September 11 – Peace Begins at Home
Chief of Police for the City of Ames
As I read the Global Unity event plans for the year, several themes were woven together: peace, the origins of conflict, paths to conflict resolution and building a sense of connectedness or community. I was struck by how important these same principles are in the everyday world of community policing. Conflict, conflict resolution, violence prevention, tolerance, concepts of neighborhood and community are at the core of the work that peace officers do every day.
Living in harmony is a pretty challenging undertaking—indeed global unity may begin or end with some of the lessons that come from neighborhoods and the balance between conflict and community. Let me reflect a bit on the neighborhood dynamics of the past—no internet, little world travel, and somewhat less turnover than we see today. Neighborhood families had contact simply due to their physical proximity. We didn’t always agree with our neighbors’ politics, business practices, child rearing or lifestyle. Nonetheless, we learned to watch out for the neighborhood kids and all pull together.
Our physical proximity and the need for common solutions taught us to rally around those actions, while putting our differences in perspective. We didn’t exactly ignore our disagreements, we just learned that in order to live together, we needed to find ways to get along. Once the shared work was done, we sometimes found time to vigorously explore those disagreements. The relationship and sense of community that came from working together allowed us to explore those differences of opinion. We weren’t always best friends, but we were neighbors and that meant something.
Over the years, a number of forces have been acting to make our world smaller. It’s easier to find like-minded people; travel to other parts of the world; and we’re all working harder. These forces have combined to take some of us out of these neighborhood interactions—our more permanent world is our circle of friends, internet correspondents or coworkers. Without intending to, we have migrated away from those tasks of citizenship that brought us together around shared needs. In doing so, I fear we have lost some of that great American interdependence that turned our differences into strengths. We now find ourselves interacting more with those who share our ideas and this ultimately leaves some of those citizenship skills getting rusty—things like compromise, tolerance, and compassion.
While the connection to the global community is enriching, I propose that the skills necessary to work through deeply rooted human conflict are learned—often by working through neighborhood issues with those who have different values, experiences and beliefs. If I practice these skills with my next door neighbor, I can practice them with others on the block, in the city, in the county, in the state and eventually, in the world. If I don’t have practice with real issues, then I may not have developed the skills I need to really stay in the conversation long enough to truly contribute to global unity. One path to peace may begin right at our front door.