You know how some movies have out takes at the end? The hero misses the punch and jams his hand into a bowl of fruit. The kissing scene is interrupted by a giant moth who wants in on the action. Or, lines are flubbed again, and again, until everyone dissolves in laughter. I love those scenes. They show us a glimpse of reality, what it is really like to make a movie. And they show us that these are just human beings doing a job, however imperfectly. That got me thinking about my profession – mediation and facilitation – and out takes that I could show at the end of the movie titled, “Lucy Saves the Day,” or “Mediators: Warriors for Peace” or … well, you get the idea. So, I’ll spare you the movie, and just give you the out takes, moments from my decades of practice that make me smile.
“Hmmm…where is that place?” – I was facilitating a meeting for the Forest Service in northern New Mexico. About a dozen very rural, somewhat eccentric community members were standing in front of a wall- sized map of their local national forest. The Forest Service staff were there hoping to find out how and where local people used the forest. I was proud of this interactive tool, primitive by today’s standards but in the 1980s quite a novelty. I asked people to come forward, take a marker and indicate on the map the spots where they fished, cut wood, hiked, hunted, etc. There were different colored markers for different kinds of uses. The maps were covered with clear plastic, so they could erase and re-draw if they needed to. No one wanted to break the ice, or make the first mark. I was worried my great innovation was a flop. I saw an aging hippie woman, spilling out of her bib overalls and with a head of wild gray hair, staring at the map for a long time, the marker dangling in her hand. I encouraged her. “Do you want to put something up there, some forest use?” I asked innocently. “Well,” she said dreamily, “I’m just trying to remember…a long time ago… where it was that I laid that man at….” I suggested we could call that “recreational use” and she marked the spot.
“To snip or not to snip” – Out of my element, I was asked to mediate a dispute over circumcision at a hospital. The conscientious objector (CO) nurses were refusing to assist doctors in the procedure. Other nurses may not have enjoyed it, but were committed to doing their job. Before accepting the job, I insisted on an interview with the leadership of the two groups, the hospital administrator, and the union president. I wanted to make some disclaimers. I had two sons, I said, and had made a choice about circumcision, in case that might be a conflict of interest. And more importantly, I emphasized, virtually all my professional experience was with environmental and natural resource disputes. One of the CO nurses jumped in, “Oh, but you’re perfect. The foreskin is a natural resource!” How could I say no? I took the case and soon regretted it.
“Big Men in Little Cars” – It was a grueling series of meetings, three nights in a row along the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The subject was how to protect an endangered fish, the Blunt-nosed Shiner, and the locals (all farmers) who attended the first two meetings were outraged – nearly apoplectic – at the thought that the federal government would put the survival of this stupid, tiny fish above the welfare of their families and communities. They blasted the federal and state presenters who tried to explain the law, the science and moral imperative of the effort. They blasted us facilitators for playing our sleazy facilitating role. The final meeting was slated to be the most hostile of all. Big beefy, red-necked guys in starched white shirts, perched on their folding chairs, hats on heads or held in laps, glared at me and my colleague Rosemary. The presenters went through their slide shows, and then it was my turn to open it up to the audience. I made some introductory remarks about who we were and why we were there, and how we believed in public participation in difficult issues like this.
“So, we are really pleased that you are all here,” I said, wrapping it up, “to discuss with the federal and state officials the future of the Blunt-nosed Shriner in the Pecos River….” And then I heard myself, a delayed playback, “…Blunt-nosed Shriner.” I said “Shriner” not “Shiner”! Suddenly, in front of me I saw a roomful of Shriners, in their fez caps and white shirts and vests driving around in those little cars. And they had blunt noses! It was all too much. I went to pieces, gasping with laughter. I couldn’t go on. Rosemary had to take over, and somehow she heroically pulled it off.
“Is this gurney taken?” – I went up to Alamosa, Colorado, to help a small community group work on a strategy to clean up the Alamosa River from mining contamination. The community organizer had found space for us at the local fire station. I arrived and found that the small room was packed with 10 gurneys each with a fake body – actually only the top half of a fake body. If there is anything worse than a fake body, it is half of a fake body. The Fire Department was holding a CPR training that would continue the next day. We weren’t allowed to move anything. Each of us had to hop up on a gurney to find a seat.
And that’s a wrap!