The other day I was passing by the courthouse in Asheville, NC and I saw a statue I’d never noticed before. I took a moment to read it and learned that it commemorated the Battle of Chickmauga, fought in 1863. It occurred to me in that moment there are no statues to commemorate non-battles; times when people felt like striking or raising a weapon but instead chose to speak and listen.
In honor of all of the battles that were not fought because people decided to use words instead of weapons or the legal system, I give you this simple story of mediation:
Once Upon a Time
A man and a woman met and married when they were too young to know the magnitude of that decision. They quickly bought a house together and had a baby to solidify the deal. Within a couple of years, the wife decided to leave the marriage. Maybe she was cheating on him because she was immature and impetuous, or maybe he was a jealous husband who spoke his fears of infidelity because he tended toward depression and he believed them to be real.
The two could have gone their separate ways, but they shared the one thing that neither would give up: their child. They could have settled on a standard 50/50 custody plan and moved on, but they both wanted the house. Maybe they wanted it because they still held onto the dream of the marriage, or maybe because it represented a new stage of adulthood to each of them, or maybe because they got a good deal on it and it could yield a sizable ROI. Whatever the reason, there was one child, one house, and two adults who felt entitled to everything.
They talked about what to do. They met for coffee and exchanged emails and texts. But with each interaction they simply reinforced their own positions. Like tire grooves on a muddy path, they were making it harder and harder to find a workable solution. Maybe they talked with family and friends who assured them that they were entirely right and the other person was being unfair and a little cruel. Eventually, they stopped talking and just thought unkind thoughts.
At this point, they consulted with attorneys to learn their legal rights and in all likelihood their attorneys told them that they were entitled to more than half. Now they stood on the brink of battle, preparing to take it to court where all of the evidence of who paid what with money from where, and why they are better parent was sure to be aired. Along with the other person’s shortcomings, both financial and personal. Like all battles, this one leaves carnage. The carnage befalls not only the adults involved, but the child for whom the possibility of a happy, healthy - albeit divided - family is seriously impeded.
Instead of going to battle, one of the adults decided to try talking again. This time with a witness. And the witness was able to listen as each told of how it came to be that they found themselves in this situation and what they wanted. By allowing both stories to be witnessed by one person who understood there were no monsters in the room, the two felt relieved of the burden of proving themselves wronged. Not feeling like a victim allowed them more capacity to listen and consider options.
It also became clear the two both loved the child wholeheartedly and wanted the same things for her. They wanted her to be happy, feel secure, know both sets of grandparents, eat healthy foods, and enjoy learning. They could see - once the monster lens was removed - that the child would appreciate having two loving parents in thier life who offered love, creativity and support.
It also became clear that although they both wanted the home, they wanted different things from it. She wanted stability and he wanted a good investment. Once that was clarified, it was relatively easy to find a financial solution that worked for both.
A Satisfying Ending
They didn’t go to battle so no statues will be erected, but I’d like to acknowledge the courage of people who sit down and face their “opponent” across the table in mediation and speak and listen to one another until they find solutions that they both accept.
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