When things go wrong, try love

This past Sunday at a conflict resolution class I was teaching, I remembered a lightning bolt solution to a rather complicated situation. It was a solution that was so perfect that everyone in the room was positively affected by it. I believe that it came from love.

The situation happened years ago in a court-ordered mediation in Asheville, NC. I have permission to share this story. A boy of about 15 was punched in the mouth, after just getting his braces off, by a 17 year-old boy on Thanksgiving eve. There was some damage to the victim’s mouth, but it would heal. Both mothers, both boys, and two mediators were in the room. The victim’s mother was just beside herself with anger and frustration. The aggressor’s mother was beside herself with not knowing what to do with her son. The aggressor had a criminal assault charge facing him and was obviously feeling sorry for his action, and the victim was actually embarrassed that his mother was making such a big deal out of it.

In mediation, people respectfully listen as each side shares the story and what they want or need from the other side. Everyone was respectful. But when it came to the brainstorming of ideas for the solution, they weren’t hitting the mark. The victim’s mom wanted money for the medical and dental expenses, and the aggressor worked as a bag boy at a local supermarket. His mom didn’t have the money either.

The victim’s mom was still angry and her son was more uncomfortable. We decided to have a private session with her and give everyone else a break. We listened compassionately. In compassionate listening, the listener doesn’t talk. They don’t judge. They listen with their hearts, and respond non-verbally with facial expression and supportive body language. She was upset. She ranted. She couldn’t understand how someone could do what the aggressor did. We did ask some questions for more clarity. In a little while she said something like “I’ll just have to pray about what to do,” and was ready to resume the mediation.

When the aggressor offered to sell his car, the victim’s mom told him that wouldn’t work because then he wouldn’t be able to go to work and earn money to take care of himself.

But his willingness might have sparked something. All of a sudden she came up with an idea. If the aggressor would register for two classes in the spring semester of the local community college, she would drop the criminal assault charges that were filed in court. She wanted him to make something of his life.

Talk about a win-win-win-win! The aggressor would not have to go to court and get a record that would probably haunt him for a while. Even though he was still a minor, an assault charge is taken off the record, but if there is another assault charge, it goes back on. His mother stated that it had been her dream for him to go to college. The victim’s mom sincerely wanted this boy to have a better job, and feel better about himself so that he would not reoffend, and the victim was proud of his mom’s choice to help this boy look toward a better future and not put him in such a bind.

Everyone agreed this was the best solution. We wrote it up, filed the papers with the court, and peace ruled! My co-mediator and I talked about this for a while after folks left. We felt like love, or an angel, or some kind of divine intervention transpired. The mother forgave. She was generous. She cared about another as much as her own son and wanted something good for him in the long term. She solved the needs in the heart of everyone there.

We don’t always need mediators to do this. We can choose love, or God, or Great Spirit, whatever you call our Creator, anytime to help us resolve a conflict. Remembering that everyone wants to feel loved and lovable is a start. Then every conversation we need to have with a person would come from a loving space. What we do need to do is to let go of our own ideas of what would be best and see what we get inspired to do.

A woman in the workshop had processed what her needs were and realized that she needed to “confront” someone about something. She said, “So how do I do that without seeming mean, bossy or selfish?” She answered her own question almost as soon as she asked it and realized that the person would most likely respond favorably if she asked for it lovingly. I agreed.

Fact: We might not agree with what a person says to us in a kind and respectful way, but we will be more likely to listen to him/her than if they shout in anger or try to make us feel guilty.

Mediators are trained to try to “equalize” the parties. If it looks like the submissive person is not getting his/her needs met, we may ask if they are or are agreeing to the other’s wishes to avoid confrontation. People need to learn to know what their needs are and that there are some that we all have. It’s OK to have these basic needs.

These needs go beyond basic survival needs for the body. They include respect, support, understanding, peace, love, trust, the pursuit of happiness, and living the life one has chosen for himself. Speaking violently includes judging another person. We don’t know what their past or dreams are.

I had the opportunity to work at a wonderful preschool where all the staff trained the children to ask for what they needed in calm statements. I observed a little girl begin to whine about a puzzle being stuck and heard the teacher ask her, “What do you need to take care of yourself?” She struggled a bit and the teacher who was still imparting the concept asked, “Do you need me to help you get that puzzle out?” The little girl answered “Yes,” and then the teacher asked her to repeat it as an I statement. “I need you to help me get the puzzle out.”

I was blown away by two little girls who had been playing “House” at recess. As they walked to me I noticed that one had her head looking down and the other was crying. I held the crying girl’s hands and asked her, “What do you need to take care of yourself?” She immediately stopped crying and stood up straight. She looked at the other girl and said, “I need you to stop tickling me in the stomach.” The other girl said, “Well in my family my mommy does that to me, and I’m the mommy, so I did it to you.”

“Well I need you to stop, and I need a hug.”

I asked the tickler if she could do that. Her eyes brightened! She was not in trouble. So they hugged, and off they pranced arm in arm back to the playground.

When love is present, things change for the better. We live in a very “me-my” culture, but there is a great movement of kindness and increasing inclusivity in our world in spite of what shows up in the media. Hawaiians have known it all along. They call it “aloha,” which includes the spirituality and inclusivity of love and not just the affection of love.


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org. For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, go to www.haleopiokauai.org


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