Monday, July 5, 2010

Transitioning from Blog Posts to Articles

Three years ago I started this blog with the intention of meaningfully considering important issues in mediation, particularly those affecting the professional mediator. While posts became fewer in number as each year passed, I believe the words that were written here contributed new thoughts and critiques to the field of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution).

The reality, however, is that I could not sustain the quality of introspection and writing that I wanted to achieve. To do so in blog format became too great a challenge since blogs require frequent contributions and my style and interest in writing on various mediation topics did not coincide with that format.

It is therefore time now to shift things from the forum of a blog to one of written articles for the Noah Mediation Website. I will be re-posting the majority of articles from this blog on the Noah Mediation Website in additional to contributing new articles, particularly for potential clients. While I sustain a insatiable interest in the professional aspects of mediation, I also have seen a tremendous need on the part of clients to learn more about mediation from a non-mediator participant perspective.

So while Pronoia Mediation will soon cease to exist, I will continue to contribute thought-provoking articles about mediation. Please consider one of the following ways in which to continue reading articles written by me:

1. If you are on Facebook you can become a "fan" of Noah Mediation Services and receive articles on your FB homepage as they are posted. Here is the link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oak-Park-IL/Noah-Mediation-Services/39987777530

2. If you would like articles emailed directly to you, please send an email to "toread@noahmediation.com" and ask to subscribe and you will be put on the email list.

3. Check Noah Mediation Services website at www.noahmediation.com directly for updated articles.

For those of you who have followed Pronoia Mediation, I thank you for your interest and support.
Laura L. Noah

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Response to "A More Perfect Union" which ran in the New York Times Magazine

Married (Happily) With Issues or A More Perfect Union, was published in the New York Times Magazine on December 1, 2009. Here is my response.

As a mediator experienced working with families in the midst of crisis and relationship dissolution, I have long encouraged the use of mediation in a more preventative way. Unfortunately, for the many reasons Weil outlined, particularly the fear that “[it] carries not only the threat of learning things about yourself that you might prefer not to know but also the hazard of saying things to your spouse that are better left unsaid” (p.42) most people wait until the point of crisis to get help; a point at which they have already said many hurtful things to one another which cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Mediation as a preventative measure may be a more manageable option for some couples than therapy, since facilitative mediation has at its foundation a practical, problem-solving approach. Weil states about her marriage to Dan: “we never discussed, or considered discussing, why we were getting married or what a good marriage would mean” (p.38). This is true for most couples. Couples with different, un-communicated expectations regarding marriage, children, careers, retirement and many other important issues in the course of a life together, will inevitably build resentment toward one another over time. Thinking that love is the great equalizer, although idealistic, is unrealistic. Love does not ensure that we want the same things or expect the same things from our partners. Therapy delves into emotions while mediation deals with life’s practicalities. Both processes are important to creating a more perfect union, but depending on the couple, one process might create “the capacity to allow spouses to keep growing, to afford them the strength and bravery required to face the world” (p. 52) better than the other.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Youth Sports & Adult Violence: What will it take for communities to use the field of conflict resolution as a preventative resource?

One adult physically beat another adult at a youth football practice in Wilmington, Massachusetts this past weekend. There’s commentary in the papers regarding what might have actually happened leading to the fight and who actually threw the first punch. I don’t care about what happened. I care that it did happen. And it’s happened before. Fortunately, this time no one died. Others have died: Michael Costin, for example, in 2002. If we’re waiting to dissect the particulars of how or why these incidents occur, then we’re already too late, and frankly, it’ll happen again. It will keep happening, in fact.

Simply put, when individuals and institutions don’t have the skills and training in conflict de-escalation then conflict often escalates. When healthy conflict resolution isn’t part of a given culture then conflict often escalates.

Here’s what I suggest we do to prevent violent incidents from occurring in our communities in relation to youth sports (and as a mediator by profession, I’m stepping outside my role a bit by actually making suggestions).
  1. The individual or individuals who are administrating the youth program attend a basic conflict resolution or mediation course as soon as possible to be able to identify and address conflict before it escalates and to be able to work toward developing conflict resolution mechanisms for their youth sports programs.
  2. A mandatory conflict resolution training program be developed and administered for all youth coaches.
  3. A mandatory conflict resolution training program be developed and administered for all youth referees.
  4. An optional (yet strongly encouraged) conflict resolution training program be developed and administered for parents of youth involved in sports.
  5. Develop a process for coaches, players, parents and/or referees to file grievances about coaches, players, parents and/or referees and have those grievances addressed. This could include a mediation program. (I have developed mediation programs that cost virtually nothing and are run by volunteers, so it is possible to do this on the cheap with enough local support and investment.).
  6. Parents sign a “conflict resolution” agreement in order for their children to participate in a given sport. This would commit parents to a culture of healthy conflict resolution and it would make parents accountable to one another, to the young people, and to the youth sports program at large.
  7. At the start of each season, someone trained in conflict resolution (and this could be a coach and/or administrator and/or parent) spend a few minutes at practice with each team discussing and role-playing healthy conflict resolution skills.
  8. If team conflict is affecting a team’s performance, bring in someone trained in multi-party dispute resolution that has experience with sports teams to mediate (or have a framework where the coach could mediate if he/she has been trained in mediation).
In sports, I realize credentials are important so here are mine: I’ve been coaching sports (primarily soccer and some basketball) on and off since I was a teenager. I’ve coached various youth teams and I’ve coached division three college women’s soccer. I started playing soccer when I was in kindergarten and was on many winning teams, including our high school soccer team that were state semi-finalists my senior year. I was the captain of both my soccer and basketball teams my senior year in high school. I played soccer at Kenyon College for four years and received various awards during that time including team MVP my sophomore and senior years and the First Team All Conference NCAC All Star team my senior year. I focused my Master of Arts degree final project in dispute resolution on conflicts in sports.

It’s too easy to excuse violence connected to youth sports as isolated “freak” incidents that could never happen here. There is research that collects data regarding such incidents and breaks it down. Yet it’s too easy to take that information and use it to dismiss the possibility that it could ever happen in our community. It can, and it has, and there are things that can be done to prevent it from occurring.

For more information: http://www.noahmediation.com/Conflict_in_Sports.html.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Young and the Restless: Did Mediation Work for Billy and Chloe?

Billy and Chloe are a young married couple on The Young and the Restless who have a child and who are going through a divorce. They decide to try mediation. The mediator, a Ms. Dalton, dresses in a power suit and works out of an impressive office furnished in thick, dark wood. Episodes which aired on August 26 and 27, 2009 reveal mediation as a positive option for Billy and Chloe who wish to divorce amicably. Toward the end, however, just as they've reached a full agreement and are set to sign the final paperwork, everything appears to fall apart. Through a series of frowns and pensive stares, all signs indicate that their efforts in mediation may be foiled by strong emotions and doubts about whether or not they're doing the right thing by splitting up.

A family member who watches the show told me about the role mediation was playing in Billy and Chloe's divorce and I immediately screened the relevant episodes online. They're quick; snapshots clipped between ever more powerful drama. You don't see much of the mediator who mostly appears in the background and says virtually nothing. Yet the very fact that mediation is playing a role in a daytime T.V. divorce, if even briefly, indicates an important turning point for the field of mediation. If daytime soaps are sending conflictual couples to mediation, then perhaps more and more couples will self-select mediation rather than have it forced upon them by a judge; mediation as a mutual choice being the most effective.

I could pick apart the ways in which The Young and the Restless got it wrong (mediation doesn't look like that!) but instead I choose to focus on what the show did right. Mediation is a viable option for couples, and if it can work for Billy and Chloe -- they ultimately signed the mediated agreement -- then that illustrates how well it can work for regular folks too.

Photo borrowed from www.soapoperadigest.com.

Free Mediation Informational Session

Attend a free mediation informational session on Thursday, September 17, 2009 at the Oak Park Public Library. The presentation will focus on common disputes experienced within families. Topics include separation, divorce, custody & visitation for married, divorced, never-married and LGBT couples. This session is for people experiencing family conflict who want to better understand mediation as an option for resolving their dispute/s.

September 17, 2009
Oak Park Public Library, Main Branch
834 Lake Street
Oak Park, IL
2nd Floor, Small Meeting Room
6:00-7:30PM

  • Learn about the mediation process.
  • Understand when mediation is required in Illinois.
  • Understand the difference between a private mediator and a court mediator and the options you may have with each.
  • Learn how to find, screen and select a private mediator.
  • Learn some basic tools to prepare to negotiate common disputes in mediation.
  • Q & A.

Noah Mediation Services DOES NOT provide legal services. No legal advice will be given. This presentation will focus on general topics and not on specific disputes of individual attendees.

This session is for people experiencing family conflict who want to better understand mediation as an option for resolving their dispute/s. While attorneys, therapists, mediators and other professionals are welcome to attend, the primary focus of the presentation will be geared toward those currently experiencing conflict and those wishing to prevent future conflict within their family.

The presentation may vary depending on the number of attendees. While drop-ins will not be turned away, please help out by registering for the free informational session in advance. Send email to: info@noahmediation.com.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Soldiers and Suicide: can mediation help?

Soldiers have been returning from war physically unharmed for decades, only to die by their own hand weeks, months or even years after coming home. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have perpetuated this no differently. Military specialists try to understand why this happens and then offer some, often unsatisfactory, explanation to grieving families. Mental health professionals look to sometimes undiagnosed (or ignored) preexisting mental health conditions in suicidal soldiers as having provided a warning system. Others look to war trauma, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, as the cause. Yet all of this looks at suicide after the fact, not before it happens.

In today's New York Times, a cover article by Erica Goode ("After combat, Victims of an Inner War") focuses on a particular group of soldiers from the 141st, who suffered four suicides upon returning home from Iraq. The unit experienced the death of two friends and colleagues just two weeks before they were to go home which some claim to have precipitated the suicides of the other four. The article also mentions that there had been impending divorce and/or claims of domestic disputes involving all four of the soldiers who committed suicide. In fact, at least one soldier -- who was in the midst of stressful divorce proceeding with a different woman with whom he had a child -- shot himself in the presence of his girlfriend in their home.

All of this leads to the question: can mediation help?

Mediation has long been a process used most frequently during the point at which conflict has already escalated. Yet there are those, myself included, who have advocated for the use of mediation in a more preventative way. In fact, like couple's therapy, mediation has the potential to avert irreconcilable breakdowns in relationships. The key shift that needs to occur, particularly with such a high stress population as soldiers returning home from war, is educating parties about the positive uses of mediation before things escalate.

One of the most frequent refrains involving the epidemic of suicidal soldiers is that most soldiers, by nature, don't seek help. In general, they tend to be more private and individualistic, thus relying on their own internal resources to get through stress and trauma. Preventative, facilitative mediation, then, might be the perfect process for this demographic. A focus on practical discussions and solutions with a key emphasis on self-determination could allow soldiers and their significant others a space in which to negotiate things before one leaves for war; or better yet, before one leaves for basic training. The military could make mediation mandatory for all soldiers, not just for those with husbands or wives. Such a process could be equally beneficial between the 18-year-old soldier and his or her parents as between the soldier-wife and her spouse. Married couples could negotiate means and frequency of contact between them and/or between a soldier and his or her children; something that would equally benefit soldiers who are separated or divorced from relationships involving children. The 18-year-old soldier and her parents could create a plan whereas the parents keep in contact with her friends, so as to ensure ongoing connection and support within her community.

There are countless possibilities of what could be discussed and addressed, plans that could be put in place in advance of combat, so soldiers could experience enduring connection to loved ones and so that those connections would have the greatest chance of sustainability upon a soldier's return. Mediation could take place via telephone, video conferencing or online chat during a soldier's tour of duty, to include negotiations regarding the school a child will attend that fall, for example, or when and how to celebrate a significant birthday, holiday or anniversary. Follow-up mediation could be required as part of re-entry after combat.

I suggest these steps not in place of therapy, but ideally in conjunction with therapy and/or for those soldiers who are distrustful of, or too proud for, therapy as a process. Culturally speaking, Americans have a tendency to wait until things have escalated before creating steps toward positive intervention. Mediation is just one of many measures that could be taken from a preventative standpoint for the well being of our soldiers and their families.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The United States' Ugly Divorce ... and the remarriage to follow

I haven't written in a while; since May to be exact. There's been stuff. Personal. Professional. Malaise has set in. A funk. I'd been blaming it on that "stuff," but now I have a more layered theory. You see, I'm not the only one with it. I'm not the only one who is distracted, maybe a little less energetic than usual, maybe a bit mopey, perhaps even pessimistic. Nope. There's a collective energy in the United States and it's down in the dumps.

I believe it has to do at least in part with our country's marriage to W. After 8 long years of marriage, now we're in the midst of a messy separation. Our housing is getting pulled out from under us. Our money is disappearing. Just when we thought it couldn't possibly get any uglier, our boss lays us off.

The thing is, though -- and what truly concerns me most -- is that we're already looking to a new spouse/partner/lover/significant other to save us; to make it all better. Regardless of our political preference, both candidates have been elevated to savior-like status relative to fixing the current state of funk in the United States. For many voters, there's that belief that once a new president is in place (i.e.: the divorce has been finalized), the malaise will be lifted, order restored, and money will be back in our pockets. I think this hope is particularly true in regard to those of us who are voting for Obama. In fact, many are outright afraid of the potential state of things to come if he is not elected.

Yet what if he is elected? The remarriage will be quick, instantaneous in fact, as the divorce from W. in January is finalized and Obama is sworn in just moments later. Remember, this has been an ugly, ugly separation. We've lost money, housing, and our pride, not to mention important friendships or friendly relations with other countries. I think many of us believe that the new marriage will make it all better. Yet it doesn't work that way. Any professional in the field of divorce knows that people are bound to repeat old patterns in new relationships, particularly if they re-marry quickly on the heels of a fresh -- and ugly -- divorce.

So we need to do ourselves and the new president a favor. We need to dig deep and consider what WE may have contributed to the current state of things in this country. Okay, yeah, sure W. certainly messed up a whole heck of a lot but didn't we make individual choices along the way? Any marriage is based on dynamics and patterns of interaction. Everyone brings baggage into that. How can we prevent that baggage from carrying over into the new presidency? If we don't consider this, we're bound to repeat at least some of the same mistakes we made in our last marriage. We did make choices. We can't pretend we didn't.

So let's remain hopeful about the positive ways in which a new president could lift this country, yet let's also take control of our own destiny. Yeah, there's "stuff" happening. It's hard to fight the funk right now. But neither Obama, nor McCain, could ever do it alone. We all want to feel better, but first we need to take a close look at the individual choices we've made that got us here. Then we need to put on our dancing shoes, our funky (rather than funk) music, with a smile and a nod for every single neighbor, family member, friend, and stranger who crosses our path because sometimes doing happy is the only way to make it be.

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