A good riddle

On the long bus rides during the time I was volunteering with our church’s middle school youth group, we would pass the time with the students by sharing riddles and puzzles. To the students, I looked like I was Steven Hawking with my ability to solve riddles. I wasn’t going to tell them that I wasn’t that smart, that the real reason I could figure out the riddles was that I’ve spent a half-century on this planet and that I’ve heard most riddles by now.

Some of my favorite movies and TV shows revolve around solving riddles. I share a kindred spirit of riddles with Ron Swanson from “Parks and Rec”:


A riddle without a solution

I’ve always attacked any challenge in life as if it were a riddle. On my GRE exam to graduate school, I was in the top 2% of that year’s test-takers in terms of logic ability. That ability has been a blessing for my chosen profession and a curse for my conflict resolution skills. I have always assumed that there is an answer to life’s riddles and puzzles and all I had to do was to work hard at solving them. You can fact-check that with my wife on how I approach conflicts within our own relationship.

But I’m faced with a life challenge where there is no solution. Two challenges, in fact. I will be taking part in two mediation sessions over the next two weeks. The first mediation session is one where I am an objective party to the issue at hand. I was chosen to take part in the mediation because I have not been even remotely aware of the original disagreement, although I do know on a personal level both of the parties. And it was desirable for some poor sucker someone to come in and listen to both sides and help guide the parties towards a solution agreeable to both. The second mediation session is one where I am a heavily invested party. This session is trying to resolve a neighborhood road dispute where one neighbor has sued 7 other neighborhood families because of road drainage issues. By the way, I’m not the one neighbor.

No winners

The probability of having everyone be buddy-buddy and friendly after the outcome of both of the situations is very low. In fact, I would put my entire retirement savings that there will be no true winners in either dispute. Friendships will be fractured, and full circles of friends will need to decide which camp they will support.

According to the lawyers Dean/Mead, mediation is not a collaborative effort. A mediation session is competitive negotiations at its best and a muddy, bloody, backyard brawl at its worst. I will hear and see warts and sins of people that I know and care about. I will need to do my best to get past the charged emotional language and find the truth of what each party wants. And to ensure I don’t add to the charged emotional language, I look to one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, for some advice on how to temper my own tongue:

“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradictions to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as “certainly”, “undoubtedly”, etc. I adopted instead of them “I conceive”, “I apprehend”, or “I imagine” a thing to be so or so; or “so it appears to me at present”.

When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing him immediately some absurdity in his proposition. In answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction. I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Try not to pour gas on the fire

My deliberate action today is to not add to the issue by using inflammatory language. I need to use language to coax the truth out while still allowing people to express their emotions. But as Mr. Franklin suggests, I should not use words of absoluteness, and when I feel someone’s statement or opinion is incorrect, I should respond by acknowledging their view may be true in some situations but suggest other situations where it may not hold up.

But it is incredibly difficult, almost impossible, for one to easily forgive, forget, and to move on, especially if the hurt has been inflicted over many years. I know the Meyers-Briggs personality profile has been questioned about its true value, but I feel my Meyers-Briggs type, INFJ “The Advocate”, does track my personality well. So I’m driven at times to not just find the solution, but to make sure everyone is OK with the solution. And in the upcoming mediation sessions, I have to prepare myself that this might not be one of those times.

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