October 16, Planting Seeds of Connection

As an educator, I often had to keep in mind that I would probably not get to see the full impact of my work.  Realistically, the impression I made on students may only become apparent years down the road and I may never hear about it.  The past few years I’ve had multiple former students get in touch, share updates on their lives, and express gratitude for the role I played in their life’s trajectory.  That has been tremendously satisfying and I’m trying to keep this delayed impact in mind as I wade through apparently slow situations with mediation.

“Case development” for a community case, it turns out, is tremendously slow and frustrating.  It seems that people get frustrated and call the N2N office to open cases but then the urgency of their conflict passes and they are less likely to pursue actually going ahead with the mediation.  I wonder if people approach conflict like they do their health, as long as they feel OK, they don’t worry too much about the ongoing work of maintaining one’s health (exercising, eating healthy, etc.).  Once they get into crisis, however, they head to the emergency room until they’re stabilized…and then go home and continue with the bad habits that sent them to the ER in the first place.

Other explanations I can think of that might explain people’s slow responses include:

  1. People are just busy and they have more pressing priorities.
  2. Our hand-off from N2N office staff to the volunteer mediators is too slow or otherwise unclear so people fall out.
  3. My strategies for engaging with people on the phone or email aren’t effective.
  4. Since our services are free, people may be less invested in them.  Perhaps if people had to pony up a deposit of some kind, even if we returned it in the end, they would feel more ownership in participating in the process.

Regardless of the explanation, it is frustrating to me to feel like I have to go to such extreme efforts to “help” people who originally came to us, asking for the support.  I feel obligated to continue calling and trying to get in touch AND I honestly feel decreasing motivation to go out of my way to help  if the other parties don’t meet me half way with a returned phone call or email.  In these times of frustration, I try to remember to keep the “long game” in mind.  It’s frustrating to feel ineffective or unappreciated with the people you’re trying to support.  That said, perhaps just calling our office was a big step forward for some people.  Perhaps they will call us back later and re-open cases or start new cases when they have the will and the time to more fully invest in them.  Perhaps…their problems aren’t my problem until they’ve agreed to really invite me in to help them better communicate with the other party.

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