Thursday, February 6, 2020

Insight: The web of a third-sider

By Lorraine Glowczak

“There’s an old saying that some conflicts are so difficult, they can only be healed with a story.”

At least that is how William Ury perceives it. Ury is a conflict negotiator and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project. In a time when communities are experiencing a period of intense polarization and political conflict and where there are two distinct sides to every story, Ury encourages us all to consider a third point of view. And sometimes that is accomplished by stories of connections and personal breakthroughs.

At one time or another, we’ve all felt like a square peg in a round hole – we are the outsider in a
particular economic, social, political and cultural circumstance. This feeling of exclusion can either create within us a source of isolation, which it often does – or it can move us beyond and unite us during times of discord.

I’ve always held the belief that for every truth that exists - the exact opposite also contains truth. But, as I have learned from Ury, there is the possibility of a third truth out there on a low hanging olive branch for us to also consider, potentially resolving conflict. In some instances, Ury suggests that the telling of a story can lead us to more understanding of one another.

My story goes something like this:

During the economic collapse that lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, my husband and I were one of the many who faced severe challenges. We were officially homeless for four months. We weren’t living on the streets – but we were of the “couch-surfing” variety.

What has stayed with me permanently from that time, was that of being in the unwanted position of ‘receiver’. You see, I had always been a giver up to that point…and boy, did it feel good to offer ‘good deeds’ by giving to others in need. However, to be the one in need – the one that could ‘use a little help”, was the most horrible feeling in the world. I lost my dignity and self-confidence. The ‘please let me help yous’ only added to my sense of failure. It was an inner conflict that took me awhile to come to terms with.

I knew that when I got back on my feet, I would continue to help others – but do so in a more honorary and respectful way. I promised myself I would never, ever, put others in the added position of worthlessness.

It is for that reason why I found the mission of the Fuller Center for Housing so enticing. (see front page article for more information at: The newly organized Sebago Lakes Region Fuller Center for Housing has as its mission to repair homes in partnership and collaboration with families who need a hand up, not a handout. It is about paying it forward with the intent of helping others in need, while at the same time, helping them keep their dignity.

Although I would never, ever want to go back to that time in my life again, the recession experience has made me a third-sider in some sort of way – in this case – the solving of an inner conflict.

But in terms of a larger scheme of life, does this third-sider point of view really work in resolving the intense polarization we experience today? Maybe we can experiment together. What would we lose if we stepped back from a difficult conflict and heard the real story of how someone came to their conclusions? What would we discover? Is it possible that a third truth exists? Is it possible that real work can be done if we knew the whole story?

I wish I had the answers but Ury might shed some light on this subject. He states, “Third-siders could listen with empathy, and then bring people to the balcony so they can act appropriately to contain, resolve and prevent destructive arguments. The secret to peace is us, and each of us can take a single step to bring the world a step closer to peace. There’s an old African proverb that goes: ‘When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion.’ It’s time for us to bring our webs together.”


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