Cape Mediation

listenBy Sean Corcoran

When disagreements occur between friends, family, neighbors or coworkers, it can be difficult to work through the frustration and actually see the situation from the other person's point of view. Cape Mediation of Orleans is a group dedicated to helping people settle their disagreements by promoting communication and cooperation.

At a training seminar for mediators, two women take center stage at the front of the room and assume the roles of a father and his 13-year-old daughter, who thinks her parents are being too tough on her.

First woman: "...I don't understand why they don't trust me. I always do my homework and my chores and get good grades. They're way too strict. They won't even listen to me. They treat me like a baby."

Second woman: "There is no reason we need to be here at all. This should be handled inside the family. Maria needs to be more respectful. Why is she even questioning my rules? Maybe we are a little strict, but that is the way children are raised in our native Mexico..."

Twice a year, Cape Mediation of Orleans conducts training seminars where attendees like John Bonistalli of Boston and Jeannie Heroux of Harwich listen to scenarios like this one. Then, they begin to strategize. How can they get the father and daughter to understand the other person's point of view?

Heroux "Ok, the daughter, it seems to be an issue of trust with her, and with the parents it seems to be an issue of respect."

Bonistalli: "Respect and culture. ... The daughter needs to understand how important the father's culture is, and the father needs to understand the daughter isn't living in Mexico."

Mediation is about reaching a solution by getting people to understand each other's point of view. During training sessions, mediators learn how to give both sides the opportunity to explain the conflict from THEIR perspective. They ask questions and encourage everyone to listen to the answers. What they don't do is decide exactly how to settle things. Instead, they ask the people involved, How do YOU want to resolve this?

Carolyn Kildegard of Martha's Vineyard says she expects the mediation skills to be of great use at Dukes County Community Correction Center, where she teaches life skills to people on parole.

Carolyn Kildegard: "I think I am going away with more of an understanding about how the other person has a perspective that obviously different from mine, but not necessarily wrong. Not better or worse, but different."

Cape Mediation assists in family disputes, such as questions of inheritance and conflicts between parents and children. They work with business partners who may be looking to go their separate ways, and will help neighbors settle disagreements. But the organization also plays a role in the local court system. People who take their issues to small claims courts in Barnstable, Orleans and Falmouth may find themselves sitting in front of a team of mediators before they see a judge.

Mediator Ian Ryan says the process promotes communication and cooperation between two parties, letting them reach a solution together.

Ian Ryan: "I know I feel better when I solve my own problem, rather than going to someone else for an answer. And the court system is a valuable tool for people who are in conflict. But in essence, you are going to the court to have someone else make a decision about something that might be very important to you. While if you use mediation, at least at first, you give yourself an option to solve it yourself."

Deborah Fish, the director of mediation services and training at Cape Mediation, says each year, more and more people are using mediation to settle conflicts. Last year, her organization alone handled nearly 500 cases. Still, Fish was surprised to see mediation mentioned recently in the comedy Wedding Crashers. In the film's opening scene, before Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn's begin cruising bridesmaids and eating crab crakes, they're seen doing their day job, mediating a dispute between a divorcing couple who openly admit they despise each other.

Wife: "You shut your mouth when you're talking to me!"
Owen Wilson: "You guys didn't always hate each other, there had t be some nice moments, during the courtship maybe? Or the wedding?"
Vince Vaughn: "The wedding had to be fun. Owen/Vince: "You get the family together." "You've got the decorations. Family coming together."

Fish says the very fact that mediation was featured in a blockbuster Hollywood film tells her that the practice is becoming more recognized as a way for people to settle their disputes without involving a judge, jury or even a lawyer. It's progress, she says.

Deborah Fish: " When I started, people would mix it up with meditation. And now, at least, people know the word. We had someone in the hall waiting for the office to open because they wanted to start meditating. We've come a distance from there."

Cape Mediation's holds mediator training sessions each fall and spring, while it also works with businesses. Mediators also go into the schools and provide peer mediation training, as well as on-site training programs for private organizations and businesses.

Cape Mediation
80 Route 6A - unit 3
PO Box 193
Orleans, MA 02653
Phone/fax: 508-240-1717

Broadcast September 7, 2006

Re-broadcast April 12, 2007

Sean Corcoran reports for WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.