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The Kindness of Strangers—Wildfires, Empathy, and Conflict

by Lorraine Segal
October 2017

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Lorraine Segal
Kindness and empathy can defuse conflict at work, or disagreements even in the midst of disasters.

My beloved Sonoma County and Santa Rosa (California) have been engulfed in flames. As I write this, the worst of the fire danger seems to have passed us by. Our house is still standing and we are outside of the evacuation zone, but I know many people who have lost their homes or have been evacuated, still uncertain if and when they can return. Some lost everything, some lost beloved animals and even people. The devastation and distraction have been overwhelming.

One beautiful part of all this is how people are pulling together, and how tenderly and kindly we are treating each other. I believe it’s because when we suffer a common tragedy and disaster like this, it reminds us that for all our differences, we are all human beings. We love our families, we want to be safe, and the ravages of natural disasters impact us all together. Our only hope is to try to help each other and be kind. Many many people I know are volunteering at evacuation centers, some as healers or therapists or errand runners. My acupuncture clinic is offering free sessions. My gym has set up a station with toiletries, reading glasses and snacks for those who had to flee. Someone else brought in N95 masks for people who don’t have them. A local celebrity chef is cooking for evacuees and first responders at the fairgrounds. People have opened up their homes, their stores, to friends, family, or even those they don’t know. Health care professionals and firefighters have shown up to do their jobs even if they themselves lost their homes. Teenagers are showing up to volunteer in many capacities, busting the prejudice and judgements some elders have about the new generation. If a neighbor is helping save your house, no one can care about immigration status or native language. And there are hundreds of other examples.

This kind of connection and empathy is exactly what I foster when I coach people dealing with resentments and miscommunication. I do a lot to validate what they’re feeling but also gently help them find compassion and understanding for the very different story and situation of the other person. People can be so angry at someone that they demonize them. If instead, they can see and feel that the other person is a human being just like them, it is much easier to manage and resolve conflicts. I am so very grateful for the caring and inspiring actions of people in my county. I urge you all to remember that whatever our differences, we are all humans together who love and need, and who can find joy in serving each other.

Biography


Lorraine Segal is a certified Conflict Management coach and teacher, specializing in communication and conflict resolution in the workplace. For many years a middle manager and tenured community college professor, she has her own business, Conflict Remedy LLC.

In her organizational consulting, classes, and coaching, she helps people learn new skills, get “unstuck” from negative stories, and shift their patterns of thinking and reacting so they can learn to: communicate clearly, resolve conflict effectively, and contribute to a more harmonious and productive workplace.

She currently teaches at Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, and St. Joseph Health Life Learning Center (Memorial Hospital) and works with various businesses and organizations. 



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