Monday, March 18, 2013

Arbinger Seminar

It’s hard enough as a peacebuilder to get your friends to listen to your all too frequent speeches about getting out of this magical “box” that somehow changed your life, but convincing them to personally experience “the magic” on their own when it includes a $25 fee and five hour seminar is like getting a Mormon to an activity without refreshments. Difficult as this is, our goal for our Peacebuilding project this semester was to increase attendance and awareness of not only Arbinger’s Choice Seminar offered here on campus and the “magic” of getting out of the box, but of the Peacebuilding program and just why exactly we are so weird and awesome and want other people to be weird and awesome with us.
            Of course we planned on the traditional venues of advertising and encouragement such as posters, student bulletin announcements, and enough little flyers to make the recycling department cringe (maybe we’ll save the trees by getting people out of the box) but traditional advertising just wouldn’t cut it for this project. We not only needed people to see our ads, but to not be turned off by the fact we were not only asking for their time (and a lot of it) but their money out of their typically empty college-student pockets. Faced with this predicament, we decided to do what all good peacebuilders do and hit the books and find some effective peacebuilding technique (taught by Master Jedi Peacebuilder aka Ford) that would help us get people to seminars. After study and discussion we settled on John-Paul Lederach’s theory of peacebuilding structure from his book Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. His thought is that to be effective peacebuilders and invite change, we must build relationships with all everyone we hope to influence from the top leaders all the way to local leaders1. And he suggests accomplishing this by “drawing on valuable human resources and tapping into and taking maximum benefit from institutional, cultural, and informal networks that cut across lines of conflict, and connect the levels of peace activities within the population”2. Now, we may not have been specifically working through a conflict but we were definitely trying to spread our influence “within the population” to get more people to come to seminars. And guess what? We’re at an institution, we have 70+ cultures to work with, and we have access to every informal network from facebook to insta-twitter-pin, so why not use these resources to our advantage?
 Long story short (you know, we do believe the “long short way” is always the best) we saw we had networks to work with and came up with two approaches to get the word out there about the Arbinger Seminars: (1) We would meet individually with professors and ask them to advertise in their classes and consider coming to a seminar to see how it could apply to their department and students; an (2) We would hold four Arbinger demonstrations (where one diagram from the seminar would be drawn and explained) in front of the library to advertise for the seminars, but also give the student body a taste of what exactly the Peacebuilding program is all about.
            For our first approach, we mainly used the connections we already had to lay a foundation. I’m an English major, so most of my time was spent in the offices of my English professors, giving them flyers to hand out and also just discussing why I find the Peacebuilding Program applicable to my major and in my life. Jayden and Michelle did similar things with their connections in the music, exercise science, business and education departments. We found this approach effective because even if we weren’t able to get professors to come to seminar or even actively advertise (though I did bribe one professor with more in class participation from me if he advertised in his classes…just kidding…), we were able to build relationships where it became easy to talk about the presence of conflict in all areas of our lives, even in the world of academia, and why it’s important to have methods to handle it, leaving room to build up to Arbinger Seminars. These conversations and connections will come become even more useful as the program continues to expand and we try to recruit more people, as professors from several different departments will have an idea of what we do and why we do it and be able to relay their impressions to their students.
            Our second approach was a little more straight forward when it came to advertising for seminars this semester. We named our little demonstrations “Got Conflict?” (just like everyone needs calcium, everyone has conflict) and set up a big black board in front of the library so that people couldn’t miss us even if they tried. Each of the four times we did this advertisement method, we had a group of awesome peacebuilders, who were preparing to become Arbinger seminar facilitators, take turns teaching a diagram from the seminar, attracting attention and spreading awareness. Sometimes it was difficult to get people to come and listen for a few minutes (my favorite excuse was “I don’t talk to people when I have test to study for”) and we got a lot of bewildered looks, but overall we were able to get the attention we needed for this semester’s seminars and build relationships with all types of students from different majors, broadening the influence of the Peacebuilding Program. A bonus blessing was that all three of us had the opportunity to teach the diagram giving the success of this project a little personal investment.
            Overall, this project was a great learning experience of the importance of those around us. Without the students and the faculty and the community to try to persuade to come to a seminar, or learn more about the McKay Center and its programs, we wouldn’t have had a project, or reasons to be involved. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to interact with people and get an even closer glimpse at the humanity around me. By trying to share something I love and appreciate (getting of the box really can feel like magic sometimes), I grew to love and appreciate those I was sharing with even more than I thought I could.  

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