While riding my bike on a tranquil bike path, I smelled smoke. The smell became stronger. Then I saw smoke–lots of it. Beyond some adjacent shrubs was a road with small businesses and one of those businesses was on fire.
Smoke was billowing out of every window and the roof. The fire trucks were assembling and beginning to shoot strong jets of water from their hoses. The heat radiating from the fire was fierce, sweltering, and frightening. My brain wanted to run but I was transfixed. I had never been so close to a serious fire. A team of firefighters ran into the burning building; they ran towards the heat and the smoke. I was amazed. What courage and dedication! Their job required this courage and I do not have that kind of physical courage or strength, but my job as a mediator does have a similarity. I run toward conflict. Plenty of colleagues and friends ask how I can do this kind of work. They tell me they avoid conflict like the plague and hate when people disagree. I do not love conflict and, sometimes these disputes can be heart rending: children who have died; stepmothers pitted against children; permanent mental impairment; lost limbs; job losses; and financial ruin.
My fellow mediators and I run to assist the parties in these conflicts. Why do something when every bone in your body argues against it? Why … because I know I can help. I know I can actively listen, and I can help the parties and the lawyers through the blizzard of emotions they are feeling. Sometimes I can speak from experience. Sometimes I can just be a calming influence. I know I can highlight the facts that we all agree upon and those areas in which we do not agree. Just talking out the problem can move the dispute forward.
Mediation is about empowering the folks in the burning building. My job is to hand them the tools and turn on the water hoses. Just like those firefighters, mediators must be fearless. It is tough to walk into a mediation caucus with parties who have experienced catastrophic losses. It is tough to walk into a mediation caucus with a crazy high dollar demand. I am so proud of the work my fellow mediators and I do. So different from the brave firefighters but important, nonetheless. You can reach me at 618 791-8491 or US A&M.