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Christina Medvescek "Mediation in the age of Physical Distancing"

Friday, April 10, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lori Dieckman
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Mediation in the Age of Social Distancing

By Christina Medvescek

Center for Community Dialogue & Training, a program of Our Family Services, Tucson, AZ


March 19, 2020


The last in-person mediation at the Center for Community Dialogue & Training was held in the late afternoon of Monday, March 16, just a few days after the “dominos started to fall” in the COVID-19 crisis and everyone in Tucson began buying up toilet paper.


This mediation -- between two community activists from a local peace-and-justice organization -- had been many weeks in development, and was complicated in the unique ways all mediations are. One particular challenge had been in finding available volunteer mediators as everybody seemed to be busy or out of town; as the program coordinator usually I can fill in as a mediator but in this case I could not due to a casual personal connection with one party (we belong to the same church).


Because the Center had recently announced guidelines for in-person meetings based on public health recommendations from the WHO, CDC and Arizona Health Department, we felt confident about scheduling an in-person mediation, but we weren’t sure how they would feel about it. The night before, I emailed the 2 parties and 2 co-mediators and spelled out our meeting guidelines: no more than 10 people total, everyone 6 feet apart, and additional sanitation of surfaces.  Although I fully expected the parties (both over age 70) to cancel the appointment, each responded quickly and rather tersely that they would be there. And although I thought the mediators would be fine with our precautions, one called the morning of the mediation to apologetically bow out due to concern for others in her household.


With the parties and one mediator, Margot, ready to move forward, I offered a choice: We could proceed with a single mediator, or I could step in as a co-mediator despite my casual connection to one party. The other party immediately responded that she was fine with my participation, and so I proceeded to clear the Center’s training room of everything but four chairs and four small side tables, set in wide circle 6 feet apart – a bit odd looking (would we need megaphones?) but certainly doable.  Using disinfectant wipes, I scrubbed the chairs, tables, door handles, pens, markers, clipboards, light switches, little bags of peanuts – I mean, that place was clean. My mother would have been proud.  When the parties arrived, Margot and I offered to bump elbows rather than shake hands and the awkward laughs and light joking helped break the ice. 


I’m so glad we held this mediation in person.  It turned out to be transformative for all parties, and I believe part of that came from sharing a space together, especially in these uncertain times.  Not only did the mediation allow these two dedicated activists to go into “physical distancing” with more peace in their souls, but it reinforced that the Center will continue to adapt in finding safe and effective ways to do what we do.  Now – perhaps more than ever -- people need nonviolent communication, cooperative conflict resolution and transformative conversations!

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