Comments: A Lot Of Me On The Table

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Clare  Connaughton, New York NY     09/24/05
What is fair?
I recently had a similar experience where I encountered what I perceived to be a party's complete lack of concern for his ailing relative's financial predicament. It disturbed me and I spent several days musing upon it. I finally accepted the fact that I could not second guess this man's sense of 'what was fair or right or just' in the context of his particular family relationships. We mediators often arrive at the 11th hour of a long and winding road of conflict. We are not privy to all that has transpired before. We can and should certainly probe during mediation, ferreting out each party's own sense of what is 'fair' or 'just' or 'right' but, in the end, it is their call.

David , Auckland NZ AK     09/18/05
A Lot Of Me On The Table
Hello Geoff, I enjoyed your article and think you did what all of us would do - when all else fails, rely on your intuition. This is after all the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's greatest discovery E=MC2, but what a lot of people don't realise is that he also wrote that "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift." It's comforting in a way to know that nothing has changed in 100 years. Our intuition is the sum total of our knowledge at any given point in time and obviously what yours was telling you was that the mediation dynamic needed an additional dimension - it may have been a moral one, it could just as easily have been a financial or a technical one. I would however be interested to know whether the diversion/addition worked?

Amber Lynnette Weldy, Cumming GA   09/18/05
It was mother against daughter, sister against brother, two generations of family against a world that killed the son and brother they all loved. (Geoff Sharp, 2005) Geoff, my heart goes out to you. It is hard to separate the mind form the heart when you are dealing with issues that involve things you have a strong standing on. I am not really certain you should separate them but instead step out and be a third party to yourself. You will be mediating yourself along with them if you are not careful. Back off a little and rather than tell them what they are doing wrong and how to resolve it, lead them to the realization they need to resolve other issues as well and in order. The money issue is not at the top of the list. Get their minds talking instead of their greed or grief. You should not join them or judge them. Step back and take a moment to find a buffer for yourself so you can affectively calm them into reality. You have been called on to do that something they cannot do. You are their buffer and sanity and their link to reality. Address the emotions first. Look at them for what they truly are. Bring things down to a very basic, juvenile level and you will find the solution. They are talking like squabbling children. Talk to them like an understanding parent and patiently walk them down the path your parents would have when the answer was ‘no but….’ Or ‘yes but…..’ and ask them is this what they are sure they want because the affects of the decisions they make today will outlast the money. Make them think it through. Never forget to respect them through all of this. I cannot and do not want to know that kind of grief. I don’t know what it would do to me nor do I want to know. Their world has shattered and their lives are uncontrolled and money offers a limited source of comfort. It is a shame they do not seek that comfort in each other and put the money in a trust for family hard times. They just do not yet understand the hunger is never satisfied when the food is without substance. Sometimes all you can do is plant a seed and walk away for another day. Then again, their greed may be the only emotion they share amongst their selves even before the death. That is something you cannot fix. -Lynnette

Cookie , Chesterton IN     09/15/05
Seems like everybody wanted a peice of what was left of the fellow. That is not unusual. It would have been interesting to try a couple of other things yet who are we to say if that was moral or not. The grief of a child dying before the mother can be beyond what most of us can ever imagine in sadness. None of the stages is particularly pretty and they don't come in order. I am a direct person and have to acknowledge my biases(as I was so thououghly taught)many times during a mediation with elders and their families as they plan care. One discussion I have with myself is always checking if I am maneuvering or manipulating with questions and statements. One time I had a family that had to plan for their mom, who was financially very comfortable, fairly healthy and quite demented. I remember pulling up to the house for the mediation and saw what was surely grandma's car that was a relatively new, luxurious, item looking like it had kissed many, many, other cars. As with many families, a beloved and sometimes not so beloved parent was going to have to share power with her children and live with the outcome. The son and his wife, who lived locally, had been assuming most of the burden and were tired. The daughter and her spouse lived a few hours away and took grandmom home with them fairly often. Grandma was a colorful gem of the old country who seemed to have periods of awareness and knew something big was going on. Everybody got to tell the story of how I got there with some strong statements along the way. I asked for volunteers to imagine what it would be like if they were watching these stories play out on a movie screen with grandma sitting next to them. Some cried some were comfortable and all got a new perspective. When I was a child, my family each had their places at the dinner table. Long after I grew up, I observed that my sibs and I were sitting with my parents in exactly in the same placement with our assorted children in between. When you take one of the members of the family away from the core by death (in a variety of ways) the whole family has to change seats at the table. Nobody wants to do it. Nobody is standing in line for change. Everybody has the "right to act" in the same way their family functioned as it had for years because,your behavior will always be recognized as familiar and comfortable within that family unit. While all may get dramatic everybody knows they are relatively safe with a predictable set of behaviors. The mediator is not privy to that model, that is why we get uncomfortable, even moral, when most times we would not get sucked in to the vacuum of chaos when a family is grieving a missing member. As appalling as their behavior may seem to us, they are comfortable and it is none of our business. Sometimes peculiar families don't get through their grief until somebody else dies and takes the pressure off. You have to remember that one day grandma will need help and or die. You will not be there to see what happens and it may take that long to get better, if it ever does. I like to remind families that they are modeling the care that they will receive when their children grow up and have to take care of them. It is a very powerful tool. Beg your pardon for being long winded. Bad habit. I still write run on sentences too.

Tom  Hanrahan, Glen Rock NJ     09/15/05
what do you do?
you do what you did. what we alwys do, evrey day: the best you can at the time.

Erika , Lethbridge AB     09/01/05
the fly on the wall
... in what circumstances should we mediators fill a moral vacuum when it is vacated by parties who have the responsibility to plug it? When is it OK for us to set a course in a mediation to stop a wrong? You tell me what you do when you see an absence of moral leadership at the table ... Hello Geoff: I am convinced you already know the answer to your questions. Because I believe that you have the answer within you. If you could ask yourself: Who am I when I am faced with lack of moral leadership? (the expert? or perhaps the reflective practitioner?). What are my values which are being violated by lack of moral leadership? What capabilities do I have in such a situation, and what actions can I take in the moment of emptiness in the mediation room? I believe you and only you can answer those question. In the spirit of reciprocity, I share with you some techniques I have used in order to get out of my own way and, instead, probed the party's state of mindfulness about the situation. One possibility are three perceptual positions' questions: First position - see the situation from one's own eyes ("so for you / the way you see it...") - the rest of the world may not see it that way; Second position - see the situation from the other's perspective ("if you were him/her in this situation what would you be saying/doing...") - evoke greater awareness of the other's state; and Third position - the fly on the wall ("if you were a fly on the wall and could hear/see the situation from a third party/outsider's perspective what would you notice...") - separate the problem and see it in the context of the bigger picture. Someone once said that a person's point of view is the way the world makes sense to them. As mediator (hunching a lack of moral leadership) I might wonder what the interests might be for the person who seems to embrace a 'lack of moral leadership'? What is it they value about moral delinquency? How is it serving them? How does it support them with the issue they want to resolve? Geoff - lastly, you might want to play with this hypothetical question - and self-reflect: Just suppose the party could make an exception for a moment...and approach the issue from a place of moral leadership, what would that give you? - And why? How is it important to you in your role as their mediator? Finally, I want to share with you that I always enjoy reading your articles, in particular because of your 'human-ness'. You do not write wearing 'the mask' (a.k.a. 'ego') and your down to earth wrting is refreshingly liberating; not to mention that along the way I have succumbed to accept my own vulnerabilities (voluntarily). Erika Deines, C.Med. Lethbridge, Alberta