Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fight Club: Voluntary

Fight Club: Part 1 Voluntary

Voluntary. Confidential. Neutral. These are the three words I use to describe my job all the time. Conflict resolution in almost all of its incarnations follows that philosophy. But what does that mean and why is it important to me? More importantly why is it important in everyday life? Why would anyone want to be burdened with these requirements? How can it be restructured to fit into daily existence?

Voluntary. In many states this has a double-meaning not immediately evident to participants. Most trained mediators are volunteers. In my experience, the mediators I have met are passionate and driven to restore our sense of community and self-empowerment one case at a time. It is mandated in the state of New York that every county have a mediation center. These centers are required to provide services for free or a nominal fee. Similar statutes exist in other states.

Voluntary also means that the parties in the session are there of their own volition. This gets tricky with some circumstances. The thing that mediators are constantly aware of is the voluntary nature of the participants. In some instances—parent/teen, abuse cases, other extreme and obvious power differences—mediators have to be hyper-vigilant. Often, processes like the caucus are used to gain a more thorough grip on the power structures and check-in to see how willing the parties are to actually be at the session. That is not the only use for a caucus though.

Voluntary is what makes mediation run. While participants may sometimes reach agreements even if they were unwilling to originally come to mediation, willing participants are far more likely to reach an agreement. I've seen many people go through the process, and the ones willing to find a solution and there by their own volition come to an agreement. Mediation does not exist to make anyone do anything they do not want to do. If that means letting the parties storm out and finish the process prematurely, so be it.

The basic application to my everyday life is that I approach life as if it were all volunteer work. I feel that doing things for pay is a great extra bonus, but I try to do things as if I wanted to do them regardless of selfish gain. I try to want to be where I am doing what I'm doing. Personal immersion in whatever I am doing is necessary for me. It also means volunteering. I often find myself volunteering for things that I am not sure of, but later having it pay off exponentially.

In a broader sense voluntary also means, “don't do things you don't want to do.” I firmly believe that if I didn't take the time to understand why I do certain things, I would be driving through life blindly searching for something I'd never find. I reject that notion. Living a fulfilling life requires volition and purpose—even if that purpose is searching for purpose. I am an autonomous agent for my own life. I am here because I want to see what happens; I want to see if I can come to my own solutions that fit for me.