where academic investigation +
christian faith +
service to others unite

Welcome to the Center for Conflict Resolution at La Sierra University. The center's goal is to help you resolve actual or potential conflicts and implement peer abuse (bullying) prevention systems that lay the foundation necessary for conflict resolution procedures to function. While the center's programs and personnel can provide crucial support as you attempt to reduce the risks posed by threatened or actual litigation, the center is committed to equipping individuals, groups and organizations to implement peer abuse prevention systems and to deal successfully with conflicts of all kinds. The center's mission is to:

  • foster interdisciplinary research and programs related to conflict management and peer abuse;
  • offer for-credit and non-credit courses and curricula to prepare students to resolve conflicts and prevent peer abuse in business, government, the not-for-profit sector, and their faith communities;
  • help people and organizations identify best practices for conflict resolution and peer abuse that will strengthen vital relationships; and
  • assist business, governmental, not-for-profit and religious organizations in resolving conflicts and preventing peer abuse through mediation, negotiation and facilitation using collaborative, non-adversarial processes and peer abuse prevention training through private for-fee casework as well as pro bono programs, negotiation and advocacy consultation, organizational systems design services, and strategic communication consulting.

La Sierra University is a liberal arts institution affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a denomination with a long history of philanthropic service and concern for peace. The center draws gladly on the rich resources of an Adventist tradition that encourages honesty, respect, intelligence, creativity, and openness to peaceful conflict resolution.  In particular, the center is responding to the Seventh-day Adventist Call for Peace issued by the denomination on April 18, 2002 (to see text of the Call for Peace click here).

Whatever the outcome of the process of resolving a particular conflict, the center believes the results for all parties can consistently include satisfaction with the process and an appreciation for training and utilizing individuals who serve as neutrals to help individuals, groups and organizations address their particular circumstances and needs.

Our Values

The Center for Conflict Resolution builds its programs on the following values:

  • Conflict inherently exists in the individual.
  • Conflict inherently exists between two or more individuals.
  • Conflict inherently exists between groups of individuals.
  • Conflict inherently exists because each individual is finite and limited by their own perceptions and feelings.
  • Conflict resolution is necessary because each individual is finite and limited by their own perceptions and feelings.
  • Individuals in conflict have choices to make, and make those choices, whether or not they realize it.
  • Conflict can be destructive or constructive. Whether conflict will be constructive is an intentional choice made by the individuals in conflict.
  • Every human being has a part of them that desires constructive resolution to conflict, likewise every human being has a part of them that desires destruction. This is the first choice to be made in conflict resolution.
  • Relationships are eternal, therefore no conflict is as important as a relationship.
  • Conflict belongs to the individuals in conflict, whether or not they are part of the group. A conflict does not belong to third parties therefore conflict is best resolved by settlement designed by the individuals in conflict.
  • Constructive solutions to conflict are desirable because they create value for the individuals in conflict.
  • Individuals in conflict experience conflict intellectually and emotionally and both experiences must be addressed for resolution to occur.
  • Individuals in conflict believe the world to be polarized on their issues and therefore value advocacy and do not trust neutrality.
  • Individual instincts and group survival tactics value advocacy because they believe they can prevail through advocacy.
  • Neutrals risk being disliked and distrusted by all individuals in a conflict. Relationships can be eternal therefore no conflict is as important as a relationship.
  • Every neutral has biases but subordinates them to the belief that relationships and resolution of conflicts in relationships is more important than any issue.
  • Conflict resolution is difficult work for all individuals in conflict, including the neutrals, because it requires a choice to resist the natural tendency toward posturing and triumphalism and instead embrace the difficulty work of birthing new opportunities, new value--new life.
  • If conflicts are not resolved, humanity will destroy itself.
  • Conflicts can be resolved because the Creator of humanity has granted to those who will accept the power to resolve conflict by making the choice to be (i) constructive instead of destructive and (ii) a neutral with respect to the conflicts other individuals are having.
  • The peacemakers will inherit the earth because they will be the only ones left.

Our Services

One of the Center's missions is to provide conflict resolution for individuals, charitable organizations, businesses, administrative agencies, communities of faith, and courts. The goal is cost-savings, increased efficiency and enhanced quality of life for all concerned. The Center provides number of ADR services. Services regularly provided by Center staff and qualified subcontractors supervised by staff include:

  • Consultation and assistance designing ADR systems for managing recurring disputes;
  • Services as impartial third parties resolving public disputes;
  • Referral of qualified public policy mediators, facilitators, and arbitrators;
  • Assistance assessing conflicts for ADR appropriateness;
  • Evaluation of ADR programs to measure quality and effectiveness;
  • Training and other public education events regarding ADR processes;

We provide:

  • Third Party Neutral: Mediation, Facilitation, Convening, Referral Services
  • Consultation: ADR System Design, Measurement and Evaluation, Referral Services, Situation Assessment, Organizational Development
  • Education and Training: General/Public, Customized

Factors considered when reviewing request for Center services include staff availability and conformance with the Center's strategic plan. If you would like to learn more about the Center's services, please contact Richard Pershing, Director, or Tony Belak, Associate Director, through the Center's email address.

WE SERVE

  • State Governmental Agencies: Courts
  • Local/Regional Governmental Agencies: Counties, Cities, Courts, Other Entities
  • Universities
  • Congregations
  • Charitable Organizations
  • Businesses
  • Healthcare Organizations
  • Schools and School Districts

Adult Resolutions & Mediation Services (ARMS)

Adult Resolutions & Mediation Services (ARMS) is an innovative project which addresses the specific decision making needs of older adults and their families to improve quality of life and care choices. Recognizing the unique issues, transitions, and potential for complex shared decision making among family members, ARMS provides professional advanced training and workshops to promote the use of conflict resolution, conflict management and mediation throughout communities and workplaces.

ARMS exists to give people a voice and choices in their quality of life and care decision making to the fullest extent possible, regardless of age or disability. Through easily accessible consumer education resources, advanced mediation and professional training programs, building coalitions and better working relationships among multidisciplinary service providers supporting elders and their families, ARMS achieves its primary goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Elder family mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which participants with concerns or disagreements, with the assistance of a neutral third party, can clarify the issues, discover realistic options and consider alternatives to achieve mutually satisfying outcomes. The goal of mediation is to give participants the opportunity to better understand each others' perspectives, needs and preferences through effective communication, negotiation, and decision making. Participants can often restore and preserve their relationships, reduce stress, and make decisions they can live with. Further, mediation-friendly attorneys can assist their clients in protecting rights while helping to reduce the time and costs of lengthy litigation.

Participants in mediation typically involve some combination of an elder and/or an elder's surrogate (e.g., a conservator or a lawyer), support person, family members, caregivers, and consultants such as care managers, financial advisers and medical experts.

Mediation can be effective in situations involving decisions about conservatorships, financial power of attorney, care-giving responsibilities for a vulnerable family member, preferred agent for health care decisions and directives, planning distribution of assists, medical treatment, planning ahead for shared decision making that focuses on needs, choices and preferences, living arrangements, driving, relationship dynamics, and other changing needs are all types of situations that can be mediated.

There are many different ways to find mediation services. Private mediators work on a fee for service daily or hourly rate and sliding scale basis. There are public community mediation programs that provide trained volunteer mediators for free or on a sliding scale basis.

First, you should decide what you want from mediation, then get a list of local mediators, review the mediator's qualifications and competence which may include work and education background, years of mediation experience, advanced elder mediation training; interview some mediators by asking helpful questions to better understand the process each mediator will provide, and finally evaluate the information you collected and make your decision. Mediation is voluntary and the consumer can choose to participate or not.

Prodigal Peacemakers

prod-i-gal, noun: One who spends recklessly and extravagantly.

peace-mak-er, noun: One who makes peace by settling disputes.

prod-i-gal peace-mak-er, noun: One who invests all in settling disputes.

The story of "The Prodigal Son" stirs the hearts of old and young, male and female of every culture. Three larger-than-life sculptures depict this story at the front entrance of the La Sierra University mall as bold reminders of the university's mission and the mission of the Center for Conflict Resolution.

The story begins in conflict and ends in conflict and is the greatest short story ever written on conflict resolution. Its succinct details reveal aspects of conflict, and the attempts to resolve conflict, present in every person's life. The story fascinates the reader by denying a storybook ending since the final scene does not reveal the outcome of the final negotiation.

Some commentators on the story note the inaccuracy of the title given by most to the story--The Prodigal Son. Some say the correct title should be--The Prodigal Father. The best title, however, may be--Prodigal Peacemakers--for in the story we discover a father recklessly and extravagantly working to end conflict, find reconciliation and bring peace to the family.

The story begins with the youngest son, often the one referred to as "the prodigal," violating the cultural norms of then, and now, by asking for his inheritance while his father still lives. The father violates social norms and acquiesces to the demand, dividing his estate and making lifetime distributions to both of his sons.

The story introduces the fact that perceptions create conflicts. With respect to the father and the younger son, the younger son evidently feels a conflict with the father and wants to leave. Whatever his perception of the father, they seem to be invalidated by the father's acquiescence to the unreasonable demand. The notion of a perceived conflict with the father also shows up in the discussion with the oldest son at the end of the story. The oldest son feels the father hasn't treated him fairly, even though the father made a present gift to him of the largest portion of the estate, retaining only a life estate. So it is with conflict in our lives. We make choices of self-interest, as do both sons, putting ourselves and others in jeopardy by risking, or even discarding, relationships. Over time, as in the case of the younger son, we discover that the things we thought were so important don't matter as much as the lost relationship. Then we wonder if the relationship can be recreated but see the magnitude of the wrongs and deem resolution impossible.

The story illustrates how some parties perceive settlement as a threat. Often these parties have benefited from the conflict. In this case, the older brother received his inheritance early thanks to the rash action of his younger brother. The older brother fears the father will undo the gift to him and further divide the estate, reducing his share. The father detects this fear and reaffirms the gift to the oldest son, telling him, "All that I have is yours." In attempting conflict resolution in multiparty conflicts, one party often feels violated or betrayed if their ally or co-disputant expresses an interest in settlement. Sometimes, the notion of settlement violates their sense of fairness or they feel their opportunity for personal triumph is being undermined.

The story embodies other aspects of the conflict resolution process. As illustrated by the father, in conflict resolution, often there is a disputant who has been awaiting an opportunity for resolution. Like the father, the disputant watches the road every day, looking for any movement towards settlement. As illustrated by the younger son, in conflict situations, often one party suddenly realizes that settlement is better than continuation of the conflict. And just like the younger son, they prepare an offer, an overture for resolution of the conflict. Somehow they find the courage, or are sufficiently desperate, to make the first step towards peace, fearful of an imminent rebuff.

The story also describes what some call the "third option," the option to be a peacemaker. The father runs to meet the younger son as soon as he spots him on the horizon. In this case, the father watches for the opportunity to resolve the conflict, knowing that even when he has made peace with the younger son, he will need to mediate between the two sons. In his role as the Prodigal Peacemaker, the father hopes eagerly for the return of the younger son and watches for him. He does so in order to protect the younger son from the family, the community, the predatory third parties looking for an opportunity to inflict pain on an outcast.

As soon as the younger son and father meet, the younger son makes his settlement offer and without negotiation, the father places his robe around his son, and his signet ring on his son's finger. He does these things to protect the younger son from being stoned or scorned by the do-gooder friends, relatives, church members and neighbors who would take it upon themselves to teach the younger son not to shame them again. In running to the younger son, the father lays claim to the dispute, denying interlopers the opportunity to insinuate themselves into the matter and educating the community to the importance of reconciliation.

So it is in saying "yes" to the call to be Prodigal Peacemakers. We choose neutrality, remain neutral, we do not invest ourselves in the positions of the disputants, and refuse to participate in any escalation of the conflict. Prodigal Peacemakers know how to approach the conflict and instead of running from the conflict, run to it, ready, willing and able to take the risks of attempting resolution and reconciliation. And, yes, Prodigal Peacemakers run to protect the nacent overtures of settlement, no matter how unreasonable the first offer. Prodigal Peacemakers protect these overtures for peace by asserting the moral authority inherent in peacemaking--"Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God," Matthew 5:9 NIV.

Prodigal Peacemakers protect the disputants by enveloping them with the cloak of confidentiality, refusing to divulge the salacious details of the pig slop tainting the younger son. Prodigal Peacemakers protect the negotiations from attempts to incite further conflict by the older son by separating the parties, speaking with them in private. Prodigal Peacemakers protect the fragile process of conflict resolution by using the cloak of confidentiality to thwart the intermeddling of third parties and their voyeuristic desires, their partisanship, and their predatory needs. Prodigal Peacemakers, by taking the risk to bring peace, educate their community on the high value they place on conflict resolution. Just as the father announces a party for his returned son, so the Prodigal Peacemakers celebrate the overtures for settlement, affirming the only value it may have--an admission that the relationship is more important than the issues dividing the disputants. Sometimes, the Prodigal Peacemaker must remind the parties that the relationship at issue isn't the relationship with the other party, but one's relationship with their own person, their loved ones, their community, their relationship with life itself, all of which can be destroyed by the demands of sustaining a conflict.

Finally, we see the father declining to take umbridge at the accusations of unfairness by the older brother, instead working out the feelings expressed and reaffirming the relationship. Likewise, Prodigal Peacemakers take it upon themselves to establish rapport with the disputant who rejects the concept of neutrality and assumes bias in favor of the other party. Prodigal Peacemakers separate issues from relationships and remind each disputant of the value they see inherent in the relationships affected by the conflict.

The story ends with a declaration of the father's motivation and a question.

Love motivates the father, you can hear it in his statement: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found," Luke 15:24 NIV. In other words, the father declares that his relationship with his sons exceeds any value he places on possessions or status. Likewise, Prodigal Peacemakers recognize the miracle of life in this universe and the stark reality that every human being is dying and will leave behind all wealth or honor accumulated in this life. Prodigal Peacemakers remind parties that they have built relationships on a foundation of love and goodness and that foundation is the only asset that survives any one life, and it is the only asset on which a sustainable future can be built for those who follow.

The story ends without telling how the older brother responds to the entreaty of the father. By so ending, the story asks its readers to ponder the conflicts in their own lives.

So how does this story end for you?

Are you the younger brother, ready to recognize you have nothing left to lose but a relationships to save?

Are you the father, ready to lose the respect of those around you by entreating for mercy and reconciliation?

Are you the older brother, ready to renew the conflict because it's not about the money but the principle?

Do you wonder how much time you have left and what it is you will leave behind?

Will you leave a legacy of destruction or peace? Resentment or reconciliation?

Have you heard the call to Prodigal Peacemaking?

What will happen if you answer "Yes"?