Quelling Our Inner Monkey

My yoga instructor told me on a recent morning: "unlearn the discord in your body...let it go...replace it with the space you are making." Dripping wet from the heat of the yoga room, bent and twisted in eagle pose, fighting for balance and deeper flexion, I got it; I heard what he was telling me. Eagle pose forces new angles in my body. When I squat down with my legs folded and tucked and my arms interlaced, my back and shoulders stretch open. The unnatural and demanding posture, which I can only hold for a minute, helps me to unlearn the hunching of my shoulders at the computer, the bending of my spine over desktops and kitchen counters and steering wheels. The space that I find in my body after a session on the yoga mat helps me to unlearn the habits of body and mind that I bring into the yoga room. When unlearning creates space for something new that serves us better, we get ourselves unstuck. This is true, as well, at the mediation table. Unlearning patterns of interaction, finding new space and letting go, can be the reward of a transformative mediation process. To illustrate this point, I offer the parable of the monkey and the coconut:

Read more.

Playing By the Rules: When Mediation is Like Improv

Mediation may not be a laughing matter, but it shares some similarities with improv comedy. This comparison came to me when I read a recent New York Times article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the renowned Chicago improv comedy troupe, Second City. Around the same time, a friend called to tell me about performing improv at a workshop. She described the experience as a lesson in self-discovery. “The whole point of the exercise,“ she explained, “was for the group to practice the rules of improv to see which ones were hardest to follow. Each one of us butted heads against at least one of the rules. It became a mini-therapy session. Our rule-breaking during our performances pointed us to our underlying issues.” Say more! Tell me everything. I love Rorschach type tests, and this sounded like a good one.

Read more.

Parallel Constructs: Burning Man and Mediation

Three chairs, shade from the relentless sun, and a kitchen timer. These are some of the tools of mediator Ron Kelly as told to Timothy Hedeen in the Fall 2009 Conflict Resolution Quarterly article, “Challenging Conventions in Challenging Conditions: Thirty Minute Mediations at Burning Man.“ Ron Kelly, a San Francisco mediator and educator, describes setting up a mediation booth in the middle of the dessert at a radical, super-sized arts festival called The Burning Man Project. Applying core principals of mediation to a fast track format, Kelly guides his clients through a thirty minute session that is free for the offering. Kelly offers his services as a gift to the Burning Man community. Like others, he arrives each summer ready to share and participate in a unique experiment. I confess that Kelly’s description of his experimental approach to mediation captures my imagination. I have long harbored a mediation booth fantasy.
Read more.

Avoiding The Urge To Fix It

Yesterday I met a colleague in the hallway outside the courtroom. I was filling out paperwork and ruminating on a case that I’d just finished “processing.” There was no agreement. After a long mediation the plaintiff offered a settlement that the defendant turned down. My colleague also filed paperwork with no agreement. We talked about our recent spate of “no-settlement” cases. We know, through training, that no agreement is fine, sometimes optimal. As my colleague pointed out, sometimes we mediate agreements that we wish instead had gone before the magistrate, simply because we feel one or both of the parties agreed to something that they might later regret. Under my breath I said, “I WISH I could be the judge and settle these disputes myself!” My colleague looked amused. Perhaps I should go to law school, she wondered? No. I just want to fix things…fairly. This, of course, is my naughty mediator thought…a feeling I fight back and keep safely hidden away in the fantasy part of my brain. Wanting to fix things is a bad mindset for mediators. Read more.

Each One Teach One - The Gentle Power of Nonviolent Communication

An inner city teacher in St. Louis stayed after school to help a student, even though her superiors warned her to leave the building for her own safety, once classes were dismissed. A stranger entered the room and demanded she take off her clothes. This incident happened, though it had a better outcome than you might expect. So did the following: A metropolitan police officer arrested a man at a housing project, only to exit the building to find an angry mob of sixty people surrounding his car, demanding that he let the man go. Both the teacher and policeman had recently been trained in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and both escaped with their lives. Their secret weapon? They engaged the people who were ready to act on their violent urges in a conversational process that diffused the danger. The teacher escaped her rapist and the policeman calmed the crowd. Both incidents are recounted by Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication, A Language for Life....read more

Healing Through Victim-Offender Mediation

Back in 2001 a young teenager, whose real name is not David, joined his friend in a robbery. While a family in their neighborhood was away, they broke in and stole a coin collection, an old watch, and other items that David and his friend could fence for cash. The plan went off without a hitch, except that David and his friend were arrested when law officers linked them to the crime. David qualified for a community mediation program between victims and offenders that he agreed to participate in on the advice of his family and attorney. Read more...