Michael Lang, former President of AFM and founder of the Antioch Masters in Conflict Resolution Program, received the ACR’s 2012 John Haynes Award. Here are his award acceptance comments.
Let me begin with a story—no surprise to those of you who know me. I last spent time with John Haynes was in October, 1997 at a Family Mediation Canada conference in St John’s, Newfoundland. John had been scheduled to present the opening session, but his travel agent sent him to St John New Brunswick—700 miles away. At 11 pm the night before the opening I was asked by the Executive Director of FMC to fill in for John. With gratitude for the honor, and understandable terror, I agreed. Two hours into the three-hour presentation, I noticed John at the back of the room. The last-minute nature of the request had left little time for pre-talk nervousness. But, when I saw John, I experienced an anxiety that momentarily stopped me in mid-sentence. I was standing in for John, and I wanted to do credit to him. As I regained my composure and continued, he nodded and smiled. I remember that moment so clearly with joy and gratitude, and relief.
Michael Lang Receives John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award
The award was presented at the 2012 ACR Annual Conference Presidential Luncheon to Michael Lang in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of mediation. The award was presented by past recipient Larry Fong and ACR President Perri Mayes.
To the board of ACR, thank you for this generous award. I want to express my appreciation to Susan Terry, who (along with Tammy Lenski, David Specht, Julian Portilla and Christine Packard) nominated me for this award. I am fortunate to be Susan’s friend and to have the too rare opportunity to teach with her.
Without wading too deeply into presidential politics, let me say that “I did not build this career”. Over 35 years many colleagues and friends mentored, advised, and helped me become a mediator and a teacher. Listing them would take far longer than my allotted time. There are three whose advice and support came at key moments. Dee Kelsey, an extraordinary trainer taught me how to design and present an engaging and effective training program. I am grateful to Alison Taylor for her insights and inspiration. Writing “The Making of a Mediator” with Alison was an experience of genuine and joyous collaboration. I first learned of reflective practice and a book called, “The Reflective Practitioner” in a conversation with Robert Benjamin at an AFM conference in 1986. Reading that book started me on a journey of teaching and writing about reflective practice.
Every family mediator’s understanding of family dynamics and conflict is shaped by our family experiences. My parents instilled in me a belief in every person’s worth and dignity. Anne-Marie, my wife and occasional co-mediator, inspires me and keeps me honest. When I use too many questions in our conversations she admonishes me by saying, “don’t try to mediate me—tell me what you think.” And, I received a crystal clear lesson in humility from my son, Colin. When he was about 8 years old and I would try to intervene in conflicts between him and his brother, he would put his hands on his hips, look disdainfully up at me and say, “and you call yourself a mediator.”
To them, and those whom I have not specifically mentioned, but who have generously offered friendship, advice and support, thank you.
I want to return for a moment to Newfoundland. My decision to take on that presentation was part baseless audacity and part calm assurance. The topic I chose was reflective practice. I had been teaching the principles and skills of reflective practice for nearly a decade. I had begun preparing the outline for the book Alison and I were to write. It was if I had been preparing for such a moment from that first reading of “The Reflective Practioner” by Donald Schon.
As I read this book I became passionate about the notion that purposeful self-reflection can and does lead to excellence in practice. As the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears. In my case, that teacher was this book and the concepts, practices and approaches Schon set out. These elegant and highly practical notions appealed to me then, and continue to inspire my teaching and practice. The basic ideas are quite simple. First, allow the surprising and unexpected moments to produce curiosity and wonder, not anxiety and dread. Welcome the unexpected. Because in these shaky moments we will find extraordinary opportunities to understand our clients and thus to tailor a process that meets their needs and goals.
And, secondly, make a commitment to learn from experience in order to improve the quality of professional practice. Take time to celebrate your successes, but ask yourself what contributed to that accomplishment. What bit of knowledge or technique made a difference? How can you apply those lessons in the future? As well, use the frustrating and disappointing moments, not to berate yourself—little good comes from self-reproach. But, embrace your frustrations as you delight in your successes. Allow these difficult experiences to be your teacher—learn what you might have done differently or more effectively.
Beginning with these modest yet elegant notions, it is possible for practitioners to become more resourceful and effective—we can achieve artistry in our practice.
I have been writing about, teaching and practicing the aspiration to attain artistry in our practices and the importance of self-reflection as a means of improving the quality of our work. We continue to be an inventive and creative profession given to experimentation. As the field grows in numbers and in types of disputes being mediated, as we find new ways to address conflicts, I believe we must hold tightly to a relentless search for knowledge in order to achieve excellence in practice. We must continue to aspire to seek the best in ourselves.
Returning to my story, I can’t know for certain why John was nodding and smiling at the back of the room. I choose to remember it as a silent affirmation. But, quite possibly, he was just relieved to have arrived in Newfoundland.
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