Monthly Archives: October 2010

Elder Mediation Helps Families

A recent article in the New York Times (click HERE for full story) tells the story of a family who got help from an Elder Mediator with a distressing family situation.

An elderly client was calling her caregiver in the middle of the night and making unreasonable demands.  The caregiver was close to quitting her job.  At a family meeting facilitated by attorney and elder mediator Joy Rosenthal, the family discussed the issues and needs of various people affected, including the elderly person and the caregiver.  Then, the group came up with a list of things they could to to make the situation more manageable for everyone.

There are a couple of things I love about this story.

For one thing, it makes it clear that Elder Mediation is helpful in many cases that would not call for court action.  The issue of calling a caregiver in the middle of the night was not the type of thing that people go to court for.   Yes, it is true:  mediation is appropriate for situations involving very serious issues that could legitimately be taken to court.  But mediation is not limited to these types of situations.  It can be helpful at every level of conflict.  Indeed, the earlier a family calls in a mediator, the better.

When the family calls a mediator at the first sign of distress, the mediator can intervene before the family has become polarized and estranged from one another.   (In cases where family appears headed for court, early intervention by a mediator may save not only relationships but tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.)  Additonally, mediation enables families to consider options that would never be available in a court of law.  In this case, the family was able to intervene before the caregiver quit, and mediation enabled them to work together to forge a creative, win-win solution.  The result?  The elderly client was happier, everyone had a better understanding of each other, the caregiver was able to to keep her job and work more reasonable hours, and the elderly client was able to retain a trusted employee.   Even more important, the air was cleared, people understood each other better, and a better foundation was laid for future decision making.

Another thing I like about the story is the simplicity of the solution and the way the solution met the true needs of all the parties.  (To learn the exact problem and solution, read the story!)   As this story illustrates, sometimes the solution is very simple, and all it takes  is to talk it through.

As simple as the solution sounds, however, I’m certain it was worthwhile to engage the mediator.   A qualified elder mediator isn’t just a person who has decided to act as a middle man and "keep the peace".  A mediator, if properly qualified as an Elder Mediator, is a seasoned professional with advanced training not only in basic mediation skills, but also in mediation of large and complex family issues, and they will have specific training or expertise in elder and geriatric issues.    The mediator will know how to set the stage and manage a meeting in such a way as to ensure that all family members are heard and all interests are on the table before  options or solutions are considered to address those needs.  The integrity of the mediation process is what ensures that once a solution is in place, it is a good solution that does meet all needs, and not just a knee-jerk, slap-a-bandage reaction.   Indeed, that is one of the best values that mediation offers.    By going through the steps in a methodical way, as led by a expert in conflict management, families who choose mediation actually address root causes.  Conflict addressed in this way offers opportunity for families to develop better systems of communicating and making decisions, and thereby have the opportunity to achieve authentic healing and reconciliation.    It’s virtually  a no-lose proposition.

To find a mediator in your area, search through mediators listed on the web site Mediate.com, or search specifically for an elder mediator on the site ElderCareMediators.com  .   I’ve also written a guide to choosing an elder mediator, which can be accessed HERE.

(My own background that prepares me as an Elder Mediator includes approximately 160 hours of study of mediation techniques (including specific study with Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick in mediation of Elder issues and contested guardianship cases and study with Richard Blackburn in conflict transformation in large group settings), personal study in elder law, personal experience in elder care management, and graduate level study in medical ethics.  I am a member of the Elder Decisions section of the Association of Conflict Resolution, and I am listed on both of the above sites in the field of Elder Mediation.)

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Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure by what intellectual trick one could maintain the ignorance required to maintain a belief otherwise. 

It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  It was pretty obvious to me as a Sixth grader, when I learned the Seminole tribe of the swamps of South Florida was actually the refugee remnant who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Florida to avoid being rounded up and exiled in the Trail of Tears.  And, well, I was really sad when I learned the story and tragic fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Anglicized as “Osceola,” who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

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Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure what degree of ignorance would be required to make one think otherwise.  It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  When I learned the Seminole tribe consisted largely of the remnants of other nations who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Floria and the fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Osceola, who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

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Compassion in Listening

One of the interesting things that happens when one begins to coach others is that the skill being taught becomes embedded more deeply into one’s own, personal life.  As a mediator, one of the main things I do is to coach people on how to listen to one another. For, it’s not until we really listen and hear, that we can get to the heart of what the “other” person is trying to communicate about their needs and interests that give rise to a conflict.  What’s even more challenging is that often, a person trying to communicate a general anger or other emotion doesn’t even fully understand his own reasons, himself.  At such times, the mediator must really listen and then help the parties listen. 

Listening is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice!  The good news is that we can get better at it.  What are some tips and tools for listening?

One thing a good “listener” can do is to clean their own glass, to make the lens through which we see and hear things less intrusive.  In other words, when we remove our own preconceived notions, then we become enabled to hear more of what the other person is really trying to say and less of what we are expecting or wanting to hear.  A word to describe the process of removing one’s self (and one’s own responses) the word “mindfulness”.  When we become mindful of our own biases, tendencies, and prejudices, then we are better able to account for those and to try to filter them out.  All the insightful mediator is doing is removing himself from the angles so that the party may have a clearer image in the mirror of his conflict and his own response to it. 

The opposite of mindfulness is when we project a lot of ourselves into a conflict and hear only what relates to our own experience.  How many times have I (or you) listened to someone’s story and immediately knew what they should do?   Or how often have you heard a story and said, “The exact same thing happened to me!”  But, the exact same thing didn’t happen, and if the answer were truly so obvious the speaker would have found it already.  Personal mental responses like these are the mediation equivalent of raising a storm warning flag at a beach.  Friends who are just in the position of listening to each other can be on the alert for these responses, too.  When I “know” what my friend ought to do, it means I haven’t removed myself from the story enough to really listen to them fully and presently.  If the answer is too obvious, there would be no conflict.  Since there is some countervailing view, if the answer seems too simple then it’s likely that some aspect of the conflict remains mis-understood.  

Another way of knowing when we are putting too much of ourselves into a communication is when we feel tempted to interrupt, even if we only interrupt them mentally and not physically.  How many times, when a friend is speaking, are you tempted to think ahead in your mind to how you will answer them rather than continuing to listen to them as they speak?  For me, this mental feeling is like having two lanes of traffic.  One lane of traffic in my mind is the stream of thought about what my friend is saying.  The other lane of traffic in my mind is to be thinking about how I am going to respond to what they’re saying.  The problem is,that mentally I can really only be in one car at a time.  If I’m already formulating the response to my friend, then I’m not really listening fully to them in the present, here and now. 

So, next time your best friend is crying on your shoulder and you’re tempted to give advice, think of this column.  Instead projecting your own idea of “what is true,” or thinking “this happened to me,” and then telling the person what to do or giving them advice, try first to discern the reasons that their situation feels like to them.  Why do they perceive a conflict in the first place, what is that experience like for them?  What values, needs, and interests got them into the situation where they find themselves?

Most likely, there’s more to their situation than can be answered by a simple knee jerk reaction and response.  What our friend needs from us is not advice, but the feedback and mirroring to help them gain insight.  Then, with increased insight, our friend can find the answers from within themselves.  Answers that come from within and are authentic to lived experience are the ones that will be best in the long run.  So, the way to be a better friend is to help our friend develop capacity from within, not by imposing a solution from without. 

How to do this?   Ask powerful, open ended questions of our friend, as a means to help uncover some of those underlying complexities, different perspectives, and ways of increasing understanding of the experience which is being communicated.  In my next blog post, I’ll write more about that. 

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