Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Is a Car, Not a Car?

A few months before Elise and I started developing Teamwork Mediation, I started to “get it” about being a mediator. Up until that point, I was doing the process, but I never quite knew if I was doing it right or not.

I remember the case which changed all that. I remember that the case involved a couple who were separating.
“This is a simple case,” he said. (They all thought that -  open and shut - finding for their side, of course.) “I bought the car before I met Janet, we have since broken up, and I want my car back.”

I turned to Janet. “And what is the issue for you?”

“Well,” she said, “first of all, it’s not a car.”

That was the moment I knew I had become a mediator. To a non-mediator, this probably sounds like a Zen koan: “When is a car not a car.” But to my mediator’s ears, this was exactly what I expected: difference.

Before I became a mediator, like most other people, I went around believing that while there were plenty of disagreements happening all the time, basically, there was a pretty good agreement about what Reality was.

But at this point we had been mediating for about six months, and that belief had been shattered so many times, I noticed that I had developed the ability to suspend my belief so completely, that even this didn’t phase me. I had become a mediator - unflappable by the relativity of reality. Einstein found it at the speed of light, I found it in small claims court: relativity.

Difference is such a double edged sword! We invite it into our life to make sure we get the benefit of all the different points of view, and then we cut ourselves on its sharp-edged difficulty. We want it all and we want it simple.

But to get it all, we have to deal with the complexity and contradictions. If you like the quiet life, and revel in your aloneness, who do you think you’ll be attracted to? Another hermit? Ney! (You’d probably never even cross their path, much less be attracted to them.) No, you’ll fall for some gad-about who swoops you out of your nest and teaches you to fly. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at first. And then you can’t get enough.

And then, although you love the soaring, and can’t imagine living without it, you also miss the quiet and the calm, and there begins the struggle: which way is the RIGHT way?

And so whether you end up in small claims court, or divorce court, or just the court of public opinion, the clash of swords can be heard as you externalize the struggle which we all face within: the simple small life, or the large complex one?

Is difference a good thing, or bad?

I had become so comfortable with difference, I almost hated to ask, but this was small claims court, so ask I must: “Not a car?”

“No!” she spat. “A car has wheels, and this one is up on blocks. As car goes places and he just lives in this one in my driveway. He can have his ‘car’ back when he pays me his back rent for living on my property!”

There’s an old saying: “If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley car.” It came to mind in that moment, but I didn’t think it would help, so I kept it to myself.

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