Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Conflict Resolution Print E-mail

ImageThe Tamaki Estuary Protection Society, from time to time, finds itself endeavouring to resolve issues where conflicts have arisen because the basic rules of conflict resolution have been ignored.



Conflict resolution around the Tamaki Estuary

1)  Declare your hand.
If you do not like a playground in front of your house then say so.
This means that everyone is dealing with the real issue, not some hidden agenda.

2)  Never assume that everyone has, or even should have, the same opinion as you do.
Someone else might love to have a playground in front of their house. Perhaps the location only needs to be moved to leave everyone happy.

3)  Do not mix up the person and the issue.
The playground might be a stupid idea. That does not mean the person, or the Council, is stupid. The next idea might be just fine. Debate should focus on the issues rather than the personalities. This also leaves a bit of room for horse-trading.

4)  Try to sort out the reasons behind the issue, as these will usually be presumed truths.
Thus the Council might presume that playgrounds are a good thing. Are they? Surely the whole of the Tamaki Estuary should be a playground. A whole generation grew up wading through mangroves, making boats out of bent sheets of corrugated iron, and surviving all kinds of adventures. The idea that you play in a playground is a reflection of a risk-averse society where play needs to be supervised and controlled. The problem is that children who play in playgrounds learn about plastic, pipes and tanalised timber rather than birds, fish and the environment. Playgrounds are an ecological disaster.

5)  Recognise that there are real urban design issues.
We makes cities which are not playgrounds and then we wonder why people are bored, angry and violent. Of course you hate what someone else has forced on you. Graffiti is the only alternative to applying for a Resource Consent. If we turned the whole Tamaki into a playground then we would not need dedicated playgrounds. Having play controlled by the Council is an insane idea.

6)  Get people involved in the whole adventure.
I have rescued a lot of people in the Tamaki and I have even been rescued a couple of times myself. Until recently no one drowned because the community and the place were one and the same. Now people ring up to get someone else to do what they should do themselves. Every issue needs to be seen as having potential to build community. No one should end up with a sore head, or worse still alienated from the community. Conflict resolution needs to be seen as a community building exercise. No one should ever come out as a loser.

7)  Everyone is different.
Diversity and complexity are the very basis of sustainability. It is a foolish and dangerous waste of time trying to get everyone to agree. The real skill is in accommodating difference. Everyone needs to be involved in the Tamaki, but in completely different ways.

8)  Being able to do everything somewhere is very different from being able to do everything everywhere.
The Tamaki is a place for birds. Ideally it would be a place without cats and dogs. However if someone wants a cat or a dog the ideal could be compromised, provided only that the birds are not compromised. In life there needs to be some give and take. In the long term education is needed. Most people have never experienced the joy of a life teeming with birds. Some are wild and some are friends but they are all free. Education of course should not be a process of normalizing people to make them socially conformist, just like their dogs. Education should set people free so they can be like birds.

9)  The culture of Councils, which assumes some people will have power over other people, is incapable of conflict resolution.
Our legal processes, our governing bodies, and even the Environment Court are all founded on the idea of a battleground which produces winners and losers. There is a residue of hurt, mistrust, alienation, and destruction of community. Conflict resolution begins by giving power away. If you are cook for the night then you are also entitled to do it your way, without constant criticism or interference. Enjoy the meal and give thanks that you did not need to do it yourself.

10) A sense of humour is essential for conflict resolution.

Life is ridiculous and it does not make sense. Most people are ridiculous and completely illogical. The miracle is that we have survived so long in spite of our best efforts to destroy ourselves. Life wants to live, even if individuals are happy with half-dead compromises. Every conflict can be defused a little by celebrating what you do have rather than by focusing only on what you want or do not have. Given a bit of perspective issues which seem to be worth dying for become completely inconsequential. Laugh at selfish people driven by greed. They really are funny. Why our society admires them is a mystery.

11)  When everything is laid out on the table, you then find a solution which makes everyone happy.

This is quite different from compromise.It may be that the person who wants to cut down a tree really wants to provide employment. It may be that the conservationist really wants to save the tree but is not against employment. If by saving the tree you can provide employment then you have the best of all worlds, and everyone ends up being much more than just delighted. They also find that everyone they thought was an enemy is actually a friend. Instead of heading for a lawyer everyone heads for a BBQ, but then of course you should check. The other person might be a vegetarian. That is their right. If someone does not want the BBQ in front of their place then just move along a bit. Who cares? Get a life.

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