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On Halloween, Masks, and Mediation.

I love Halloween in NYC. In a town where every day is a parade of style and costumery, folks really amp it up for the ‘ween. (And thus I’ve become pretty judge-y about costumes. Enough with the “sexy” everything get-ups for women — sexy Freddy Kruger doesn’t even make sense. Props to those going for precise verisimilitude or the absolutely outrageous. Feel free to judge my costume.)

Anyway. A colleague of mine mediated a particularly difficult noise complaint (we get tons of these in NYC) between neighbors, and the conflict only escalated during the session. I don’t remember the specifics of the case (nor would I violate clients’ confidentiality anyway), so let’s say it was between an upstairs nocturnal flamenco dancer — what with the stompy shoes and clattering castanets — and a downstairs curmudgeonly insomniac, down to his last Ambien.

While we don’t measure our success in terms of whether an agreement has been reached, we hope our clients leave feeling better than when they came in. Not this time. The session ended with more hostility, rancor, and name calling than it began with. My colleague felt she had conducted an anti-mediation and had only fanned the flames…and not atypically, blamed herself for not being able to elicit a better understanding between the parties.

But check this out. The next day, one of the clients — let’s say downstairs insomniac curmudgeon — called the mediator, and thanked her profusely. Turns out he and the flamenco dancer worked it out, and while they were all kinds of mean to each other during the session, the mediation had softened them for a more productive dialogue outside our center. The downstairs neighbor apologized for being so difficult, and said that he had a hard time backing down from his position during the mediation– even though he was feeling increasingly sympathetic toward the flamencista. He just wasn’t ready to take of the curmudgeonly mask and expose his more magnanimous self.

So, who we are in high conflict is a mere slice of our life, a situational mask we wear…just one facet of the beautiful complexity that we all embody.

Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!

                        author

Brad Heckman

Brad Heckman is Chief Executive Officer of the New York Peace Institute, one of the nation's largest conflict resolution services.  He's also an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches courses on international conflict resolution and organizational development.  His teaching style includes subjecting students… MORE >

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