“There are starfish washed up all around the beach on the shore. There is that one man walking along the beach picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. Someone asks why is he doing that, he is not going to possibly save all of them. He picks up another one and says: but I saved that one. I may not be able to change the whole world, but maybe I can pick up a starfish.”
Lisa is a mediator, facilitator, management trainer, consultant, and creative problem solver based in Vandalia, Ohio, US. Her journey with mediation started at Antioch College where she was a graduate student of Intercultural Communication when her cohort experienced a conflict within the group that was mostly about identity. She had chosen intercultural communication as her field of study since she had lived in Indonesia for 9 years, but the experience in her cohort made her realize she also needed to know how to deal with conflict to be a good cultural ambassador. “I already had a lot of deep cultural experiences, that I would really need to have conflict resolution experience to be able to work in the field,” she says. Lisa then was informed about a training opportunity at the Dayton Mediation Center, free of charge, requiring an agreement to mediate at the center once a month for a year. “I signed up and realized that was it. I got excited about the process, the dynamic. Watching the parties transform from conflict to no conflict is very addictive, I think it happens to a lot of us, mediators” Lisa adds. Thanks to her skills in writing, she also decided to volunteer for writing grants and became a program developer for several different initiatives. Then a time came when Lisa, in order to improve her victim-offender mediation training, became interested in restorative justice. She realized that in her practice she was not getting victims to the table, so she participated in a probation conference in Minnesota and learned about circles. Lisa then became one of two community members to be invited for training with the National Institute of Corrections and the Department of Justice. She gained a wide range of experiences in many different types of mediation, and that resulted in her taking a leading role at two of the largest and most well-established community mediation centers in Dayton and Nebraska. At the centers, she was involved in running many types of disputes in the community, including policy disputes, and environmental disputes. Even as a volunteer Lisa was always one of the first people the mediation center called. Currently, Lisa is still an intercultural trainer, doing a lot of work helping people moving overseas and moving into the US, in the cultural adjustment process
Intercultural Communication and Mediation
Lisa is a transformative mediator, but with experience in many different models, she finally designed her own intercultural communication and mediation model. Lisa’s intercultural model is based on the transformative process, but includes a pre-session to assess and/or inform the parties about cultural differences. Lisa is using a transformative model, but especially in cultural issues, before a mediator brings the parties together, there may be a need for conversation with them about the culture, to assess whether there is a cultural issue. If a cultural issue appears, a mediator can provide some information on cultural differences. “I would sit down and talk to them or give a little training on the other culture, and then bring both parties to the room to talk,” she says. It changes the conversation, the parties can sometimes work through the conflict when they identify a cultural issue. It could be just communication differences, direct or indirect, some of them not picking the right message. That awareness helps the conversation. As a transformative mediator, we want the parties to guide the process. Lisa mentioned a case of someone from the Middle East with very indirect communication and a woman from the US who was very direct. It was a dispute over their two children. The woman did not feel the man was taking accountability for his son – He was, but he was indirect. He just did not say it directly. Lisa was able to reflect and ask questions that helped the gentleman feel comfortable giving more information. “I have seen more complex and difficult cases. It is about asking the right questions so everyone can understand each other” Lisa adds.
As Lisa says, she joined Mediators Beyond Borders International a long time ago, when it was still in its infancy. There were no Zoom projects, so it seemed like there was not much response or communication. During the pandemic when the world moved online, Lisa decided to check back and was excited to see how much the organization grew and developed. The network and communication really improved. “COVID has given me opportunities because I am not the kind of person who does everything locally,” she says “I always worked across boundaries. The pandemic opened all the Zoom opportunities, so now I am doing projects in Africa, and Malawi about giving voice to women who experience abuse in the area.” Lisa wonders how can we professionals can do bottom-up diplomacy just by connecting with those who have a need and giving our skills. In Africa, Lisa is involved in peer mediation training, where she is providing a few hours on transformative mediation to give participants a wider scope of the field of mediation. She found training styles culturally different and says that what she was focused on during her degree program, was experiential training. But the way the training is conducted in Nigeria is a process of hearing expertise from a number of different sources so that the learner gains access to many different aspects of the field. She thinks that there are many ways of learning the same content, so why not join forces and embrace how learning is done in other countries? Lisa also did some work in India and hopes to do some in Malaysia. As she says, throughout the mediator’s career she is not focused on earning money – she does things because she believes they are the right things to do. Her ultimate goal is to see a new, more distributive economic model, and if we can change so that we can communicate better. In the environment, if we learn to think differently, and communicate with each other we can ensure more equality, and solve the environmental crisis. I think we’re going to have to think differently, away from the financial model.
For a Greater Goal
Lisa is still involved in the community. She is part of the immigrant friendly city initiative in the City of Dayton and is also helping to start an initiative to make Dayton a Human Rights City. She continues to do volunteer work, especially with the office of re-entry, she helps people coming out of prison. She created a workshop, based on the idea that the time spent in prison is like living in a different country – it is a cultural experience. There will be the same emotional impact as when coming from abroad. This approach helps people to open up and talk a little bit more. With expats returning we are talking about skills they learned, and the same can be done with people coming out of prisons, what did they learn, what survival techniques do they know that can be applied in their lives? The more we know our values, the more control we have. “Because I had lived overseas, and had comfortable life before I started mediation, I already had a wide experience and a lot of gifts from life,” Lisa says. “I needed to earn a living but I did not want to have this desire to have that kind of career that only gives me a lot of money – what I really wanted is to create a change, to be a change maker.” The challenge is that when a person is the head of an organization people will listen to them, but they will be too busy to do the on-the-ground work. That is what Lisa did not want, but then the challenge is how non-leaders get people to pay attention to them. “Even if I had a role as a leader of an organization, I did it briefly because I preferred to be at the bottom and make a difference there – like a starfish hunter.”
Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer