Two Volunteer Mediators for DRC share their stories about mediation and it’s effects on both the mediation participants and the mediators.
Mike Gregory’s Story
I have been volunteering with the DRC since 2004. Most of this work is in Ramsey Count court but I have also mediated at community sites, between neighbors, between town home associates and owners and between other groups through the DRC. The DRC presence in Ramsey County court is critical. I typically volunteer twice a month. Mostly I volunteer in Housing Court, but occasionally I volunteer in Conciliation Court. I would like to provide a Housing Court commentary as an example.
A single mom with two kids has a medical emergency. She can’t get to work. She looses two minimum wage jobs. She is behind in rent now two months and she is going to be evicted today. We sit down to mediate. The landlord does not know any of this until we begin the mediation. She is now back to work with two new minimum wage jobs. We set up plan for her to pay her current rent timely and her back rent over several months. She stays in her residence. Her kids stay in the same school. She does not become homeless. She does not have to move into a shelter. The landlord gets paid and has a good tenant. The landlord agrees that if she meets the mediated agreement conditions, he will petition the court to have the unlawful detainer removed from her record. Without mediation this would not have happened. This is extremely rewarding to me. Everybody wins. My term for it… priceless.
Heron Diana’s Story
I mediated for two middle aged gentlemen who were disputing an unpaid bill of almost $2,500. One man was owed the money for work done and the other man felt he was owed an apology for an event that had occurred while the work was being done. The dispute had been going on for over a year. As the sharing of their stories went on, it became clear that each of them was very upset over the break in their friendship; they argued more about the apology than the money.
I believe that sitting across from each other at the table, with a person who did not take sides and who was there only to help them resolve their dispute, allowed them to be present in a way not otherwise possible when they talked. I believe it allowed them a place to tell their story in a more respectful manner.
It takes a certain amount of courage to sit at a table with a neutral person and share a story that pains you. This ‘encouragement’ allows participants not only to share their story, their truth, but also allows them to listen more respectfully to the other story, or truth. This neutral presence creates a safety that also allows emotions to be present at the table. When this safe place is created to share a story, each participant is able to more honestly hear the other’s hurt, betrayal, anger, or shame. There is a sacredness created in sharing one’s story with the person that has hurt you and in realizing that that person is able to listen to you.
In this situation, both men were able to genuinely listen to the other’s story. Each was able to experience how deeply the other man was effected by the discord that came between them. When this break-through happened, each man stood up as if on cue. The man who was owed money apologized to the other. Each of them reached across the table, shook hands warmly and said something to each other that I did not understand. They turned to me and said thank you and made as if to leave. I asked each of them what they wanted to do about the unpaid bill. The man who was owed the money took the bill and tore it in half. “We are finished with this.”
After over one year of increasing tension and anguish, they were able to let go their dispute. In just over one hour, they had, together, worked through and resolved a very painful experience.