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Creating a Mediator Mission Statement: Down the Rabbit Hole for Advice from a Caterpillar

Ever read Alice in Wonderland? At first I used to think it was a children’s story. Then one day (after multiple readings over a period of years) I came to the conclusion that Lewis Carroll was indeed a genius. Many of you may be saying, there you go again, trying to connect two unrelated things, but bear with me. Each time I read Alice I gleam lessons and similarities between Wonderland and our own personal journeys in the “Mediation World” that I cannot help but at times belief Lewis Carroll wrote the very first manual for mediators.

So, like Alice, take a drink (you have already taken the pill) and escape with me for a lesson that a certain character, the Caterpillar, offers Alice and in turn, us as mediators. Do you dare go down the rabbit hole? Your mediation practice may never be the same again.

After Alice falls down the hole (while chasing the white rabbit) she meets all sorts of interesting characters, which includes the fascinating Caterpillar. When Alice meets the Caterpillar he asks her, “Who are you?” Alice tries to answer but finds that because she has changed sizes all day she does not quite know who she is or even how to explain this confusion to the Caterpillar. Alice even attempts to let the Caterpillar know that one day he will turn into a chrysalis, and then after that into a butterfly. Alice hopes that perhaps the Caterpillar will understand her confusion because some day he will feel different too. However, the Caterpillar disagrees with Alice and says he won’t. And herein lies the lesson.

For the Caterpillar his identity is not tied to the dramatic transformation and changes that happen to him. This particular guide reminds us that what happens in the external world is not tied to who we are. It is our beliefs about ourselves and how we relate to these external events that determine our experiences. Although you may already know this, I believe it is a powerful reminder that who we are is shaped by our perception of ourselves and the way we perceive those events, thus not by the events themselves. This is why the Caterpillar keeps asking Alice, “Who are you?” That is the real question. Not, what happened? Or where have you been? Or even where are you going? Yet instead ask who are you?

For me, as a mediator, the Caterpillar’s question in turn becomes, “Who am I as a mediator?” In other words, is there a belief about my mediation practice that will guide me in remembering that what happens in the external world is not tied to who I am in my practice? As mediators, by answering this question we can come up with a Mediator Mission Statement (MMS), which can be a powerful tool in guiding our practice.

Mission statements are powerful because they give a sense of meaning and purpose to our personal values and goals. Mission statements are, in fact, a concise statement of your life purpose. Therefore, a mission statement specifically directs our focus in order to produce desirable results.

Steven Covey, in his book First Things First, refers to developing a mission statement as “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes from fulfilling it.” Enthusiasm and excitement will fill you when you get a sense that you are achieving your personal mission statement. Feelings of being competent, helpful, and effective are what most people strive for and your mission statement will be a constant reminder of what you want to attain day by day. Writing a mission statement will provide the focus you need to accomplish your purpose as a mediator.

Here are some corresponding questions we can ask ourselves in order to identify the values that empower us:

  • What principles, beliefs and values guide my work?
  • Why did I become a mediator to begin with?

  • What do I enjoy most about being a mediator?

  • What is the biggest need I am trying to meet for others? And for myself?

  • If I were to think of a peacemaker, mediator, leader, or person I admire (living or dead) what about them inspires me? If this person could give me one talent what would it be?

  • Is there a metaphor that I can adopt to help me symbolically remember my role? For example, am I in some ways a magician (helping problems disappear while conjuring solutions) or perhaps I’m like a referee?

  • If clients were to summarize their experience of me, what would they say?

  • One day, I will no longer be a mediator (because I’ve retired, pursued a new venture, or have died). As a mediator, how would I like to be remembered?

Of course these are just some of the questions we can ask ourselves but by looking at the answers you should be able to pull some recurring themes that resonate for you. Are there specific words that appear multiple times? Are there specific emotions that also recur?

Now that you (hopefully) have swatches of fabric of your mission statement it is time to create a tapestry. In order to assemble a statement, keep in mind a couple of things:

1) Your MMS should be one sentence long because you want to be able to recite it without having to think about it too much. If you find yourself writing more than two lines you have too much (and off with your head)! This is about the essence, the core, of your practice.

2) Your MMS must truly guide, motivate, and inspire you; this one line is something you will embrace unconditionally so choose words that emotionally drive you.

Here are some sample MMS’s I have noted over the years that are short and effective:

  • “I focus on helping to preserve some opening for future communication while settling the past through experienced, creative, and solution oriented work, drawing on my legal and business experience as well as common sense to help craft settlements that stand the test of time.”

  • “I’m like a magician in that I help people transform their relationship to conflict.”

  • “I am a navigator that empowers people to go from where they are to where they want to be through the sea of conflict.”

  • “[I’m] dedicated to helping individuals and businesses resolve conflict and move forward in their lives by providing caring, accurate, thorough and creative legal and mediation services.”

  • “I am an Ambassador of Peace.”

Do any of these sample MMS’s (with their fine distinctions and subtleties) resonate for you? Recognizing which of those small nuances strike a chord will help you create your own personal MMS. In essence, by adopting a specific MMS you will be adopting a set of rules, beliefs, and behaviors that go along with whatever your statement is. “Navigator” and “magician” are words that might convey similarities to you but aren’t there are also key differences in those words for you? Knowing that perhaps for you the focus of your practice isn’t to “transform” anyone or anything but instead “to guide” will determine a quality and consistency in your practice quite different from anyone else’s practice. Mere words they may appear but words make a world of difference, don’t they? Eventually, going back to Wonderland, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty and his powerful lesson is about the power of words and that the words he uses mean just what he chooses them to mean.

What words can you put together that reflect a meaning for your practice that you can live by? This does not mean you will be one specific role all the time but generally, is there a specific focus that better suits you? It is a focus that can shape your destiny. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said “You cannot change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight.” Choose your MMS wisely because it will determine your practice.

And now, we’re off to meet a very special client who likes tea and has a penchant for hats. In the meantime, if you find yourself down a deep, deep hole and happen to stumble upon a Caterpillar who asks “Who are you?” I’m quite confident you’ll know just what to say.


Mauricio Ramos

Through personalized coaching and guidance, Sandia Corporate Ombuds, Reese Ramos strives to empower Sandians to navigate beyond problems to options that may resolve their situations.  Reese is an active member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA).  He has facilitated ombuds trainings at previous conferences and is the author of “The… MORE >


Teri Williams

Teri Williams is an office management assistant for Reese Ramos, Sandia Corporate Ombuds.  She is also an associate member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA).  Teri has her Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from University of San Francisco and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from CSU Sacramento. … MORE >

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