Lessons for Mediation from a Toddler’s View







Readers will recall that last year’s newsletter was a series of “Life Lessons”, in tribute to my late mother. This year, I am happy to report that I am learning and re-learning new life lessons through the eyes of the next generation, my granddaughter.  Like “My Mother’s Legacy”, these are lessons that serve me well as I apply them to mediation.

Mediation can be hard.  Often, the parties start out a great distance apart, work towards narrowing the gap, but occasionally can’t quite straddle the gulf to come to an agreement in a single day.  Last week, I gave my final lesson to my students at Pepperdine on sophisticated steps for breaking an impasse.  I told them that it was a matter of both skill and faith.

Yes, there is room for techniques like “decision-tree” analysis, mediator’s proposals and even hypothetical negotiations through the mediator.  Beyond that, I urged my students not to discount the value of bringing people together, face to face.  I retold a powerful story I heard in an interview of a former White Supremacist who, at age 18, was engaged in brutally beating a stranger with his evil-doing crew when the victim’s eyes met his own.  There and then, like the biblical story of the brothers, Jacob and Esau, he saw his own brother’s eyes, and perhaps even the eyes of G-d. It was a pivotal moment that changed the way he approached his life and marked the beginning of the end of his affiliation with that group.  Like the Biblical story, a last minute face to face dialogue may be the only way to break through the impasse when the money appears to be too far apart.

Toddlers surround themselves with puzzles.  These days they come in wood and with little handles.  But once removed, it’s not always clear whether the empty shape calls out for a cow or a pig, an apple or a pear.  And so they try each one.  By process of elimination, they come to figure out which fits.  And then they are on to the next puzzle piece until completed.

After mediating for so many years, it’s tempting to assume that we can predict how the pieces of the puzzles will fit together.  When the first attempt doesn’t work, it’s worth putting the pieces together in a different order or a different way.  It’s worth taking out that first piece that you jammed in where it didn’t appear to fit and starting over if necessary.  Ultimately, there is always a way to put the pieces back together again.

P.S.:  I’m pleased to be presenting at a Seminar on March 16, 2018 on “Effective Advocacy in Mediation”.  You can register and attend (in Santa Monica or via Webinar) here: Seminar Group Advocacy in Mediation

Jan Frankel Schau
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