Sunday, August 23, 2009

Respect of a Man

My youngest son will turn twenty one tomorrow. This is a hat tip to Jordan, aka "Mr. Schau" of Mr. He is my webmaster and also the host of a site known as "". He is most certainly a rising "bon vivant". He leaves today for Las Vegas and then after he drops his bags at Columbia in New York, where he will be Junior in the Engineering Program at SEAS, he will meet his sister in Nice, France for a quick vacation abroad on Tuesday.
But this entry is not about Jordan, but about the two mediations over which I presided this week. Without revealing any confidential information, the first was the wrongful termination of a young, Hispanic kitchen worker and the second was a contract issue by a well known celebrity. Both cases were resolved, with hugely different results monetarily, but with a single commonality. Each of these men brought their legal claims because they were disrespected in the workplace and the only means to attain the respect to which each knew instinctively they were entitled was to seek legal redress. The kitchen worker was not represented by counsel, but the celebrity could also not get his point across without legal representation. In the end, once I was able to acknowledge and confirm their positions and contributions to the Companies to which they had dedicated years of work, the money part was easily resolved. The Companies they sued were not able or willing to acknowledge or value those contributions without engaging a mediator who could evaluate them with a degree of neutrality. I would conclude it was also a degree of humanity--which often times a corporate culture doesn't bring to the table.
So here's to you, Jordan, and to all good men: may you always act with integrity, work with intelligence and humanity to others and earn the respect of others and to acknowledge the contribution of your friends and colleagues.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mediating Civil Rights Issues

I was struck by the latest bipartisan efforts at mediating civil rights. Yes, it's true, apparently Rev. Al Sharpton and Former Congressman Newt Gingrich are on a road trip promoting equal education in America! Bravo! I'm currently reading an excellent novel, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett, which addresses civil rights in Mississippi. The shocking part of the story is not the tender discussion of disparities between the Southern White families and their African-American maids, but rather how recent this disparity existed! The story reads as though it's another century, but takes place in the 1960's. It's a story of a White woman writing the "stories" of a dozen maids about their experiences working for White families: they raise their children, nurse them when they are elderly and all the while attempt to maintain their own lives and families on limited income and unequal liberties and opportunities. Now, nearly 50 years later, the news in America is indicating the government is relying upon a partnership of Sharpton and Gingrich to bring this conversation forward once again with respect to education. It's shocking, and yet, so compelling. Partnerships, alliances, dialogue is the only way change can be meaningfully made. Bravo to Kathryn Shockett for taking on this raw conversation, and kudos to Sharpton and Gingrich for continuing the dialogue towards a better future for our kids--all of them!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Beer Summit

Here's to President Obama and his brave and wise staff who understood the power of mediation this week as he invited the Harvard Professor to confront and discuss his arrest with the Cambridge Police Chief at the White House. There were so many mediator techniques brewing that afternoon, that I wanted to take a moment to reflect on them. First, there was an invitation for dialogue. There were no guarantees that there would be a particular outcome, but in the heat of the conflict, somebody had the wisdom to bring the conflicting parties together for the purpose of discussing their different perspectives and exploring options for improving the relations between African Americans and Police in America in the future. Second, there was a "third sider" present: not necessarily Obama, who actually took sides when he called the Cambridge Police Officer's conduct "stupid", but Joe Biden--who had no dog in the fight. (You'll notice that Biden did not drink alcoholic beer. Interesting, but maybe not coincidental.) Third, there was a balance: two African-American Harvard trained participants would not have achieved the level of impartiality that a true mediation would require as against a single, Caucasian (probably not Harvard trained, Ivy league, elite?) Police Officer. Although a mediator need not be a separate race from the disputants, in this case, the commonality of Obama with one of the disputants would likely have raised eyebrows had he been alone to face the Police Officer after calling his conduct "stupid" in a press conference. Fourth, they offered confidentiality: although the Press was invited to take the initial irresistible photos, they were expressly excluded from the dialogue itself. The parties were then at liberty to express their interests and perspective without risking losing face or conceding anything concrete. Finally, informality: have you seen other photos of such an informal meeting with the President of the United States? Obama was in shirt sleeves, without jacket or tie, at a table on the lawn. The table was round (not a true "summit") and the dialogue was not recorded. All of this facilitated the true dialogue that perhaps will begin or advance the discussion of racism in America. Bravo for the mediators!