On Being Flexible

History in the United States is short and still moving outward. It is still being written as it expands. I knew a couple of my Great Grandmothers growing up. They were born in the late 1800’s. Their parents were alive when Lincoln was President. My Great, Great, Grandfather was alive during the War of 1812. His father saw the birth of our nation.

One of my favorite places to visit is Boston. Not only is it where my son Stuart lives and attends college at Berklee, it is where you can walk into living spaces that played and still play out a roll in the founding of our country. Take Christ’s Church, better known as the Old North Church, for instance. This is where a young twenty-three year-old Episcopal Sexton, named, Robert Newman, had been directed by Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, to climb the tall steeple where he briefly hung two burning lanterns, signaling the direction independence would take. It was by water. Newman climbed a narrow dark stairwell to reach the top. Liberty demands as such. Once the two lanterns were lit, his friends across the Charles River in Lexington and Concord, readied themselves as they knew the British regulars were coming by boat as opposed to marching by land.

It may be an over-simplification, but as I understand it, an argument had arisen between the Crown and its colonial subjects over who would represent the voice of the people. Would it be a distant parliament separated by an ocean or left to the various individual legislatures found in the colonies at that time? The Crown took a hard position because it was powerful and felt it was the best parent for a rebellious child. In fact, Great Britain was the most powerful country at that time. There would be no negotiation. Ben Franklin was sent to England over a period of several years to work a compromise on behalf of the various individual colonies to try to keep the Empire together. After hitting his head against a wall, even he, perhaps one of the greatest minds of the last 400 years, saw the futility of trying to work a solution with the deaf Crown.

What ultimately happened was a revolt. But not in the sense of what has been or would become a revolution as we have seen in other parts of the world. No, it was a revolution of a very slow burn–one, that some would argue, still continues today. Slow was its genius. It gave time for the people to awaken and be touched by the light of liberty that was burning. It gave time to lighten the darkness. This slow-paced revolution continues in our founding document the Constitution. It has the component of Federalism, reserving certain rights to the states. The boundaries are meant to be discussed and constantly shift. It is not meant to be an absolute rigid measuring stick. It’s soft and malleable to avoid breakage. Different people will interpret it differently. There is no black and white. There are checks and balances.

People are born with the potential to make a difference if they involve themselves in the flow of the revolution. It is not the end that matters. It is the progress of the process. What also matters is the need for all sides involved in any conflict to listen. Being inflexible and myopic will eventually lead to being broken and short-sighted. Being flexible and open to new ideas, on the other hand, leads to longevity and creativity. Is there not a lesson to be learned here in our current social climate? Whether it is a stalemate in Washington or a party to a divorce that is being purposefully entrenched, being flexible serves your future and moves you into the realm of what Lawrence Susskind, one of the fathers of modern negotiation, calls the “what ifs” and the “trading zone” where you can create a bright new future for all parties.

Although the lanterns of the night only burned a short while so not to be given away to the enemy, that light is still expanding out into the dark night.

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The Rhythm of Conflict

I enjoy solving conflict. I have always been one those people who other people find when they have an issue they want to discuss and resolve. I can be in a crowded restaurant half-way around the world and the guy that has an issue that can’t quite be figured out will somehow find his way to my table so he can tell me all about it. I’m not put off by this and I do not necessarily seek conflicted situations out in my down time either, but somehow the issues find me. I feel physically and spiritually better when I have helped someone or a group of someones find a solution to a vexing dilemma. I realize life is a two-way street and many of my friends and colleagues have been there for me over the years when I have run into situations that are beyond my powers as a human-being to overcome. I believe that life is about helping each other.

Sometimes conflicts are rather easy to resolve. In fact, most of it relates to just listening, especially to the space in-between the dialogue. A musician understands this concept of the space in-between the notes. Much of it is timing. The right answer will be right at the right time. Right answer but still the wrong time? Then it will still be the wrong answer. Problem solving is very much the art of rhythm. Once you find a problem’s rhythm, the possibility of solution arrives. Possibility is the seed of creativity. In my opinion, great music, at its core, is a composer’s solution to a problem that they were solving.

Others have thought about this and articulated better than me. Here are some thoughts on conflict to consider:

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.”
– Dorothy Thompson

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.”
– Mary Parker Follett

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Just Being Present

There seems to be the thought that being first at something is the preferred method. It is entrenched in our psyches from birth, whether it’s little league sports, being the head of the class or making the most money. It is the pursuit to get ahead at all cost no matter what. You can find it at home, at work, on the ski slopes and on Fox or CNN as you watch certain candidates starting to seek the limelight this new election season.

In this competitive environment it begins to become a type of Machiavellian model–to progress to an end result at any cost, to achieve more knowledge, more power, more this, or more that. Ultimately, by following this model to win at any cost we lose, we lose ourselves. Sometimes taking a breath and doing nothing is the best thing to do. Sometimes going for a walk or getting in your car and taking a scenic drive while listening to Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Chopin, Miles, or Bill Evans is the best thing you can do. But the reality is, is that the people who get this already do this. And most likely the ones that don’t are at this very moment thinking of ways to get on top. Their egos, don’t allow just being there–being in the moment. In my experience, there is no top.

You need that down time, you need to have a place to go and think. If all you are doing is trying to catch up and ultimately win–whatever that is– you will most likely miss the point of what the universe is trying to whisper to you. If you want to see a person and what they stand for you have to understand what it is they are doing when no one is watching them. Hard to do, but for yourself.

Perhaps that’s why there is a Camp David. Perhaps that’s why Lincoln had a cottage that he would ride to about 3 miles North of Washington, D.C. As he rode to that Victorian cottage to find refuge, he would have undoubtedly seen the scores of Union troops encamped for a cause he believed deeply in, a cause to which thousands were dying and would continue to die. Quietly, and by himself, and away from the confusion of the White House he drew up the plans of how to unite a divided country, mourn the death of his son Willie, and dream up the Emancipation Proclamation. He understood the necessity of space and just being there.

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The Debt Crisis–What a Statesman Would Do


I don’t claim to be an expert on the current debt ceiling debate raging in the beltway and now being felt around the world. It is not unlike a hurricane that is brewing off shore with the possibility that a last minute change may spell disaster or relief, depending on several factors, including the unpredictability of chaos. What I do know is that the debt storm brewing, unlike a real hurricane, was man made. It therefore can be unmade. If it had a beginning, it will have an end. One can argue all day about who created it, when it was created, how to change it, or it’s final impact. All those questions, although interesting, won’t change the fact that the winds are starting to pick up outside and those winds are just the precursor of what might be a great storm that devastates many.

The discussions of some in Congress with the weight of rhetoric and ideology are not methods or tools of change, they are the gravitational centers of a polemic mass. They are not helpful as tools of compromise, but are the flags of politicians looking for the votes of the populous or the chance to make a foe look bad regardless of consequence. Populism is great if it is educated. An educated populous should, however, embrace change and the notion that stress and crisis are necessary for growth. You can paint yourself into a corner very quickly with the brush of ideology. When you are drawing lines, you ought look at what’s behind you.

Good decisions are not made for the masses when extreme polarity is at play. This is especially true when the environment is ever changing. When trying to solve an issue, you need to have as many options available as possible so you are not limited lest you cause the brewing storm to cause more damage.

When 9/11 occurred it was unexpected. There were perhaps signs, but the manner and way it occurred was unexpected. It caused overwhelming pain and destruction. Families and individuals were ripped apart in ways that will never completely heal. It also initially caused financial upheaval. The turmoil was unplanned, unnecessary and unwanted by rational human beings. One of the goals of the terrorists who planned and carried out the plot was to hurt us at our financial center or core. They failed. The economy was strong enough to take the impact and a taller building is rising. Though that storm was unplanned, we survived and rebuilt.

Now, ten years later, a financial storm of perhaps greater proportion may soon befall us if elected men and women do not step forward as statesmen, put aside politics and forego the stale and corrupt immovability of polemic ideology. Is it not ironic that this storm is our own creation? No one else caused this but ourselves. We will be responsible for the damage. Did we not elect the officials that are making the decisions? We apparently like the reality we created. We elect and we watch. It’s like Rome in a coliseum. The problem is, however, we will be the ones that get hurt. We are both the gladiator and the slave.

The other fascinating point is that we have been here before. Debt as a percentage of GDP has been higher in the United States. World War II saw higher debt when compared with GDP. However, the stakes now feel higher. For over a 140 years the United States has been the world’s biggest economy and has made the rules for the rest of the world when it comes to commerce. The rest of the world knows this. China knows this. Maybe we are tired of being number one. Being number one has advantages but so does being number two. Perhaps it is less stressful. Perhaps we want to draft off others in the future as they have done. That debate will inevitably arise more focused as China’s economy gains momentum and influence, and possibly overtakes the US in about 20 years. For now, we have a storm to attend to in D.C.

What is needed are people brave enough to see the future as one of possibility and growth. The keys or tools to solve the problem are also the keys of opportunity. These tools to work solutions are relatively simple but it will take calm and self disciplined people to either change course or prepare for the impact. I hope they start soon if they have not already. It may even storm for a while so remaining calm is even more necessary.

Here are some ideas: Place the leaders of the various factions into small groups. Put opposites in the same room. Bring in facilitators, mediators or peacemakers if necessary. Allow these many smaller groups to handle just one of the issues each. Allow them to hear each others positions informally and to actively listen i.e. “What I hear you saying is you don’t want to have to pay for something unless you can afford it.” “What you want is for people to have a job at a company that is not over taxed so it can hire.” etc. These small groups will hopefully build new personal relationships. Let them come up with creative solutions. People are real when they are one on one. They are not when they are 60 vs 225 vs 210 vs 100.

Next idea: Sometimes you have to sacrifice to finish a deal. Sometimes you have to make concessions to make a deal work. It is not perfect, but at least it allows for there to be momentum. If one side gives a little then perhaps the other side will as well. What’s the alternative? Civil discord or perhaps worse. Politics is by it’s nature a short term project. It yields little long term gain. It is thunder without the rain. Statesmanship, on the other hand, is long term and forward thinking. It knows, for the good of others, tough decisions are made for the future. It does not seek to gain another majority in a few months or to create more argument to justify itself. A fool speaks without meaning. A statesman speaks with authenticity and heart. In the next election perhaps we ought to elect statesmen, not fools. One of our best thinkers, Benjamin Franklin, offered this advise to his fellow statesmen on compromise: Be willing to sacrifice, not your principals, but your overwhelming urge to be right. It’s a republic if we can keep it.

Trust, open options, future looking, and the ability to concede when necessary to continue are the keys to the dilemma we face. The deal will not be done by having separate press conferences or by signing a pledge. It’s “We the People.” Just because you can tie yourself up, should you? What if you need those hands because an unexpected fire starts and you need to pour water on it? The deal will be done by true gentlemen and gentlewomen of intellect and heart placed in small groups across small tables. They will needs their hands in order to shake the hands of each other when the deal is finally done.

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Litigation as a Last Resort

“The litigious spirit is more often found with ignorance than with knowledge of law.” -Cicero

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser–in fees, expenses and waste of time.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The entire legal profession–lawyers, judges, law professors–has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers of conflicts. For many claims, trials by adversarial contests must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood. Our system is too costly, too painful, too destructive, and too inefficient for a truly civilized people.” -Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

I litigated for 20 years. I began implementing mediation into my practice in the late 90’s as an alternative to the shortcomings I perceived in the courtroom. To me, truth and justice came up short many times even if there was a so-called win. Don’t get me wrong, litigation does have its place and time. Mediation is not always preferable to litigation. Litigation is a good place for those who won’t listen and need to be held accountable. It also tends to level the playing field where a party may be unreasonable. This is why we have the black robes.

My point is this: Litiagtion should be a last resort. Based upon my experience and that of many of my collegues it is usually expensive, overly time consuming, a waste of valuable resources, debilitating and flawed. You have little control over the outcome. Mediation, on the otherhand, tends to be less expensive, less overwhelming and produces more creative outcomes that can benefit all the parties involved.

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Mediation and the Art of Listening

Several years ago I ran across a great article in the Wyoming Lawyer, Negotiating With Native American Wisdom. I’ve never met the author, Joe Epstein, but I know literally and figuratively what he means by traveling the “red road.” I recommend this article to anyone interested in mediation and the art of listening. Here’s a link to the article:  https://www.wyomingbar.org/bar_journal/article.html?id=109&lt

 

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BE RESOLVED TODAY

Welcome to Intermountain Mediation Center.  We understand you are unique and that your issue deserves unique attention.  We are trained to get your problem resolved effectively, creatively and responsibly.  We have over 20 years of experience in divorce, personal injury, medical malpractice, real estate, wills and trusts and employment disputes.  

You will find our pricing to be reasonable and affordable.  Many conflicts are resolved in day or even a half-day sessions.   You may simply call us at (801) 424-3451 for more information. Move beyond your conflict and move on with your life.

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