It happened decades ago, but I remember it vividly. At the time, my husband and I lived in another state and had a more urban lifestyle. We were fairly self-involved, as I recall. He might see it differently, but it felt that way to me. We were definitely far less connected with neighborhood and community than we are now.
Desiring to change that, and in a spur-of-the-moment response to a newspaper article about a community-based, dispute-resolution program, I decided to train to become a volunteer mediator. It was one of those "shucks, why not?" moments. I didn't see a lot of situational conflict around me, but the idea of being ready if it did surface was appealing.
I may have been prompted by our well-intentioned neighbor who, without any discussion, "topped off" the tree in our adjoining backyards in a manner that left us wide-eyed and a little uneasy about what he might do next. And there was that hard-to-pin-down rumor that teenagers in the adjacent block were forming a rock band and would be practicing in their parents' garage.
So, I initiated three weekend sessions of full-day trainings in mediation and received an introduction to simple, effective communication tools that are with me to this day. There were more than a few "wow" moments in that training. I came away with an improved ability to wade into work-related conflicts and come out the other side without getting stuck. I also fondly recall helping address a disagreement between our college-bound children, using techniques I would not have previously considered. In that instance, I think I just listened — more actively.
By definition, mediation is an informal way for people to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral individual trained to assist people in talking about differences. The mediator doesn't decide who's right or wrong, or decree a solution. Instead, the mediator helps the involved parties collectively develop solutions in a manner that meets their own unique needs. In my mediation experience (in my training we were required to put newly acquired skills to work in a variety of community settings outside our own situations), I helped facilitate a discussion between two families angry about a barking dog. They came into the room red-faced, spitting profanities and refusing to even look at one another. They left two hours later, smiling, arm in arm, saying they were "going out to have to have a glass of wine together." It was like a small miracle.
I welcome miracles in my life, and in recent months I have wanted to refresh my understanding of the power in these approaches, so I arranged for "Mediation Works" to do an evening presentation.
Mediation Works (www.mediation-works.org) is a local nonprofit organization that "empowers individuals and organizations to resolve their differences peacefully."
Their experienced mediators teach conflict-resolution skills and "provide mediation services with the goal of building understanding and respect across our diverse community."
I predict it will be an evening in which you'll learn a few unexpectedly simple tools you can put to immediate and effective use.
The session is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 9, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road. Call 541-776-7371 to register, or just show up. The cost is $7.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.