Over the past few years, I’ve developed several “gift” lists for conflict resolution professionals (especially mediators):
- Board Games for Mediators
- Apps for Mediation
- 10 Great Books for Mediators
- Impasse Breaking Gifts for Mediators
- Creating a Mediator’s Playlist (Not really a gift list, but definitely a list of suggestions that lends itself to a modern “mixtape”)
This year, I wanted to take a different approach to the idea of conflict resolution gift giving and focus on ideas for gifts for anyone that might just inspire the recipients to think more about conflict resolution. Here’s four categories of gifts, most with a few examples, that conflict resolution professionals might very well think about giving to their family and friends this holiday season. And please do check out previous lists for ideas that suit folks who aren’t mediators but have an interest in a world with a culture of collaborative decision-making!
1. Collaborative Games
If you played board games or card games as a child, you almost certainly played competitive games. While cooperative board games have been around for many years, the early ones were almost exclusively created for children and were so didactic as to be boring! Hence, the cooperative game of yore was played once or twice and then relegated to the back of the closet while Monopoly, Risk and Trouble came out for family gatherings. The consequence, of course, is that we were exposed to a constant stream of messages about the importance of being competitive, learning to be a good loser and a gracious winner, and the implicit notion that collaborating is “weak”.
Happily, over recent years, an enormous number of excellent collaborative games have developed – games which have all the excitement of competition, but that require genuine teamwork to “win” against the game. My first recommendation for everyone this holiday season is to choose a collaborative game and introduce your family to an entirely different way of thinking about competition. Let’s normalize a culture in which the best teamwork results in a “win”!
Here’s a list of collaborative games that Emily Martin (a labour mediator from Seattle) and I developed for a recent CoRe Speaker event. Of this list, my favourite is Pandemic, but it’s a bit of a tough entrée game for people who aren’t very familiar with gaming generally. (It’s great if you have one gamer who can help others figure out the mechanics for the first few rounds, but tough if everyone has to keep reading the rules!) So if you’re new to games, or haven’t played much besides Monopoly, I’d suggest starting with with Hanabi (very simple and easy to learn) or Forbidden Island (a bit trickier, but aimed at a younger crowd and so easier to get a handle on than Pandemic).
There are so very many book possibilities! Outside of the range of non-fiction books that offer negotiation advice or other ideas for conflict resolution practice, there are a large number of books that can be viewed through a “conflict resolution lens” to great effect. Wendy Lakusta offered a brilliant example of the value of reading novels through such a lens when she led the first CoRe Book Club meeting in September and guided an enthusiastic group through a reading of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Consider giving both the first book and Wendy’s Book Club question list to inspire someone to think about the book in a new way!
Once you apply a conflict resolution lens to one book, it’s so easy to apply the same lens to others! An easy way to start might be to give a friend or colleague a copy of Octavia Butler’s Fledgling along with a pass to the next CoRe Book Club session on January 26th, 2016. This session is definitely not just for conflict resolution professionals, but will focus on lessons for conflict resolution in the book. (And you might just want to package this book and book club combo with one more Octavia Butler book: Parable of the Sower is a brilliant exploration of a world in which hyper-empathy has the potential to be both a disability and a gift.)
- The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon (This 2003 Nebula award winning novel explores a world in which autism can be “cured”. Who decides whether the “cure” is the best choice for an individual?)
- What Came Before He Shot Her – Elizabeth George (While this book explores the backstory of a shocking murder in another novel, it’s not necessary to read this as part of the connected series. This novel stands alone as an examination of a series of seemingly inevitable decisions leading a young boy to become a murderer.)
- The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith (This series by the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency offers a fascinating lens on life: Isabel Dalhousie examines every choice through the lens of applied ethics. For the conflict resolution practitioner, the explicit consideration of each and every nuance in decision-making will feel very familiar, despite the change of focus.)
(You can purchase any of these books through the CoRe aStore and support CoRe Conflict Resolution Society).
And check out these lists for books that might appeal to younger readers (or folks like me who love YA fiction):
- Literature for Children and Young Adults: Examining Issues of Violence and Conflict Resolution by Alita Zurav Letwin
- Book by Book: An Annotated Guide to Young People’s Literature with Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution Themes by Carol Speigel (a book itself that organizes over 900 children’s books into categories like: making connections, emotional literacy, caring and effective communication, cultural competence and social responsibility, and conflict management and responsible decision making.)
3. Theatre Tickets
Just as books can explore conflict resolution themes in new and enlightening ways, live theatre can engage with all the same topics but brings a number of qualities that are simply not part of the usual reading experience such as immediacy, the sense of communal engagement in the narrative, direct engagement of the senses in the performance. The simple fact that most theatre-goers attend with a friend increases the likelihood of an engaged discussion about the topics raised in the production. Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of excellent productions that explicitly engage with conflict resolution topics. (I’ll blog about my 2015 top picks on CoReJolts over the holiday, but they certainly include A Story of Os (Vancouver Fringe), Cock (Rumble Theatre), Nirbhaya (The Cultch) and 52 Pick-Up (Twenty Something Theatre/Theatre Wire)).
Why not look ahead and book a couple of tickets to plays in 2016? Here’s a few that I have on my list that look like they’ll stimulate great conflict resolution discussions:
- The Motherf**ker with the Hat (Firehall Arts Centre)
- Little One (Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre) – I saw this one at the 2014 Fringe Festival and it’s both creepy and excellent.
- Ga Ting (thefranktheatrecompany/The Cultch)
- Reclaiming Hope (Theatre for Living) – I’ll be watching for news about public performances when this one is developed.
And, of course, buying someone a Frequent Fringer pass for the Vancouver Fringe Festival is a perfect option, too! (They’re not available until the summer, but a promissory note now works.) I wasn’t specifically looking for conflict resolution themed productions this past September, but still saw 12 shows that I would classify as fitting the bill. Next year, I’m going to blog about my best bets for conflict resolution shows in advance of the Festival so others can join me to view them and discuss at a CoRe Speaker event and/or a Mediators’ Lounge.
4. Human Library
I can’t list books and plays and leave out the Human Library project! If you haven’t come across the project before, the Human Library is an explicit response to a hate crime that seeks to end violence one person at a time. Borrow a “human book” for a 20 minute conversation intended to narrow ideological gaps through personal connection. The Human Library is offered as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.