We’d arrived in Shannon on 9/11, just a couple of hours before the planes hit the towers in New York. Now it was 9/12 and, like everyone else on our tour, I was still in shock.
In the pub restroom the only other occupant was a teenager, red hair in spikes, lots of piercings and a few tattoos. I looked away, certain she wouldn’t want to speak to me. But she approached and asked, “Are you an American?”
When I nodded, she came over and put her arms around me, saying “I’m so sorry about what happened.” For the first time since I heard the news, I was able to weep.
That Irish girl’s care for me was both a gift and a surprise. I’d dismissed her, assuming we had nothing in common. But I was wrong. We shared our simple humanity. She was, in fact, an agent of love.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a mediator is to stop making assumptions. To suspend judgment. To be open to surprise. A good mediator needs to feel and to demonstrate what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard” – even if people are rude or loud or angry. But how can one ignore bad behavior?
Mediation author Kenneth Cloke says, “I try to imagine what would make me behave that way.” Over the past eight years, in hundreds of mediations, here’s what I’ve discovered: most bad behavior is a screen for fear. If I can help another feel safe and respected, anger will dissipate. Generous listening becomes possible. The best impulses of each of us can emerge. We can begin to drop the assumptions and begin to really understand.