Planting the seed of possibility

Once upon a time, there was a young girl with a big ego and sense of entitlement. She stole from her family. She thought only of herself and consumed her time with video games and hanging out with her boyfriend. While she put on a tough act, she had little self-worth. She took no interest in her future and she never took into consideration the impacts her actions had on her family. Her lifestyle, of skipping school, partying, and drugs and alcohol, rips away her childhood innocence and thrusts her into a cycle of destructive behaviour. She was placed in a group home where she further rebelled, finding comfort in her self-fulfilling prophecy that no one cared about her. To outsiders, her relationship with her boyfriend looks unhealthy and her friends seem to be a poor influence. A girl who seems so capable with the capacity to effectively express herself but chooses to live moment to moment in anger, doesn’t realize the hurt she causes those around her. My heart fills with sadness for her destructive behaviour and unused potential. A story all too common, causing so many to look the other way, demands our attention, our compassion, and our hope.

While this story doesn’t yet have an ending, happy or sad, it’s an important story to help us evaluate and consider our role as mediators and facilitators. Often, it can be challenging to work with such rebellious and difficult youth. Sometimes, it can be easy to identify problems, but it’s not our role to prescribe solutions. Maybe all we do is ask important questions to help raise her awareness of the impacts her actions have. Maybe just planting the seed of possibility and giving her an hour to have a voice changes something, fosters a new curiosity. Maybe sessions that seem like failures still grow into success stories.

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Enjoying the gatherings!

It’s December – and for many it means making room for hours of visiting, playing games, and, let’s be honest here – working hard to stay out of that argument that happens every year with your partner’s second cousin once removed OR _____________ (you fill in the blank with your least favourite person).

Whatever relationship issue is stressing you out, we’d like to help. Here are three gifts you can offer your family during this season –  

1.  Give the gift of curiosity. It’s easy to jump to conclusions about another person’s intentions. This year, be inquisitive instead.
2.  Give the gift of time – instead of hurrying to your own defense and justifying your words or actions, take a step back and think about what response would be the most helpful. OR, if the other person is rushing headlong into an argument, suggest that you get together at a later date to talk further.
3.  Give the gift of thoughtfulness. On your drive over to your relatives, think about three things you can say that will let others know you want the best for them. Then, when it is appropriate, share your genuine appreciation with them.

From all the board and staff at Mediation Services, we wish you happy holidays and peace and happiness throughout 2014.

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Walking in the other person’s shoes – no matter what their age.

Recently, I was chatting with a mediator who is also the father to two young boys. He recounted an incident where he used his mediation skills to resolve a conflict over toys between his two sons.

Several days later, I talked with a person who works in an independent living complex. She learned where I worked and immediately talked about a conflict happening in the complex between two seniors and how they were working to resolve the issue.

My eyes were opened – the basic principles of restorative justice are relevant to young and old. Moving from judgment to curiousity, not making assumptions, and imagining what the other person is thinking are all principles relevant to both situations. Different language, different teaching methods, and different examples will, no doubt, be used to explain the basic principles, but people of any age can benefit from the principles of restorative justice.

I am a realist, and so I know there are certain times and places when the skills we teach do not match the situation. But this week, I am satisfied that good conflict resolution skills are relevant to all ages. My challenge is to think about how to live by example – with my grandchildren. What is your challenge?

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Interpersonal conflict and poverty

Interpersonal conflict is a reality in everyone’s life. Some seem to attract conflict and frequently find themselves embroiled in heated discussions, or angry exchanges. Other people can see conflict a mile away and will take wide detours in order to avoid disagreement with anybody. They weave through their days with amazing dexterity, avoiding this place or that person so that they don’t need to face an uncomfortable situation.

Many of us are someplace in between these two examples. We don’t search for conflict but if we find ourselves disagreeing with our friends or neighbours, we find ways to talk about it.

But what happens if all our energy is spent struggling to meet the basic needs of our families – food, adequate shelter, transport money, and safety? In these situations, when a conflict happens, we have no energy in reserve to deal with this new challenge. Yet, conflict usually doesn’t disappear on its own. It may simmer for awhile only to boil over when one is most vulnerable. Or, we find yourselves spending lots of precious time and emotional resources figuring out how to avoid a person or a situation that is potentially uncomfortable.

Ultimately, unresolved conflict increases my feelings of vulnerability so I feel less in control of my life and less able to act in healthy, helpful ways in the other struggles in my life.

The mediation process empowers people to resolve their own conflicts – with assistance, encouragement, and support. But, I can’t help but wonder if there is more we can do, or a better process we can adopt, so that the challenges of a conflict aren’t overwhelming to those living in poverty. What do you think?

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Restorative Justice and Music

Last spring, we invited the University of Manitoba Women’s Chorus to open up our MothersX3 program with a few selections. Afterwards, I had many people come to me and register their appreciation for this added feature. One person said, “When I heard you were going to have a choir, I was skeptical, but it added so much.”

In a separate conversation, the moderator for the evening, Ismaila Alfa, the host of the CBC Afternoon Show in Winnipeg, noted that he was preparing a feature on the power and impact of music.

That got me thinking about the role of music in restorative justice processes. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps we should have music playing in the office as people come to meet with each other.

Maybe, we could ask people what music best represents how they are feeling.

I’d love to see an agreement between a complainant and an accused person include a musical component.

Or, it would be interesting to see an HR specialist use music as a tool to address office tensions.

How does music impact you and your relationships?  I leave the office this week thinking about the following quotes:

“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” -Dr. Shinchi Suzuki

“Music is one of the most forceful instruments for governing the mind.” William Gladstone

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” ~Leonard Bernstein

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato

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Just talk already!

Over the last two weeks I have seen several facebook posts of friends of friends who are having a conflict with somebody around them – a neighbour, a sister, people who wait at the same bus stop. The common factor in all of these conflicts – people were not talking to each other. Assumptions were being made on both sides of the conflict, and people who commented on the posts invariable made more assumptions, or wrote things that served only to solidify and justify their friend’s feelings.

Why is it that when we see a conflict coming our way, we suddenly forget most of our good communication skills? We holler, or write nasty notes and letters, or turn our backs for the silent treatment instead of listening, speaking carefully and respectfully, and setting aside assumptions.

This week, I’ve committed myself to communicate differently – to talk instead of shut down, to listen instead of accuse. And when I fail – to pick myself up and try again.

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Restorative Justice and our assumptions

I recently held a short workshop for a group of managers on conflict in the workplace. One of the principles I emphasize in all my introductory sessions is that people usually have good intentions and want good things for themselves and others – just like you! When I suggested this as a way to check one’s perspective on a conflict, one woman looked at me and said, “You are naïve to think that.”

This response is not unique. Everyday, other people do things that hurt us or others. We can’t figure out the motive behind their actions (and certainly don’t feel free to ask) so we make up a reason that makes sense to us, but frequently makes that person look bad.

My experience is that very few people in the world have malicious intentions. They can almost always justify their actions some other way.  What happens, then, if instead of drawing conclusions based on malicious intent, I look for other reasons for their actions?  It not only changes the picture dramatically, it is eye-opening!

Last night, listening to the news, I wondered why one of the world’s leaders would consider a certain action – immediately, I wanted to dismiss this person as “evil”. But I resisted, and instead, tried to find some other reason.  Is this person afraid? or passionate? or a puppet of some larger force?  What a difference it made to my interpretation of the news.

So, if I transfer this practice into my own interactions with people, how will it impact my responses?  Can you imagine the difference it might make in your own relationships?


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