The Peace Order mediation began as usual. He said she's a witch and the session is already a waste of time. She said he's stubborn, rude and self-centered, so she agreed, it probably is a waste of time, but she's tired of the status quo, so let's just get on with it. During their arguments over the last few months, they've both hurled words unprintable in a family forum at each other. They've both called the police several times. Each feels threatened by the other. They are neighbors in the townhouse section of a suburban subdivision. He works on muscle cars and recently a motorcycle outside his house during the day. His job is a night-shift gig. He has a 4-year old. She is a graduate student with a 4-year old as well. Her complaint: He revs the engine of the cars so loudly during the day, it wakes her napping son. His complaint: She's complained to every neighbor in the cul-de-sac and just yells across the street at him, instead of coming to talk to him.
As the stories unfold, both admit they haven't handled things well. Still, they both stand firm in their positions. Then, she gets to the reason behind her anger. Her child has a medical condition that puts him in the hospital fairly often and needs a lot of sleep to help him recover. The revving engines wake him up. This revelation was the turning point in the mediation. Her neighbor's whole demeanor changes. He apologizes. He understands her stress, her worries. He is ready to help. In fact their two children play together when outside and they both didn't want to take that away. She sees that he is being genuine and apologizes for the way she handled her anger and for not approaching him in a gentler way.
Both make agreements not only to communicate better, but to also help each other with some neighborhood problems. Both agree that mediation was, in fact, an excellent use of their time. But for mediation, they never would have understood each other and would have replayed the argument over and over, involving the police, involving the neighbors, escalating tensions.
From a mediator's perspective, I always hope parties will find at least some resolution. Often they do. This story illustrates the power of creating a space to foster a dialogue, enhance mutual understanding and re-build and transform a relationship. These parties came up with a far superior resolution than any that could be handed down by a judge. These parties, experts in their own situation, created their own best solution.
*Maile Beers-Arthur has been mediating since 1995 and currently mediates for CALM (Frederick County Community Mediation Center), the Washington County Community Mediation Center, the District Court ADR Program in Frederick County and the Circuit Court for Frederick County.