For all of her flaws and, well, y’know, illegal activities, there is something endearing about her. She is optimistic. It is unusual. It is refreshing. And it is something that we could all probably use a little more of.
I spent hours yesterday at the pharmacy getting antibiotics for my sick daughter. They lost the prescription. They couldn’t read the doctor’s handwriting. They spelled her name wrong. Hours went by. I was so frustrated at their incompetence. Stupidity. Unprofessionalism. IrritatingannoyingTimewastingIdon’tlikeyou. Well, after a few hours and finally getting my prescription, a little more truth comes out. First, this pharmacy operates on one of the lowest budgets in the city. Less money = less help. Second, the doctor did send over a badly written prescription where my daughter’s name was practically illegible. Third, I knew this pharmacy took longer and chose to send my prescription there anyway. Fourth, they did make a couple of stupid mistakes.
Now it’s the next morning and with a little perspective I can see what really happened: everyone tried to do their best and made a few mistakes along the way. We can never see that in the moment. Our clients can certainly never see that in the middle of a mediation. And as mediators we can rarely see that until the end of the mediation.
A dear friend and incredible mediator, Larry Sullivan, told me once that as he walked his daughter down the aisle, he remembered that inside she was still a little girl dressed up like a princess, spinning on a hillside. The groom was still a little boy, fascinated by the sound his blocks made when they fell to the ground.
I try to hold on to these two images in my mediations. We villainize parties so easily. We believe the stories told about them and we see the anger coming out of them, and mistakenly assume the anger coming out of this person represents them. But it doesn’t. The anger and the pain and the hurt and the revenge all represent frustration at not being seen as the good person that is really inside.
I can honestly say I have not mediated one single case where one party is completely innocent. But I can also honestly say that every party in every case I have mediated was a good person, with a couple of mistakes along the way.
The next time you are mediating, or waiting at the pharmacy, remember this Kate Reedism: All people are Innocent Until Proven Good.