“Confronting the Challenge” Part 2 of Becoming a Transformative Mediator

(Go back to Part 1 here)

Guest blogger, Dick Todd, is a retired resident of Dayton, Ohio who spent nearly 30 of his working years as a Presbyterian Pastor and Denominational Executive. He enjoys gardening, reading, and wood sculpting. Dick has been an enthusiastic volunteer with the Dayton Mediation Center for about a year.
– Ego
Perhaps I’m the only one for whom this emerged as an issue. I certainly never shared with anyone that it was happening to me. I became aware of it when I recognized that without intending to, I kept sizing up my co-trainees. “He’s asking really smart questions.” “She clearly doesn’t get it.” “She keeps volunteering to be a participant so she won’t have to be the mediator in the role play.”

As I became aware of this, I made every effort to keep this in check. I’ve never thought of myself as an out-of-control egotist, but I recognize there’s a certain level of competitiveness that has long churned within me that I’ve tried to hide away from the world. Clearly it started showing up through this experience. Mostly it seemed to be about proving I was up to this challenge, wanting to show I both grasped the concepts and was improving my practice through the incessant role plays.

All that said, I was definitely pulling for my co-trainees to “get with the program” and feel the level of commitment bubbling up within me. That commitment took a huge step forward for me when I asked a particular question of Trisha. The question and her answer ended up serving as a….
… Breakthrough
To be honest, my memory is a little fuzzy as to the exact nature of the question. Trisha’s answer, however, has stuck with me and has proven to be the occasion for me going “all in” with Transformative Mediation. The question had something to do with the value of the participating parties reaching an agreement. I had already come to appreciate the benefit to be gained even without an agreement, especially if the experience helps any or all of the participants experience one or more shifts through empowerment and recognition.

In answering the question, Trisha explained that the focus of Transformative Mediation is the interaction between the parties. It is possible, for example, for parties to hammer out some agreement while clenching their teeth and still being victims of the conflict that brought them to the mediation table. If they walk away from the mediation experience with an agreement but their interaction is still spiraled down into deep conflict, relatively little has been accomplished to help them over the long haul. But if, through the process of hearing reflections of their own and others’ thoughts and feelings, they have started moving up through the spiral toward more positive, constructive, and humanizing connection, then the experience may end up being much more beneficial than walking away in anger with a white-flagged agreement around the catalyzing issue that brought them to mediation in the first place.

For someone who has always wanted to help people, this was indeed my breakthrough. I had gone into ministry less through religious fervor, and more through a desire to find a way to make life better for others. Here, in retirement, it appeared I had discovered a way to do that in a manner about which I had never dreamed. It was at that moment that I decided mediating was for me.

What remained for me was to discover how to do this well. All those years of getting better as a pastoral counselor proved nothing. I had to see if I could shove all that aside and learn how to do non-directive interventions. And there was only one way to discover how. I had to …
… Practice
By design volunteer mediators get to observe a couple of “real” mediations before jumping in as a co-mediator. I have vivid recollections of my two required observations even though I have participated in dozens of mediation sessions since then. In the first, two mothers and two daughters had the opportunity to have a conversation that was prompted by a fight between the two teens. As it turned out, it was the Moms who went at it during the brief session. After fifteen minutes of the mothers yelling at each other, they simultaneously got up, grabbed their daughters, and left, which is their right to do since it is indeed THEIR conversation.

If that was near one extreme in which the participants appeared to make little if any progress, my second observation was near or at the other extreme. Through a magical hour and a half, thirteen participants – including five twelve-year-old boys, moved from being mortal enemies to becoming hand-shaking friends. Having already experienced the red-veined arguing Moms, I recognized mediations would not always produce such obvious and tangible results as happened with those thirteen people that Saturday morning. But observing that amazing experience of caring and healing deepened my resolve and strengthened my commitment to the enormous potential for change embedded in the simple, yet challenging precepts of Transformative Mediation.

Ironically, the memories of my first two mediations during which I served as a co-mediator are less vivid. As with the rest of my co-trainees, I signed up for a particular Saturday morning of the month and came in to see what kind of experience I might have each time. Each mediation is unique. Each brings a sacred moment of being present with others in the midst of one of the truly painful moments in their lives. As I tiptoed into practicing these newly-found skills, I discovered that only through practice was there hope for improvement.

While the practicing certainly helped, improvement also came through a component at the heart of all Transformative Mediation experiences –
(on to part 3 here)

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