S1E41 – Casandra on Mediation
Margaret and Casandra talk about the importance of learning mediation skills, what mediation is and what different processes look like.
The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy.
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
- The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (little books series also has books on different types of mediation and restorative Justice)
- Getting to Yes
- The Promise of Mediation
Hello, and welcome to Live Like The World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret, Kiljoy, and I use ‘she’ or ‘they’ pronouns. And today we’re going to talk about something that everyone has requested. Just kidding, no one actually bothers request this because they don’t know they need it. That’s actually not true. People actually haverequested this. We’re gonna be talking about conflict mediation, and we’re going to be talking about when conflict mediation isn and isn’t the way to handle different types of situations. And when we’ll be talking to Cassandra about that. And I’m very excited to hear what they have to say. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero network of anarchists podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show in the network.
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then I guess kind of your background, both professionally and non professionally with what we’re gonna be talking about today with conflict mediation.
Yeah, my name is Cassandra, I use ‘they’ or ‘she’ pronouns. I’m a volunteer mediator at a community mediation center. I trained in mediation…What year is it right now? I don’t know, eight years ago?
It’s 2022, right now,
Nine years ago, something like that. And I also worked at my local mediation center, at the beginning of the pandemic, as program coordinator for one of the counties.
So what is conflict mediation? This is when when you don’t like someone, you just respond passive aggressively to them and or cancel them, right?
Yep, and block them on Twitter.
Conflict mediation is where a third party is called in to be present during discussion about a conflict. So, in its most basic form, that could mean asking a friend who isn’t like a stakeholder in a conflict to come sit in while you talk with someone who you have issues with. Through the mediation center, like on a, on an organizational level, we deal with all different sorts of conflicts. So community conflicts, like neighbors disputing property lines. We also do family mediation, parent/teen, stuff, things like that, we do a certain amount of mediation through the court system. So people in my area can opt to do mediation instead of going to like small claims court, which is pretty cool.
So like if you’re mad at your neighbor for hitting your car with their bicycle. I don’t know that’s not a good example. Instead of suing them, you can, like go hash it out with someone.
How do you then maximize your personal profit?
Well, that’s a good question. I mean, the chance if you go before a judge, there’s a chance that they’ll say, Nope, you don’t get this money. Whereas in mediation, you get to talk to the person and explain to them why you need the money, and they explain to you why they can’t pay the money, and then you work out a plan, which usually benefits both people.
Well it just doesn’t lead very easily to feeling righteous and better than everyone, though. So it seems like a disadvantage.
Yeah, I mean, I think if you want to feel righteous, you should probably just sue someone and okay, and not worry about mediation. Yeah.
So what were you gonna say before, i said weird sarcastic things?
The center where I work, also has this really cool program, where we do restorative justice processes for youth offenders. So, rather than going through the usual punitive process, some juvenile offenders have the option to do restorative justice instead.
Give me an example of like, not a “John did this,” but I like what that might look like?
Yeah, Let me think. I have to be vague. So I’m remembering a case where one teenager punched another teenager, like the, I think they were at the movies or something, this was pre-pandemic, and was charged with assault. And so rather than having to go through a punitive process and have that assault charge on their record, they have the option to do this restorative process instead. So that would look like sitting down with the person who was harmed or with a proxy, we use proxies as well, if the victim doesn’t want to be present, and talking about the impact of their actions and then coming up with a plan for making amends, which can be really varied. Like it can be, It can be as simple as like, “I will go to therapy.” Or it can be direct remediation, like “I will pay you money or do yard work for you,” you know, it, people get really creative. But it’s a cool option.
Okay. What is the difference between, outside of a legal or court system, what is the difference between conflict mediation and restorative justice? Like, when is one thing appropriate? And when is the other thing appropriate?
Yeah, I think of mediation as a part, like an aspect of larger alternative justice processes. So it’s like a tool you can use in alternative justice processes. But alternative justice processes are intended for instances where harm has been caused. So it’s not just a you and me on equal footing having a conflict or disagreement, actual harm has been done. Does that make sense?
Yeah, so like, basically, if I’m trying to…if someone within my same social circle sexually assaulted me, and then I don’t want to go and sit down have a like samey samey conversation with them about like, how we all have feelings. Instead, I can….instead restorative justice as the more appropriate thing, then specifically, mediation in that circumstance. Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, or probably transformative justice. But yeah.
What’s the difference?
No, that’s fine. Restorative justice was developed, I think in the 70s, I want to say, and that’s what the mediation center where I work…that’s what we use in conjunction with the court system. And it’s dealing more with individuals. So, this individual has harmed that individual, and we’re going to figure out how to make amends as best as possible between the two of them. Transformative justice, I think, was developed in the 90s. And it’s a more systemic approach. So it’s acknowledging that people often cause harm. Because of trauma, because of a lack of resources, you know, it acknowledges that we’re all a part of these larger systems of oppression. And so through this transformative process, it seeks to heal both people. Often communities are brought in as part of that as well.
Okay. So like, everyone who’s involved with the thing shows up, and has a say in it.
Maybe not for all parts. But, you know, the hope is to bring in as many people as possible, because the idea is that, that creates more sustainable change.
So how does one…How does one go about doing this, right? Like to focus maybe more on mediation than restorative and transformative justice? We obviously within our communities come up with like ad hoc means quite often, and we just sort of try weird things all the time. And sometimes those things don’t work very well, like passive aggressive notes. Or, you know,
Wash your dishes!
Yeah, totally. Yeah. You know, like, how does one do this? Like, if I’m starting to feel like I’m either having conflict with someone that I’m in community with, or I’m watching a conflict develop within the community that I’m part of? What are some steps to notice that that’s happening and work to resolve it?
I feel like that shouldn’t be a big question, but because we’re so conditioned to be conflict avoidant, not just on an interpersonal level, but like, society, you know, we live in a….part of liberal democracy, part of representative democracy is like creating these abstractions when it comes to conflict and creating institutions to deal with it, instead of even acknowledging that the conflict exists. Now I have to remember what your question was.
So what the fuck do you do when you’re like, really pissed off that your roommate won’t do the dishes, and is like, snubbing you at parties and this pretending like you don’t exist. But they think that it’s happening because you borrowed their guitar without asking.
I mean, mediation doesn’t have to be a big formal thing, right? Like, you can just ask a mutually trusted friend to be…Well, first of all, you can just talk to them. So, so mediation is just a tool in our toolkit. But there’s something about having a third person present, who isn’t like a stakeholder in a conflict. And even if they don’t say anything, just having a third person present and witnessing is sometimes really helpful. One of my favorite mediators at the center rarely says anything. He just has this presence, he’ll sit there with his hands in bold and just like exists, and somehow people are like, Oh, well, shit. Now I have to…
Just like quietly judging you?
No, just like, holding this like, calm space. He’s, yeah.
Quietly judging you! Because like, well not in a bad way, right? Because like, yeah, if I’m like, if I feel really, like, justified and you know, like, bah, blah, blah. But then as soon as I realized I’m saying it to a third party, I’m like, “Oh, this might not make sense.” Like when I say to a third party? Yeah, yeah, no, okay. Okay.
Yeah. And anyone can do that. Right? Anyone who isn’t a stakeholder and who’s comfortable being around, conflict can be in that role. Obviously, there’s more that you can do to like develop those skills. That’s why trainings and mediation centers exist.
Most of the time, I’ve tried to do this. It’s gone very badly when I’ve been asked to mediate things, but I think that’s usually because the people…because I did everything, right, and the people involved id everything wrong. But, it seems like people got really defensive and kind of entrenched in their positions. And it stayed a really like, “No, I’m right. Fuck, you,” “No, I’m right. Fuck you,” kind of thing? How do you break that up?
Yeah. Have you heard the analogy of like, if you draw a heart on a piece of paper, and place it between two people, and they’re like standing on opposite sides of it, and ask them to describe what they see, they’re going to describe totally different things, but they’re looking at the same image, you know?
Oh, because it’s like, not symmetrically positioned between them.
I think that…Well, first of all, I think it’s okay for people to just not agree, tight? Part of getting over our conflict avoidance, as a society, I think is acknowledging that, like, we’re not going to agree and that’s not only okay, but positive. Like we need to have people around us who we disagree with, in order to like, examine our own opinions and things like that. But, the second thing is that conflict isn’t bad or scary. Like, I feel like part of people’s fear around not agreeing with someone is that the assumption is that if you and I don’t agree, then we can’t have any sort of relationship or function. Like we’re so conflict avoidant, that if we don’t agree, we just simply can’t function.
Oh, yeah, totally. And then we just like ice each other out completely.
Yeah, which is really common and unfortunate. And obviously, like, there, I’m gonna disagree with a Nazi, right?
We’re not just going to agree to disagree, but I’m gonna ice them out. But, that doesn’t have to be the case for everything.
No, that makes sense. I kind of…I kind of do this thing where I have, like, one set of values that I hold myself to, and one set of values that I hold other people to, you know, so like, I’m trying to come up with a good value to to use this for. I don’t want to get…Okay, so like, but if there’s if there’s something that I believe I shouldn’t do, it doesn’t necessarily mean…even though kind of in the abstract, I wish no one would do it. Like okay, like lying, right? Like I have a very, very strong sense of never lying to anyone that you’re not trying to control or hurt, right? And I, I will, like live or die by this as a person, but I recognize that not everyone I surround myself with holds the same value, and it like rubs me the wrong way. But, I can agree to disagree about it because I recognize that this is a value that is not shared by everyone. Um, and I’m on my own, like, wing nut paladin and kick or whatever. Andk but then yeah, like, there’s other values like, you know, “don’t be like”, I don’t know, “don’t be fucking, like racist or whatever, like, don’t be a fucking Nazi,” that or…is that kind of what you’re kind of what you’re saying, like learning to have different standards for yourself versus other people or I guess that’s not just the only way to…how do you how do you personally decide which things you are allowed to disagree about and which things you’re not allowed to disagree about?
Oh, I don’t feel like I’m in total agreement with anyone, like literally anyone. And that’s great. Yes. The world would be really fucking boring. If I was. There’s this, there’s this essay called “In Defense of….” shoot, am I going to forget it while we’re recording? No. In Defense of Arguing.
Like an anarchist theory of arguing or something like that. And the author talks about these like larger things, like how social democracy…how the how liberal democracy as a larger structure encourages us to to not be in direct communication, and to avoid conflict.
Well, okay, so, how does this I guess my question is like, okay, we know that Nazis are on the far end of one…you know, like, God gave us Nazis, so that we have enemies. You know, there’s this, like pure representation of bad right, that most of society used to agree on and it’s no longer the case, but like, we have this pure representation of bad over on one end, and then you have like, you know, “John Barrows, my guitar without asking sometimes, and thinks it’s okay, that he does.” Or someone is has a different interpretation of some political analysis or, you know, like, like, shit that I might feel really directly personally strongly about, but is at the end of the day, not a big deal. You know, so that…Is the answer, “Everyone’s just gonna draw those lines in different places?” That’s my instinct is that everyone’s going to draw the lines of like, well, I can be in community with someone who I don’t know, like, sometimes as a like grouchy libertarian on some issues. Or some other people will be like, “Oh, I can be in community with Marxists,” or something, right? And then other people will be like, “No, we’ve seen where Marxism leads to. So fuck them.” So people are going to draw these lines in different places. Is it just, is it just alright, that people are going to draw those lines in different places.
Yes. And that, thank you. Yeah. So it’s alright, that people are going to draw this lines in different places. And that reminds me why I brought up that article, which is what…not only is it okay to draw those lines, but having actual dialogue about where we draw those lines and why, and how they might be different from where other people draw those lines is ultimately productive.
That makes sense.
Because that’s how we, you know, interrogate our own boundaries, right? And our own ideology.
It was interesting. I was like, this thing is gonna be very, like nuts and bolts episode Are we like talk about like, really specific practices, but…
I mean, we can but…
No, we should do it too, but I, what I really like thinking about this stuff around…Yeah, the how we build diverse communities and how we avoid, you know, I would argue that echo chambers are one of the things that destroys communities of resistance more effectively than even sometimes outside pressure. You know, as soon as everyone starts…go ahead.
Oh, I was just gonna say that like moral homogeneity is also what leads to these like, fundamentalist movements that were opposing, right. .
Yeah. And then yet, like, people were like, well, you know, you can’t let ‘something something’ in because it’s a slippery slope. And I’m, I’m on this like, crusade against slippery slope as a useful phrase, because, well, it’s a useful phrase, be like, “Hey, that’s a slippery slope,” should mean like, so be careful when you walk it not like boarded up, none shall enter like, you know, maybe like put handholds along the way to like, help people like navigate complicated ethical terrain.
Yeah, exactly. Like instead of being like, well, everyone who likes the following philosopher who died 100 years before Nazis came about is a Nazi, even though like, you know, both Nazis like this guy and some Nazis hated this guy and some non Nazis hated this guy. I’m actually not trying to defend Evola right now at this time. That’s not the path I’m trying to go down right now. Maybe Nietzsche is how I’m trying to…But I don’t even want to defend Nietzsche… anyway.
They can both go to the sun as far as I’m concerned.
But like, but you know, where we draw these lines might be different about like, okay, so like, fuck this guy, but is it fuck everyone who is inspired by this guy? And is it fuck everyone who’s inspired by people who were inspired by this guy, you know? Because, like how many how many layers removed from something do we still hate it? You know?
Yeah. Yeah, totally.
So nuts and bolts of conflict resolution?
Casandra Johns 20:42
Can I first…
Yeah, please do.
Before we move into specifics. I think the like overarching stuff is really important because every so often I see these pushes in radical spaces to develop more skills around things like transformative justice, but no one talks about conflict resolution, no one talks about mediation, which is wild to me. Like, the reason I trained as a mediator is because I saw it is like one of the building blocks of these larger structures. But it’s just not something that seems to be valued or discussed on the left for the most part. And that’s baffling to me, considering how much divisiveness we face and how we all seem to agree it’s a huge issue. But haven’t put in the work to develop the skills to like, deal with it.
So what we’re doing is we’re jumping straight to the like justice framework, which is, you know, far more, it’s not inherently punitive, but like, it’s more antagonistic and implies far more heavily that there’s like harm that’s been done. And it’s one directional, right like, which is often the case, I’m not trying to claim that this is not the case quite often, but but we’re jumping to that rather than a lot of things that could be headed off way before they get really intense through mediation, or even things that are really intense are still a mediation type thing rather than a transformative justice type thing is that right?
So yeah, even just as abolitionists, if we’re talking about divesting from the current system as a whole, people don’t just go to court because they’ve been abused, you know, they go because they’re in conflict with someone and want an authority figure to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. And so that’s something we have to replace as well.
Yeah, I know that makes sense.
And ideally without the authority figure. But even like, it doesn’t have to be some intense formal, heavy thing. You know, like I’ve mediated for friends, and it’s just been like a very casual conversation. I think that normalizing it, talking about it at all would be great as the left, but then normalizing these practices,
Just normalizing going to your roommate, your housemate, the third person and being like, “Hey, like, we keep arguing about the fact that I want to leave my socks in the living room.”
Will you just be present while we chat through this?
Like yeah why not? You know.
Okay. I’m coming up with silly examples, but I’m like, mostly because I’m just not feeling very imaginative off the top my head, but
I’ve had housemates, I know how it goes.
It starts feeling really personal at a certain point.
Yeah, and sometimes it’s really easy to be really, really angry at this, like, heavier stuff than the larger framework of what’s happening.
Yeah, totally. I have a child, I understand that. I’m taking your lack of folding your laundry personally at a certain point.
That’s because you’re the authority. No, I don’t want to get into that that’s a different conversation.
Yeah, okay. So like, well, actually, I mean, I mean, this would be an appropriate, like mediation would be an appropriate thing to do with, like, between you and between a parent and a child at various points also, or is that?
Yeah, yeah, one of my favorite types of mediation that I do through the center’s parent/teen. There are different types of mediation. And the type I was trained in was..is somewhere between what’s called facilitative and transformative mediation. So, in some scenarios, we’re just hashing through a specific problem. And the people aren’t going to have a relationship after that. And then in other scenarios, we’re actually trying to shift the relationship to make it healthier, which I prefer. And
The Family mediations tend to go in that direction. But there’s a power dynamic, right. And so part of the mediators job is to level out power imbalances, which can be really tricky. But also really cool to watch.
Well that’s cool, because I think that critiques of power are necessary, but there’s always going to be different types of relationships between people with power imbalances, right? Even when, like two adults are dating, you know, there’s going to be power imbalances based on like, different levels of societal privilege, or, you know, heterosexual relationships have a massive power imbalance to start with that they have to deal with…either overcome or like learn to address. So it makes sense to, like…
I think personal history and like communication style cnn create that
In terms of like, if someone has a more aggressive communication style, and another person has like a style that is triggered badly by that style of communication, is that kind of what you’re getting at?
Yeah, things like that.
Okay. I remember thinking about how this has to, like, sort of be taught and developed, I remember being at a workshop once at a conference about this issue….Pardon me, as I pull a tick off of my head and cut it with a knife
But ticks aside, you know, the way the way that this needs to be taught was really laid clear to me, I was at this, this workshop, and we’re going through and, you know, the person teaching the workshop was teaching about conflict resolution and things and, and a friend of mine, who was a, I believe, a kindergarten teacher, I’m not entirely certain worked with very young kids. And my friend was explaining it was like, “oh, when two kids get in a conflict, like they both want a toy, you know, it’s recess, and only one of them gets the toy. And they, they both want it, they get really excited, and they run up and they’re like, “Teacher, Teacher, we have a conflict, we have to resolve it.”” You know, and it was this really amazing heartwarming story. And, unfortunately, most of the people at the workshop, because they didn’t have enough context for what was being told in the story were like, Ah, yes, this is the wisdom of children. You know, we should all just learn from children. And then my friend came up to me later, and was like, that was really frustrating. The kids do that, because we taught them how to,
And it… And there was a certain amount of like wisdom of children, and that they hadn’t specifically developed other bad habits, like, you know, I have a lot of bad conflict habits that I don’t love about myself that are ingrained to me for various purposes. But, it seems like we still have to, like…go ahead.
Even that approach, that they were excited to talk about it…like they knew where to turn. They knew where their resources were, and they were excited to resolve it. Like imagine feeling that way about disagreeing with someone. One of my teachers says that every mediation is a success, meaning that regardless of whether or not people come to an agreement, the fact that they’ve shown up to talk about it shifts something in their relationship. And that is in and of itself a success.
That makes a lot of sense. And then also might lead to kind of my next question, which is like, when? Well, as I had a phrased was like “when conflict resolution fails,” you know, but it seems like sometimes you would go and be like,”Oh, we’ve heard each other out. And we fucking hate each other. or we’re fucking mad about this thing.”
We’ve heard…like feeling hurt, being able to say your piece to someone, and knowing that you’re in this contained space where they have heard you. And then still not agreeing with them is still a form of resolution, you know, like, we’re not going to agree on this. But, I’ve had the opportunity to, like, say my part. And that’s something.
Yeah. No, that makes sense. It’s like, asking nicely before you ask meanly, in terms of like, on like, a social change level, right? You know, we’re like, “Hey, give us our rights.” And they’re like, “No, we don’t give you your rights.” and we’re like, “Well, we asked, now, we’re not asking anymore.” And that. And that’s sort of assuming one person is like, right in this mediation whereas theoretically, probably both parties think they’re right, but I don’t know. Yeah, I feel like sometimes I’ve been asked to kind of mediate informally, which i don’t have nearly the background you do, but I like rambling. And I’ve kind of ended up leaving with this result with like the, you know, no one’s really asking my opinion, necessarily, but I’m like, oh, probably the answer is that they hate each other. That the answer is that like both people feel totally justified and from their own perspective, they are totally justified. And probably this won’t be settled and they should stay away from each other.I don’t know.
Which like, at least they knew that afterward, you know?
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had many…or I’ve been present for…. I’ve been present for many more mediations than I’ve actually actively mediated just because of the job I had. Which is awesome, because I get to see the way other people mediate and learn from that. But I’ve witnessed really shocking mediations where it seems like the people walk in hating each other, and they don’t come to an agreement. They’re not going to agree. But they… the sense in the room at the end is peace. You know, they’re like, “Ah, well, we both know, we’re not going to agree and why. And at least we know that.”
Which is real. Right. Yeah.
No, I like that. Because it’s like, it’s not trying to…
I’ve already said this but, yeah, they’re not trying to solve everything, you know, like some things just don’t get solved. But, but at least everyone knows what’s happening.
And there’s that detachment to, you know, the idea that one person’s right and the other is wrong is something that if you’re mediating, you can’t, that can’t be in your brain. It’s not your job to decide who’s right and who’s wrong or to even have an opinion about it. And there’s something freeing there, because suddenly, you can see why both people feel they’re right, like where the rightness is in, in both stories, which is pretty interesting.
Well does that end up leaving the mediator like, hated by both sides often? Because like, this person, this staying neutral when clearly I’m right?
No, and maybe this is important to talk about, but like part of, especially in a formal setting, when I open to mediation, some of the things I explain include, like confidentiality and mandatory reporting stuff, but I also explain that my role is to be neutral. I’m not going to take aside, I’m not going to make decisions or offer opinions or advice, like, all I’m there to do is to help them communicate productively. Yeah.
And I actually, I would guess, that the average, not…no training mediator of the things that you just said that they might fail at, would be the not offering advice part, right? So it’s not like showing up to the council of elders or whatever the people who are going to, like, offer their wisdom down onto you. Instead, it’s really just about helping the people involved, develop their own communication as relates to it. So it’s not a…you’re a no way like a judge or an arbiter. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
No, there are. So there are different types of mediation. Arbitration is involved in certain types, but not the type I do and not the type that I think is useful in like, community and interpersonal settings. Yeah, and it is hard sometimes to not give advice.
Yeah, I know when I’m like, I think people might have failed that. I’m like, No, that’s probably what I failed at.When I have attempted to mediate things, because I’m like, ” Ah! I now, see, because I have all of the information. Now I will clearly explain because I’m so wise.” And then I’m like, “Why isn’t this working?”
Okay, no, it’s it’s really hard. And it takes a lot of practice. Honestly, the…when in mediations where I take a more active role, because in some mediations, I don’t have to people are…people don’t really need much guidance sometimes. But, when they do, I find myself almost like teaching healthy communication skills through example. And there’s really not any time for me to think about offering my opinion or something like that. I’m like, so busy trying to help them untangle the communication.
Okay. Which seems like, in a similar way that like facilitating consensus in a large group is absolutely not about your own opinions about what should happen. And basically by being a facilitator in a large group you like, kind of like, get your own voice removed from that particular decision.
Yeah, I see it as a spectrum of skill sets, the like facilitator, the mediator and then whatever we want to call these transformative or alternative justice.
Judge Dredd? No, we have no movie about that. Okay. Okay, so which brings me to this idea like, right, you’re like, oh, you know, you’re gonna come in assuming neutrality as mediator, not that both sides are equal, but assuming your own neutrality to help foster communication. What about when it is…like, this sounds like it would be really unhealthy if I was forced to do it with an abuser, right? And so I’m under the impression that you would not use this in situations of abuse is that?
Yeah, yeah. And, and maybe before that, it’s expected that if a mediator doesn’t feel that they can maintain appropriate neutrality, they just don’t mediate the case, they pass it to someone else. So that’s, you know, people are gonna have strong opinions, and feel triggered by different scenarios. And that’s real and fine.
Oh, I meant I meant as a participant, I wouldn’t, you know, I wouldn’t want to be called…am I wrong in thinking that it would, that I wouldn’t want to be called into mediation with my abuser, you know?
Well, I mean, the easy answer is no. But both restorative and transformative justice, have mediation type processes, that can be a part of these larger processes.
So, and maybe we don’t call it mediation, maybe we call it like, a facilitated dialogue or something?
I don’t know.
I think it’s, it’s a tool, right? Like mediation is a tool. And you have to do it differently when there’s a vast power imbalance like that, or when harm has been caused. But..
So I guess…how do you judge…How do you judge when to use mediation versus transformative justice? Like, how do you decide when a given thing is the right means?
That’s a really big question. Because ideally I don’t, right? So I can tell you at the Center, how it works, which is that if the courts contact us and are like, “We have decided that someone harmed another person, therefore this is going to be restorative process.” Like that’s how we know.
But in this larger project on the Left of developing these these alternative systems, that’s something we have to figure out. And I don’t think it can happen without intact communities. Because, I don’t think it would be an individual process.
But as a mediator, if I’m in a session…maybe this is a much simpler way to answer it, If I’m in a session, and someone says something about, like, causing physical harm to the other person. That’s a like, “Oh, we got to stop this and shift” moment.
Okay. That makes sense. That is kind of one of my questions is like, do you ever like, yeah, escalate up the like, response ladder? It’s a terrible way of phrasing it. But yeah,
There are plenty of cases that get called…so that so the Community Mediation Center, it’s all free, right? Like anyone can call in with anything and be like, can you help me with this, which means there are plenty of cases that we can’t mediate, that we say, “Oh, that’s, that’s not an appropriate topic for us. But here’s some other resources.”
And that would be usually cases of like, clear harm having been caused?
Yep. Or like certain types of conflicts, just because of the way the legal system is set up. Like, custody disagreements, we don’t do it our center, it’s just bureaucratic bullshit. But I think it would be similar in a community setting where different mediators are comfortable mediating different types of cases. And if something comes up within a mediation that either signals that harm has happened or that isn’t suitable for that particular mediator, you just stop and find someone else to help.
Like, we all have different skill sets, you know,
And what you said about it requires an intact communities to be able to, to effectively do this kind of thing, as a, you know, the more transformative justice element of it. It’s kind of interesting to me, right? Because then that’s something that… it seems to me that intact communities relies on conflict, resolution, and conflict resolution, and mediation and all of the things we’ve been talking about. So it’s sort of a…
Oh, I was thinking almost of a like, like, building a building, you know, like, a pyramid, a traditional representation of hierarchy. But, in this case, representing bottom up, you know, where like, the strong base of a community is not it’s like justice system, but instead it’s like, conflict resolution and the ability for diverse opinions to coexist. And there’s the general ability for people to coexist, because people implies diverse opinions unless you live in some hellscape. Ideological bubble.
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.
Now, it’s interesting because then this answers the question of how do you supplant the justice system? which is an important question.
You support people in developing skill sets like this, which I was thinking about it before this interview and remembering when I was…so I don’t get paid to mediate as part of the neutrality, nut the initial 40 hour training, I took cost money, because it’s a non profit, very poor mediation center. And you’re one of the people who who you gave me like 50 bucks or something.
And you said, you messaged me, you said something to the effect of like, “Oh, I’m giving you money. This is like a skill that I think we need in more radical spaces.” And I was like, “Fuck, yeah, this Margaret person seems really cool.”
Cool. Yeah, I don’t remember that. But, I believe you. I don’t remember a lot of things, dear, listener. That’s one of my skill sets is that I don’t remember things.
That can be a blessing, I suppose.
Sometimes, it’s like I, you know, it helps me really live in the present, you know, because it’s all just fog in front of me and behind me. I have impressions, impressions of what’s ahead and impressions of what came before. No, that’s great. I mean, how common are these types of organizations? Like, you have one in your town? Is it? Do I have one in my…well, I don’t have one in my town. There’s 500 people who live in my town.
I’m only really familiar with my state. So, I’m in Oregon. And we have a network of Community Dialogue Resource Centers [CDRC]. I’m so bad at acronyms. There’s a whole network all over Oregon. And each center works, to some extent with the current justice system, depending on where they are in the resources, but they also offer free community mediation, and it’s really easy in my state to get training. Like at my center, you can, if you speak Spanish, and are willing to volunteer, as a bilingual mediator, you can get training for free, like it’s a pretty accessible thing, but I’m not sure about other states, like the agreement we have with the Justice System to do these restorative processes for youth offenders is pretty unique, apparently, like it’s a it’s a test…test run, that’s been going on for years. But I don’t think that’s necessarily common.
I mean, it’s so basically, a way that some elements of the Justice System are trying to move towards an actual reasonable model away from the incarceration and punitive model is that right?
Yep. Yeah. And it’s been because people at these Community Dialogue and Resource Centers have pushed really hard for the state to implement these programs here. But it’s also…I mean, mediate.com has really good classes, you can just take on mediation. You can get, I have a whole…I’m looking at it, I realized this is not a video recording, but I have a whole bookshelf full of books on mediation, AK has presses put out…you know, there, there are lots of resources on mediation that are accessible. If people want to explore the skill set.
Would you be able to provide a few of those links for our show notes?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Thanks. So okay, my last question, I want to I want to take with take you on this journey, where we imagine you know, a society without the state, whether because we win or because we lose, depending on how you know, like, like,
How you want to look at it?
Yeah, I mean, you know, obviously, like, this is a, it’s not gonna be like some wingnut thing for people, for me to suddenly be like, “What if there was an apocalypse?!” right? Y’all are listening to Live Like The World Is Dying. I kind of want to ask you about the role of, and I know a lot of it’s implied, but we talked about, but like, the role of conflict resolution in terms of community preparedness, if you have like thoughts around that? [That] didn’t really end with a question mark.
That’s fine. That’s hard for me to answer because it feels like a given. Like, community preparedness means that we need functional, intact communities, which means we have to have systems that could look all sorts of different ways, right? But we have…
Like passive aggressive notes?
That’s one way. But we have to have systems for working through conflict or else we do not have functional communities. And maybe different communities choose to do that in different ways. This is just like one particular tool or skill set that’s very adaptable.
So if the state is abstraction of power, right, away from ourselves, basically the existence of the state, the long standing existence, the state is probably a huge part of what leads us to this conflict avoidance that you talk about, like causes these problems, we’re so used to relying on the state to handle our conflicts for us by calling armed people who like putting people in cages. And so basically…do you ever have those moments where like, you’ve been an anarchist for a long time, and then you still end up with these, like, obvious epiphanies that like, seem really obvious when you say them out loud, but still feel like epiphanies? That’s what I’m having right now about this, because I’m like, “Oh, this is everything. This is the foundation,” which is also what you just said, I’m saying this back to you.
That’s why it’s so baffling to me that I’ve searched for years for collectives, groups, any, any individuals, anyone offering these skills in radical spaces, and it’s so hard to find. And that’s wild to me. It’s so wild. And that doesn’t, people aren’t doing it.
But it just doesn’t seem to be of high value.
I wonder if it’s like, because people…because I have seen a lot of groups, and I’m glad there are groups that focus on transformative justice, right, but that’s the top of this pyramid of needs…my hierarchy of needs that I’ve created because I love hierarchy.
Such a good anarchist.
I know. I wonder if it’s kind of similar to how like, it’s a lot easier to find like armed anarchist organizations that will teach you how to shoot guns and like harder to find ones that’ll teach you how to like immediate conflict resolve, like someone angrily comes into your…you know, I and often I’m…the individuals do this, right? Like, there was a time. I don’t know if this person listens to this podcast, but a friend of mine was at some anarchist screening at some info shop and some angry guy comes in and starts yelling this and that about I think trans people. And my friend who’s trans was just like, “Hey, man, you want to go outside and have a cigarette with me?” And just like, went outside and talked to the guy. And he calmed down and left, and like, and my friend carries, right. But like, it’s so much easier to find information about the nuclear option the the, you know, the escalated version than it is to find resources about the “Hey, man wanna step outside with me and have a conversation.”
Yeah, those soft skills are really devalued because of the way our society…
What?! What if there was like a word to describe type of…We should call it patriarchy?
I mean, who did people used to go to? Right? Was it like, grandma? Or like, gr… you know, the people, we devalue? e?
Well, I, you know, it’s hard. I don’t know where to go from, okay like, now we understand the entire basis of an anarchist society, without the state, basically means that we have to learn how to stop putting this not on other people, because obviously, we need other people, we need society to help us do this, but stop putting it on this, like, legalized abstraction that’s off in the distance.
So there, I mean, there are interpersonal skills, we all need to develop right around communication? But if we’re talking about people actually filling these roles that we need, we have to actually figure out how to support people in developing those skills and like value their skill set.
Yeah. So how do we how do we do that?
Well, you did it for me, I was like, Hey, Internet, I need money for this training. And you were like, “Here’s 50 bucks. This is important.” I was like, “Thanks!”
Best part is that was probably a couple of years ago when I had substantially less …and like I’ve, since I think people who listen to this know that I’ve since like, started a nonprofit job and like, have more money than I used to.
Oh, this was like 2016.
Yeah, okay. Yeah. Okay. But okay, so like, so people can go and get trainings and people can bring this kind of information to their communities, both by doing it, but also by maybe like spreading the skills that people could be setting up like informal collectives or formal collectives are something to kind of like, work on fostering these types of skills like what else can we do?
Just talking about it more. I mean, I remember who was I…Oh, I guess I can’t talk about this on the internet. I was doing seasonal labor that grants one a lot of spare time to talk and the people I was doing this….
Yes, blueberry harvest. The people that I was doing the seasonal labor with were like, “Hey, what if we listen to Rosenberg’s lectures on non violent communication and practice, because we got time to kill.” And we were like, “Alright,” so we all… I mean, and there’s a lot to say about NVC and its flaws, but we agreed to do this as a group and she sat around and practiced arguing using NVC until we got comfortable like, I, it’s hard to, it’s hard to, like, write us a prescription for people to normalize something like this, right? But the, the solution is that we have to normalize it somehow..
No, that makes sense. Do you have any any final thoughts on conflict resolution or things that we didn’t talk about that we should have talked about?
Um, it’s really important, we won’t function as a society without it whether it’s mediation or some some similar skill. I don’t know, Google “mediation centers” where you are. Chances are there there’s one somewhere in your state, or wherever you’re listening from.
Yeah, I think we sometimes try to reinvent the wheel all the time, within radical subcultures. I can’t speak to other ones besides the anarchists ones, because it’s the one I participate in the most. But, we I think sometimes we like only look to existing anarchists projects as like, the realm of what’s possible. And that seems nonsensical.
Yeah, actually, that reminds me…so that the center where I work is not politically affiliated, right. I’m like the youngest person there. It’s mostly a bunch of retired folks of various political leanings, which we don’t talk about. And there’s something to be said, for working in spaces like that, and learning these skills in spaces like that, because we don’t live in an anarchist society right now. Which means that we need to be able to navigate conflict with people who aren’t anarchists. And so if two people are in conflict, and they aren’t anarchists, and I approach them and say, “Hey, I’m an anarchist mediator,” then suddenly I’m not neutral or like a useful resource, right?
So it’s not that I think we shouldn’t have anarchists mediation collectives. I’m just saying that. I don’t think people should shy away from these a-political resources, because they really valuable still.
There’s this thing I learned yesterday while doing research for my other podcast that you can check out, it’s called Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff that comes out every Monday and Wednesday. Okay, and um…
I know what you’re going to say, and yes.
Yeah, well, okay. So like, I learned about this thing where, you know, I have infinite respect for the Jane Collective, right, the people who in the late 60s, early 70s, in Chicago were in this collective that ended up including more than 100 different people; women working as Abortionists illegally before Roe v. Wade. And for some reason that’s on a lot of people’s minds right now. But then I discovered looking back that in the 1920s and early 30s in Germany…Cassandra’s already heard this…there was all of these non politically affiliated organizations of illegal birth control advocates and Abortionists all over Germany. There’s more than 200 of these groups, and they were non politically aligned. But it was almost all syndicalists, anarchist syndicalists coming from a specific union, the acronym of which I forget off the top of my head. FAUD actually, I now remember it. And it’s like the Free Workers Union of Germany or something. And even though they did a lot of organizing and propaganda as anarchists in the rest of their lives, the abortion clinics, were not an anarchist project, because that wasn’t the point of it. And they weren’t there to recruit. And they weren’t…they were just there because people needed to have access to birth control and abortions. And I could imagine mediation….you know, if I was forming an anarchist mediation collective, if it was like, “We are the anarchists mediation collective,” it would maybe be for the anarchists, but if it was like, “We are anarchists doing this mediation collective and we’re willing to tell you, we’re anarchists, but it is not about anarchism.” I don’t know is that?
Yeah, totally. I mean, I remember during my first training, going up to one of the directors and asking, I don’t remember what question I asked, but it was something about like, “What we’re talking about sounds like prison abolition,” you know, and like, there’s a particular mediation center in my area that is politically affiliated, and I was asking him if I should try volunteering with that center or with one of the non affiliated centers, and he said, “Definitely one of the non affiliated centers because the whole point of this if we’re actually abolishing the prison industrial complex is to get everyone to divest from it, which means everyone needs access, which means we don’t want to turn them off because we say we’re liberals or anarchists or whatever.”
I say liberal because he was probably a liberal, but surely, yeah.
Yeah. No, that that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s interesting challenges a lot of like, the presuppositions I have about like when it isn’t, isn’t useful to identify projects politically. But, I think that makes a really strong case. Because, the point has never been, from my point of view to create little weird pure bubbles, cause, as we talked about creating weird pure bubbles is just….they’re just going to destroy themselves, much like bubbles, when you blow bubbles, they don’t last.
Well and even like if you create this weird pure bubble, what if someone..what if you’re in conflict with someone outside that bubble? Is that person going to trust a mediator who is strictly inside that bubble?
No, then we’ll just go break their windows, no matter what happened. Even if our friends are the one at fault.
You know, if I get in an argument with my Catholic, Republican, anti-semitic neighbor across the street, even if I might prefer an anarchist mediator, that’s not something he’s going to agree to, therefore, the mediation won’t happen, and therefore it’s not productive.
Right. Yeah. And, and even then, like, if you have a mediator who specifically there to be on your side, you don’t have a mediator, you have an advocate, I guess.
Which is important. Advocates are really important. But that’s different. Different skill set.
Yeah. No, totally. I mean, and then you get into the like, since you can’t enter someone into transformative justice, if they don’t want to, and if they’re not part of a community, you know, sometimes like, I remember there was an instance where to abstract this as far as I possibly can with the story is still making sense, where an anarchist went on a really bad date with a guy who wasn’t an anarchist, and then, like 30, people in black bloc, showed up outside his house with megaphones, and scared the everLiving shit out of him. And I think he was a little bit more careful from then on. But…
Different techniques for different scenarios, right?
Exactly. Exactly. Like, not everything should resort to violence or the threat of violence, but also, not everything…I think that is…I think that’s one of the things that turns people off from a lot of mediation is that I think that people see it applied at times when sometimes like,”No, maybe just like direct conflict is the actual answer to certain types of problems,” you know, but not that not that many of them.
Well in mediation when it’s done well, I see the same argument around nonviolent communication, which I think Rosenberg was brilliant, I think that…or is? he like…
I don’t know.
Anyway, I don’t know, I think the way it’s applied often is horrible. But, I see this a similar argument around mediation and NVC and where those tools can be utilized to like tone police or silence people, etc. But mediation, one of the foundations of mediation is that it’s a consensual process. Which means that if someone’s in a mediation, and is like, “Oh, this doesn’t feel good to me anymore. This is like some boundaries been crossed, or I’m not comfortable with the way I’m being asked to communicate,” or whatever. They just stop the process. That’s it.
Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah, I wish I could have done that with like…I have such negative connotations for NVC, because I feel like the times it just gets use…it’s, it’s just been like weaponized against me by people who are like, making me cry and then asking why I’m communicating so meanly while I’m crying because of the things that they’re saying to me or whatever, you know?
Same, same. When I when I actually read Rosenberg, I’m like, oh, yeah, that’s not what he was describing.
And the spirit of the law, the spirit of the idea often gets stripped away and left with the letter of it.
I’ve also had so many jobs where I’ve had so many bosses who were like, hippies using NVC to just like gaslight the shit out of you, you know? Like, “Yeah, I hear you feel this way. But I’m still your boss and will fire you.” You know?
Yeah. All right. Well, I think we’ve covered every single thing about mediation and…
Ever. Yep. And even can go and mediate now I’m sure.
Yeah, totally. Just make sure to stick your own opinions in. Anyone is free to leave at any point all they…they will just be excised from the community. And, passive aggression is the logical response to everything. What else, did we cover everything?
Gossip with your friends about everything you hear in a mediation so they can cancel each other.
Oh, yep, definitely. And it’s really good to not only block people on social media, but then yell at everyone else to block the person on social media. Getting anything? I sarcastically make fun of things that people do in order to defend themselves from really bad things that happen. I understand why people do these things sometimes. It just gets out of hand.
Different different tools for different scenarios.
Yeah, totally. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on. Is there anything you want to shout out or plug or draw people’s attention towards here at the end of the episode?
Um, maybe this…I don’t know publishing project called Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness.
Oh, are you part of a publishing project?
Have you heard of that?
Is it Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness at Tangledwilderness.org? The publishing collective that you and I are both part of?
Yeah, yeah, we could call that out.
Yeah, if…this podcast is published by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness, and we also publish a monthly zine. We’re publishing a bunch of books this year. And we’re really just…it’s a project that’s been around in one incarnation or another for about 20 years. But we’re like really, kind of kick starting it. No pun intended with the company this year and trying to give it a good push and we have a bunch of stuff coming out.
If you like podcasts, now, there’s an audio version of each zine each month.
Oh, yeah. What’s it called?
Oh, shit, isn’t it’s just called Strangers [In a Tangled Wilderness]? This is our job.
We’re very professional. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast, you should learn how to mediate or don’t learn how to mediate and just walk like a wrecking ball through communities and tell everyone what you think. I guess I’ve already made enough sarcastic jokes this episode. Mediation is really cool. And you should look into it. You can also support this podcast. The main way you can do that is by telling people about it. You can tell people about it on the internet, or in person. Those are the only two spaces that exist I think. But either way you’d be helping us out. You can also support us directly by supporting us on Patreon. Our Patreon is patreon.com/strangersInatangledwilderness, and depending we put up content every month, we have now two podcasts, this one and the podcast Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness. We publish a lot of fiction, we will be publishing some poetry’s, and role playing game content, also some essays, memoir, history, you name it. And in particular, I’d like to thank Mikki, Nicole, David, Dana, Chelsey, Staro, Jennifer, Elena, Natalie, Kirk, Micaiah, Nora, Sam, Chris, and Hoss the dog. You all are amazing and make all this possible. Strangers…well, this podcast used to be just me. But now it’s going to be coming out more regularly, thanks to all the hard work of all the people who work behind the scenes. So thank you for supporting them and thank you people who are behind the scenes for doing that also Anyway, I hope you’re doing as well as you can with everything that’s happening and I will be back soo
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