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Turning Foe into Friend

by Mr. Jacob Hirsch



Our Chazal teach us that shalom/peace is so worthy a cause that it is one of G-ds names. In addition,  the Talmud in Sotah teaches us that shalom is so worthwhile that G-d is willing to have his name destroyed just so that there might be shalom between a man and his spouse. Whether it be on a global scale or on a more pronounced and intimate personal level we all yearn for peace between one another. It is what keeps the wheels of life turning. So why then does it seem to be so elusive to so many of us? Is there any new way that we might be able to approach conflict such that we might be able to not only deal with the pertinent issues on hand but also be able to grow as Torah individuals who are constantly seeking spiritual elevation.

Mediation is not really a very new concept. In fact, I was recently discussing some of my ideas regarding mediation with a Rav in the New York area and we both agreed that since the time of Aaron Hacohen  capable individuals have been trying to help bring peaceful resolution to conflict. In fact, the Greek word for mediate means to stand between two people. It has always been known that standing between two people in  conflict can be helpful. What is new is that mediation has been rediscovered as a replacement for many of the present methods of addressing adversarial conflict.

Mediation encourages cooperating with and helping your adversary. This new way of thinking not only neutralizes your adversary by diffusing conflict but also actually makes for great opportunity for all sorts of potential growth. For example, I recently read that Tom McGuire, the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune  decided to embrace and cooperate with another newspaper that he perceived was a competitor. He felt that embracing or helping one’s competitor would give him more monetary gain and much less aggravation and stress. Indeed, embracing ones competitor/adversary was at the heart of Reconstruction after the Civil War and it was the underlying principle behind the Marshall Plan after World War Two.

This concept is well illustrated with the following story. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he referred sympathetically to the Southern Rebels. An elderly lady, a staunch Unionist, upbraided him for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. His reply was classic: “why madam,” Lincoln answered, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I was fortunate enough to have recently co-mediated a session where I saw this in action by two young teenagers that had come to resolve their conflict. William was quite shy and actually said very little most of the session. As I looked across the table I noticed that Mark seemed to be the more bully aggressive type. It seems that Mark had been bullying and name calling William on a number of occasions when they crossed paths after school. In addition, Mark had made some nasty remarks to William when he noticed that they were in the same chat room on the Internet. So here I was with these two teenagers ,who incidentally had brought along their parents to help understand what exactly was going on, who actually started to get down to what exactly was bothering them. It turns out that it wasn’t that much and there seemed to have been much miscommunication. Nevertheless I was extremely impressed because towards the end of the session Mark reached across the table, somewhat hesitantly I might add, to shake hands with William as if to say “hey, I am sorry for acting the way I did lets end this nicely” thereby neutralizing the situation before it got totally out of hand.

Of course, in most situations it is usually a lot harder to peacefully resolve differences but if destroying your enemy is something that lurks beneath the surface how about trying Mr. Lincoln’s alternative method. You never know, you just might make a friend for life.


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.