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Everyone is Angry! Using Community Mediation Principles in Everyday Relationships

As 2018 closes, we are left with a year filled with continual divisiveness, confrontation, us versus them, and overall uncomfortableness in our country’s shoes. 

This discontent has been cited or talked about in almost every forum, from memes of political figures, to national newspaper articles, to twitter and LinkedIn posts enraging the flames or gasping for civility.

In January 2016, Time magazine published an article “Why Americans Are So Angry About Everything” dated January 5, 2016 written by Rabbi David Wolpe where he states “If you believe that things should get better and better, then it is infuriating when they do not.” This is a simple statement and arguably could be the root of the current state of discontent. However, it does not challenge, or address, the question of whether the continual frustration is permissible?

Mr. Dan Crenshaw, the injured combat veteran turned subject of jokes by Saturday Night Live actors, for his eye patch of all things, embraced the senseless, tasteless comments with humor and a platform of civility rather than attacking characters or the audacity of the individuals involved. Mr. Crenshaw, instead responded with hope in a Washington Post article entitled “SNL mocked my appearance. Here’s why I didn’t demand an apology”published on November 13, 2018 stating:

“How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea.”

Further stating:

“It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion — daily.”

Yes, Mr. Crenshaw, we do.

So, now, going into 2019, how can we bring next year to a close but not in the same divided, polarized position?

I offer this: in the community mediation program that I manage for the D.C. Office of Police Complaints between Metropolitan Police Department officers and the community members that filed complaints against them, we ask the participants to discuss how the interaction between them made them feel – not a continual back and forth trying to agree to what happened, or who was wrong. There is unbelievable inspiration sitting in a room with the person who you think offended you, or whose behavior initiated your behavioral response, and telling them, right or wrong… made me feel…..disrespected, not human, unsafe, out of control – pick your emotion.

This requires each participant to listen and empathize with the other without arguing. If each participant understands how their behavior made the other participant feel, we find that through transformative reflection, future interactions with that participant do not lead to the same negative emotions...but more thoughtful or, at least less emotions.

And, most importantly, having the opportunity to sit in a room with complete confidentiality and complete neutrality facilitated by a privately, contracted mediator (for free) and explain to each other how you felt in that interaction and discuss how to have a better relationship going forward – in its pure existence leads to ... TRUST.

As “regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans,” can we encourage the non-regular, generally offended Americans to lean into civility, embracing the disagreements while participating in those disagreements with a consideration of how we will all live together after the argument, disagreement, demand for an apology, or forced change? What happens after the emotion-filled, flamed demands of despondent anger? Are our conversations putting us in a position to live together as comrades or enemies?

My leadership soul begs for more forward thinking, collaborative discussions over disagreements instead of anger-fueled demands.

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