day, Founder, Catholic Workers Union
"Living in community is like living in a hall of mirrors, where everyone around you offers a reflection of how far you've come and how you have yet to go. While it offers unparalleled opportunities for personal growth, like old age, community is not for the feint of heart."
Laird Schaub - consultant on building sustainable communities
The series on peacemaking and nonviolent conflict resolution
focuses this month on keeping peace in the neighborhood. One of our guests
is mediator Stephanie Beninato who has mediated scores of neighborhood disputes
- mostly about barking dogs she says. We also talk with members of the Alamosa
community of Albuquerque who feel that developing a strong neighborhood association,
building a community center and taking pride in their community have helped
reduce crime and brought more peace to their neighborhoods.
This program is co-hosted by Paul Ingles and Carol Boss.
Click here to hear this program- Neighborhood Peacemaking
You may also find out more about the Peace Talks Radio series at www.peacetalksradio.com
CD copies of this program are available. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a check made payable to GOOD RADIO SHOWS, INC. in the amount of $15.00. The price includes postage and handling. Mail your check to Good Radio Shows, PO BOX 35442, Albuquerque, NM 87176. Expect delivery in 2 to 3 weeks.
Transcription Services: Rogi Riverstone
HOST PAUL INGLES: What are the first steps toward a good, general strategy that seems to have some good results in a neighborhood conflict over barking dogs?
MEDIATOR STEPHANIE BENINATO (website: http://www.nmmediate.com/): I would call each party. I would ask the two people what their point of view was about the situation. Dog owners tend to love their pets, of course, even though you might think they're not being totally responsible because they're leaving their dog out for hours, barking. Dog owners tend also not to hear their dogs barking. For people who don't have dogs, that noise is very irritating. I let them vent to me, tell me the situation. Then, I say, "Can you come in with a solution-oriented frame of mind: that you could come up with - not one solution, but, say, three solutions that will work, not only for you, but also for the other person?"
INGLES: The other thing that I imagine, too - tell me if this is true - is that a lot of dog barking problems are happening when the owner is away. The dog's in the back yard. The owner is out on a date; the owner's working. They don't really know how much the dog is barking when they are away. The dog is agitated, lonely, hungry, whatever. Then, they come home and the dog is, generally, quiet or happy, satisfied, fed. Does that happen a lot, too?
BENINATO: That has happened, yes, where people have gone out and have not realized how much their dog barks when they're not there. I've often asked people, if they've taped the dog barking, that they bring that to demonstrate to the owner what they're listening to.
INGLES: I like dogs. I've had dogs. Maybe I don't hear it as much as someone who doesn't have dogs. I've gotten used to it. My solution is earplugs, white noise machine. I live with it, rather than try to change what's going on with my neighbors.
BENINATO: That's one solution. However, some people get really frustrated with that because, first of all, they say, "I want to keep my windows open. I don't want to keep ear plugs in because I want to know what's happening right around my own house." Some people say, "Why should I go to the expense of getting a white noise machine? I don't even like listening to anything. I'd rather have quiet." There are studies that say that quiet is important to getting a really good sleep. So, for some people, those are unacceptable solutions.
INGLES: You've described bringing the two parties together and, particularly, the dog owner, to come to a meeting with a solutions-based frame of mind.
BENINATO: Actually, both people coming in with a solution-oriented frame of mind, because, if the person who's complaining just wants the owner to get rid of the dog, I don't think that's a very viable solution for most dog owners. I think that's why most dog owners, perhaps, react in a less-than neighborly way. What they're hearing is you don't like their dog and you want them to get rid of it. Or, they project onto you that you're unreasonable.
INGLES: What are some of the negotiations or changes in behavior that result from some mediation?
BENINATO: Some people have agreed to let the dog out at certain hours and, if the dog barks, fine. Or the dog barks for a certain number of minutes and, after that, the owner needs to respond. Sometimes, just moving the location of where the dog is kept will really help. Sound travels in odd ways; it bounces off building. By putting your dog, say, from the north side to the south side, it can often relieve the problem that you have with your neighbor.
INGLES: It seems to me, in all conflict resolution scenarios, a big part of it is empathy: to get both sides to recognize some of these factors like a wall that amplifies a dog bark that they might not have thought about - putting themselves in the space of the person who's being bothered, and vice versa.
BENINATO: Exactly. That's really important. That's one of the things that mediation does. It increases communication skills and empathy. You are really listening to what the other person says. By having the one person repeat what the other person has just said, not only do you know that they're really listening, but I think, it really forces them - in a way - to understand what that person says.
INGLES: What's the energy like at most of these mediations?
BENINATO: It can be really tense. In fact, most mediations are rather tense because people are there because they have a conflict. They don't know how it's going to resolve itself. Perhaps they have the impression that they're going to court and they're going to fight. They do get to present their points of view. However, people usually do really want to vent. I do what we call, "caucusing." I'll speak with one side privately; the other side sits, say, in another room. Then, the second party gets to speak with me, too. So, the venting can occur, but the wall doesn't go up between the two people who are trying to work out a solution.
INGLES: What is the success rate in this type of mediation? Is there follow up that you can track?
BENINATO: Yes, because, often, I'll tell people, if it's not working, if you don't think that the agreement that the parties came to is being followed, they can call me up and we'll do a follow up session. I've had some follow up sessions, but not a lot.
INGLES: If you were trying to talk with folks, and imagine a scenario where the neighbor could approach another neighbor and start working this out on their own without calling in a complaint and working out a mediation, what tips would you have?
BENINATO: You might try a phone call, but if you've been up all night and you're really upset, it's probably not the best time to do it. Although, you could just say, "I would like to talk to you about your dog." Leave your number, your name, identify where you live in relationship to the neighbor. If they never call you back, maybe you'd like to write them a very short letter saying, "I am being disturbed by your dog. I would like to talk to you about this so that we could work something out so that we can both live here, peacefully." Give your contact information and see if the neighbor responds to that.
INGLES: Before you are even exposed to annoyances that might bother you, it's important to get to know your neighbors. It seems rather simple, but, does that really help when things like this come up? You have a path that isn't blocked by fear or assumptions that you build in your head?
I think that is also a very good idea. Try to meet your neighbors, whether
you see them walking down the street and can introduce yourself or whether
you've just moved into the neighborhood and you make an effort to go
to, say everybody surrounding you, and say, "Hey, I'm the new neighbor
and I'd just like to introduce myself." You can open the door so they
know who you are. The first impression is not of somebody who is coming
because they're having a problem, but because they really want to get
to know you and be part of the neighborhood.
According to our next guests, addressing conflict in our neighborhoods and making them more peaceful places requires patience, persistence, empathy, creative consensus building skills and a willingness to overcome our indifference about the place where we live. All these were lessons learned by residents of a neighborhood in Albuquerque, New Mexico who have started to turn around their community. Over a period of about 15 years, the Alamosa neighborhood has worked with the city's police and other departments to reduce crime, build facilities, spruce up its look, and instill a sense of pride. It's not a miracle turnaround by any means, but it's a good example of people taking an active role in reducing conflict and increasing peace. Carol Boss talked with some of the folks who are pulling it off, beginning with Albuquerque Police Captain who described a time not long ago when most of the Alamosa Neighborhood didn't trust the police.
CAROL BOSS: Do you want to
talk a little about where you think the mistrust comes from?
BOSS: So, Jeanette Baca, President Alamosa Neighborhood Association, what did that look like, that disconnect?
JEANETTE BACA: Well, there
was distrust, I think, on both sides. The police had, I believe, the
stereotypical idea of what our community was. And our residents had
never really had contact with the police, other than if something happened.
There was no real communication.
REPRESENTATIVE DAN SILVA: Yeah, on that point, Captain Candelaria, and the people who work for him, also, are there - not only when there's problems. We have meetings, we have lunches, we have breakfasts -- whatever type of meeting, he's there. So, there's a tremendous trust which wasn't there, before. That's one of the things that's made a big difference.
think a lot of it has to do with police departments, kinda operating under
that umbrella of the "broken windows" theory. We talk about personalizing
it, not just from the police aspect of it, but those that live in the
We try to educate one another that, if
we see a problem, rather than just tolerating it, or being indifferent
to it, they should actually take the steps to try to find a way to reslove
it and prevent the problem - therefore, calling it the "broken window."
That's what I would recommend to anyone. That's where the theory stems
from: if you see a house that is delapidated, that's unattended, that's
vacant, that's maybe a haven for criminal, nuisance activity, you take
the steps to get those who are involved, and actually fix it, rather
than being indifferent to it. Because what happens is, it starts to
evolve. It starts to perpetuate. It's not just a problem with the house,
it could be a problem in the neighborhood. It continues to engender
What happens with this transformation is, no longer are those who live in the community willing to tolerate it: any type of criminal or nuisance activity. We have a relationship now where any one of the constituents I work with- they give me a call, they're shooting me an email, saying, "we have a problem at this location and I want us to look into it." "Transformation" is probably the best word I could use to describe it.
BOSS: Perhaps you could
give folks who live in other communities tips for overcoming, let's
say, the indifference they might be experiencing.