so here’s a cool poster of New York Peace Institute’s values (which I wrote more about here), designed by our fabulous Operations Manager, Koren Gaines.
Folks, community mediation centers across New York State are awaiting news of possible budget cuts, and we’re not talking chump change here. We’re looking down the business end of a $400,000 reduction. New York is a swell state for many reasons (the Catskills! Niagara Falls! Katz’s Deli!), including our amazing network of community mediation centers. We actually have a statute here that requires free or low-cost mediation centers in every county of the state, with financial support from the court system. So our judicial system gets it — mediation centers help thousands of people save the time, money and aggravation of going to court….and saves the state a big moolah by unclogging the system. A win win, if I may coin a phrase.
Even a modest budget reduction will drastically impact our, and our brother and sister mediation centers, help thousands upon thousands of people resolve their disputes, peacefully, creatively and durably. It would stifle our ability to innovate new, cutting edge progams in areas such as restorative justice. Here in NYC, the majority of the clients we serve are low-income people of color. We are an absolutely vital resource for underserved populations.
The community mediation, er, community has been working hand in hand to advocate to prevent these cuts. We’ve gotten key judicial and political figures to speak out on our behalf. But what can y’all do?
Well, our friends at the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NSYDRA) have launched an advocacy campaign, which you can access here. You’ll find sample letters to send to your local politicos and other persons of influence. You’ll see a handy link so you can find out just who these people are in your hood. The goal is raise awareness to Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti — a key architect of the budget — of how vital our services are. A bunch of us mediation center directors from across the Empire State met with her honor last week. We felt heard and well received (and! I didn’t accidentally call her “your majesty” so props to me). Judge Prudenti mos def feels our pain, and is open to hearing more voices around the issue….while in the midst of having to recommend and make difficult decisions with limited resources.
Say, maybe your call or letter will be the tipping point that will keep our modest budgets intact so we can keep on keeping the peace.
Groundhog Day — both the holiday and the Bill Murray movie — remind me of mediation. (Most things do.) Here’s how:
1. In the movie, Bill Murray re-lives the same day over and over and over until he gets it right and gets the girl. We learn mediation as a linear process, in which we keep it conversational, but follow a set of stages. Within the structure, there’s lots of room for do-overs. We can backtrack, gather more information, or try a different angle in order to help parties express their needs. We’re not so locked into the process stages. We like to say that mediation is a forgiving process.
2. I’m not saying the groundhog us ugly, but let’s face it, it’s not among your more glamorous varmints. I’m mean, it’s no nutria – for my money, the most horrifying of rodents. (We’re talking a dog-sized rat, with the pink fleshy tail and everything.) But the groundhog sure doesn’t have the charisma and squee factor of your bunny rabbit. Mediators are often at their best when they’re humble and unassuming. We can blend into the scenery a bit — it’s not about us. All those years in the spotlight, and Phil somehow keeps his ego in check. (Chuck’s a bit more of a diva).
3. Phil is a curious little guy. Will I cast a shadow or not? Who knows. But I’ll check it out! Curiosity is the hallmark of a good mediator. We’re all about asking open-ended questions so that parties can get a three-dimensional understanding of their needs and interests. We do the opposite of the lawerly “only ask questions to which you know the answer” thing.
4. Groundhogs are not known for their keen intellect — and mediators needn’t be the smartest guy in the room, either. I wrote here about how the dumb mediator technique can be an effective tool for getting folks talking and building understanding.
5. Moreover, Phil usually gets it wrong…he’s at about a 30% accuracy rate, well below the Roker threshold. A great thing about mediation is that we get to see parties defy our expectations, our assumptions, our stereotypes. We have the honor of bearing witness to the beautiful complexity of our fellow humans…and we help catalyze understanding, agreement, reconciliation and healing.
Happy G-day, folks, and let’s hope Phil and Chuck get it right this time. I’m freaking freezing over here.
We at New York Peace Institute are so proud to co-sponsor this event with a whole bunch of our NYC peacebuilding brothers and sisters. It will be held on Superbowl Sunday, but you’ll get home before anyone starts throwing around a lemon-shaped ball. But be sure to DVR the Puppy Bowl.
Bringing the New York City dispute resolution community together in the aftermath of the Newtown Tragedy: An Open Space forum
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, February 3, 2013, 10:00 pm – 1:30pm
Sponsored by the Association for Conflict Resolution of Greater New York, co-sponsored by the CUNY Dispute Resolution Center at John Jay College, New York Peace Institute, Community Mediation Services, Institute of Mediation & Conflict Resolution, New York Center for Interpersonal Development & facilitator Scott Gassman of IdeaJuice
As a response to the Newtown school tragedy and the deep expressions of concern voiced by the NYC dispute resolution community, we have joined together to co-sponsor an Open Space forum to discuss the aspects of the tragedy that you, each of us, wants to talk about: the children, families, educators, the Newtown community, schools, gun concerns, violence, citizen responsibility, household accountability, justice, police, prevention, protection, laws, policies, and a way forward for our nation to imagine and work on safer futures for our children.
Please join us to listen, discuss, reflect and learn from each other.
Open Space is a meeting format to discuss topics that matter to attendees. The agenda is minimal. Time spent is driven by what individuals self-select to discuss in four rounds of small group discussions. Facilitator Scott Gassman is a mediator, facilitator and trainer who, through his company IdeaJuice, consults with corporate and non-profit clients. He teaches in the Change Management Graduate program at Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy.
The event is free, however registration is limited and required in advance. The exact location will be provided upon registration. If you would like to attend, please register online by clicking here by January 25, 2013.
I confess that spirituality is not my strong suit. It’s up there with sports in terms of admirable things that don’t jibe with my addled attention span or intellectual bandwidth or skills. No disrespect to either thing. They’re just not my jam.
However, I’m ever so grateful for what various faiths have brought to the peacebuilding field. I was (unsuccessfully) raised Catholic, but I admit that the peace and forgiveness-themed Prayer of Saint Francis still gives me the shivers. Awhile back, we had a mini-summit of representatives of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim communities at New York Peace Institute, and it was wonderful to hear about the conflict resolution traditions embedded in their faiths.
I recently came across a statue of the Weeping Buddha, which I’d never seen before. I’ve seen the fat and happy Buddha, the lotus-postioned lean Buddha, a Buddha doing a handstand, and the Keanu Reeves Buddha with crazy abs in that Bertolucci film. (Come to think of it, the crucifix in my boyhood church also featured Twilight-star abs, but I’m getting off point.)
The Weeping Buddha is a bald ball of sinew, doubled over in grief, head in hands. I’ve read a bunch of different stories about the WB. The most mundane is that it’s simply an exercise for apprentice sculptors — a way to learn how to carve curves and musculature before going on to the tricky business of facial features. Another story is about an ongoing battle between two masked warriors. One killed the other. When the victor removed the vanquished warrior’s mask, he learned that he’d killed his own son. In this story, the figure portrays the anguished older warrior.
My favorite version is that the Buddha had witnessed protracted violence between two warlords, and was deeply saddened by the pain and suffering he saw. He curled up into a ball and wept — thereby absorbing the hostility and anger of the warlords, so they could move forward in peace. The Weeping Buddha cries so no one else has to. His mere presence wicked away the warlords’ anger…but at a price to the peacemaker.
Like the WB, mediators can be emotional sponges. We inculcate our mediators with the mantra it’s not about you. As mediators, our opinions and views truly don’t matter. We guide the process, and provide a safe space for parties to express their needs — and maybe they’ll come to an agreement, or at least understand each other a bit better. Or simply have a chance to be heard. We do our best to keep our egos on ice during the process, and not impose our values or ideas. We strive to not be triggered by the things we hear, no matter how they may affect us personally….all the while providing deep empathy and compassion. This is not easy. Being truly neutral is nearly impossible — but we try our best to at least behave impartially (or multipartially or omnipartially), in service to our clients’ self-determination.
We do get to bask in the glow of healed relationships, agreements reached, and violence prevented, bearing witness to the heroism and courage of our clients. How lucky we are to be a part of this. And…we are sometimes the receptacle, and event the target of, anger and sadness and emotional pain.
It’s essential that we do our best to avoid the pitfalls of vicarious trauma endemic to helping professions. It’s not uncommon for people who constantly hear others’ problems to internalize what they’ve been exposed to. Apathy, insomnia, shutting down, depression, feeling burned out, transferring the anger you absorb to your loved ones — the list of effects of dealing with others’ trauma goes on and on. A jade Buddha is lovely…but jaded mediators do neither the parties nor themselves any favors.
So, self-care is really important, and not so easy in our overscheduled and overstimulated world. Self-care can be as intimidating as new year’s resolutions — our ritual of coming up with unrealistic promises of wholesale physical, professional, financial, and emotional makeovers. But self-care can also mean doing some simple things to cleanse your palate. Cue up a ridiculous YouTube video, watch an episode of Arrested Development, dance Gangnam Style as if it were still 2012, breathe, take a walk, have some cake.
After hearing from many of our mediators that they wanted — even needed — a space to talk about their experiences, we listened, and instituted this little piece of self-care: At New York Peace Institute, we ask our mediators to debrief with a staff member after each case. We do this for a number of reasons…including quality assurance and helping us understand what skills and support we need to provide our mediators. More importantly, it’s a chance to process what just happened and give mediators an opportunity to share what may have been a truly intense experience. Mediators, at this moment it is about you. It’s our job to provide a space for mediators to decompress, vent, share, celebrate, or do an endzone dance (which I think is a sports thing).
Since it’s New Year’s Day, perhaps a good resolution is to take good care of ourselves — whatever that means to us individually — so we can take better care of others. For me, right now, it means getting back to my West Wing marathon. (Thank you, Netflix, for finally making this available.)
Wishing you all lots of peace and joy and fun in 2013.