help new york’s mediation centers avoid a budget….slash.

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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.

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Mediation and Groundhog Day.

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Today is Groundhog Day — one of my two favorite rodent-based holidays.  And according to both Punxatauney Phil and Staten Island Chuck, spring is afoot toute suite.

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.