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The Benefits of Mediation

by Mr. Jacob Hirsch

 

 

Conflict is a fact of life. It is natural and inevitable within every relationship, as no group of people will share identical values, wants, needs, and ideas. Whether within ourselves, within our relationships with other people, or other groups of people, at work, in the public sector or in the international level, everywhere we look we can find conflict, either latent, emerging or fully manifest.


As a frum  member of the Flatbush-Boro Park, New York community it has become increasingly obvious to me that many a conflict between husband and wife, teenagers and parents, etc. might succesfuly be mediated and thereby bring greater understanding and Shalom Bayis to our homes. Unfortunately, not too many people realize that there are many benefits in mediating disputes. In fact, most people that I speak with are not even sure what mediation is. For example, not too long ago I was speaking with someone about the many benefits of mediation, whereupon I was asked if that had anything to do with meditation. It is funny, since I have been involved in this relatively new field of Alternative Dispute Resolutions more then a year ago, I have been asked that question many a time. It is ironic how few too many people have never heard of the process of mediation.


 Hashem created all of us with different needs and dispositions and there is no reason that we cannot try to better understand each other through different avenues of communication. Mediation is one such avenue and I am a firm believer that as the frum community begins to become more aware of the benefits that mediation has to offer they will value its Torah oriented approach.


The Posuk in Vayikra 19,17 states “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” I recall my Rebbi many years ago (Rabbi Klang of Yeshivah Torah Temmimah) asking why the Torah would proclaim a negative commandment for hating someone in your heart? The implication being that if I went over to my fellow man/woman and told him/her outright my true feelings of hate, then this negative commandment would be inapplicable. How can one make sense of that? He suggested that the Torah was teaching us the importance of communication between fellow human beings. If someone would have to proclaim their hatred outright then there might be an avenue for an exchange and dialogue. Your fellow might be perplexed and ask why you hated him/her? Whereupon open communication as to perceived wrongs could develop and ultimately shalom could have a chance to prevail as the misunderstandings might have a fair chance to be alleviated.


 People may have their unique differences just as men and woman do, yet rather then be an impediment, those differences should be garnered to foster greater opportunities for personal growth. This may be one of the many reasons the Mishna in Peah that we recite every morning, stresses the importance of “peace between fellow man, and man and wife.” The message is clear. Although conflict is sometimes inevitable, our response to it is not. When conflict arises we can choose how to best handle it. The decision of how to handle a particular conflict will depend on the relationship(s) we share with the other party, the values we place on achieving a favorable outcome, and our past experiences with handling conflict. The Torah dictates that we should not avoid dealing with conflict for then it will control us. Our challenge, therefore, is to find the best method of dealing with it.


That is where mediation comes in to play. Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party works with parties in conflict to help them change the quality of their conflict interaction from negative and destructive to positive and constructive, as they discuss and explore issues and possibilities for resolution. It is a structured process, akin to the legal process, (though any conflict can be mediated and legal issues need not be present) whereupon the mediator will assist the participants to resolve their dispute in a manner acceptable to all.


“When the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.” Unlike other prevailing and conventional methods out there, mediation focuses on the future, towards rebuilding instead of destroying and casting blame. The beauty and value of Mediation is that it can be used to quell conflict and misunderstanding in a variety of settings. Having worked for a time at the Manhattan Mediation Center I can tell you that many misunderstandings and disagreements can be alleviated through mediation. Parents can mediate disputes and differing views with their teenage children so that more harmony and communication might prevail. Spouses can express disappointment and grievances and look toward a more harmonious and positive future. I even know of a situation where neighbors tried to mediate their dispute over use of a common driveway.


While most situations can be mediated it takes a certain amount of willingness and commitment by both parties to give the process a chance. As Leonard Marlow, a renowned author and mediator, stated so succinctly, “Mediation is an imperfect process, that employs an imperfect third person, to help imperfect people, come to an imperfect agreement in an imperfect world.”


I am hopeful that you will join me in future articles in exploring some of the issues that our community is trying to cope with and how mediation can possibly affect our response to conflict and greater understanding of each other. The promises of mediation in augmenting Shalom Bayis can be endless. I believe, it is an opportunity that we should take full advantage of.


 


Mr. Jacob Hirsch, J.D. is a Certified Mediator/Divorce Mediator, member of the Association of Conflict Resolution  as well as a member of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York. He maintains a practice in Brooklyn, N.Y. For more information and a free consultation contact him at (718) 327-9278 or (917) 840-4806.