I haven’t watched the George Zimmerman trial as closely as some people have, and I don’t claim to have all the facts. It is not my place to judge the facts and punish or acquit anyone. Instead, I wonder whether conflict resolution skills might have made a difference in the lives of two people, those who love them and all of us observing the story that continues.
Step 1: Define the Conflict
Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman apparently disagreed about the safety and security of a gated community.
Step 2: Identify the Interests
From what we can tell, Martin wanted to pass through the community. Zimmerman wanted to make sure Martin wasn’t going to commit a crime on his way through. That would have been a simple enough conflict to resolve if the two of them had not been under the influence of prejudices and fear that clouded their compassion for each other. It appears Zimmerman saw a back teenage male in a hooded sweatshirt and made assumptions about his intent in the community. Martin saw a light-skinned adult male and made assumptions about his intent in the same community.
Step 3: Play with the Possibilities
If most of us could have had this conflict resolve in any way possible, Martin would still be alive. He and Zimmerman would have had a brief, connected chat that left both of them reassured that all was well. Martin would have passed through and gone on with his life. Zimmerman would have completed his neighborhood watch without incident. Instead, we are following a murder trial that is unlikely to bring true resolution. Martin won’t be brought back to life, even if he becomes a symbol of the evils of racial profiling. His life will always feel incomplete, and no matter what happens to Zimmerman, he will forever be known as the man who killed Martin. The life he knew before that fateful night is finished, too. Yet he has a chance Martin does not: to learn from his experience, and that is why we’ll never feel resolved or complete about this trial.
Step 4: Create the Future
I will not let this or any isolated incident dictate my experience of the world or the people within it. I will question all profiling and labels, trusting myself to make necessary choices in individual moments. i will look beyond race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, and other characteristics and seek connection, if only long enough to assess a situation based on its unique circumstances. I will lead with love, knowing I can protect myself in most cases without violence.
Step 5: Stay on PARR
I will plan, act, revise, and repeat the above steps as often as possible to retrain my brain, to counterbalance prejudicial messages and to master love. I will be a unifier, not a segregator. I will be part of the solution. Will you?
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a human resources supervisor and minor league sports agent. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process.