Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Willingness to Disagree

One of my mentors, Gary Friedman, lists four criteria that you need to mediate:

- the motivation to mediate
- self-responsibility
- the willingness to agree
- the willingness to disagree

(A Guide to Divorce Mediation: How to Reach a Fair Legal Settlement at a Fraction of the Cost. NY: Workman Publishing, 1993)

These criteria apply to the collaborative practice, too.

In my next few posts, I will explore the four criteria, starting with the last one.

"The willingness to disagree in a divorce?" you might think. "That sounds crazy!!" What's a divorce without a disagreement? If there is one thing people who are divorcing are really good at, it's disagreeing!! But the truth is, there's a difference between being angry at someone and stating your position. It's often easier to tell your friends and relations and maybe even the people at work how angry they are at your ex, than it is to sit down with the ex face-to-face.

Conflict is very difficult for people to live with. Many of us are inclined to walk away, or to give in, or to clam up rather than sit with the discomfort of conflict. But that is not being true to oneself. Nor is it really being honest and fair to your ex. Many times the best way to resolve a disagreement is to work it through. This involves a hard examination of your own thoughts and feelings as well as listening to those of your ex.

Mediation and collaborative process are not the place to sweep things under the rug. Nor is it the place to agree to something that will be detrimental later on, because there might not be another opportunity to come back and fix it.

And so I am reminded of this life advice offered by Shakespeare in Hamlet, in the voice of Polonius, speaking to his son Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Whose kids do you want to send to college?

Whose kids do you want to send to college - yours or your lawyers?

I am amazed when I hear how much money people spend on legal fees in a divorce. Perfectly rational people who will go across the street to save a few cents on gas, who will shop at big box stores to get that volume discount, who are smart consumers, will waste thousands of dollars paying their lawyers to prove that they are right. Is it really that important?

Saving money should never be the only reason you choose mediation. In fact, if it is, mediation probably won't work. You have to commit to being honest with yourself and with your
soon-to-be-ex. You can still be angry - of course. And upset. And emotional. But you have to be honest.

But as a side benefit, mediation does allow you to keep more resources inside the family. It is, frankly, less expensive. So your kids can go to college. Not your lawyers'.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama and Mediation

"In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper... Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well." -- Barack Obama, Philadelphia, PA, March 18, 2008.

Mediation is built upon a notion that people in conflict can work to solve a problem together. But to do that, we must allow ourselves to see what the Quakers would call "that of God" in the other person. We must disengage, if only for a few moments, from sparring with the other, and hear what that person is saying. It is at that moment that they will hear us. Light and air come in the room.

I am tremendously excited about Obama's campaign, because he is fundamentally inclusive. He understands, perhaps intuitively, perhaps by working at it, the very core of mediation. What would it mean if we had, as president, someone who was a mediator at his center?