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We Are Looking for One Good Town

From Michael Zeytoonian’s Dispute Settlement Counsel Blog

What if your entire town made an official commitment to practicing legal wellness, for one year? Or for that matter, your entire company? Or your mission-based organization? Or your family?

A couple of years ago I read an article in AARP Magazine about how Albert Lea, a small town of 18,000 in Minnesota, launched the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project. The town made a commitment for one year to making changes in the way their residents ate, exercised, worked and played. The guiding principle for the Blue Zones Project is to commit to four traits: healthier diet, active lifestyle, clear sense of purpose and strong social networks. A year later, when they went back to Albert Lea to see how things went, they saw that people wanted to keep it going and did just that. The residents had logged 42,000 miles of walking, up from 37,558 logged a year earlier. One resident noted that in one year, he increased his life expectancy from 52 years to 78 years. He noted that the project improved both his habits and his happiness. Five months into the project, participating residents had lost an average of 3 pounds each and had added three years each to their life spans.

Now, take that same concept – a commitment of an entire town to practicing health wellness – but apply it to legal wellness. For one year, what if town officials agreed that if there were any kind of municipal disputes, neither side would sue or go to court. Instead, participants committed to a pilot project in which they would act differently when they found themselves in disputes. They agreed to first work together toward resolving it utilizing only non-adversarial dispute resolution processes. The residents agreed also to commit to take any dispute they had to a designated center in the town or at the worksite, where, working with people trained in non-adversarial and interest-based dispute resolution, the parties worked through their issues together, through a series of negotiation sessions, guided by those trained to facilitate this kind of problem solving. They also hired an ombudsperson to work discreetly, neutrally and confidentially with people having conflicts or problems in the workplace, in community organizations or in their families to diffuse them. They utilized several preventive steps, training and educating. They put policies and procedures in place to prevent certain disputes from occurring. They put into their contracts dispute resolution clauses by which the parties agreed to try non-adversarial dispute resolution processes first, processes in which they controlled the outcome.

Imagine the cost savings to the town, at a time when all cities, towns and states are struggling with dwindling budgets and increased cuts or services and jobs.

Imagine the difference in people’s attitudes in working together in a collaborative way, bringing all the resources available to you to the negotiating table, with the intention of resolving conflicts of all kinds.

Imagine the savings to people and businesses of your emotional energy, human resources and preserved relationships.

Imagine the time saved by all when you all opted for a more time efficient process of resolving disputes, conducting negotiation sessions at times that didn’t interfere with the key things in your lives and moving forward at the right pace that works best for your schedules and your life circumstances.

Imagine the creativity of the solutions you would come up with, when you spend your time identifying your individual and mutually shared interests, and then developing options for satisfying those interests.

Imagine a healthier town, less stressed out and polarized workplaces and organizations, and less emotionally drained family members. Imagine what that would feel like.

Now imagine it was your community. Your workplace. Your civil or volunteer organization. Your family.

And know that the gap between what you just pictured in your mind’s eye and the present reality you live in can be closed by your decision to make a concerted commitment to legal wellness. It can begin, as so many wonderful initiatives have begun, with one person, or one town, or one company, or one organization or maybe even one family.

Be the one!


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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