Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mediator's Perspective: Taking Time Out

I had a tough week this week. I presided over two particularly challenging and emotional disputes: issues of betrayal, interpersonal trust and respect, dashed hopes, lost profits, desperate measures and counsel who were not always in control of the perspective they needed to help resolve the conflict.

As we do on most weekends during summer, yesterday, we took our sailboat, "Time Out" out to sea for several hours with old friends for several hours. Watching the extraordinary surf hit the beaches of Southern California was so much the medicine I needed, that we ended up staying the night in the Marina.

When I arrived home this morning, my sons told me of the news of Lily Burk's apparent murder on Skid Row at age 17. Our children attended the same School as Lily. Her mom is a lawyer and adjunct faculty at a local law school. The news was nothing less than shocking, deeply disturbing and all too close. Though we didn't know her or her family, at a memorial service for a classmate's Dad today, I spoke with one of the teachers from Oakwood, who expressed his profound grief and loss. Seeing Mickey Morgan that profoundly lost, I'm imagining that this event will forever change the Oakwood community: it will take a long time to restore that hope and optimism that gives the school that "anything is possible" attitude. Simply stated, it made my "tough week" seem trivial by contrast. Even mediator's need lessons in perspective taking, and I'm so sorry that it took this horrible tragedy to wake me up this week.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Value of a Symbolic Commitment

Our daughter became engaged to be married last night. Although the groom to be has been a steady boyfriend for over two years and we were all pretty certain he was "the one", the symbolic commitment that accompanied the diamond ring on her finger was/is HUGE! It occurred to me that when I mediate cases to a settlement, the signing ritual, the handshake, the acceptance of the "proposal" is more than a mere gesture. It also symbolizes a commitment to conform with the legal constraints that go beyond the casual promise or mutual assumptions. Until our daughter's boyfriend put a ring on her finger last night, his words of commitment could have been interpreted as temporal, happy for the moment, maybe even non-committal. Now, his intent is clear, he's invested in the process, and would have a much harder time reneging on his promise to marry next year than he would without the ring, ritual and public announcement. Next time you're tempted to leave a mediation based upon a handshake, think again. The symbols of commitment to a future agreement can mean a great deal in love and law!