Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Kiddies ... and One Orange

LISTEN! (8:40)

"Fight Nicely" 3-Act Play Script (pdf): $9.99 .
An entertaining lesson in the art of interest-based negotiation, as depicted in a common family feud. Perfect for mediators, mediation trainees, parents, teachers, and smart kids. Volume discounts for classrooms, please inquire: JerryLazar(at)msn(dot)com.

Narrator: Mark Neely
Jonah: Jonah Lazar
Maia/Baby Sis: Molly Chapman
Mom/Grandmom: Jill Holden
Dad: Jerry Lazar
Audio Engineer: Brittany Riffe
Facility Manager: Lori Koebel
With gratitude and thanks to all!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Apologies vs. Actions

According to this LifeWire report, for many people, a promise never to repeat the offense often constitutes the most important aspect of an apology.

Nick Smith, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire and author of "I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies," adds:

"The ultimate meaning of apologies, like the meaning of promises, depends on future behavior, and therefore we cannot conclusively judge them at the moment they are spoken."

Playing the blame game or not owning up to one's mistakes are the worst ways to apologize, Smith says. Phrases like "I am sorry that X bothers you" and "I am sorry you feel that way" won't win you any points in the forgiveness department.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Food Fight

Conflicts between hip new bars and restaurants, and the neighborhood residents who have to endure their late-night noise and traffic, are all too common. Such has been the case for the past four years with Lola, a soul-food restaurant in Manhattan's SoHo district, now in jeopardy of losing its liquor license because of disgruntled neighbors.

Props to community newspaper The Villager for investigating the situation, and finding that, in a classic breakdown of communications, all parties were misinterpreting the actions and intentions of the other. And for wisely recommending professional mediation to resolve all issues.

Initially, residents circulated a flier warning Lola would cause “diminishing property values,” “sleepless nights,” “increased traffic,” “increased tourism,” “more dirt” and “more crime.” Fearing the worst, Lola’s owners felt the opposition was at least partly racially motivated. But it seems to us the resistance was more about quality of life in a neighborhood become chronically oversaturated with nightlife businesses.

Lola is a high-end establishment that will offer quality soul, R&B and gospel music ... This is a classy place. We’re sure neighbors will thoroughly enjoy the whole experience of both Lola’s cuisine and its wonderful music.

Yet, it’s also clear that neighbors’ quality of life and right to enjoy being in their own apartments in the evenings is utterly nonnegotiable.

The two sides might have to meet halfway. We feel confident this dispute can be worked out, and that sweet music will someday play at Lola — for all to enjoy.

Conflict Coaching

Illuminating discussion, on a blog devoted to anger management control, of one-on-one "conflict coaching," a service that can prove to be especially useful pre- and post-mediation.

Unlike mediators, conflict coaches deal with only one of the parties -- so, ideally, each mediation participant would have his or her own coach.
Conflict coaching is a one on one voluntary and confidential process that combines ADR and coaching principles. It is at its very essence, an individualized method for helping people effectively engage in conflict.

A few basic similarities between the fields of ADR and coaching, include the basic premises of self-determination and confidentiality. While some of the techniques and practitioner’s skills are similar, there are some major differences.

An important distinction is that the goals of those who participate in conflict coaching may not only be about resolving conflict. Rather, individuals seeking coaching (referred to as coachees in this presentation), may want to work on ways to prevent a dispute from unnecessarily escalating, to improve their competency in conflict management, to develop stronger communication skills for a difficult conversation and other objectives, that are often more about managing, than resolving.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You are the 'Me' in Mediation

As you know, I love when the mainstream media stumbles wide-eyed upon this wondrous peacemaking process called mediation. The Ventura County Star's Cynthia Overweg did an excellent job of reporting on the Ventura Center for Dispute Settlement, a nonprofit, countywide organization based in Camarillo, run by my former SCMA colleague, Sandra Rubio.

Go read her colorful accounts of successful mediations yourself. I think my favorite quote is from a mediator, describing how -- in contrast to a courtroom, where decisions are made for you by a total stranger, and you are forced to live with the outcome even if you hate it -- the voluntary, self-determined mediation process puts participants in the driver's seat:

"You are the 'me' in mediation," he tells prospective participants . "You can control the ride. So how many want to take a test drive?"

You'd be a fool to say no.

Divorce Mediation Trumps Divorce Litigation

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the advantages of mediated divorces over litigated divorces, especially when children are involved, citing several notable studies:
Constance Ahrons's 20-year look at 173 children from 98 divorced families showed
that when divorced parents were able to maintain a civil and at least minimally
cooperative relationship with each other, the children experienced no long-term
problems associated with the divorce. But when parents remained in conflict or
totally disengaged from each other, their children continued to be distressed
even 20 years later.

And this:
In a 12-year follow-up of couples randomly assigned to either mediation or litigated divorce little as five to six hours of mediation had powerful long-term effects. Parents who took part in mediation settled their disputes in half the time of parents who used litigation, and they were much more likely, even 12 years later, to jointly discuss children's discipline, moral training, school performance and vacation plans. Nonresidential parents with mediated divorces maintained much more contact with their children than those who had litigated.

Dollars and sense:
The average cost of a mediated divorce is less than $7,000 ... and about $78,000 for a fully litigated divorce.

And it's not just the financial toll. When a parent maximizes his or her emotional position by undermining a child's respect for the other parent, this "victory" carries long-term costs.

Researcher Paul Amato notes that children who report being put in the middle of their parents' problems are less likely to be close to either parent as they age.

Cooperative divorces deny clients the short-range satisfaction of "beating" their exes, and they deprive attorneys of a lucrative source of income. But the benefits clearly outweigh these costs.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Take Me Out of the Ballgame

Last night Obama claimed victory with high-minded grace, while Clinton was again equivocating and dissembling when she should have been conceding. Obama's message was inclusive -- complimenting his opponent, and seeking common ground on which the party could march forward.

Around the time this was happening, I was at a Dodgers game with my son, where he was treated to his first pile-on brawl. I remember the first time I had witnessed this up-close, and marveled not only at the insanity of it, but also at the bloodlust it brought out in fans.

In this particular instance, it started as a shoving match between a catcher and an opposing batter. Then one took a swing at the other, clearing (in rapid sequence) the benches, the dugout, the outfield. Players from both teams swarmed toward homeplate to dive onto the sea of squirming uniforms. Eventually teammates pulled each other off the ridiculous heap, the original two combatants were tossed out of the game (and probably fined), the field was cleared, and eventually the game resumed.

Meanwhile, fans were cheering, hooting, hollering, hissing -- in short, gleefully going nuts. They loved it! I'm embarassed to report that my son was among those celebrants.

It had nothing and everything to do with baseball. After the game, sportscasters commented on how the violent display proved that the teams still had spark and energy -- ostensibly a favorable sign.

Driving home, I imagined Obama and Clinton as opposing ballplayers, and amused myself with trying to envision how they would behave in such a situation. I also imagined myself, standing in the outfield and witnessing my teammates and their rivals charging full-speed toward the mayhem so they could get a piece of the action. I'd like to think I wouldn't have any part of this nonsense -- even if it meant that I'd be the cheese standing alone. I could easily see feisty Hillary coming out swinging. But then I envisioned Obama serenely maintaining his stance on third base, calmly rising above the fray, the consummate peacemaker bemusedly shaking his head as he marveled at the "silly season."

Did you see his speech last night? Whether he came to bury or to praise, he did it with his typical eloquence and genuine class, the likes of which we rarely see these days.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign. She has made history not just because she's a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she's a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight. I congratulate her on her victory in South Dakota and I congratulate her on the race she has run throughout this contest.

We've certainly had our differences over the last 16 months. But as someone who's shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning -- even in the face of tough odds -- is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children's Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as first lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency -- an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country -- and we will win that fight -- she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kinda makes you proud, after a long dry spell, to again be able to say: Only in America!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Peer Mediation

Heartwarming video story about my former employer, L.A. County Bar Association's Dispute Resolution Services, and their peer mediation program. The problem is that the meritorious program is in only a few schools, when it should be in ALL of them! The funds allow for only a couple of on-site trainers, when there should be an army of them. This is our best hope for teaching peace to the next generation. This program has been around for 20 years now, with outstanding results, and yet instead of growing, its budget keeps getting slashed. Very dispiriting, especially as campuses become increasingly violent. Every lawyer in L.A. should be required to contribute $100 per year to keep this program alive and flourishing.

Verdict: Mediation Saves Time & Money

Nice to see the mainstream press stumble upon the concept of mediation. Someday mediation will be as commonplace as lawsuits, and hence not newsworthy, but until then we should be grateful whenever a reporter discovers its existence, marvels at its superiority to litigation, and shares those observations with readers.

Here's reporter Paula Schleis in the Akron Beacon Journal :

Look in the Akron Yellow Pages under ''attorneys'' and you'll find a section so thick it has its own color code.

Look under ''mediators'' and you'll find a grand total of six listings.

Read into that what you will, but it might explain why mediators scratch their heads and wonder why more folks drain their bank accounts chasing costly litigation when a thoughtful afternoon with a mediator might resolve their problem.

Great in-depth story follows, with lots of interviews and examples. Go read it!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stonequake Redux

More to this apology than meets the eye. Or ear.

After seeming genuinely contrite, now the star (who has been banned for life --onscreen and offscreen -- from the Shanghai film fest) is, by turns, irritated, hedging, backpedaling, defensive.

“I misspoke for four seconds and it’s become an international incident.”

It seems that the apology had emanated not from Sharon Stone herself, but rather from Dior, with whom she has a modeling contract. The company, fearing consumer backlash, hastily hammered out a contrite statment on her behalf. Stone scoffed and resisted.

But then she viewed a videotape of her own remarks (ironically about karmic retribution) -- and understood for the first time what all the fuss is about. Lesson: if we could only hear what we sound like to others, we'd tread more cautiously -- and more respectfully.

“I had absolutely no intention of saying that, which I did say,” she said, “and
now, looking at it on the tape, I look like a complete ding-dong.”

UPDATE: Who the hell cares what Sharon Stone has to say about China anyway?

Thursday, May 29, 2008


We've got international interest in our TV show, thanks to the Réseau Médiation blog (Les dernières nouvelles, infos, idées sur la médiation, la négociation et la gestion des conflits).

Even if you're not entirely sure what it means, you've got to admit it looks impressive... and to auteur Dominique Foucart, we say, "Merci!"

C’est encore à Victoria Pynchon et à son blog Settle It Now! que je dois cette nouvelle: une émission de TV en direct qui va proposer de vivre des médiations. C’est aux Etats-Unis, bien entendu. Mais cela aurait-il du sens chez nous ?

Lorsqu’il s’agit de promouvoir la médiation, la question de savoir si tous les moyens sont bons doit être posée. Pour Jerry Lazar, médiateur à Los Angeles, la réponse permet en tout cas d’aller jusqu’à amener des clients et leur problème sur un plateau de télévision et à les faire participer à une médiation en direct. Autant pour la confidentialité des débats…

Daprès l’article publié par Victoria, le numéro 0 de la série a été tourné avec des acteurs, mais la série proprement dite devrait faire appel aux personnes qui sont réellement dans le conflit. L’émission commence par une présentation formelle du processus de médiation, suivie de la médiation proprement dite.

Cela me rappelle furieusement le succès de “Ca va se savoir”, la version francophone de “The Jerry Springer Show”. Pour rappel, le principe de la version originale est de faire venir sur un plateau, “à l’insu les uns des autres”, les protagonistes d’un drame (le plus souvent familial) le plus sordide possible. Au plus les protagonistes rejoignent le plateau, au plus le caractère sordide de la situation apparait, et au plus les acteurs se retrouvent en confrontation. Dans la version française, ce sont des acteurs qui prennent des rôles qui ne viennent pas de la réalité, mais ont été inventés par des scénaristes professionnels.

Dans quelle mesure une telle approche peut-elle aider à promouvoir notre métier de médiateur? Un apport important d’une telle approche est qu’elle donne une meilleure vue aux médiés potentiels de certains points qui sont aujourd’hui des freins à la médiation, comme par exemple que “la médiation est faite pour les gens qui veulent se réconcilier”, ou comme la magie du passage d’un combat de position à un travail de co-créativité. Par contre, la mise à mal du caractère confidentiel des débats me parait totalement inacceptable. Existe-t-il une “voie du milieu”, c’est sans doute à explorer.

Je vois par exemple deux possibilités de promouvoir dans les médias le processus de médiation: utiliser des cas proches de cas vécus, mais les faire jouer par des acteurs (ou mieux, par de bons improvisateurs), ou dans une approche plus “Pierre Bellemare”, faire un travail de conteur de médiations.

Voilà de quoi faire vibrer nos petites cellules grises.

Joyce Kilmer Weeps

If two neighbors are fighting over the placement of a tree on their property line, they can seek sane remedies in mediation.

Or they can tell it to the judge, who will issue a Solomon-like decision.

Sigh. It's always the trees that suffer.

Obama's Global Diplomacy

Mediator extraordinaire Ken Cloke paints an optimistic picture of what international diplomacy and global dispute resolution strategies might look like in an Obama administration:

Consider a key element in the Obama campaign and one of the key questions for many voters – should the US negotiate with its enemies?

Most mediators, I think, would immediately answer, “Yes.” We understand that negotiation is based on differences; that negotiating doesn’t mean agreeing; that negotiating draws people away from violent alternatives; and that negotiation is preferable to power-based solutions such as war and terrorism. Notice, however, how use of the word “enemy” automatically builds into the question an assumption of implacable hostility and an implication that negotiation must fail. To reverse this assumption and consider not just whether, but how we should negotiate with our opponents, we need to answer a number of questions.

Those questions, which Cloke parses brilliantly, are:

1. How does effective diplomacy and negotiation differ from "appeasement?"
2. How can America best negotiate our future?
3. What does capable international diplomacy look like - what are positive

He concludes:

As mediators, we need to recognize that we also are global citizens, and responsible by virtue of our knowledge and experience for helping to save the planet. We need to weigh in on the important issues of the day that directly touch on our expertise, including not just who we negotiate with, but how we negotiate and why. Without it, Obama and the perspective he represents may succumb to those who think patriotism requires war and the slaughter of innocents. The time to speak up is now.

Another Apology, Another Lesson

Like those pastors who attributed AIDS and Hurricane Katrina to divine wrath towards homosexuality and hedonism, actress Sharon Stone stepped in it when she suggested that the horrific Chinese earthquake was karmic retribution for mistreating Tibetans.

And now she's apologized.

"Due to my inappropriate words and acts during the interview, I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people...I am willing to take part in the relief work of China's earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people."

But the best part of the story, underscoring the necessity of humility in pursuing the path toward peace, is buried at the bottom:

Stone also said she received a letter from the Tibetan Foundation asking her to help the quake victims. "They wanted to go and be helpful, and that made me cry. It was a big lesson to me that sometimes you have to learn to put your head down and be of service even to people who aren't nice to you," she said.

Conflict Between Conflict Pros

Paradoxically, there's nothing quite as ornery and contentious and divisive as a convention of peacemakers. When I was on the board of the Southern Calfornia Mediation Association, we hired a management consultant to help us assess and re-draft the organization's goals and mission statement, and he confided that it was one of the most difficult organizations with which he had ever worked.

I was reminded of this when (in the comments section of Vickie Pynchon's excellent blog) an Atlanta mediator objected to my mediation-themed reality TV show, on the shaky grounds that mediators should be resolving conflict, not promoting it. Huh? Isn't that the whole point of the show -- to demonstrate a superior method of resolving conflict (in contrast to the myriad Judge shows)? Wouldn't this raise the public's awareness of the mere existence of mediation, and drive clients to our Atlanta friend's doorstep?

Tellingly, he accused me of artificially fanning the flames of dispute for the benefit of ratings, by provoking name-calling... and then proceeded to call me a "conniving producer."

Here's how I responded:

I must object to your notion that mediators should "avoid conflict and confrontation."
You must be joking! Conflict and confrontation is at the heart of what we do. Avoid it? Hardly!

We must confront it head on. Not to argue semantics, but conflict and confrontation, in and of themselves, are not bad things at all. They are the essence of life. We can't always agree with each other, nor should we! It's how we RESOLVE conflict that matters. Mediation is an ideal way to do that. My purpose is to educate Americans so that they don't resort to the two most common ways of resolving dispute -- litigation and violence.

Look at it another way -- conflict and confrontation are inevitable. All those Judge Judy cases are going to happen, no matter what. BUT what if America saw ANOTHER way of resolving those cases? So that the next time they got into a confrontation themselves, they didn't reflexively call a lawyer or a cop, or threaten violence, and instead phoned a mediator?

All we're trying to do is educate people to the existence of mediation, and make them aware that they can get their issues settled more quickly, less expensively, and with far less anguish than heartache than if they explore the traditional venues.

I should think that a practicing mediator would welcome such a daily public service announcement with open arms!

As for our show, all we're doing is portraying mediations as they really happen. And, yes, if people are in mediation, I think we can safely assume that there's a conflict involved. And, yes, sometimes the parties get confrontational. That's the nature of the beast.

But a good mediator facilitates constructive communication and gently guides them away from finger-pointing and name-calling, and toward forward-looking collaborative solutions to their problems.

What exactly is the harm in that?

I question the temperament and judgment of a mediator who labels new ideas "ridiculous" before he even tries to understand them! Hopefully now you can assess this new TV show with an open mind.

I'll leave you with this quote, from my very first blog post: "Fighting is a necessary and useful component of real life; differences of opinion are a good thing. So the primary goal of this blog is to teach a new generation how to engage in battle constructively, not destructively. In short, how to fight nicely."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Peace Psychology

Oprah Magazine provides a good intro to a "new field called peace psychology" -- except for its title ("Let's not fight!") and its opening sentence ("Imagine a world without conflict.").

A world without conflict would be a boring place. Conflict is necessary and good. It's unrealistic to presume that all people will share the same perspective, the same approach, the same desires, the same goals. And as long as there is more than one human on the planet, there will always be fighting -- and that's not a bad thing, either. Fighting is necessary and good.

It's how we fight, and how we resolve conflict, that matters. Anticipating inevitable disagreements, whether between spouses or neighbors or nations, and learning how to peacefully resolve them (without violence or litigation) is the admirable goal to which we should all aspire. And in fact the article outlines invaluable methods of constructive dispute resolution worth adopting and modeling for the next generation.

So go ahead and fight! Just remember to fight nicely.

'The Peacemaker'

Daily Journal reporter Greg Katz did a terrific job today of describing the mediation-themed reality show pilot that TV producer Richard Klinger and I are shopping around. Here are some highlights of his story:

Lazar (left) and Klinger.
Photo by Robert Levins.

Two L.A. Mediators Are Shopping a TV Pilot That Would Showcase Their Art
By Greg Katz
Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - Arbitration already has its own small-screen star in Judge Judy, the feisty former judge who arbitrates small claims cases to the hoots and hollers of a studio audience. Two Los Angeles mediators think it's about time mediation had its own television show, too.

Jerry Lazar and Richard Klinger recently have been shopping around a pilot for "The Peacemaker," a show that would spotlight mediation.

"Its time has really come," Klinger said.

The idea for the show took shape after a speech Lazar made to the Southern California Mediation Association.

Lazar, a former host and producer for the E! television network, went on his usual rant: "The American public has a glut of judge shows. Why aren't there any mediation shows?"

After the speech, Klinger, executive producer of the "Jane Fonda's Workout" video series, approached Lazar and asked whether he had ever tried to put together a mediation television show himself.

They shot the pilot in December.

It opens with a host in suit-and-tie describing the mediation process and explaining that mediation offers a way out of conflict "without the expense and heartache of litigation."

Lazar, who is not a lawyer, doesn't just want to see the show succeed for his own glory, he said. He has a very personal attachment to mediation's success.

He began mediating after he went through long and bitter child custody litigation at the turn of the millennium. When he found out about the alternative provided by mediation, he decided to dedicate himself to it.

After volunteering as a mediator on the Los Angeles County Superior Court's pro bono panel, he spent time as associate director of California Lawyers for the Arts' Santa Monica community mediation center and as program manager of the Los Angeles County Bar's Dispute Resolution Services.

"If there's any good I've done in this world, it's pointing people toward mediation," Lazar said.

Klinger, a former Montana assistant attorney general who recently started his own mediation practice, said he hopes the show will help private mediators get more business by increasing awareness of mediation's benefits.

"If this was on the air now ... it would promote mediation," Klinger said.

But the show has not proved an instant winner with television executives.

"Most TV executives have only the vaguest idea of what [mediation] is," Lazar said. "One guy said, 'I don't understand. Are we talking about the same thing here? Hostage negotiation?'"

Lazar said he tries to emphasize the personal drama of mediations - a combination, as he puts it, of "Jerry Springer" and "Dr. Phil" - but realizes it is difficult to explain. He said other attempts to develop mediation shows have failed. "You go in, you pitch, you sell them, and they say, 'You know, that sounds really great - but if you can come in with a judge show, we'd let you do it in a minute,'" he said. "I tell them, 'If you saw a real mediation, it's powerful stuff. People are transformed ..."

The producers ... are working out kinks in preparation to re-shoot the pilot. One important change they will make is using caucusing in the show's mediations, a term for separating the parties to different rooms and letting the mediator go back and forth between them. Then they plan to pitch the show to networks again.

"We know they're looking for something to break that judge show mold in that judge show time slot," Klinger said. Watch your back, Judge Judy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Neighbor Is A Jerk

Is your neighbor really annoying? Would you like to put an end to the bickering and/or passive-aggressive games you're both playing? At no cost? Email me the details and I'll tell you about a free program that will put an end to your misery.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How Not to Apologize

Lacking veracity, sincerity, awareness of wrongdoing, offer of retribution -- and not aimed at those most hurt by the original remark (whether its offense was intended or not):

Frankly I think her RFK reference was misinterpreted and the reaction overblown. But given that a huge number of people took offense, and for a variety of reasons found it ominous and hurtful and even a veiled threat, here was an opportunity for her to display true leadership skills and calm the storm. Watch how she failed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What the World Needs Now

"It's time for more than tough talk that never yields results. It's time for a new strategy... It is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions." Amen!

Videogame Violence

My pre-teen son had bookmarked a popular site that features free videogames. Because I'm the mean dad who won't buy him a "platform" (e.g. PS3, Xbox, Wii, etc.), I tell him he's welcome to indulge in online strategy games or puzzles, provided they rely on thinking, not shooting.

Well, he outsmarted me. Among the morass of shoot-'em-up titles (Pillage the Village, Tactical Assassin 2, Age of War, Circle of Pain, Momentum Missle Mayhem), he did indeed ferret out Ignite People On Fire, whose title pretty much describes the action. A well-timed mouse click will result not in a hail of bullets, as my son quickly points out, but rather cause human targets to spontaneously combust, in shrieks of agony. Hence, not technically a shooting game. Score one for him.

No violence of any sort, I clarified, and so he found Drunk Klunk, a "strategy" game in which no one is attacked, hurt or killed: "Everyone's favorite asshole is back, just in time for New Years! In this exciting, high action game Klunk has stopped into the bar for a bit of a drink. Unfortunately, he only has 3 minutes until the bar closes, in which time he needs to get as pissed as he can!" Apparently the goal is to mouse-click as many mugs of booze as possible down the bar and into the tipsy character, who keeps swaying side-to-side and even falling off his stool.

Alcohol seems to be a common denominator of kids' strategy games, such as Drunken Masters: "Epic bartending action! Choose one of ten different bartenders and start your adventure. With fast-paced gameplay and quick-thinking action, you'll learn to mix drinks for up to 5 impatient customers at once. There are plenty of tricks and special moves that you'll need to master to keep the customers entertained. At the end of your shift, view your list of achievements, challenge other bartenders, purchase upgrades with your tips, and train to perfect your moves."

The perfect middle-school cocktail: equal parts science and psychology, and a shot of sociology. Cheers!

Aren't there any wholesome videogames, ones that can prepare kids for a career other than psychotic assassin or boisterous bartender?

How about Dark Cut 2? "Fall into the thick of the Civil War, and perform three surgeries on some of the worst wounds imaginable! This game contains extreme violence, alcohol references, and realistic medical procedures." A sigh of relief. My son, the doctor!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Apology Aftermath

The New York Times reports on the reactions and repercussions following the apology by the American military for one of its soldiers using a Quran for target practice.

At issue is what should happen to the offending soldier -- who has personally apologized, and has been relieved of duty and redeployed stateside.

Pres. Bush, apparently feeling that is insufficient punishment to appease the Iraquis, has promised them that the soldier would additionally be criminally prosecuted.

To what extent should an offender's punishment be tailored to satisfy his victims?

If nothing else, there is a lesson here on the force and impact of the actions of one individual.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Medical Apologies

Doctors are among the last to apologize for errors. It's not just their egos that are on the line, but also their wallets that are at stake. But according to this New York Times report, that may be changing:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Some bad news:

Recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients suffers negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result. But studies also show that as few as 30 percent of medical errors are disclosed to patients.

But also some good news:

To give doctors comfort, 34 states have enacted laws making apologies for medical errors inadmissible in court... Four states have gone further and protected admissions of culpability. Seven require that patients be notified of serious unanticipated outcomes.

Bottom line: Acknowledging and disclosing error in medical procedures is more likely to lead to errors being corrected -- rather than getting swept under the rug, so to speak, at the patient's peril.

The Necessity of Apology

An American GI in Iraq had used a Quran for target practice. A more insulting, incendiary act against Islam can scarcely be imagined. America's alliance with Sunni militia was severely threatened. The stakes were high. There was only one thing for the American military to do.

They apologized.

As previously noted here, an effective apology must demonstrate recognition that your action caused harm, must offer empathy and acknowledgement of the injustice caused, must accept blame without excuses, must promise not to repeat the harm, and must offer restitution.

Blessedly, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, did it properly:

"I am a man of honor, I am a man of character. You have my word, this will never happen again," the general told the angry crowd through loudspeakers, pounding the makeshift podium three times with his fist.

"In the most humble manner, I look in to your eyes today and I say, please forgive me and my soldiers." The act of his sniper was criminal, he said. "I've come to this land to protect you, to support you...this soldier has lost the honor to serve the United States Army and the people of Iraq here in Baghdad."

A Division commander then offered a symbol of restitution:

Holding a new Quran in his hands, [Col. Ted Martin] turned to the crowd. "I hope that you'll accept this humble gift." Martin kissed the Quran and touched it to his forehead as he handed it to the tribal elders.

A local sheikh came to the microphone. "In the name of all the sheikhs," he
said, "we declare we accept the apology that was submitted."

With hands shaken and sheepish thank-yous made, the general and the colonel returned to their armored convoy. The crisis, it seems, was averted.

Never underestimate the power of apology.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


What would you consider unforgivable? If your spouse cheated on you? If your accountant embezzled your entire retirement fund? If an arsonist burned your house to the ground?

How about if someone hacked and clubbed your husband and five kids to death?

CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports on a Rwandan woman whose neighbor decimated her family with "machetes, hoes and wooden clubs." Now she weaves "peace baskets" with his wife, and the three of them regularly share meals, in the very area where the slaughters took place.

Confession. Apology. Understanding. Forgiveness. These are the ingredients of this remarkable tale.

Read it and ponder it the next time you consider holding a grudge.

Why We Must Talk to Terrorists

Pres. Bush to Israel's Knesset: "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along... We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

His remark is itself a "foolish delusion," but not for the reasons pundits are claiming. A fundamental precept of negotiation is to listen and strive to understand before trying to be understood. Bush's error is that he mistakes negotiation for bullying. He may couch his tactics in softer sounding notions, such as "argument" and "persuasion," but after six years in Iraq we know well what his vision of coersion entails.

So, yes, we should negotiate -- with our ears, not our tongues. And we should not call our enemies "terrorists." Mediators know that labeling and name-calling serve no constructive purpose. Our opponents think of us as terrorists, and as long as all parties harbor that prejudice, there will be no progress.

Kudos to Sen. Obama for advocating "tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," and for his willingness "to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe."

In case my agenda is called to question, suffice to say that I am an Israel-supporting Jew. And I would personally welcome the opportunity to sit at a negotiation table with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmaninejad , or even Hamas leaders Kehaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniya.

Not to offer an "ingenious argument." But to listen -- with curiosity and humility, with open heart and mind. I contend that that approach is tougher than the simpleminded path to war, and infinitely more likely to produce positive results and lasting peace.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

'Mediator Mary'

Imagine a reality-TV show like 'Judge Judy,' except instead of an authoritarian, scolding judge, you'd have a mediator facilitating a collaborative resolution between the disputing parties.

Wouldn't this be a great way to teach Americans about the cheaper, faster, saner road to conflict resolution? Wouldn't this mass-media exposure help deter lawsuits and violence, and promote forward-looking, solution-oriented, collaborative peacemaking?

I'm not the first to contemplate this, as evidenced by the number of times I've been asked to audition as the mediator for shows like this, which have been in various stages of development for the past decade or so.

Since I'm a mediator who happens to have a background in hosting and producing syndicated talk shows, I must have seemed like a natural. But then I'd show up for "camera tests" and bump into lots of familiar faces -- fellow mediators who didn't have any TV experience, but by virtue of their dynamic personalities and/or telegenic qualities, I suppose, were invited to try out. We'd see each other so often in the reception areas, awaiting our on-camera interviews, it became a running joke. "Break a leg!"

Bafflingly, none of these shows ever made it to air, even as "judge" shows thrive and multiply.

In my mediation stump speech, which I deliver to community gatherings and classrooms, I share my dream of 'Mediator Mary' replacing 'Judge Judy,' of educating the public by entertaining them. After one such presentation, a TV producer approached me and said, "Let's do it!" So we set about packaging a presentation, and shopping it around. As is often the case in Hollywood, nobody rejected it, but nobody greenlighted it either.

Why not?

The biggest stumbling block was educating TV executives about mediation. Most were vaguely aware of the concept, but to them it was hazy, obscure, abstract. (Hostage negotiations? Labor union strikes?) And if they weren't instantly familiar with it, they argued, sparking audience interest would be an uphill battle.

But even after we patiently walked them through TV-friendly "community mediation" loglines (e.g. warring neighbors, feuding cousins), the objections piled up.

First, a judge is perceived as a more dynamic character than a mediator. Home audiences root for a finger-wagging, ass-kicking, no-nonsense SOB -- not a softhearted, touchy-feely, Kumbaya-humming, empathic nice guy. They want Dr. Phil, not Mr. Rogers.

Secondly, it was explained to us, audiences want to see clear winners and losers -- with the "bad guy" getting his comeuppance, so that the audience can vicariously identify with the "good guy" getting vindication and revenge. Forget about some saccharine scenario where everybody shakes hands and goes home happy. Not good drama, we were told.

Plus, there were logistical problems. A judge can control the proceedings so that they fit neatly into digestible segments between commercials, and wrap them up so that decisions are handed down within the half-hour framework. How could TV accomodate the unpredictably amorphous structure of mediation, which doesn't end until both parties say it's over?

We assured them that there was more visual drama in a mediation than in a courtroom -- with the parties going at each other Jerry Springer-style, in ways that no judge would permit. We assured them that mediators could be quite charismatic, and the magic they help create can be compelling and captivating. We assured them that we could find a tough mediator who could muscle the parties toward resolution before the final bell.

The TV execs were uniformly bemused by our persistence in wanting to launch this novel concept, and routinely replied: "We like your energy. Why don't you just bring us another judge show? We can always use more of those."

So we raised the money, hired a crew, rented and dressed a soundstage, and professionally shot and edited our own mediation-themed pilot. It involves a divorcing couple in a "Green Card marriage" who are bickering over the division of high-priced assets. Some of the racier revelations (e.g. the wife's affair with her boss) would give most soap operas a run for their money. Tempers flare, accusations are hurled, and just when all seems hopeless, the mediator guides them to a mutually forged resolution: The wife gets to keep the Porsche if she returns all the diamonds and pearls that the husband had lavished upon her.

Had this case gone to court, all those shiny gems would have ended up in the pockets of the lawyers, and the couple would have spent anguish-filled months trying to achieve what they accomplished in one day.

Sure, Judge Judy could have handled this case, and it would have made decent entertainment. Probably either the husband or wife would have come out ahead, and whoever was cheering for them would feel righteous, and whoever was hissing them would feel robbed. Would the home audience for Mediator Mary find gratification in a resolution that both parties feel is equitable? That's what we'd like to test. And we're hoping an innovative TV executive will have the moxie to help us do it.

Meanwhile, we're looking for investors and more cases to shoot -- so send them our way: JerryLazar (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mediation Domain Names For Sale

Inquire/offer: JerryLazar (at) gmail (dot) com.

Career Day Violence

At Career Day at my son's middle school, I conducted role-plays with the students to illustrate the mechanics and magic of mediation.

We'd establish a simple hypothetical problem, with multiple perspectives and interests, and give everyone a chance at suggesting possible resolutions -- sky's the limit, no constraints. The idea was to "wring dry the towel" of ideas -- "Good! What else?" -- and illustrate the multiplicity of potentially satisfying outcomes that diverge from the traditional zero-sum, win-lose scenario of courtrooms and battlefields.

I obviously had been fantasizing a beautiful lesson in negotiation and compromise and active listening and "underlying interests vs. intractible positions." Expanding the pie vs. dividing the pie. Collaborative peacemaking.

What was horrifying was the natural inclination of these students to adopt a "punishing" stance -- and instinctively offer a "lose-lose" verdict. Could this have been passed down from their parents? It certainly sounded that way: "You both have to give the [contested object] to me, and I'll keep it [or discard it], and you're both grounded for fighting."

Worse was the proclivity toward blatant violence: "He should smash him over the head with a rock and just take [the object of dispute] and run away." Or (from a girl): "Just kick him in the nuts and grab it from him, and tell him you'll kill him if he tells anybody." Again, these were pre-teens.

What's to blame? Parents? TV? Movies? Rap music? Violent videogames?

I ponder the ancient Myth of Redemptive Violence, as articulated by Walter Wink.

Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts.

He uses "Popeye" as an example:

In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth.

Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honour Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

But he draws parallels to all popular culture, and of course real life:

We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children’s cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society.

The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show – where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self.

When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation.

So what can we do -- as parents, educators, mediators -- to offset this horrifying trend? Wink offers some solid ideas. What are yours?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pax Corleone

An intriguing analysis of post-9/11 foreign-policy strategies, as viewed through the prism of "The Godfather," courtesy of John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell in The National Interest:

The aging Vito Corleone, emblematic of cold-war American power, is struck down suddenly and violently by forces he did not expect and does not understand, much as America was on September 11. Even more intriguingly, each of his three “heirs” embraces a very different vision of how the family should move forward following this wrenching moment. Tom Hagen, Sonny and Michael approximate the three American foreign-policy schools of thought—liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism and realism—vying for control in today’s disarranged world order.

Insightful parallels are drawn:

In Sonny, Tom is confronted with the cinematic archetype of the modern-day neoconservative hard-liner. Their resulting feud resembles the pitched political warfare between Democrats and neoconservatives that has come to dominate the American political landscape:

Tom Hagen, the liberal institutionalist: “We oughta hear what they have to say.”

Sonny, the neocon: “No, no more. Not this time, consigliere; no more meetings, no more discussions. . . . And do me a favor: no more advice on how to patch things up—just help me win alright?”

THE STRATEGY that ultimately saves the Corleone family from the Sollozzo threat and equips it for coping with multipolarity comes from Michael, the youngest and least experienced of the don’s sons. Unlike Tom, whose labors as family lawyer have produced an exaggerated devotion to negotiation, and Sonny, whose position as untested heir apparent has produced a zeal for utilizing the family arsenal, Michael has no formulaic fixation on a particular policy instrument. Instead, his overriding goal is to protect the family’s interests and save it from impending ruin by any and all means necessary. In today’s foreign-policy terminology, Michael is a realist.

Viewing the world through untinted lenses, he sees that the age of dominance the family enjoyed for so long under his father is ending. Alone among the three brothers, Michael senses that a shift is underway toward a more diffuse power arrangement, in which multiple power centers will jockey for position and influence. To survive and succeed in this new environment, Michael knows the family will have to adapt.

First, Michael relinquishes the mechanistic, one-trick-pony policy approaches of his brothers in favor of a “toolbox,” in which soft and hard power are used in flexible combinations and as circumstances dictate. While at various times he sides with Tom (favoring negotiation) or Sonny (favoring force), Michael sees their positions as about tactics and not about ultimate strategy, which for him is solely to ensure the survival and prosperity of the family. Thus, he is able to use Sonny’s “button men” to knock out those competitors he cannot co-opt, while negotiating with the rest as Tom would like. This blending of sticks and carrots ensures that Michael is ultimately a more effective diplomat than Tom and a more successful warrior than Sonny: when he enters negotiations, it is always in the wake of a fresh battlefield victory and therefore from a position of strength; when he embarks on a new military campaign, it is always in pursuit of a specific goal that can be consolidated afterwards diplomatically. Can any of the Iran policies currently being advocated by the leading candidates of both parties be said to proceed from these assumptions?

Second, Michael understands that no matter how strong its military or how savvy its diplomats, the Corleone family will not succeed in the multipolar environment ahead unless it learns to take better care of its allies. Like America after the Iraq War, the mafia empire that Michael inherits after the hit on Sonny possesses a system of alliances on the brink of collapse. Having flocked to the Corleone colors when the war against Sollozzo broke out, the family’s allies—like America’s in the “New” Europe—have little to show for the risks they have undertaken on the family’s behalf. Exhausted by war and estranged by Sonny’s Rumsfeld-like bullying, they have begun to question whether it is still in their interests to backstop a declining superpower that is apparently not interested in retaining their loyalty.

For all his talk about diplomacy, Tom believes in the family’s dominance; like today’s liberal institutionalists, he assumes that allies will continue to pay fealty to the family as a matter of course, as they have in the past. Similarly, Sonny assumes that other powers will gravitate toward the family or risk irrelevance; like most neocons, he sees allies as essentially disposable. By contrast, Michael intuitively grasps the value of family friends and the role that reciprocity plays in retaining their support for future crises. Thus, he is seen offering encouragement and a cigarette to Enzo, the timid neighborhood baker, whose help he enlisted to protect his father at the hospital. In this, he is imitating his father, Vito, who saw alliances as the true foundation of Corleone power and was mindful of the need to tend the family’s “base” of support, not only with big players like Clemenza and Tessio (Britain and France) but with small players like the cake maker and undertaker (Poland and Romania), whose loyalty he is seen cultivating in the opening scenes of the movie. As Michael knows, even small allies could potentially prove crucial in “tipping the scales” to the family’s advantage, as they will for America, once multipolarity is in full swing. Relearning the lost Sicilian art of alliance management will be necessary if Washington is to regain the confidence of the growing list of allies whose blood and treasure were frittered away, with little or nothing to show in return, in the sands of Iraq.

Finally, while addressing the family’s immediate need for a more versatile policy tool kit and shoring up its teetering alliances, Michael also takes steps to adjust the institutional playing field to the Corleones’ advantage on a more fundamental, long-term basis. Where Tom sees institutions as essentially static edifices that act as sources of power in their own right and Sonny sees them as needless hindrances to be bypassed, Michael sees institutions for what they truly are: conduits of influence that “reflect and ratify” but do not supplant deeper power realities. When the distribution of power shifts, institutions are sure to follow. As the Tataglias and Barzinis gain strength, Michael knows they will eventually overturn the existing order and replace it with an institutional rule book that better reflects their own needs and interests. Evidence that this process is already underway can be seen in the ease with which Sollozzo is able to enlist the support of a local precinct captain—the mafia equivalent of a UN mandate—when police loyalties formerly belonged to the Corleones.

Similarly, Washington increasingly finds the very institutions it created after World War II being used against it by today’s rising powers, even as new structures are being built (like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) that exclude the United States as a participant altogether.

Rather than ignoring this phenomenon like Tom or launching a frontal assault against it like Sonny, Michael sees it as a hidden opportunity. For Michael knows that if the family acts decisively, before the Tataglias and Barzinis have acquired a commanding margin of power, it can rearrange the existing institutional setup in ways that satisfy the new power centers but still serve vital Corleone interests. This he does through a combination of accommodation (dropping the family’s resistance to narcotics and granting the other families access to the Coreleones’ coveted New York political machinery) and institutional retrenchment (shifting the family business to Nevada and giving the other families a stake in the Corleones’ new moneymaker, Las Vegas gambling). In this way, Michael is able to give would-be rivals renewed incentives to bandwagon with, rather than balance against, the Corleone empire, while forcing them to deal with him on his own terms.

A similar technique could prove very useful for America in anticipating and preparing the way for the emergence of its Tataglias and Barzinis, the rising and resurgent powers. Such an effort at preemptive institutional regrouping, with decision making predicated on new global power realities, is vital if America’s new peer competitors are to eschew the temptation to position themselves as revolutionary powers in the new system. Doing so now, while the transition from the old system to multipolarity is still underway and before the wet cement of the new order has hardened, could help to ensure that while it no longer enjoys the privileged status of hegemon, America is able to position itself, like the Corleones, as the next best thing: primus inter pares—“first among equals.”

CAN ANY of the candidates vying to become the next president of the United States match Michael’s cool, dispassionate courage in the face of epochal change? Will they avoid living in the comforting embrace of the past, from which both Tom and Sonny ultimately could not escape? Or will they emulate Michael’s flexibility—to preserve America’s position in a dangerous world?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cases Needed for TV Show

For a new mediation-themed reality show, we're looking for "Judge Judy" types of cases in Southern California -- involving neighbors or family members or co-workers or a retailer-customer conflict or a landlord-tenant dispute or, well, you get the idea.

If you know of such a situation, and the parties are willing to waive confidentiality in exchange for having their dispute settled for free, please let us know: JerryLazar (at) gmail dot com.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Healing Power of Apology

Psychiatrist Aaron Lazare, author of the definitive study "On Apology," defines an effective apology as "the exchange of shame and power between the offender and the offended." It is a tool that can serve mediation participants well, and one that effective mediators should consider in the pursuit of resolution.

What constitutes an effective apology?

Beverly Engel's landmark book "Power of Apology" instructs that a meaningful apology must communicate the three R's: regret, responsibility and remedy. First, you must demonstrate that you recognize that your action (or inaction) caused harm, intentionally or not, and express empathy along with your acknowledgement of the injustice you caused. Second, accept blame, without excuses. Third, offer restitution, or at least a promise to not repeat the harm. "Unless all three of these elements are present," she writes, "the other person will sense that something is missing in your apology and he or she may feel shortchanged."

Psychologist Carl Schneider, a prominent divorce mediator in Maryland, believes, "Apology is central to mediation: mediation regularly involves disputes in which one party feels injured by the other. An apology is an act that is neither about problem-solving or negotiation. Rather, it is a form of ritual exchange where words are spoken that may enable closure. In the language of transformative mediation, apology represents an opportunity for acknowledgement that may transform relations. Most of us recognize its role in victim-offender mediation and community conferencing, but it can play an equally critical role in other forms of mediation, including employment and divorce mediation."

The mediator's role, Schneider argues, is to help people "get past the defensiveness and fear of blame that preclude apology. Apology can not be imposed. Parties often need preparation and help with the words." It is a task made harder by the nature of our jurisprudence system, which instills a real fear of admitting culpability: "The adversary system breeds defensiveness; apology requires vulnerability." He notes that we would do well to adopt aspects of the Japanese legal system, in which "apology plays a major role as a social restorative mechanism."

Lazare's "On Apology" includes fascinating historic examples of potent apologies that shaped and changed the destinies of entire nations. They serve as formidable guidelines for those of us who daily witness and attempt to repair the rifts of conflict.

He writes: "An apology heals because it allows the offending party to:

1 ...Maintain and repair the relationship.
2 ...Validate the offense.
3 ...Reestablish the moral code or social contract with the offended party.
4 ...Suffer for what he has done.
5 ...Acknowledge shame and remorse.
6 ...Show the offence was not personal and will not happen again.
7 ...Acknowledge there is a debt to be paid.
8 ...Give the victim the power to forgive or not to forgive.
9 ...Restore the dignity of the other at the cost of dignity of him- or herself.
"Because of all these things," Lazare concludes, "an effective apology is an act of honesty, an act of humility, an act of commitment, an act of generosity, and an act of courage."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Mediation Channel

Many thanks to mediator extraordinaire Diane Levin for her kind words on the Mediation Channel , one of the best blogs on issues relating to alternative dispute resolution. When it comes to spreading the peacemaking gospel, she's the real deal.

I just spent a gratifying chunk of time there exploring common interests and fresh insights, ranging from spotting fake smiles and the fabled Monty Hall problem to a food-fight animation and the upcoming Pangea Day on May 10. Great stuff!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Violence as a Public Health Issue

In Blocking the Transmission of Violence , Alex Kotlowitz ( takes an in-depth look at innovative efforts to curb violence by treating it not as an ethical issue but as an infectious disease:

CeaseFire’s founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist and a physician who
for 10 years battled infectious diseases in Africa. He says that violence directly mimics infections like tuberculosis and AIDS, and so, he suggests, the treatment ought to mimic the regimen applied to these diseases: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. “For violence, we’re trying to interrupt the next event, the next transmission, the next violent activity,” Slutkin told me recently. “And the violent activity predicts the next violent activity like H.I.V. predicts the next H.I.V. and TB predicts the next TB.” Slutkin wants to shift how we think about violence from a moral issue (good and bad people) to a public health one (healthful and unhealthful behavior). ...

In his book “The Bottom Billion,” Paul Collier argues that one of the characteristics of many developing countries that suffer from entrenched poverty is what he calls the conflict trap, the inability to escape a cycle of violence, usually in the guise of civil wars. Could the same be true in our inner cities, where the ubiquity of guns and gunplay pushes businesses and residents out and leaves behind those who can’t leave, the most impoverished?

Slutkin sees a direct parallel to the early history of seemingly incurable infectious diseases. “Chinatown, San Francisco in the 1880s,” Slutkin says. “Three ghosts: malaria, smallpox and leprosy. No one wanted to go there. Everybody blamed the people. Dirty. Bad habits. Something about their race. Not only is everybody afraid to go there, but the people there themselves are afraid at all times because people are dying a lot and nobody really knows what to do about it. And people come up with all kinds of other ideas that are not scientifically grounded — like putting people away, closing the place down, pushing the people out of town. Sound familiar?”

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Magic Pennies & Card Tricks

I was quoted in the Los Angeles Daily Journal today, in a marvelous article about the magic of mediation, by my wonderful friend and fellow mediator Victoria Pynchon.

She relates how she successsfully resolved a complex longstanding litigated dispute between neighbors by using a charmingly whimsical concept: "magic pennies." Her account is too good to encapsulate here, so please click here to read the whole story, or email me and I'll forward you a PDF file. (Meanwhile, be sure to regularly visit her terrific blog.)

Here's the part in her article about me:

My friend and fellow mediator Jerry Lazar actually is a magician -- miraculously settling cases by day and then unsettling audiences with close-up miracles at the Magic Castle by night. I wondered what "magical" solutions he conjured up at the mediation table.

"My only trick," he told me, "is to incentivize the parties by slapping a deck of cards on the table at the start of the session. Then I purposefully start shuffling and cutting them. The parties think you're a mad genius or a crackpot, but either way it gets their attention. Then you authoritatively announce: 'If we reach resolution today, I'll reward you with a card trick... but if we fail to reach resolution, I'll punish you with two card tricks.'

"Whenever the parties are at impasse, I casually toy with the deck. You’d be amazed at how quickly that motivates them to keep pushing forward...' "

On a more somber note, Lazar adds: "When we begin our mediation training and practice, we often hear (and speak) of the magic of mediation. When it works, it truly is wondrous. It's easy to see why a mediator feels like a wizard with supernatural powers, enabling lambs to lie down with lions. Based on my experience in the realms of magic and mediation, here is my hope.

"Once upon a time, if you could take a cup of water, put it in a box, push a button, and make that water boil -- without raising the temperature inside the box -- you'd have a miracle on your hands. Ditto for talking to someone, or even seeing them in real time, on the other side of the planet -- or even in outer space! How magical is that! And yet, thanks to technology, even the youngest child is jaded by these daily experiences.

"My fondest wish is that our social evolution keeps pace with our technological progress, so that the peaceful resolution of disputes will similarly become as commonplace as microwaves and mobile devices. Then it will no longer seem that mystical forces -or card tricks, or magic pennies -- are needed to bring together the bitterest of enemies for a common purpose.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Baby Steps

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with the first step." Lao-Tzu

Let me tell you about an offbeat exercise we did in Woody Mosten's Divorce Mediation class. All 17 students were instructed to think of a recent conflict in their lives. Then we lined up at the front door inside his house, and one-by-one, we walked single-file down the sidewalk to the corner, thinking hard about what small incremental steps we could take to resolve that conflict.

Now here's the catch: We literally had to take small steps. One can only imagine what the neighbors thought, watching this dreamy snail-like procession of baby steppers -- some with deliberate heel-to-toe tightrope precision, others shuffling serenely. After we finally gathered, we uniformly acknowledged that, although we initially felt uncomfortable and impatient, we gradually synchronized our thought processes to our body movement, and by contemplating each step slowly and individually, our solution-seeking became more efficient and productive.

Try it yourself -- you'll be surprised.

As I later told Woody, this exercise reminded me of invaluable lessons I learned from my old friend and colleague Robert Maurer, a psychotherapist who travels the world conducting popular workshops around the principles of Kaizen. He's even written the book on the subject: "One Small Step Can Change Your Life: Using the Japanese Technique of Kaizen to Achieve Lasting Success."

"Oh, yes," Woody replied with a smile, indicating that he was quite familiar with the ancient Zen philosophy. Like my friend Bob Maurer, he too had learned about it from popular literature about workplace management in the 1980s, and consciously chose to adapt and embrace its power for personal and institutional evolution.

Kaizen is a Japanese term that literally means "good change." Pronounced ki-zen (to rhyme with "lies in"), it prescribes "continual, small, gradual improvement," rather than its thematic opposite--innovation--which connotes big, bold, sudden, seismic change. Innovation is emblematized by lightbulbs and "Eureka!"; Kaizen is baby steps, "one day at a time."

Kaizen was applied, ironically, by an American management consultant, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who used it to maximize the quality of manufacturing during World War II. After the war, Deming then introduced the concept to Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota. Kaizen, then, is credited for the blindsiding and dethroning of the American automobile industry during the 1980s by the Japanese, who trained their workers to focus on manageable, incremental improvements at a time when U.S. car manufacturers were thinking "bigger and better."

Kaizen has applications far beyond manufacturing. It's a powerful tool in creativity and personal change. For most people, innovation--making large steps to accomplish goals--is the only way to proceed. The idea that small, seemingly trivial steps can lead to the same end, and sometimes even faster, defies common sense, but it appears the tortoise and the hare fable can also be a model for enduring transformation.

As the director of behavioral sciences for the family practice residency program at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and a faculty member with the UCLA School of Medicine, Maurer embraced Kaizen early on as a valuable tool for patients to improve their health, relationships, and careers. Maurer's investigations have led him to explore how successful people sustain their excellence and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

I wanted to know how Kaizen can specifically help mediators (who by definition are at the very nexus of adversity) -- not just in their day-to-day practice with clients, but also in propelling and bolstering their careers.

"Kaizen has two definitions," Maurer told me. "One is to take very small steps to achieve large goals; the other is to look at small details to learn large lessons . . ."

JERRY LAZAR: Let's start with goals. How should a mediator take the Kaizen path here?

ROBERT MAURER: The problem with big goals is that they send the person into fear, and fear diminishes creativity. Kaizen may sound simple and obvious, but it is usually forgotten by even the most seasoned negotiator. Under time pressure, which is part of all negotiations, the obvious need to start small -- building trust and building a process for problem solving -- can be quickly abandoned in the rush toward consensus. It takes faith, courage, and patience to assume the Tortoise approach to mediation is faster than the Hare approach.

JL: So make the intermediary goals smaller?

RM: Novelist Anne Lamott tells the story of her then 10-year-old brother who had a school report due on birds the following day. He had procrastinated for months. She writes: "He was at the kitchen table close to tears, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father put his arm around my brother's shoulder and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'" That's excellent advice for all of us.

JL: Take divorce mediation. The participants are overwhelmed by gargantuan changes in every aspect of their lives. That fear can translate to anger -- notably toward each other, because who else can they blame? So mediators need to hew especially close to the Kaizen path, breaking down each big decision -- like a comprehensive parenting plan -- into subsets of smaller, more easily digestable decisions. And take them slowly, one at a time.

RM: Getting the parties to acknowledge each other's small progress is also useful. By asking each party to state even ONE good point or ONE positive accomplishment of the other, they are better able to to keep the other person in perspective and not demonize them. They may need to be prodded to describe agreements they’ve made and kept over the years, since they are now focused in other areas.

JL: I agree that fear is a byproduct of most negotiations, especially divorce mediations -- fear of losing your money, your reputation, your house, your kids, your pride... Fear of the future...

RM: Kaizen was initially used by a business consultant to help Toyota build high-quality automobiles. Deming knew that fear is the enemy of creativity and wanted workers not to be afraid. There's an element of thinking of many businesses, that the way to motivate workers is through intimidation, and nothing can be further from truth. It's recently been reinforced and validated that people learn through small questions. Unlike a computer, the human brain can't reject a question, and if you ask the same question repeatedly, and if the question isn't big enough to scare you, then the brain will take it in and start popping out answers.

So at Toyota, they did not ask, "What are you going to do to make Toyota the greatest car company in the world?" Instead, they trained each worker to ask, "What small, trivial step can I take today that might improve the product or process?" On average, Japanese workers made 100 times more suggestions to their employers than the average American workers, who were conditioned to think in terms of big innovative changes.

JL: So the mediator has to direct his clients to ask these kinds of small questions. Not, "How am I going to divide all this community property?" Not, "What's wrong with her that she doesn't understand my 401K?" Not, "How come my neighbor got more spousal support than me?" or "What's wrong with my attorney?"

RM: The problem with those is that they're big enough to send the brain into fear--or anger, which is just a derivative of fear. So make your questions small: "Which parent is best able to take our son to baseball practice on Fridays?" And trust that the brain will start popping out answers. What you're trying to do in the creative process of mediation is not get in the brain's way. And lots of little answers lead to big answers.

If the mediation is grinding to a halt because the parties are overwhelmed by fear, Kaizen has the potential to conquer that underlying fear. Instead of saying, "How am I going to get this guy to agree to all her demands?," you tell yourself, "What one small detail can these two agree to?" As every mediator knows, sometimes one seemingly small thing will bring disputing parties one small step closer to resolution. We've all seen stalled negotiations go forward after a simple acknowledgement, or even a heartfelt "I'm sorry."

JL: What can a mediator’s clients learn from Kaizen?

RM: Kaizen is also applicable to the keeping of agreements. Such things as punctuality or returning phone calls in a timely manner --keeping even the "smallest" agreements -- are crucial, since what is "small" to one person, may not be to the other. How often have we heard this: "If I can't trust you to call me when you say you will, how can I trust you with our child or the finances?"

JL: How can Kaizen principles be used for successful career management?

RM: There are two common explanations for why professionals can get that first burst of success and then have trouble sustaining it. The most common one, in all walks of life, is that people presume that once you've succeeded that's all you need to do. They don't work each day to slowly, incrementally improve their craft and develop their artistry. But if you're not continually working at getting better at something, you're working at getting worse.

That's the first explanation of why people hit significant droughts that last for years, or a lifetime, after an initial success. The second reason is that some people have a problem with sabotaging success. At some level inside of them, they feel they don't deserve to succeed in life, and so they sabotage future efforts. They don't return phone calls, or they work on something and stop at the first sign that it's going to succeed. These are people who have what we call self-defeating personalities. They think, My god, how am I gonna top this? What am I gonna do that's bigger and better than this?

JL: Instead of that big success freeing them--I've crossed the finish line, I've proven I can mediate, I've proven I can be a commercial success -- instead they now figure, Nothing I do is good enough. In every field there is always someone doing better than you, so you can always be comparing yourself and be a disappointment to yourself because you're not more and better.

RM: Kaizen can free you, if you see this pattern, by asking, "What small things can I succeed at today?" It's almost like you're fooling the brain, like what happens in Alcoholics Anonymous. They don't declare that they want to stay sober for 20 years. What do they say? One day at a time. So you don't need to declare yourself a success forever; you just need to get through this minute, this hour, this day. This becomes your new definition of success. Am I making one phone call today to find new clients? Am I reading that new book about conflict resolution to see what new techniques I can learn today?

JL: There's a growing realization that mediation is more art than science. How can Kaizen help you find inspiration in your practice?

RM: Kaizen suggests that you're as likely to get your idea for your success from anywhere--every small moment is equal. You don't need to take only negotiation or dispute-resolution courses; you can take an art history course and be just as likely to get inspiration for your next mediation. Inspire means to breathe in.

When you look at the history of inspired people, you find that their ideas came from anywhere and everywhere. Most of the great psychological insights, most of the great understandings of human nature, didn't come from psychiatric literature. They came from Shakespeare; they came from Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky. These were the great sages of the world. If you see yourself as someone who's trying to understand human experience and resolve conflict, all of a sudden the world becomes your library.

You're not just reading trade journals, you're watching a Ralph's shopper cross a picket line and be confronted by a striking employee who he's jovially encountered every week at the cash register. Kaizen teaches us that no idea is intrinsically more valuable or interesting than another. Mediation is a creative process, and the best mediators are well-rounded versatile artists with a rich palette of resources.


At the end of the last day of Woody Mosten's exhausting and exhilirating 40-hour mediation training, he asked us to consider what "one thing" we would each do next Monday. He didn't ask what our game plan was, or to detail our goals and aspirations, or make a to-do list . That could overwhelm and paralyze us. Instead he wisely asked: What one small step could we take? And that's something every mediator should ask himself about his next strategy -- either in the heat of battle, or in pushing his career forward. It's something every disputant should ask himself in pursuing the path to peace.

What baby step will we implement?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mock-trials vs. Real Mediation

At my daughter's private high school, they proudly showed parents the new mock-courtroom they had built, so that students could conduct mock-trials of actual disputes. There was a jury box, an elevated judge's throne, even a big American flag.

The idea was that, when two students got into a tiff, they could present their "case" to a jury of their peers (i.e. other students), and each be represented by "legal counsel" (also other students), with all the protocols and adornments of modern-day justice. There would be a plaintiff and defendant, opening statements, testimony, cross-examination, closing statements, verdicts, jury polling, sentencing, the whole shebang. Just like on TV!

The school administrator who had assembled all this, and arranged for the fancy furniture construction (jury boxes are hard to come by at Ikea), was a law-school graduate herself. She was understandably proud of her achievement here. Students could learn a valuable lesson in participatory democracy, and sharpen their language and logic skills in the process.

"What about mediation?" I asked her. In addition to offering an opportunity for a make-believe trial, how about an opportunity for a real taste of alternative dispute resolution, where the students could verbally hash out their differences with the assitance of a team of trained student mediators? This could provide a valuable lesson in making peace, not war -- in collaboratively searching for forward-looking solutions instead of divisively dwelling on past problems -- and still encourage verbal articulation and analytical thinking.

The school administrator laughed at me. "I know what you're trying to do!" she said. "You mediators are always trying to do away with judges and juries. Nice try!" She thought I was trying to be funny. Actually, I was just trying to do away with lawyers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Warning for Divorcing Parents

Don't let a judge raise your kids. He doesn't know them or love them like you do.

Let an experienced family mediator help you create your own successful parenting plan and find peaceful legal solutions to your family problems. It's much faster and cheaper than a typical courtroom custody battle. And it's better for your kids.

If you go to court to resolve your divorce and child-custody issues, it can cost you tens of thousands of dollars -- and you will all probably be unhappy with the results. If you mediate instead, you will make all the decisions yourselves -- for a fraction of the time, money, and heartache.

In family law, mediation is especially superior to conventional litigation. At a time in their lives when both parents need to come together and make important decisions for the sake of their kids, our current legal system is designed to drive a bigger wedge between the embattled parties.

Lawyers are advocates for their clients -- one for mom, one for dad -- and no one is really looking out for the unprotected kids, whose needs are the greatest of all.

Egos surpass rationality, tempers flare, and in the gladiator-like arena of the courtroom, everyone loses.

Because emotions run high in contested divorce situations, it's not difficult for lawyers to add fuel to the already raging conflagration. Meanwhile, the meter's ticking, and mom and dad are being pushed further apart, endangering the psychological well-being of their kids.

In short, a terrifyingly unhealthy scenario for the American family.

When Mom and Dad invest a relatively small amount of time and money into retaining a mediator to help them work out agreements themselves, and to prevent them from having to duke it out in the courtroom, then they are far better able to co-parent in a sane and safe environment.

As for the judges, they are more than happy to have you work things out with a mediator, since they really don't want the responsibility for raising kids who already have two parents! And of course it's those kids who benefit most of all.

Be smart! Save your money for your children's education!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

20 Things You Should Know About Mediation

  1. Mediation is a process by which a neutral third party - a mediator - acts to assist parties in reaching mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement with respect to matters in dispute.
  2. Mediation can resolve disputes quickly and satisfactorily, without the expense and delay of formal investigation and litigation.
  3. The mediator helps to identify issues, reduce obstacles to communication, explore settlement options, and foster joint problem solving. All decisions are made by the parties themselves in an environment where cooperation rather than conflict is encouraged.
  4. Representation by an attorney is permitted, but not required, in mediation. While mediators may not give legal advice or interpret the law, they will refer parties to impartial outside experts within the disability and legal communities when questions or issues needing clarification arise.
  5. Mediation is a forward looking process. It does not focus on the past nor does it seek to assess blame. The goal of mediation is to enable the parties to plan for and deal with their futures.
  6. Parties are more likely to comply with the terms of an agreement which they have fashioned themselves, rather than one imposed upon them by the court.
  7. Since mediation can generally be concluded in a limited time frame, there is less delay, confusion and uncertainty as to the outcome, and the emotional toll on the parties is greatly reduced.
  8. Mediation is informal, non-adversarial and, in order to promote candor, totally confidential. The mediator cannot be called as a witness in any court proceeding. Settlement proposals discussed during the course of mediation cannot be revealed in later court hearings.
  9. Since mediation is voluntary, a party who becomes dissatisfied with the mediation process can withdraw at any time. This insures that neither party can intimidate or exploit the other party or manipulate the process itself.
  10. A mediated agreement will generally cost a fraction of the cost of adversarial litigation in court.
  11. Mediation recognizes that both parties have legitimate needs and helps develop options that will successfully reconcile those needs to the satisfaction of both parties.
  12. Mediation is a process committed to self-determination. Its purpose is to promote identification of issues, explore alternatives for resolution and allow the settlement of issues by the parties themselves.
  13. Only after an agreement has been reached by the parties (and reviewed and approved by their respective attorneys, if desired) does the mediated agreement become final and binding.
  14. Through mediation the parties can make agreements with respect to matters over which the court has no jurisdiction. Matters which may be legally irrelevant in court may be considered and resolved by the parties.
  15. Through mediation, the parties can fashion creative solutions which can benefit both parties -- expanding the pie, rather than halving it.
  16. A mediated agreement will normally include a provision for mediation of disputes that arise in the future, including implementation and modification of the original agreement.
  17. Mediation helps improve communication between parties and thereby improves their future relationship.
  18. Mediation proceedings are confidential and voluntary for all parties. Mediation typically involves one or more meetings between the disputing parties and the mediator. It may also involve one or more confidential sessions between individual parties and the mediator.
  19. Mediation is neither therapy nor a "day in court." Rather, mediation should provide a safe environment for the parties to air their differences and reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
  20. Mediators are NOT judges. Their role is to manage the process through which parties resolve their conflict, not to decide how the conflict should be resolved. They do this by assuring the fairness of the mediation process, facilitating communication, and maintaining the balance of power between the parties.