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Toledo public forum focuses on avoiding conflict

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    Generating ideas to de-escalate a conflict are Aretha Gilmer, left, Kathleen Moorman, and Sandy Stricker.

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    Chief George Kral, Toledo Police Department, on the need for police officers to have effective communication skills.

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    Linda Alvarado-Arce, Board of Community Relations, speaking about how the board works to mediate disagreements.

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    In a role play demonstrating active listening, Kathy Savord, left, and Lynn Lyle express disagreements about DACA, but agree to learn more about it together.

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    Spike, a five-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, wth Michael Marsh during a quiet moment at the event.

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    Rev. Hafidha Saadiqah, United Church of Christ / Unitarian Universalist Association, reminds the attendees that "conflict is not a dirty word."

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    Judy Lee Troutman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio.

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    Kathy Savord, left, and Fr. Jeff Bunke role play poor communications with name-calling, the failure to listen and to reflect, intolerance, physically aggressive movements, and an evident lack of mutual respect.

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The next time you are in a potentially confrontational conversation, try to focus on being polite, listening and trying to understand the other party — rather than on what you want to say next.

Those were a among the tips delivered to about 30 people who attended a free public forum held Wednesday in downtown Toledo about ways to de-escalate violent communication. Titled “Constructive Communication; Steps to Heal the Divide,” the 2½-hour event featured speakers, role-playing, and script-writing to learn skills to have a conversation that would not lead to violence and — ideally — would help find constructive solutions.

“Our concern is violent talk by public leaders, such as the president and party leaders from both sides, such as name-calling, finger-pointing, judgment of what’s good and what’s bad, and speaking without listening,” said Judy Lee Trautman, chairman of MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, the event sponsor.

“Such behavior carries over into the local community, which sometimes [leads to] violence. We want to teach the attendees to communicate constructively by refraining from mimicking name-calling and by avoiding judgement and reacting in the way you are confronted.”

Toledo police Chief George Kral talked about the need “to make an effort to help people talk” in the present atmosphere of violent public discourse in order to help minimize violence in the the city.

“We all see the world through our own lenses, whether that lenses is based on your race, or your ethnicity, or what part of town you live in, or if you belong to a special-interest group..., ” Chief Kral said. “This is why it is so crucial in my opinion to be able to communicate our positions without fiery rhetoric.”

Other speakers included Linda Alvarado-Arce, the executive director of the Board of Community Relations of the City of Toledo, and the Rev. Hafidha Saadiqah, of Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation, in Troy, Mich.

“For example — whether you agree or not with the politics of our president — no one can deny that when he speaks, tweets, communicates his positions, people get mad,” Chief Kral said.

“And the way I look at it, who wants to sit down and talk about an incredibly crucial issue —  whether that be ... Iran, or immigration, or domestic violence, or whatever case that may be — with someone you don’t respect, honor, or think is legitimate? It’s not gonna work...,” he said. “It’s OK if we don’t agree with each other. It’s all in the delivery. The best way to do this is in a respectful manner... by just being polite.” 

Aretha Gilmer, 28, a Toledo resident who works in mental health care, listened intently, without taking her eyes off the speaker.

“I am definitely sure this event is a benefit to the community,” she said. “I’m here to gather ideas on how to contribute to team-building with effective communication. I want to learn those skills for myself, to impact my coworkers in the mental health field, to have a better communication with them.”

MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio bills itself as an organization that “draws together diverse faiths, in mutual respect, friendship, cooperation and service,” whose members “covenant to consciously grow in the understanding and compassion that will enable us to live peaceably with all.”

Contact Mike Sigov at sigov@theblade.com419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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