The folks at the Orange County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force in Vermont dedicate their efforts to prevention, intervention and healing of abuse – specifically, domestic violence and substance abuse, but any kind will do. Safeline, Inc. and SafeArt are two more organizations in Vermont that serve the same community, for the same purpose. In short, their mission might be described like this: secrets can be fatal, let’s see if we can get there first. The Task Force mission statement includes the “opportunity to be a Pro-active Bystander, to stay safe, yet to speak out against abuse.”
“Hey, I can do that,” said the mediator (“… or maybe I ought to.”).
Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and author of Night, dedicates his efforts to non-violent means of conflict management. Add Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, and one or two of my friends, and we have a team. Wiesel spoke at the University of Vermont last fall and mentioned his main method of healing: to be an active witness, one who is aware and compassionate. He is widely quoted for his words “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”
“Hey, same thing,” said the mediator.
I’ve given myself this assignment — of being an active witness. I’m not up on a soap box, or knocking on doors. But even during a routine mediation there’s still plenty of time for me to be a “pro-active bystander” and an “active witness.”
“Um, so, what do you do, exactly?” asked the mediator.
Here’s one example. At my last mediation, I listened carefully. Insinuations were rampant among parties. I tried to catch them all, and even made verbal and written lists of jabs and insults. Without judging the parties’ language or choices, I did my best to address each incident; I politely inquired about the source of the jab with the jabber, and discussed the effect on the jabbee. This shockingly tedious exercise was an amazing time-saver in the long run. The jabber and jabbee seemed to tire of the deconstruction and they moved on – without being told. I love that part.
This system seemed to result in the parties feeling heard, and hearing themselves. They took the chance to make their own adjustments and put their own power to more constructive use. And they found this out on their own. I love that part, too.
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