This week I met another gem of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI), Steve Goldsmith. MBBI has a fantastic network; here I am on a winter afternoon in Spain, chatting about mediation with Steve, who is located in California, United States.
Steve has had an interesting journey. Most of his professional career has centered around Centinela Youth Service (CYS), an organization that provides effective mediation programs to keep inner-city kids on a successful path. Between 1992 and 2006 Steve worked with many mediator staff and volunteers to ensure CYS became a pioneer in mediation and kept thousands of young out of the justice system.
With more than a 50% cut in the re-arrest rate, the District Attorney, Judge, and the wider Californian justice system ended up strongly supporting and backing the concept of restorative justice. Recently the LA Police Department asked the organization to train its staff and various changes have been noted in the procedures used by the police.
Bringing Restorative Justice into the justice system would not have happened without Steve’s persistence in finding the necessary funding. He was able to do this because mediation helps to listen to young people instead of lecturing at them. It also allows the injured party and the person who committed the offense, to change their views about each other, understand what occurred and make an agreement that holds the young person accountable and gives them a chance to make things right. This approach led to significant attitudinal changes and has resulted in decreasing re-offending rates.
Steve’s conviction in this project came from his earlier years as a human rights activist where he spoke with soldiers returning from Vietnam, an experience that profoundly changed him as he learned to put himself in other people’s shoes. Listening to them, he learned not to judge others, to keep an open mind, to listen patiently to all sides of a story and to see how this process brought changes in understanding and healing to the returning soldiers.
Steve believes that “mediation is a structure and you are constantly learning.” Steve also thinks that the best and only way to become a great mediator is to believe in it. One way to grow as a mediator is to get involved in community mediation programmes and to get your hands dirty. After you have more experience, you can start your own practice or become employed by an existing mediation organization.
Steve was the Chair of two MBB Congresses and emphasizes the importance of MBB’s partnerships. He, along with an active group within MBB, have developed a partnership with Rotary International because of the common commitments to peace and conflict prevention. From this partnership, MBB will expand its impact and abilities to address issues such as immigration dialogue, climate change and the participation of women in mediation.
Steve believes “mediation is a tool for peacebuilding.” If he could change one thing, it would be for all conflicts to try mediation first before they turn to the combative approach. If this was outlined in the law, it could be the first step before any act of retaliation takes place and many conflicts would be avoided. Steve passionately believes this is how society ought to be using its money’ rather than wasting it on billion-dollar weapon systems.
Steve’s final words to me were those of Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He believes we should all dedicate our lives to bending the arc, and use mediation, whenever we can to solve problems.
Written by Florence de Vesvrotte