Transparent mediation: taking clients backstage

My colleague Alan Gross and I have this ongoing banter about spoiler alerts.  We co-teach a mediation course at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and we argue over whether the students should read the relevant manual chapters before class.

I don’t want the students to read in advance. I like to see the lightbulbs go on as I throw down the knowledge. Giving away the material ahead of time feels like telling people the end of a movie before they’ve seen it.  But Alan wants them to read in advance, as he feels they’re more likely to absorb the info that way. (Alan recently showed me a study that indicates people enjoy stories more when they know what’s going to happen, so he’s therefore doing people a favor by revealing the end of a movie.  Alan points to lots of studies that debunk my conventional wisdom).

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On candystores and mediation orthodoxy.

Yesterday I blogged about sugary cereals.  Here’s more on the confectionary theme, and an explanation of the provenance of my own unmanageable sweet tooth.

My grandfather, Luther, was a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, married to my grandmother, Thelma, a Welsh woman who was afraid of animals.  Respecting Thelma’s fear of being pecked, scratched, or gored, Luther got out of the farming racket and did odd jobs (from gravedigging to electrical work) to pay the bills.  Luther and Thelma eventually ended up working in a candy store together…an old-timey shop that sold penny candy, bulk candy, and homemade chocolate candy.  If you gave my grandparents virtually any item of food — from potato chips to pickles to bacon — they would bring it home covered in chocolate.  Pretty much everything covered with chocolate — like everything fried — tastes good.

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Sweet talk and grains of truth.

I have a thing for sugary cereals. (I came about this honestly, as evidenced by my father’s vast collection of 20 years’ worth of cereal box prizes).  Lucky Charms is currently in regular rotation chez nous.

This is (somewhat) embarrassing:  When I was really poor and had too much time on my hands, I got in the habit of calling the 1-800 numbers on cereal boxes if I was displeased with the product’s quality  — in the hopes of getting a coupon for a new box and probably some other free stuff.  It always worked.  Once, I called Frosted Mini-Wheats, because the little biscuits were barely dusted with sugar, giving them the texture and presumed taste of llama food.

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NYC’s Turducken of Disaster

As I’m writing this, we’re awaiting isolated tornadoes within Hurricane Irene…and we just had an earthquake.  Let’s hope the first two ingredients of this meteorological turducken are mild as the third one was.

Whatever happens, New Yorkers are resilient.

People everywhere are resilient.  I’ve been humbled and heartened by seeing so many folks emerge and flourish in the wake of horrible tragedies, here and abroad.

Mediation speaks to this resilience.  So often, we see people bounce back from years of animosity and hurt and misunderstanding within a matter of hours with the help of a skilled and empathic mediator.  Yes, our mediation jedi tricks and interpersonal skills are nothing to sneeze at.  But the power of mediation also speaks to our innate desire — perhaps need — to work things out.  No doubt, violence is all too common in our world — but it’s nevertheless an aberration from our naturally cooperative, conciliatory norm.  Mediation, and other peacebuilding tools, helps keep us normal.

OK, back to filling my bathtub with emergency water and hunting for batteries (and a flashlight in which to put them).  Bring it, Irene.

 

Mediation needs men.

I’ve blogged before about the diversity of professions and personalities amongst New York Peace Institute mediators.  I don’t think I mentioned that our mediator pool is predominantly female.  My mediation center comrades at home and abroad report that same is true with them.

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Shake and wake.

So I emerged from the subway on Tuesday to see the streets jam-packed with people standing still, infused by a vibe I couldn’t quite put my finger on…an admixture of low-level panic, consternation, solidarity, and an odd hint of celebration.  It was evocative of a Japanese monster movie streetscene, with choreographed crowds gawking in awe and horror at an enormous rubbery dinosaur with curiously humanoid proportions. (Was Godzilla here this time to save us from some other lumpy latex monster, or to go all stompy on our houses?)

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This is what a peacebuilder looks like.

Folks, please go see The Interrupters, an amazing documentary about violence interrupters in Chicago…formerly gang-involved peacebuilders who literally take mediation to the streets.  Here’s the film’s homepage: http://interrupters.kartemquin.com/,

One of the violence interrupters profiled in the movie is amazing and fierce Ameena Matthews.  Check out this fabulous NPR interview with her by Terry Gross: http://tinyurl.com/3b2p273.

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Lasik surgery and mediation.

Five years ago, I saved up enough scratch to get Lasik surgery and said adieu to my coke-bottle lenses forevermore.  On the whole, I’m delighted with the results, mainly because I can see better.

But there are two drawbacks: 1) I kind of missing wearing my nerdy-chic glasses and 2) I used to enjoy taking my glasses off for a spell to see the world in terms of basic shapes and colors, rather than a collection of details.  The mise-en-scene before me became a living impressionist painting, allowing my myopic peepers to show me the Monet.

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Au revoir, clichés.

When choosing a logo for the New York Peace Institute, we insisted on avoiding the commonly-used images of our field…so, ixnay on the doves, peace signs, roundtables, and handshakes. (We did toy with the idea of a peace pigeon…a scrappy urban bird gobbling an olive branch).  We wanted to carve out our own identity –and recognize that we’re as much about providing a safe space for confrontation and difficult conversations as we are a venue for peace and reconciliation.  Not that those are mutually exclusive concepts.

I wish I could just as easily jettison some of our tired mediation jargon.  Here are some hoary chestnuts I’d love to deep-six.  I still use them, but cringe inwardly when doing so. Anyone who comes up with awesome alternatives to these will get a special shout-out in these pages.

Here goes:

 

Parallel Evolution, Lobsters, Scorpions and Mediation.

Ever wonder why lobsters and scorpions look so much alike?

It’s all about parallel evolution — when different species evolve similarly. So, though lobsters and scorpions shared a common exoskeletal ancestor, they separated eons ago — one chose to chill on the ocean floor, the other opted to kick it in the desert.  And in these different ecosystems, they each developed claws and antennae and creepy legs and so on, and ended up looking uncannily alike.

And people eat them both.  (In China, fried scorpions on a stick is a thing.)

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