SUDBURY – Perturbed by the incivility that has permeated political discourse in town the past couple years, a local clergy association has enlisted the help of outside mediators to solve the problem.
Through the collaboration, the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program and Sudbury Clergy Association will hold listening sessions and focus groups with townspeople this coming spring with the aim of figuring out what’s wrong in Sudbury.
The association’s ultimate goal, according to the Rev. Richard Erikson of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic parish, is to “as a community move to a place where we can have respectful and productive conversations on matters where we differ greatly.”
That hasn’t always been the case in Sudbury, which has seen some ugly spats recently between elected officials and residents. This past spring, for instance, a Sudbury selectman reported finding three toilets left on his lawn one morning – retaliation for a recent unpopular vote he and two other board members took, the selectman believed.
“The lack of civility has been pretty well-documented,” Erikson said, and was the topic of a meeting between the clergy association and Board of Selectmen in May, at which people at the meeting shared their concerns.
Thanks to the past experience of several members with Harvard’s program, the association also decided to invite some of the program’s mediators to develop a way to get to the root of the problems.
“I’ve found them to be very non-confrontational, and to have just a very nice approach to connecting people who are anxious about each other at the least, if not feeling animosity,” Erikson said of the Mediation Clinical Program.
“HNMCP is deeply honored to have been invited by the Sudbury Clergy Association to provide counsel and advice based on our experience in negotiation and conflict management,” professor Robert Bordone, the program’s director, said in a statement. “Whenever communities of care seek our assistance, we approach the work with humility, curiosity, listening, and deep empathy for all stakeholders. We hope our engagement will identify ways that community members can better engage their differences with respect and civility.”
The idea to bring in Harvard’s mediators was also welcomed by selectmen, who discussed the initiative with Erikson briefly at a meeting last week. Board member Bob Haarde, who has found himself at odds with other selectmen on many subjects over the years, called the association’s efforts “courageous.”