Thank you for recognizing the importance of teaching conflict resolution to today’s youth.
When I was a junior in high school, a freshman student I knew from my church youth group killed himself after a particularly rough week at school. Knowing him from a very early age, I knew he had some rather severe emotional issues that made it challenging for him to communicate effectively with fellow students as well as teachers. However, despite my understanding of his background I chose to avoid him and his problems rather than engage or try to help him.
The guilt I carry from that chapter of my life resurfaced recently while leading conflict resolution training with NVMS for the Alexandria Youth Leadership Conference and mediation training for the Fairfax County “Peace-it Together” Summit for high school and middle school aged students. During these experiences I listened to sincere and thoughtful youth question the issues surrounding their lives and discuss ways in which they could make them better. They wanted to learn ways to help those in need. They wanted to make positive changes to their families, their schools, and their communities. And they were willing to give those of us in the field of conflict resolution a chance to help them satisfy their noble desires.
NVMS graciously offered its services to these outstanding events and I was honored they allowed me to participate while I finished up my Master’s in Negotiations and Dispute Resolution from Creighton University. The experience and guidance NVMS provided contributed to outstanding reviews and feedback from students at both events. Which makes me wonder…
If I had been given the opportunity to learn more about identifying conflict and the variety of ways to productively engage in conflict, would I have used what I learned to confront the troubled student I knew was struggling day in and day out? Knowing what I know now, could I have asked the right questions or uncovered the interests driving the actions and outbursts of the kid everyone perceived as an outcast? Would I have had the confidence and courage to speak up? Would it have made a difference? Would my friend be alive today?
I’ll never know the answers to these questions, but I do believe that even providing a basic understanding of conflict resolution to our youth has the power to prevent them from having to ask themselves the same questions in the future. I don’t have the data to back it up, but common sense tells me that students are the first line of defense in stopping the tragic violence we see happening at schools and communities across the nation. They are the ones who know who is struggling. They are the ones who see what’s happening when the adults aren’t looking. And they are also the ones who are free from bureaucratically driven mandated processes and procedures for handling complex and personal situations. However, they’re unlikely to grasp the skills of our field of study on their own.
So all of this to say, thank you. Thank to those who dedicate their time and their careers to the field of conflict resolution. Thank you to NVMS for all that you do in the Northern Virginia area. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to work with you and participate in such ground-breaking and what I hope were life changing events for our community’s youth. I can’t go back in time to give myself the knowledge, confidence, and courage needed to help my friend. But we can give these gifts to someone else. So once again, thank you for doing what you do. And please know that you make a difference.
Chris Piercy, Creighton University Graduate Student