Life is filled with conflict: Misunderstanding and fighting in personal relationships; neighborhood disputes; friction and fighting between nations - all can make life miserable.
That is why Betsy Coddington, a Woodstock resident of twenty-three years, and Executive Director of the nonprofit Resolutions Northwest (RNW) for thirteen, is enthusiastic about young people learning conflict resolution skills. She hopes that some conflict can be reduced in adulthood, if students learn the necessary skills at an early age.
Coddington oversees all of the programs of RNW, including mediation for families, neighborhoods, and organizations, and a 'restorative justice' program.
Coddington brightens when discussing the twenty-nine Sellwood Middle School students who spent a full day in November attending workshops at the Oregon Peacemakers Conference held at the Oregon Convention Center.
'The bug bit me for working with kids when I was in law school, and I worked for the 'Classroom Law Project'. I discovered mediation,' she explains. 'When people on different sides of a conflict find common ground, it is a magical mediation moment. That moment happens, and everyone relaxes. And students love being empowered to solve their own conflicts, as well as helping others to resolve conflicts.'
Coddington's love of helping youth was her inspiration for starting the Peacemaking Conferences for middle and high school students thirteen years ago. At the annual conferences, the students learn practical information and skills about nonviolence and peacemaking.
November's conference marked the first time that Sellwood Middle School students have participated. Lisa Watson, the school's counselor, was impressed with how well the conference was organized.
'Each of the twenty-nine students was able to choose three workshops. A lot of the students really enjoyed learning conflict resolution skills through games.'
Eighth grade student David Etchepare, in his second year as a peer helper at Sellwood, thought the conference was educational and fun, and said he learned some things that he thinks will be very helpful to him in many situations.
'If someone is in a conflict with you, instead of making the person angrier and making them feel bad, you try to calm them. If they are really angry or upset and they won't listen, you say 'I'm going to talk with you later', and you walk away.'
'What was really positive was that the students learned that there are a wide variety of ways to solve conflict', recalls counselor Watson. 'I hope the kids can use these skills throughout their lives.'