closingHere’s my infographic on how to close a mediation session. Take our awesome bootcamp-meets-bandcamp mediation training and you’ll be able to decode my doodles.

But I’ll happily explain the turkey, and you can use your imaginations on the underwear, astro-goat, blimp and Wonderbread.

When we close a mediation session, regardless of the outcome, it’s important that we give thanks to our clients — for their willingness to speak their minds, have the conversations they need to have, and perhaps engage in courageous acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.

So, to the thousands of folks out there who take the leap of faith to bring your conflicts to mediation — buckled Pilgrim hats off to you. And big thanks to our mediators, staff, board, supporters, partners, and families, for doing your part to build peace in NYC and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and enjoy your can-shaped cranberry sauce, be-marshmallowed sweet potatoes, or whatever other delicacies tantalize your palates chez vous.




get to know a new york peace instituter: jeff!

jeffFolks, here’s the next installment in our Get-to-Know-a-New-York-Peace-Instituter series:  Meet Jeff Sybertz, Case Manager Extraordinaire. From time to time I have the pleasure of seeing Jeff in action with our clients, and I’ve learned a lot from him. He truly embodies our values of empathy, creativity, and optimism. Let’s see what he has to say for himself.

So, what do you do around here?

I am a Case Manager working in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. I am responsible for a variety of community mediations. The topics of these mediations include: noise disputes, landlord tenant disputes, parenting issues, issues between youths, and many, many, many more. I am responsible for the life cycle of the case, from determining its appropriateness for mediation, presenting the process to all involved parties, scheduling qualified mediators, debriefing said mediators, to following up with the clients after the mediation.

What was your first paying job?

Snowboard instructor at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vermont. Probably one of the coolest first jobs ever, in my humble opinion.

What animal would you be and why?

I think if I had the choice and if I were to be described as any animal, I would like to think a Beagle. They are loyal, smart, never give up on something once they find the scent, and they never shut the hell up.

What inspires you about your work?

Luckily, I have never been involved in the legal system (knock on wood). However, after dealing with people who have been involved in that system day in and day out, I’ve realized how it can consume nearly every aspect of someone’s life. I’m often speaking with these people on one of the worst days of their lives. What inspires me about this work is that we are the ones who these people will call when their situation seems so grim. They are looking to us for help. It is our responsibility to do whatever we can as mediators to work with these people to resolve their disputes. Also, the fact that people are willing to open up and share the most personal details of their lives to us (who are complete strangers to them) inspires me to be accountable to them and prove to them that putting their trust in me was worth it.

Who would play you in a movie of your life and why?

Survivalist Bear Grylls because he always seems to be able to get out of a sticky situation. We sometimes have to deal with a lot of sticky situations around here and I feel like he would be a natural. Also, I imagine that the movie version of working in a mediation center would be great if it were filmed on the side of a cliff or in white water rapids.

Tell us about a time you felt you really helped make a difference for our clients or mission.

Without breaking confidentiality, we recently had a mediation between two sisters who were trying to work out a number of different family issues surrounding their ailing grandfather and his assets. Both of the sisters were having a really difficult time communicating while they were trying to grieve the loss of their grandfather and tackle the complicated task of dividing up the assets. They were very thankful for the mediation process and the space that we provided because it enabled them to slow things down and figure out how to move forward collaboratively.

If you could have any 3 people, living or dead, for dinner, who would it be? OK, now you can only have 2 — who would you kick out?

New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, Former US president Bill Clinton, Survivalist Bear Grylls would be a great meal. Sorry, President Clinton, no dessert for you.

 What else should we know about you?

I am a Massachusetts transplant who is extremely proud of his New England roots. When I am not working on making the world a more peaceful place, I am generally outside in the woods of New Jersey or the mountains of Utah.

iron and velvet memories.

solidarnoscIt’s the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolutions in Eastern Europe. Those events got me into this whole mediation thing. Here are some drawings and reflections for you.

In 1989, I graduated from college and hightailed it to Poland. It was still a Soviet puppet state and the Cold War was still on, so I endured some Kafkaesque shenanigans to get there (including an interrogation at the Polish consulate with chain-smoking, perplexed apparatchiks). I got a job pretending to be a university English instructor, and my students pretended to learn. I went there because 1) I had no idea what to do with my life and 2) I was fascinated with the Solidarity movement of the early ’80s — in which people from all walks of life united to promote democracy, through peaceful protest and creative civil disobedience. Alas, the movement was violently squashed by martial law. When I arrived, things had “normalized” — no outward oppression or tanks in the streets, but no public gatherings, and plenty of Soviet soldiers with big hats. And breadlines straight out of a Yakov Smirnoff bit.

solidarnosc 2And then — something amazing happened. Through round-table negotiations that included the Soviet-sponsored regime, the opposition, intellectuals, representatives of the church, and a whole bunch of others, the government agreed to elections, and in effect ceded its power. And this spilled over into other countries. Throughout the region, prisoners, factory workers, and avant-garde playwrights became presidents. Frank Zappa became an advisor to the Czech government. In Lithuania, a statue of Lenin came down, and one of Jimi Hendrix went up.  The domino effect/zeitgeist/synchronicity made it all the way to South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was sprung after 27 years in the Gray Bar Hotel.

One night I was having dinner at a Polish friend’s home. (Note: when visiting friends in Poland, always bring flowers. And an uneven number of them.  And never lilies, because they represent death. You’re welcome.) The TV was on and the dude from Knight Rider was astride the Berlin Wall singing in a bedazzled suit as happy Germans took sledgehammers to concrete and I assumed it was a vodka and borscht induced hallucination.  But it was indeed Hasselhoff heralding the fall of the wall.

Anyway, the notion of societal change through a combo of civil disobedience and roundtable dialogue was as like getting a hairdryer stuck in my ear, in that it blew my mind.

off the wallI more or less figured out how to be a teacher. To showcase students’ writing, I started a little  English-language ‘zine. (Here it is above — I found it after a quarter century!) This entailed all kinds of hijinks, because things like mass photocopying and buying paper in bulk were still kind of not exactly legal.

rayAfter 2 years in Poland and grad school in Italy and Washington, DC, I got hired by Partners for Democratic Change, founded by Ray Shonholtz, depicted above, doing one of his favorite things: negotiating room rates in hotels. Ray was a pioneer of community mediation, and I had the honor of working with him and other incredible folks to help set up the first community mediation centers in the former Soviet Bloc and the Balkans and other amazing places.

Much of what we do at New York Peace Institute is profoundly influenced by what I learned from the first generation of mediators in the new democracies.

hairdreser polandMy Slavic colleagues had some great ways of getting the word out on mediation — like telling hairdressers all about it, because they hear people complaining about their families, coworkers and neighbors all day long. We’re also a bit unconventional and quirky in our outreach approach at New York Peace Institute.

yodaCommunity mediation’s been around for a while in the US, so we have all kinds of quality assurance mechanisms. Incredible Yoda-like mentors we have,  Looking back, I’m astounded at how we managed to get mediation centers up and running in a flash in the former Soviet Bloc, and at how creative my colleagues were. (And are — most of them are still around, mediating the good fight.)

Those were some good times.

And some heart wrenching ones. The Balkan Wars felt like an equal and opposite reaction to the peaceful transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. And minority groups, like the Roma, were getting shafted right left and center as social safety nets eroded. I was honored to be a teensy part of some big acts of reconciliation and peacebuilding.

And this one time, I hung out in a hotel in Bulgaria with Led Zeppelin.

Happy Berlin Wall Fall Anniversary,






scenes from our PeaceRaiser!

staff and boardHere’s our fabulous staff and board at our 2nd Annual PeaceRaiser. Big thanks to all who came out to support us building peace in New York City and beyond. We had a fabulous time, what with the art project, the button making, the auction, the food, the drink, the trivia game….and most of all, the good company in support of a great cause.  All these pics are from ace photographer Sachyn Mital, who volunteered his talent to capture the event.

christina marquitaChristina and Marquita discussing the fine points of checking in, and ultimately agreeing to forgo the TSA-style pat-down.

steve peace wallSteve writing on our Draw Your Peace wall, curated by our wonderful board member Youssef Mahmoud.

lenscrafter adBest LensCrafter ad ever, featuring Danita, Jason and Carrie.

carol harriet hugAt New York Peace Institute, you’re family, demonstrated by Harriet and Carol. No disrespect to Olive Garden.

make your own button brettBrett making buttons at the Make Yer Own Button Booth.

buttonMission accomplished.

draw your peaceMore sanctioned graffiti.

triva gameWe played New York Peace Institute Trivia with fabulous prizes.

ally asha anneAll A’s! Ally. Asha. Anne.

michele will parents Michele, Will, and Will’s folks.

orange solo cupsWe used ORANGE Solo cups, because classy. And on-brand.

good people good lighting No foreheads were burned or coiffures set aflame by the beautiful Edisonian lightbulbs at WeWork’s gorgeous space. (Thanks, WeWork people!)

marquita brad jenniferMarquita announcing the close of our silent auction, under the silent scrutiny of yours truly and our super board member Jennifer Glueck-Bezoza.

brads artBig thanks to the folks who bid on items such as these etchings by yours truly…

african art….and this exquisite piece of African art…which is also a little piece of diplomatic history. And may more cool things. Thanks to all participated in our peaceful bidding wars.

what could possibly go wrongMe: “What could possibly go wrong?”  Michael Williams (our Board Chair) “What have you got?”

koren auctionKoren doing the math to figure out our silent auction winners. She is clearly pleased.

cranesThese guys crashed the party, but we were all “the more the merrier” and whatnot.

So. Huge thanks to our Board, staff, volunteers, new and old friends and partners for putting this event together. Who’d have thunk that such a fun evening would help thousands of folks heal in the wake of conflict, engage in heroic acts of forgiveness, and find peacefully ways forward in their lives.

Yours in peace,


PS  If you could’t make it, and still want to contribute to keeping community mediation free to New Yorkers in need, just click here.



LAST CALLFolks, tomorrow night — Wednesday, November 5, 6-9pm — is our 2nd Annual PeaceRaiser, at which there will be much food, drink, the auctioning of cool stuff, great people, a trivia game with ridiculous prizes, an interactive art installment, and all kinds of fun. All in support of building peace in NYC, so we can continue to creatively help thousands of people from all walks of life resolve their conflicts.

Read all about it and get your tix!

Fist-bumps of peace to y’all,



BREAKING: our board member Youssef Mahmoud appointed by UN Secretary General




The following is extracted from a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

The world is changing and United Nations peace operations must change with it if they are to remain an indispensable and effective tool in promoting international peace and security.  That is why I am announcing today the establishment of a High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.  I have appointed Jose Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste to chair the panel, which will draw together individuals with a wide range of experience and expertise.

The Panel will make a comprehensive assessment of the state of United Nations peace operations today and the emerging needs of the future.  It will consider a broad range of issues facing peace operations, including the changing nature of conflict, evolving mandates, good offices and peacebuilding challenges, managerial and administrative arrangements, planning, partnerships, human rights and protection of civilians, uniformed capabilities for peacekeeping operations and performance.

The last major external review of peace operations was undertaken in 2000 and led by Lakhdar Brahimi.  In addition, this will be the first such panel to examine both peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

As we approach the 15-year anniversary of the Brahimi report, we must acknowledge that peace missions today are increasingly called on to confront politically complex and challenging conflicts, often in volatile security environments where operations are directly targeted.  We must take stock of evolving expectations and consider how the Organization can most effectively advance peace, assist countries caught in conflict and ensure that our peacekeeping operations and special political missions remain strong and effective in a changing global context.

The Panel will work closely with the main United Nations departments concerned, as well as with Member States and the United Nations system as a whole.  The Panel’s recommendations to me will be available for consideration by the General Assembly at its 2015 general debate.

Members of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations

Youssef Mahmoud (Tunisia).  Mr. Mahmoud is currently a Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute, contributing to the Africa, Middle East and peace operations programmes and acting as focal point on mediation policies and practices.  Before retiring from the United Nations in January 2011, he was the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and, before that, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Burundi (BINUB).  He also assumed the responsibilities of Deputy Special Representative with the peacekeeping mission that preceded BINUB.  Since joining the United Nations in 1981, Mr. Mahmoud has held several senior positions, including as United Nations Resident Coordinator in Guyana and Director in the Department of Political Affairs.  He has also held posts with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia and in the Office of Human Resources Management at New York Headquarters.  Before joining the United Nations in 1981, Mr. Mahmoud was assistant professor at the University of Tunis.

Jose Ramos-Horta (Timor-Leste). A Nobel laureate, journalist and promoter of independence for Timor-Leste for 30 years. Mr. Ramos-Horta served as Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and Head of State of a newly independent Timor-Leste.  Upon leaving office, he served as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS).

Jean Arnault (France). Most recently, Mr. Arnault has been a professor at Sciences Po Paris focusing on mediation and settlement of civil wars.

Abhijit Guha (India). Lieutenant General Guha is currently a member of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations/Department of Field Support Panel of Experts on Technology.

Ameerah Haq (Bangladesh). Ms. Haq currently is United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.

Andrew Hughes (Australia).  Mr. Hughes served as the United Nations Police Adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations during 2007–2009.

Alexander Ilitchev (Russian Federation).  A career diplomat, Mr. Ilitchev served with the United Nations for 15 years, including as Senior Officer, Asia and Pacific Division, Team Leader for Northeast Asia and principal adviser to the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Korean Peninsula in 2003-2005.

Hilde F. Johnson (Norway).  Hilde F. Johnson served as Special Representative and Head of Mission of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and before that played a key role in the negotiations between Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) leading to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

Bruce Jones (Canada).  Bruce Jones is a senior fellow and deputy director of the foreign policy programme at the Brookings Institution and a consulting professor at Stanford University.

Ian Martin (United Kingdom).  Ian Martin was the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

Henrietta Joy Abena Nyarko Mensa-Bonsu (Ghana).  Professor Mensa-Bonsu is the Director of Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) and a full professor of law at the Faculty of Law in the University of Ghana, Legon.

B. Lynn Pascoe (United States).  Mr. Pascoe was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to serve as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs in 2007–2011.

Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto (Brazil).  Lieutenant General Floriano served as Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) from 2009 to 2010.

Wang Xuexian (China). Mr. Wang serves on the Executive Board of the United Nations Association of China.

Police Academy IX: This Time It’s Interpersonal

duckiesLet’s face it — there’s lots work to be done here and all over the country to build understanding and heal relationships between civilians and police.  This is a stickier topic than I’m smart enough to take on — fraught with issues of race, class, safety, community cohesion — you name it.

But I’m proud to say that in a small way, New York Peace Institute is striving to be part of the solution.  A few months ago, we spent four intense days at the Police Academy conducting a meditation training for twenty officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants — representing beat cops, school safety officers, housing police, community affairs cops, and more.

The goal was to give a select group of NYPD officers mediation skills for their interactions with civilians, and to encourage them to refer non-arrest disputes to mediation. I thought I’d share a bit about what went down.

NYPD and mediation.fist bump with sussan hermanAt various levels of the NYPD, we’re seeing a desire to incorporate the principles of mediation into police work. There’s a new-ish high level position at NYPD — Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing, Susan Herman.  Commissioner Herman is a longtime victims’ rights advocate (check out her book Parallel Justice). And she was a community mediator back in the day!  (Here we are fist-bumping at NYPD’s headquarters.) Also, kudos to NYPD’s Community Affairs Division, which supported our training for the men and women in blue. And then there’s the Civilian Complain Review Board’s mediation program, which allows citizens to mediate their beefs with cops. Our alumna and mediator Lisa Grace Cohen runs that program.

On getting to the Academy.badgeVisitors like me get an ID pass like this one. I was kind of hoping for something more badge-like.  On a couple of occasions I got saluted by cadets who amazingly mistook me for NYPD brass. That was cool. I was unsuccessful in implementing this protocol back at the New York Peace Institute office.

“Voluntold”gen move muralI learned a new word! The trainees were voluntold — i.e “highly recommended” — by their supervisors to take our training. In fact, they were hand-picked because of their influence, skills, credibility, and openness to learning new things. That said, they made it clear that they weren’t going to be into a 4-day touchy-feely kumbaya session. And they were naturally perplexed by my transformation of a Police Academy classroom into a bizarro kindergarten class, what with all of my ridiculous drawings. But their curiously and generosity of spirit quickly overtook their skepticism, and they were amazing participants.

The deal with donuts.photoI brought donuts to the training, only to be told (good-naturedly) that I was perpetuating a stereotype, and few officers indulged. Which meant more donuts for me. On a possibly related note, one day I saw a whole bunch of donuts on the street right in front of the Academy.  (Mmm…street donuts…)

Having a ball.soccerI did an exercise that involved tossing around a soccer ball with different mediation techniques written on it, and whoever catches it had to demonstrate the skill that their left thumb landed on. You can tell who’s a bona-fide soccer fan by their aversion to catching the ball. (I’ve come to understand that you’re not supposed to touch soccer balls with your hands. Huh.)

The agony of mediating.agonyNo matter one’s profession, one’s first attempt at a simulated mediation make can make one’s head hurt.

And the ecstasy.ecstacyAnd when something actually works, it sure feels good….as Officer Tiffany shows, with the King of Pop supporting from overhead.

On the police in popular culture.photovillage peopleI came to realize how many pop-culture police references we’ve built into our training — note my drawing of Lieutenant Columbo above (our icon for daring to ask dumb questions in mediation), and the cop from the Village People. (Fun fact — not a real cop.)  When I asked our participants which, if any, TV shows accurately portray police, the answer was Cops. And apparently sometimes they get it right on Law and Order (which filmed a couple of scenes in our former Manhattan Center. Also, the exterior of our Brooklyn Center has popped up in the show Brooklyn 99 a couple times.) 

Cross-over skills and new stuff.rubber glove 2Here we have some officers doing a brainstorming exercise. With any training group, participants come with all kinds of useful tools from their day jobs and life experiences — and undergo at least a bit of re-wiring to unlearn stuff. To wit:

Co-mediation was a natural for these folks. Their nearly telepathic connection with their partners lent itself to working seamlessly and gracefully with a co-mediator.

Caucusing — an individual meeting with each disputant — also made a lot of sense to the trainees. One of the first things they do to de-escalate conflicts is separate the parties. Of course, we talked a lot about turning this from an automatic response into one of many tools.

Going toward the heat in conflict is something both police and mediators are trained to do — though often using different methods. Both professions require fearlessness in the face of anger and high emotion.

On the other hand, like with many mediation newbies, some things were a challenge. Police often need to make instantaneous, sometimes life or death decisions.. De-escalating conflict is something they’re trained to do quickly — without the luxury of taking angry parties through a 9-stage mediation process. So learning how, in mediation, we help slow the conflict down, through reflecting, reframing, highlighting areas of agreement and difference (etc!) — felt counterintuitive. But I’m pleased to say that the cops were able to tweak so many mediation tools into efficient micro-interventions to help de-escalate conflicts in lieu of more drastic measures.

The thing about pens.pensOfficers at the Police Academy were kind enough to let me store my training gear in their space on one condition:  Bring them pens. With black ink. Pens are the coin of the realm among the police. They have to write a lot of stuff down. And I became privy to a tradition in which cops go to great and mischievous lengths to take each other’s pens. I happened to have a box of pens on my training table, in plain sight, the whole four days…and I asked why no one swiped any. The response: Had I done a better job hiding them, they would have gladly accepted the challenge.

Props.baiba and melissaBig thanks to all my teammates who helped with this training, including Baiba and Melissa, above (and a whole bunch of others). And big ups to the New York’s Finest who took such a huge leap of faith, went outside their comfort zones, and opened their ears and minds in a big way.  I sure learned a lot from them.

Now then.  I don’t think mediation training is a panacea (which autocorrected to pancreas…mediation training is also not a pancreas) for the work that needs to be done to improve police-civilian relationships. But I think it will help.  I’ll close with two quotes from our new NYPD friends at the end of the training that pretty much summed it up:

“This training will really change  the way I”m going to interact with civilians moving forward.”

“Thanks to this training, I had the best conversation with my son that I’ve ever had.”


Want to learn more about New York Peace Institute and have fun while doing it?  Come to our 2nd Annual PeaceRaiser on Wednesday, November 5, 6-9. Get your tix and info here.