Why do lawyers become mediators? One reason I hear pretty often is to get out of the “stress” of being a lawyer. Another common reason is because “I want to help people resolve their differences peacefully.” Yes, back in the day, I too sort of had those reasons when I first approached mediating. However, as time has passed and I have mediated more and more, I know these reasons are not good ones. Mediating carries its own stresses. You have to work with difficult people, you need thick skin because people come in with expectations that if you fail to fulfill mark you as “no good.” Finally, reality testing people’s beliefs and expectations is a highly developed skill and sometimes, I swear, all the tools in the toolbox do not matter. The second reason is awesome in theory however the reality of mediating is much different than a pie-in-the-sky peace process. People generally do not come to the table calm, rational, reasoned, and in touch with their own needs nor do they stay at the table easily. And while I do not consider it my “job” to keep people in the process, they have to choose to stay and a good skillset does wonders. The mediator has to possess the skills to create a process that can work for the parties in the room and then also have the skills to roll with the process and make changes as needed – keeping the parties at the table, keeping them talking, keeping them thinking – and, at the same time, revealing how progress can be made and facilitating it.
Because my mediation work focuses on spouses going through divorce, I am working with people facing a traumatic life event. I feel privileged to work most often with unrepresented parties in mediation because I get to emphasize self determination and self-empowerment. Sitting in a room to resolve differences and determine whether divorce is the next step and if so, how to do that, requires that each party be empowered so as to know what it is they need and what it is they need to say. In general, conflict is one of the best ways to grow as a person and being able to facilitate a process that engages people (including me because I do learn from all my cases) in a process geared toward self growth is satsifying in a way pure advocacy is not. I have spent years developing these skills through education, my own life experience, and experience working as a mediator. Some of these skills include how to be impartial, negotiation, designing mediation processes, and understanding behavioral sciences. These skills are fundamentally different than my advocacy skills.
I am a mediator not to get away from the stress of lawyering and not because I have some unrealistic ideas about peace and mediation. I mediate because Jesus mediates God to men and in imitation of Him, I try to be a conduit of His love to all who encounter me: that is I try and mediate the love of Christ to those in conflict. That’s a mouthful right? Look, I dont mediate Him in a religious sense nor am I looking for conversions. No no no. I am not sitting there at my mediations saying “Jesus” over and over again. I take very seriously the education needed to be a mediator including the understanding of behavioral sciences, the development of necessary communication skills, and the all the continuing education offered from a variety of sources in and for the mediation profession. At the same time, however, I also think people in conflict need Truth, Love, Hope. All of that is Jesus. And because He came for all of us, I think His love can be mediated to all.
But how then do I do that? Well, first, I work hard to stay educated in the mediation field by taking classes, reading, and adding tools to my toolbox. Second, I humbly look at my own life and recognize the conflict I face regularly and work hard to practice what I preach so as to be authentic when I am asking others to do it. Third, staying humble allows me never to make guarantees or attribute success to myself. Rather, I remind my clients in mediation, success is really and truly up to them. Finally, because I try to love each person who comes to my office as He would love them – without condemnation, with His Truth and with His Love. Sometimes it means saying things someone does not want to hear or turning people away from the mediation process because it is not appropriate for their conflict. Sometimes it means working only with one person specifically who is open to seeing a path forward that is uniquely from Him as opposed to one created by our own will. The credit always belongs to God. It’s more Him doing it than me, I pray. We have choices, friends, and I want to offer His Love as a choice always – so I do. His love is usually never easy and instead a much more difficult road for most. Sometimes it can mean walking away, sometimes it means you must fight…it is never only looking out for yourself. I’m not there to force anything – that’s up to you and in my mind, up to Him to do what He does best – knock on the door of each of our hearts.
So what started this post was this article.. The article reflects on the question of why one becomes a mediator. It’s short and a quick read. Enjoy.