Mediation for teenage offenders?

June 27, 2007

I came across this article in Haaretz today, just after I was explaining to a colleague where mediation currently and potentially fits into Israeli society. Seems like the government has thought of one I had missed:

Teenage offenders may get mediation, not jail

The issue:

“A majority of teenagers who commit minor crimes will no longer be arrested or sent to jail, but will be dealt with through alternative means, if a revolutionary bill approved this week by the government receives Knesset approval.”

The existent problems:

1. “There are several mediation projects for teenage offenders in Israel, but the proceedings are not anchored in law, so they are often unrecognized by the courts.”

2. “The existing law recognizes only one alternative proceeding – non-prosecution, in which a teen pleads guilty, receives a warning, and the case is closed. But not only is this avenue devoid of any rehabilitation process, it is used in a discriminatory fashion…”

The plan:

“Under the bill, a teenager who has committed a crime would meet with the victim of the crime, if both agree to this, and hear about the damage caused, try to understand, ask forgiveness, and even pay compensation. Family and community members are usually brought into such mediation proceedings to support both sides.”

Why it would help:

1. The bill sets clear, uniform criteria for eligibility for either non-prosecution or mediation.”

2. “Besides mediation costing a great deal less than the cost of going to trial… the proposed law as a crucial tool for reducing crime in Israel.

3. Long term solutions aimed at solidifying the result! Or at least, we have to hope so.

I’m more than glad to see mediation becoming a more realistic option in Israeli law and society. Let’s hope the people are into it; this isn’t an easy culture in general.


Conflict transformation, Bush-style.

June 26, 2007

Something else that I learned at this conference, which I’m finding very valuable despite it only having ended today:

Professor Bush spoke deeply about the theory of transformative mediation. At the core of the theory is a set of cycles involving Empowerment and Recognition, the two elements that make the world of transformative mediation go ’round.

When we find ourselves in a conflict, whether we realize this or not, we experience two things:

1. Self experience: We first feel weakened, fearful, unsettled, unsure of ourselves – no more how strong and confident we may have been before the conflict.

2. Experience of the Other: We then move on to a self-absorption stage that involves discrediting the other party – because we are cloudy and unclear about ourselves, we can’t trust the other side at all. We totally alienate them.

It’s a very negative experience, clearly. It gets worse as the conflict intensifies. That’s the negative conflict spiral, and it’s a cycle of disempowerment and distance.

The interest here is to change the experience of the interaction. Right now, the interaction deteriorates because of the lack of competency and connection.

What needs to be done is two things:

1. The Empowerment Shift: We go back from weak to strong, from unsettled to calm. Confused to clear. Fearful to confident and inarticulate to articulate. We are changing the interaction from the point of the Self.

2. The Recognition Shift: Only once the Self has experienced the Empowerment Shift, then the Other can be taken care of. We go from self-absorbed to attentive. Defensive to open, hostile to civil. Suspicious to trusting and closed to open.

And that is when the interaction can become a positive experience, with the potential for resolving the conflict.

empowerment shift

This is Bush’s diagram of the process described.

I feel transformed.

June 26, 2007

Today the conference continued. I had a major realization today; seems obvious, but it’s not necessarily to someone studying this stuff deeply:

I’ve been under the impression that the best thing to do, as Fisher and Ury describe it, is to get to yes. Getting short of yes is useless. On top of that, everything about ADR and mediation is getting to yes. I included dialogue efforts under that heading.

Today and yesterday, Professor Robert Bush taught me I’ve been wrong in this thinking. Totally off. To him, there is more than one goal; you can strive to get to yes – which is a problem-solving, directive goal – and you can live with no. Living with no can be a productive way to go after the dialoguing process. It’s about conflict transformation, not conflict resolution.

Here’s how it looks:

Dialogue/Contact -> conflict transformation -> living with no.

It’s changing the interaction between the parties in dispute. And that can make a huge difference in both parties’ lives.

And it’s essentially what transformative mediation is all about. It also makes dialogue all the more valuable for me.
Sure, it seems obvious in the title of the field: transformative mediation, duh. But do you realize it’s more transformation than it is mediation?

For a lot of conflicts, that’s enough.

Studying Bush in the land of conflict.

June 25, 2007

Today and tomorrow my program at university is hosting a conference titled: Transformative Mediation and the Societal Conflicts of Israel. Robert A. Baruch Bush, one of the biggest proponents of Transformative Mediation, is the main guest. Today he addressed us on the theories and also touched upon the application and usefulness of the transformative approach to three main societal conflicts of Israel:

  • Religious/Secular divide
  • Arab/Israeli divide
  • Immigrants/Veterans divide

Not an easy task, to say the least. Tomorrow we’ll be delving further into the application of the theories onto the religious/secular divide.

Today’s lectures went deeper to explain the process of transformative mediation; we only really studied the topic in one class last year, which was mostly a legal approach to mediation. It definitely opened it up further, although I’m still not convinced that as a mediator I could be a transformative purist.

Here he is, the optimistic mediator himself, Robert Bush:

Robert Bush

More to follow…

The origin of mediation.

June 24, 2007

For four years my parents have been separated, whatever that means. Well, what it means is,  after they spent a year or two trying various  marriage and rabbinical counseling options, they decided it wasn’t going to work out, and told us kids.

It’s funny how, no matter how old you are, as a child, you always wish for your parents to get back together. Even if you’re 21 and out in the world on your own. There’s always this hoping, and you know it’s silly, but still.

And then the divorce comes through. The final nail in the marriage’s coffin. In my parents case, that happens today, in Brooklyn, in the office of a rabbi. My father will hand my mother a document, called a get, and she will be ‘free’. And he will be free. And the marriage will be free to R.I.P.

In Jewish practice, that’s how divorce goes. At the end of the day, it’s in a man’s hands, for the woman cannot marry or move on until she receives that document from him, before the eyes of witnesses.

For the past four years my parents have been meeting in mediation sessions to work out the terms of their separation in a fair and cooperative way. They’ve remained friendly and cooperative, but I wouldn’t attribute that to their mediation process; I would, however, attribute my interest in a mediation career to their meditation process. Before that I had never really given mediation a thought, barely heard of it.

My parents were still friends after they announced their decision, and mediation was an extra layer of smooth sailing for the process to work out. I like to imagine what mediation could do for all kinds of other people in different situations. The couple who had it bad before the divorce started. The kids’ fiery anger towards their parents. The woman for whom a get does not come through.

So there, in my world, is the origin of mediation.

Generation Cheap Communication.

June 14, 2007

There is such a thing as too much communication. Or maybe it’s better put as communication overdose, overload or, actually – miscommunication.

What I’m trying to say is, there is a point when communication is bad for communication.

My friends and I were brought up on instant messenger. It was useful for flirting, making plans, going over assignments. But then it got deeper. And then we got hooked.

We used abbreviations to ‘speak’ faster so that we could fit more into the conversation. We developed impatience.

We left away messages as answering machines and screened incoming conversations. We developed avoidance.

We went so far as to use emoticons and acronyms to express feelings, even deep ones. We became stoic.

And now? I’m sure I was already predestined to be a writer, not a speaker. Both nurture and nature probably took care of that. But I also think my peers and I learned quickly that we’re more comfortable typing than talking, and that we really don’t need to know how to talk correctly since we collectively signed online. It had leaked into our social skills.

The problem is the mixed messages, the unclear wording. The perceived attitude or the underestimation of a true feeling in an i.m.

I curse long distance relationships because I’ve only known them over the internet; I wonder if 30 years ago they would have stood a chance if all I had was stationary or a telephone.

Have our communication skills been bastardized? Is it too late, what with S.M.S the new instant messenger?

How do we un-cheapen communication?

Fatima and me.

June 12, 2007

When my head is in the right place at the right time, I like to explore.

In 2003, I was in England for 6 months, and my head was in the right place at the right time. I did a lot of exploring in dialogue, especially Muslim-Jewish. I was studying at Lancaster University, a tiny school in the Northwest, known for its deep interest in interfaith dialogue. I was also opening my eyes to a lot of new experiences for the first time.

Which is how I ended up meeting Fatima for lunches at the burger place on campus. She was an observant Muslim student and I was an observant Jewish student – who wanted to learn about Islam from an observant Muslim.

The first time we met, I awkwardly got in line next to her to place my order, which I knew in advance: veggie burger with a side of this-is-totally-not-justifiably-kosher-even-if-it-is-veggie.

And what do you know? She ordered the same thing. Realizing we both had the ‘kosher’ thing down, we began to discuss other avenues:

Modesty? Check.
Spirituality? Check.
Modernity is important? Check.
Feel awkward around Christians and non-religious? Check.
Feel strongly about Jerusalem? Check… mate.

And that’s where Fatima and I parted ways. We had a lovely conversation and a good attempt at dialogue. We realized things about the Other we hadn’t thought of before, and we had more in common than ever imagined.

But when it comes to the Israel/Palestine debate, so many people shut down. So many people don’t want to ruin a nice thing. And it should be hard. It should be sad that suddenly there’s more at stake than a nice conversation. So instead of ruining a good thing, so many people shut down.

Yet, there are even more people who don’t.

And so here we are.