Category Archives: Posts

When You’re Sure You’re Right

By Janet M. Powers

In this time of cultural polarization, we hear people on all sides of the political spectrum ranting about the opposition, blaming each other and threatening dire consequences. Even those with human rights on their side may believe so strongly that they occupy the moral high ground that they lose sight of those struggling on the plains below. Rushing to judgment is usually a mistake, no matter how justified the action.

One thing emphasized again and again in mediation is the importance of hearing all sides of a dispute. Indeed, mediators bend over backwards to silence interruptions so that a full story can be told by each party to the conflict. Often, in the telling, disputants hear unexpected explanations for actions or opinions, points that they had previously opposed or brushed aside. Hearing these can result in an “aha” moment for the parties.

Taking time to listen to an opponent’s story is frequently a discovery key, a crucial way of finding solutions to the problem. Silencing voices of opposition has the opposite effect, leading to anger, frustration, and an urge to retaliate. The feeling that nobody is listening or paying attention to the problems that you struggle with can be more than painful. We have begun to understand that it has given rise to a deeply-divided nation.

Being heard is an important need for virtually everyone, whether adult or child, business owner or customer, office-holder or constituents. A healthy family is one that periodically has family meetings where everyone has a voice. The wise boss is one who takes time to consider whether everyone’s needs have been met before making a decision. Human-right advocates need to understand fully why some people oppose proposed changes before pushing them through.

In a mediation, even when both sides have found common ground and agreed to potential solutions, the mediator pauses to ask the disputants whether they have anything more to add. “Do you have any other concerns?” is a common question. Usually, neither has anything more to say, but sometimes a disputant says, “Well, yes, there is one more thing.” The mediator, thinking the session was over, may inwardly groan, but he/she knows that a good agreement is not a speedy one. A good agreement is one that results from giving every concern a chance to breathe.

As a mediator, I confess to confusing my roles as representative of MSAC and that of private citizen. Mediation by letter-to-the-editor is probably not a good strategy. The risks of being misunderstood or misrepresenting one’s organization are great. Yet so strongly do I believe in the principles of mediation that I hope to see them constantly at work in our governing councils as well as our media and daily lives. While that may be too much to expect, mindful listening offers an ideal to strive for and a way of easing the pressure valve of an overheated society.

Life While “The Times They Are A-Changin’”

By Mary Kay Turner

The word unprecedented has become a frequent reminder of the changes in our lives because of the new public health crisis, COVID-19. The virus came to the United States on January 20; soon there were “hot spots” in Washington, California, and spreading.  Now in the US over 2,500,000 people have been infected, and 150,000-plus people have died from COVID-19.

Many active healthy people, including first responders, health care workers, and children are included in these statistics. These numbers do not tell us about the suffering of individuals and families who have lived with and lost loved ones to very contagious COVID-19. All of our lives changed due to shelter-in-place orders that have kept most people safe from this novel virus that scientists are working hard to understand. Closing schools brought many challenges, as teachers, students, and parents learned to use their social media skills for education. Many people began to work from home and communicate using various social media platforms.

While we were dealing with COVID-19, we saw some terrible acts of racism, another public health crisis. We saw in graphic detail what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more people of color who were killed while they were paying bills, sleeping, and jogging. In these and more situations we learned that people of color must also deal with facing deaths of loved ones engaged in normal daily activities.

We learned about Juneteenth, celebrated as African American Emancipation Day, commemorating June 19, 1865, 2½ years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. General Granger read this proclamation in Galveston, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”

We also learned about the May 31-June 1, 1921, Greenwood Massacre, where mobs of white residents attacked black residents, homes, and businesses, destroying more than 35 square blocks of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK. This trauma was hidden until 1996 when the legislature authorized the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The 2001 report confirmed 36 people died, with overall estimates from 100–300 people dead.  More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, about 10,000 black residents were left homeless, and up to 6,000 black residents were interned at large facilities, many for days.

We are learning about the black and white Americas, where for centuries black residents have been excluded from attaining a good education, learning skills, acquiring decent jobs, buying homes where they want to live and more—only because of the color of their skin, while white residents enjoy those and many more privileges.  We have learned that the experience of “driving while black” is often very different from, and more dangerous than “driving while white.”

We learn that life isn’t “all about me.”  We wear face masks to show mutual respect and keep everyone safe. We’re listening to painful experiences of discrimination and institutional racism. We begin to understand more about challenges our neighbors face, and we become more compassionate. Let us commit ourselves to work together and create equal opportunities for all people in the beloved community!

For more information about Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC), call 717-334-7312, visit mediateadams.org, or email mediationac@yahoo.com.  Call to talk about getting help to resolve conflicts with family members, neighbors, landlords, etc. Fees are reasonable, based on income.  Through September 30, 2020, we will offer mediation on Zoom.

Just “Humane” Nature

By Janet McNeal

As a child I lived in true poverty.  I remember one time opening the door on the kitchen cupboard and the ONLY item in there was a partial bag of oyster crackers.  You know, the little hexagon shaped crackers that came in a paper bag with a glassine window in the front.  They were meant to be eaten in soup, or more accurately, oyster stew.

I love to cook, and even as a child did most of the cooking in my family.  But this was a real challenge.  I looked at the bag and wondered, how could that possibly feed seven hungry children and their mother?  Even worse, there was no prospect on the horizon for anything more coming our way that day, or the next, or even the day after that.

I am a bit of a logical, analytical thinker and did what any logical, analytical person would do.  I dumped the contents onto a baking sheet and counted all the little crackers.  I then divided it by eight to decide how many crackers each person would get.

Then I thought, but wait, Mom is a grown up and needs more food than the much smaller baby.  Do I distribute them based on the size and age of the person?  Or do I give everyone exactly the same number?  What do I do with the remainder since the division didn’t come out exactly even?  Should I give everyone a half portion to ensure we eat tomorrow? What should I do?

Since I am writing this article, it is obvious I did not starve.  The reason we did not perish was the kindness and generosity of the people around us; some were strangers and some were friends.  Back in the 60’s when this happened, most people were poor; at least by today’s standards. Thankfully, people came to our house and brought food, and milk for the baby.  One family in particular still stands out in my mind for their generosity because they had scarcely more than we did.  Yet they gave of their meager resources to help us.

As I write this we are several weeks into the great COVID-19 crisis.  On Marketplace this morning I saw single rolls of toilet paper being offered for sale at $10 or more per roll.  Multipacks were posted for anyplace between $75 and $150 per pack.  Some were listed as “1/2 price sales” at $75 and “markdowns” from $99 or more.  Grocery store shelves were empty and these brazen, greedy profiteers were exploiting the crisis.

I complained to a friend who defended it as just “human” nature.  If that is human nature, I think we need to start embracing “humane” nature.

As appalling as this conduct is, it is far too common.  Often, two parties are in conflict or at an impasse; one thinks they deserve “it all” and the other doesn’t know how to get their fair share.  That is where mediation comes in.  Mediation Services of Adams County has certified volunteer mediators ready, willing and able to provide mediation and conflict resolution services.  Find out more at mediateadams.org or call 717-334-7312.

 

 

March Means Mediation Opportunities

By Maggie Baldwin

Mediation strives to find an action plan for parties who are working through conflict.  When done thoroughly, the mediation process provides not only an action plan for the participants, but also new skills in which to better communicate moving forward.

Perry Smith in his book Rules and Tools for Leaders listed Squinting with the Ears as one of the fundamentals to leading.  That imagery has always resonated with me.  Imagine someone listening to me so intently that they are squinting their ears to hear me!  They are not only listening to what I am saying, but they are listening for what I am NOT saying.  They are watching my body language and my facial expressions.  They hear my tone and can feel my emotion.  They are summarizing what they are hearing – to be sure they heard correctly.  AND, they are open to hearing what I have to say, even if they do not agree with it.  After a conversation like that, I feel as if my voice really does matter and that I was heard.

In a successful mediation, those skills are used in many ways.  One can see why this kind of “conducted” conversation may be helpful to those in conflict.  Mediation becomes an opportunity for all participants to become better communicators because of the experience.  Becoming a mediator, or at least being trained as a mediator, is an opportunity to learn more about this communication style and how to implement this skill into daily conversations.

Fortunately for our community, Mediation Services of Adams County provides this training on an annual or as needed basis.  The training is designed to prepare individuals to be mediators – a neutral third-party who demonstrates these effective listening skills and encourages the participants to do so as well.

Mediators also act as coaches.  If someone is having difficulty in a relationship of any kind, but one or both of the parties is not ready for mediation, a coach can be helpful.  Coaches teach these communication skills and help the participant think through the situation from the other person’s perspective to anticipate and prepare for possible outcomes of a conversation.

If you feel that this type of training would be helpful to you either professionally, personally, or both, please consider the upcoming Mediation Training being held on March 13-14 and 20-21 at the Methodist Church, High Street, in Gettysburg.   The course will meet Fridays from 5-9 PM and Saturdays from 9 AM to 5 PM under the direction of Ely Cleaver, retired mediator for the federal government, Department of Agriculture.  MSAC will provide twenty (20) Continuing Legal Education credits under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators for attorneys who attend.

For more information, call the MSAC Help Line at 717-334-7312.  Further materials and registration forms are available on the MSAC website: www.mediateadams.org

As a trained mediator, I have seen the peace that these skills can provide for individuals and the common ground that can be found by teaching people how to squint with their ears.  Can you imagine a world in which we all could listen so intently?

Tossing in the Red Flag

By Rev. Lynn Cairns

By the time you read this, Super Bowl LIV will be history and San Francisco or Kansas City will be flying high.  I can hardly believe the changes that have occurred in the sport in my lifetime.  For an interesting look at the past, Google “pictures of President Gerald Ford in a football uniform.”  How did they survive in those helmets, which were mostly leather material, and with no face masks for protection?  However, uniforms are not the only changes.  Many new rules have been introduced to protect the players, and particularly quarterbacks, from aggressive hits from opponents.

Most interesting to me are the new uses of technology to review plays and calls by the referees.  All scoring plays can be reviewed.  Just because the referee blows the whistle and makes a call, doesn’t mean it is final.  Controversial calls by the referees can be challenged by the head coach.  Each coach has two challenges per game, and a challenge to the referee’s call can be initiated by tossing in the red flag from the sidelines. The play is then reviewed by an “impartial team in New York” and then a final decision is relayed back to the officials on the field. Overturning these calls in the final stages of the game can potentially change the outcome of the final score.

We as human beings in the “contact sport of life” often get into arguments and disputes about how others are “playing the game” of life with us. One of our teammates may blow the “referee’s whistle” on us, claiming a violation of expected conduct.  Unfortunately, we do not have the availability of instant replay to review those controversial encounters, but we can “toss in the red flag” to have those disputes mediated by Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC).

In football, both sides agree to abide by the rules and outcome of video review of the play. In mediation, both sides agree to sit down with a trained professional mediator to review the disagreement, discuss it and work toward a mutually agreed upon resolution.  This approach is most often more efficient in terms of time and money.  In addition, such solutions can leave the disputants agreeably disposed toward one another as opposed to a long, drawn-out court fight.

Mediation Services of Adams County has well trained and certified volunteer mediators ready, willing and able to provide the conflict resolution services that enable participants to get on with the game of life.

MSAC will be hosting a 22-hour training event, March 13-14 and 20-21, for individuals who would like to be introduced to conflict resolution skills that can be used in life situations. Non-profit organizations and human-service agencies should also consider the benefits of having at least one mediation-trained staff member on board.

If you hear the whistle of a presumed violation in the commerce of life, and If you would like to toss in the mediation flag for resolution of a conflict, or be trained in mediation skills, contact us at 717-334-7312 or find out more by visiting the MSAC website: www.mediateadams.org

WHY EVERYONE NEEDS MEDIATION SKILLS

By Jan Powers

Every year, Mediation Services of Adams County offers training in conflict resolution skills.  Many people take the workshop because they want to use those skills in a workplace setting. But what do they learn in that workshop that makes it so important for their daily lives?

To begin with, the first third of the workshop is concerned solely with communication.  Why is communication so crucial to conflict resolution? It may be a no-brainer, but learning how to listen and respond is much harder than it sounds.  For starters, we don’t interrupt or even tolerate interruption by the other party. We learn to pay attention to body language and tone of voice, but we also practice listening with appreciative responses: in a way that will encourage others to feel comfortable talking about their problems. Or if a person is angry, we learn how to create calm and elicit a more thoughtful approach.

Mediators need to use these techniques with two different individuals (or more, if it’s a multi-party situation) at the same time. One party may be close-mouthed, while the other is sucking up all the air in the room. A mediator must encourage both individuals to feel they are presenting themselves in their best light. Sometimes that means asking key questions.  Other times, it means reassuring each individual that he or she is being helpful or generous in sharing information.

Mediators learn to deal with all kinds of personalities: the talkative one, the bully, the shy person, the storyteller, the attention-getter, the oddball, the shark, the jokester or the know-it-all.  They learn ways of de-fusing difficult situations if emotions get out of hand. Identifying key issues behind a lot of words and bluster is also a skill that mediators learn. Helping disputants to recognize common ground is one of the most important aspects of conflict resolution.

These skills are really essential for everyone, although most of us have not mastered them. Anyone who  facilitates meetings where varied opinions emerge will benefit from learning mediation skills. Teachers and professors who deal with a spectrum of classroom personalities could learn a lot from mediation training. Those workplace skills are beneficial to human resource personnel but also for anyone who deals with job issues.  We haven’t even mentioned families, but all of us face difficult situations daily and at the holiday dinner table, especially in the last few years.

In December, I twice used my mediations skills in organizational settings when holiday stress and misunderstanding brought on threats of resignation. In one case, an apology and asking everyone to think things through brought us out happily on the other side. In the other, the situation was resolved by coming up with a third option that appealed to everyone.

Stay tuned for further announcement of a spring mediation training that will put these skills in your hands. In the meantime, if you have a conflict and need help in resolving it, call our MSAC help line at 717-334-7312.  We also offer Conflict Coaching if you find yourself in a difficult organizational bind.

COMMUNICATE BETTER FOR THE HOLIDAYS

By Mary Kay Turner

Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are wonderful and busy times for most people.  There are many tasks to accomplish and lots of expectations, so it can also be a very stressful time.  What can we do to reduce the stress in our lives during this time?  Effective communication can help.

Two attitudes that are essential in good communication are respect for other people and interest in what they have to say.  The best way to show love and respect is by listening so you understand what another person is saying and asking for clarification to be sure you understand. Sometimes people are so focused on what they are doing that they don’t see what is happening in the life of a spouse, family member, or friend.  It can even happen that someone takes family members “for granted” and treats them with less respect than would be given to someone not as close.  Remember that it is always best to treat all people, especially those closest to you, the way you like to be treated.

If you are feeling stressed, it is important for you to tell your family members that you are feeling stressed and can use some help.  It is good to ask for help with specific tasks.  At Thanksgiving I was enjoying visiting with my adult children and wasn’t getting food prepared on schedule.  I had mixed and kneaded bread dough so I showed my daughter and son how I shape rolls and asked them to do it.  They worked together and put them in the pan ready to rise.  They also peeled and cut the potatoes and put them into the pan to boil.  I washed the sweet potatoes and my daughter cut them to be roasted.  By working together we got dinner ready by the time our guests arrived.

If you are on track with your preparations and see that a family member or friend is stressed, you might ask how you can help.  Some people are reluctant to ask for help and might be grateful for your offer.  Of course, some people prefer to do things their own way, so it is good to respect that.

It is easy to see that there is a lot of polarization in the US. That polarization can even be evident in work places, neighborhoods, and families.  A retired psychologist wrote Dear Annie and said that he often recommended that patients speak the phrase, “You could be right.  I’ll have to think about it.” to avoid endless arguments and putdowns.  It takes some courage to say it, but this comment tends to stop the argument in its tracks.  It can even lead to dialogue.  The person who says it can continue to think and do what s/he actually thinks is best.

Plan well, breathe, get enough sleep, and take care of yourself so you stay well and have the energy to have a wonderful loving celebration.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! ALREADY?

By Janet McNeal

A few weeks ago I noticed an advertisement declaring ‘Only 71 days ‘til Christmas’.  I was absolutely baffled that someone had already begun that iconic countdown.  Summer was barely over, the leaves were just beginning to turn autumn colors, and I was still mildly surprised when I was spotting school buses on the roadways.  Where did the summer go?

Yet here we are with the “holiday season” almost upon us.  This is a fast paced world with lots of pressures and stress in our everyday life.  Now we are running full speed into the holiday season.  Halloween is behind us, Thanksgiving is only two weeks away and before you know it, it will be Christmas.

I am not a big fan of Halloween.  But I do love autumn and especially Thanksgiving.  I love the pumpkin spice products that pop up on the menus at every eatery and grace the shelves in grocery stores.  I love cold apple cider on warm days and hot mulled cider on cool nights.  I love a turkey dinner with savory dressing, cranberry sauce and of course, pie for dessert.

I love everything about autumn, even the particular shade of blue of the autumn sky and the crispness of the air.  I moved away from Adams County a few years ago but still return to visit friends and harvest Adams County apples, the best apples in the country.

After I am done picking apples, I like to stroll through the orchards to enjoy the peace, tranquility and beauty of the hillsides, and breathe in the smells of the season.  For a brief time I leave behind all the troubles, conflicts, worries and strife of everyday life.  I am thankful to have such a blessed life.

But life isn’t like that for everyone.  In fact, it wasn’t always like that for me.  Like many others, my friends and family struggled through financial loss, divorce, cancer, the death of loved ones, and bitter, angry disputes that wound so deeply they take years to heal, if they ever do heal.

In this Thanksgiving season, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who visited our table at “The Giving Spree” and donated so generously to Mediation Services of Adams County. Your financial support helps us to continue serving the citizens of Adams County with affordable mediations, and conflict resolution services and training.  Thank you for your contribution.

Are you, your friends or your family struggling with a situation or conflict that seems hopelessly deadlocked in bitter disputes?  Do you dread going to holiday gatherings that too often end in angry words and hurt feelings?  Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC) has trained mediators available to help you work through strained family relationships, neighbor disputes, or other conflicts. To contact MSAC, call 717-334-7312, email mediationac@yahoo.com, or go to our website, https://mediateadams.org. to learn more about our mediations for economical fees based on income, or to schedule a mediation.

WHAT IS MEDIATION?

By Mary Kay Turner

Mediation is a structured process in which people involved in difficult conflicts meet with trained mediators to help them communicate better and solve their issues.  The trained objective mediators work with them to resolve a conflict that they are unable to settle on their own.

Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC) provides mediation to help people work together to create solutions to their conflicts. Two weeks after a mediation one of the disputants told us, “We have started to communicate better and are currently talking. We appreciate your help for getting us on the same page.”

In a mediation, the disputants first sign an agreement to mediate, respecting all the people there and the mediation process. The mediators listen and guide the discussion as each person listens to the other person’s story of the situation and tells a personal perspective of the conflict without interruption.  The mediators help the people in conflict to hear each other, understand how the problem affects the other person, sort out the issues, and build a resolution that allows them to move forward and communicate positively with each other.

They work together toward a common goal, such as providing support for children or an elderly parent.  The mediators guide the disputants to discover the interests that are most important to each of them and let go of positions they have developed as they have argued about the situation.  Each person shares ideas that would help resolve the conflict and what is needed to move forward.  The disputants brainstorm possible solutions and talk about likely consequences.  With guidance from the mediators they work to create an action plan that fills the needs of all the people involved as much as possible.  The disputants resolve their problem in a way that works for them.

MSAC also schedules trainings to educate people and certify them as mediators.  Recently we received this message from a mediator we trained two years ago, then from north central PA:

“I still use my mediation skills from the Adams County Mediation Center today! I am now Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Washington (in WA state) and use my skills to help clients obtain reasonable accommodations with their landlord/property management. I’ve been able to impart some of the key questions we learned about position vs. interests on our employees which has increased our effectiveness in advocating on behalf of clients, presenting case findings with less bias and getting more useful information when investigating cases of potential discrimination in housing. We have a local mediation non-profit around here, and I’ve already begun looking into training for our employees because I found the Adams County class so useful.” 

It is exciting to see some of the impact that MSAC is having as mediators continue to use the concepts they learned in our training.

ARGUING UNDER THE INFLUENCE

By Gregory Rapp

People are angry these days. Have you noticed? We will yell, scream, and throw punches over anything. Everyone seems spoiling for a fight and one can break out anytime, anywhere. We disagree, argue, and choose sides. We blame and punish. We care more about being right and beating the other side than we do working together solve the problem at hand.

Anger is a natural response we’ve developed to respond quickly to threats. A bear jumps out in front of us and our brain instantly dumps adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. The adrenaline revs the engine, increasing heart rate, deepening breathing, and releasing blood sugar into the bloodstream so our muscles will be able to fight or take flight. The cortisol shuts off the rational thinking part of our brains because thinking takes too much time when faced with a hungry bear. It also shuts off our empathy and compassion making it easier to wound and kill if necessary, without feeling bad about it. It’s all about survival and self-defense in the wild, but in the relative safety of our modern lives this response is overkill, especially when it comes to a squabble over a parking space.

Anger is a feeling of hostility toward another person or situation that, if allowed to run its course, will end in violence. It is very difficult to “just calm down” because there is a very real cocktail of drugs coursing through our bloodstream that turns off the rational thinking part of the brain and we will not cool off until these substances are out of the bloodstream. It is no different than taking a powerful sleeping pill then changing our minds about wanting a nap. The sedative is already in our bloodstream, so a nap is happening. When angry, we are no longer “in our right minds.” We are literally under the influence of mind-altering substances, so our perceptions and decisions made while angry are unreliable. When two people are angry with each other and processing the situation under the influence of these hormone induced delusions, it sets off a series of dominoes escalating the conflict toward violence. We do not drive while under the influence. We take a cab. Someone else can help us get home safely. We should not make important decisions while under the influence, either. Sometimes, we could use some help working through our disagreements and problems because the anger is getting us in trouble.

Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC) has trained mediators available to help you work through strained family relationships, neighbor disputes, or other conflicts for an economical fee based on income.  If you would like more information about Mediation, please contact Mediation Services of Adams County, 717-334-7312, P.O. Box 4113, Gettysburg, PA 17325, online at mediationac@yahoo.com , or check out our website, www.mediateadams.org.