I attended the funeral of my esteemed colleague and friend, John Weiss this past week. John epitomized the concept of listening to the parties in a mediation without prejudgment or bias. Like a good psychotherapist, the mediator’s job is to listen, empathize and re-frame in such a way that disputants are truly heard and personal growth is actually possible. There is an art to offering a different perspective to a person so that, often for the first time, he/she can begin to appreciate the adversaries’ point of view. There is an art to listening deeply, without judgment and echoing back what you’ve heard in ways that reassure the disputant that you have really heard his story that lead up to the dispute and where he is at that moment in his head and heart.
I attended John’s funeral because, over the years that I’ve known him, I always felt we had a special connection. He always made me feel that he was keenly interested in my life and my career. What I learned there was that it was his gift to make every person he touched feel that way. The Rabbi shared with us that the lesson he had imparted to his children was that the most important person in the world was always the person standing right in front of them, or the person with whom they were engaged in conversation at that very moment.
In mediation trainings, we talk about being an empty vessel, or a blank chalk board or any number of cliches. My friend John Weiss modeled that behavior in genuine interest and an unique ability to tune out the noise of the world when he was engaged in a conversation with you. Every one of the hundreds of people in attendance at his funeral understood that lesson. We all knew we were his closest connection: at least when we were lucky enough to be engaged in a conversation with him. May his memory be for a blessing, and may I be fortunate enough to carry his lesson forward.