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Workshop offers tips on mediation

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Columbus resident Merry Carmichael envisions changes here if residents learn to listen to one another better and communicate more clearly.

“This could help us address issues of discrimination against, say, poor people,” Carmichael said, “or any number of issues.”

“This” refers to principles of listening and communicating — tools that her brother, Philip Stewart, has practiced worldwide to bring together leaders of warring nations, combative political factions and more. Stewart, of Falmouth, Maine, helped found the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue in 2003 in Washington. It helps businesses, communities and even governments learn how to find common ground with alienated groups.

Stewart, who led a reconciliation workshop here in November that drew 90 people, returns Saturday for a similar, free presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus building. This time, he hopes participants can identify three major community issues to focus upon.

Interfaith Forum of Columbus sponsored the first event, though it was a mainstream gathering.

One woman who attended has since told organizers she has been able to use better listening skills while evaluating the current emotion-charged national debate over gun regulations.

“This process will work best when an issue affects your lives deeply enough that you’re ready, with others, to contribute in some way to a resolution,” Stewart said.

As a professional mediator, he has helped smooth conflicts among tense, Middle Eastern groups and worked amid the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s. He even has gathered leaders amid a nation’s civil war to talk peace.

“This time, he’s going to allow a lot more time for discussion and questions,” Carmichael said.

Feedback forms after the first local workshop, attended by government, community and church leaders, showed that attendees wanted more time for comments.

Christine Lemley of Columbus, among the organizers for the two events here, has long been a proponent of diverse groups getting to know one another to avert conflict and promote peace, civility and respect.

“It is about cooperation and collaboration, not about top-down dictates,” Lemley said. “Our world is dramatically evolving. In today’s world, we are learning that keys to healthy, balanced communities are cooperation, inclusivity and collaboration.”

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