I don’t always learn by teaching. Sometimes, I learn by conjuring up some humility, reminding myself that I’m not an expert in – well – anything, and finding someone who IS, and then submitting to their instruction.
On this point, for the past several years I have been studying mediation and more specifically, conciliation, methods. This is done in a quest to be able to help people who are tangled up in the chains of conflict to escape with their valued relationships in tact. I am happy to say that I found have some extraordinary teachers in this field, and I look forward to continuing to learn from them.
I have been practicing law for roughly 25 years, and aside from helping abuse survivors, or the rare cases of particular magnitude or significance, I have found it to be fairly unfulfilling. It pays the bills (which I need to continue to do) and I do enjoy the service aspect of it, but working as a government attorney, most recently, simply doesn’t do much for my need to make a positive, personal difference in people’s lives. (except in times of disasters, when I very much enjoy helping people re-find their way through the social and legal messes created by physical messes)
But mediation. Conflict resolution. It is needed everywhere from children’s playgrounds, to marital bedrooms, to the halls of Congress and Parliament and the UN. Broken marriages need help solving their disputes and reconciling instead of giving their lives to a stranger in a black robe. The Fulani herdsman and the farmers of Nigeria need help coming to agreements about land use. The Palestinians and Zionists of Jerusalem need help to learn to find their common goals, and begin saving their children from the missiles of their leaders.
What can I do though? I’m just one guy in Arkansas. As Lib and I were rolling through the Arkansas hills to a mediation conference, I was listening to an old Rush album as I navigated the twisties of State Highway 23.
When the ebbing tide retreatsNeal Peart of Rush, Natural Science, Permanent Waves
Along the rocky shoreline
It leaves a trail of tidal pools
In a short-lived galaxy
Each microcosmic planet
A complete society
A simple kind mirror
To reflect upon our own
All the busy little creatures
Chasing out their destinies
Living in their pools
They soon forget about the sea
Mr. Peart insightfully points out that when microscopic sea creatures find themselves trapped in tidal pools, they are likely not even aware that they have been disconnected from the ocean, as they are too busy carrying on with their own lives and minute, self-centered agendas. He relates this phenomena to our own human inclination to do the same. We disconnect from the majority of the world as we take our American Kids to practices, attend our local church or civic clubs, and make sure we don’t miss the happy hour at Sonic. Some of our microcosms are just a few square miles, except for a vacation or maybe a charity trip once a year.
I need to do more. More than practice law to pay my mortgage. More than solving first world problems in Faulkner County, Arkansas, USA. While we complain about too much ice and not enough cherry in our Sonic drink, people are losing their homes on the other side of the county. While people are losing their homes in Arkansas, kids in Harar, Ethiopia are being dumped on the streets – left for the hyenas – and there is no orphanage within miles, so one pastor is running his minimal personal resources dry trying to save them. While those children are joyful to get a bath, children back here in the States are being punished with scalding water for mentioning to a school teacher the fact that daddy hit them. It’s all overwhelming, really.
By something more than coincidence, I have been trained and have acquired experience over the past 25 years in social problem solving. Litigation, Mediation, Teaching, Media use, and Lobbying. It is time to bring these skills to work. Through travel and contacts, I am constantly reminded of the world outside my microcosm, and I believe I can make an impact – not on the whole world, but on several places in it. I see more and more problems that call for a mix of the areas mentioned above. I see issues that call for a collaboration of these skills, plus counseling, medicine, clergy and other professions.
It is time to think outside the regular box on how to solve social problems, from racial issues to land disputes to religious conflicts. The “war model” for solving the world’s social problems is not working. The two party political system seems just as ineffective. There must be – there IS – another way.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It is time for me to make a difference; to start a new project: To use different methods to solve problems, and to remember not to limit myself to my microcosm. I hope I can still make a living as I bushwhack down this less traveled road.