Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Lesson Learned From Brooke, Cat, Rabbit, and Fox.

My friend and colleague Brooke Deratany Goldfarb sent me this wonderful story.  It was part of a short play in her daughter's theater class.  But, Brooke saw the tale as a wonderful illustration of the potential fall out from a litigated divorce, with the loss of the cheese signifying the loss of dignity as well as personal possessions.  You can read the whole story at  Brooke has a law degree from Harvard but rather than use her degree in the traditional sense she has chosen to practice as a family mediator and collaborative lawyer in Indialantic, FL. Brooke is currently running for Judge in Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit.  You can learn more at

Thank you Brooke!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

10 Tips For Getting Along With Your Family This Holiday Season

Millions of families won't be together this holiday season because of fights, feuds and old resentments. However, family estrangements, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations don't have to destroy the bonds that connect you to the ones you love. Here are my 10 tips for getting along with your relatives over the holidays.

1. Be a good guest. Respect your host's property and possessions. Clean up after yourself and your kids. Don't bring your pets unless they are specifically requested. Don't expect your host to monitor your children. Visiting your relatives should not signal a vacation from being a parent. Instead, watch your kids and make sure that they also respect property and possessions.

2. If you are the host whose property and possessions are not respected, ask for what you need. Its almost impossible to be both babysitter and chief cook and bottle washer at the same time. But, unless you ask for help and then allow others to provide it, the burden will fall on you and your resentment will grow. If you ask for help and it's not forthcoming let your guests know that this year the holidays were too much for you and next year you will be coming to them instead.

3. Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and can leave your family open to a fiasco. When the others hit the bottle a little too hard that should be your signal to go home or go catch a movie.

4. If you really don't want to go - don't. However, do not wait until the last minute to cancel. Give your relatives time to make alternative plans.

5. Discuss the gift situation in advance and make plans so that everyone understands your position. Simplify gift giving by using cash or gift cards. Some families do only the kids, others pick one name from a hat, or maybe you will all buy your own gifts and do show and tell.

6. Under most family conflicts someone feels dismissed, discounted, disrespected, or disenfranchised. Avoid any action which will trigger these emotions. Make sure that you include everyone in the planning, preparation, and festivities. Try to be equal in your gift giving to avoid slighting anyone. If for some reason this is not appropriate or possible, do your giving at a time when you and the receiver will have complete privacy.

7. If you are carrying around a resentment, from the past, address it - in private - with the other person. If you are going to hold a difficult conversation with a family member remember to

* Prepare.

* Set the stage. Pick the right time for your difficult conversation, when you are both clear headed.

* Call a truce, this means coming to the table and staying there until there is some resolution.

* Speak from the heart. Do not point fingers of blame. Instead focus on finding a solution that works for both of you. This is collaboration. And, keep in mind that before the person on the other side can respond from the heart s/he will have to trust that there will be no negative judgements or attacks. Do whatever you can to make that clear.

* Listen, listen, listen. Listen as if you are an outside observer with no prior knowledge of the situation.

* Give yourselves time to think, process the information, and cool down.

* Define the emotions. Under almost every human conflict, someone feels dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised, or disrespected. These are the emotions that fuel the feud. Sometimes, just defining that emotion and realizing that both of us feel the same way is enough to resolve our dispute.

* Be willing to apologize. The closer the relationship the more likely you are to have stepped on each others' toes. If you cannot bring yourself to apologize for anything specific at least apologize for the distress that the other side has been living with and anything s/he believes you did to contribute to it.

* Don't leave conflicts unresolved. An agreement to disagree is resolution. Leaving the conflict open sets you up for future fights.

8. Assign a family mediator and even if s/he is a natural get him/her some additional dispute management training.

9. Lower your expectations - for everything - from expecting feelings of happiness and joy to cooking the perfect meal. Do not expect others to get it perfectly right either. Don't take it personally if someone fails to send you a card or gift this year.

10. Consult with a professional mediator if you feel you need an expert opinion or more personal assistance.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Holiday Traditions

This post is a version of an email that I received from my friend Deb Heller who received it from Paul Rotmil. We do not know who the original author is but this is my rewritten version.

Happy Holidays!

As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods. But, this year can be different. This year Americans can give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer an excuse that nothing can be found that is produced by American hands. It's time to think outside the box. Here are 12 great American gift ideas. What else can you think of?

1. Hair cut. Everyone - yes EVERYONE - gets their hair cut. So give gift certificates to your local hair salon or barber.

2. Gym membership or personal training sessions. This is an appropriate gift for everyone who talks about improving their health.

3. Car detailing. Car detail shops and car washes love to sell gift certificates.

4. Home repairs. The local handyman can sell you his time. Or perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his/her lawn mowed or driveway sealed, plowed, or shoveled.

5. Golf green fees or tickets to sporting events, a play, movie, concert, or the ballet at your hometown theater. Want to make this a really special gift? Join the gift recipient.

6. Gift certificates to local restaurants. If the recipient isn't into fancy eateries, consider breakfast or coffee at the local diner or breakfast joint. Think about side-stepping the big national chains and showing support for your home town restauranteur whose financial life is on the line.

7. Oil change for the car, truck or motorcycle. Remember the shop run by your working neighbor.

8. Cleaning lady or home organizer for the day. I could really use this.

9. Computer tune-up. Or give your over-50 gift recipients a lesson on their computer or smart phone.

10. Local artists and crafts people knit, crochet, make jewelry, spin pottery, and create art in all forms. Shop local art fairs and take a look at

11. Your time - which is your most valuable resource. Share your time with a friend or relative. You can spend your time together serving the community in a soup kitchen, or by visiting a children's hospital or nursing home.

12. Craigslist and neighborhood garage sale items. It is better to recycle the stuff that is in our garages than it is to put it into landfills.

This year, plan your holiday outings at local, owner-operated restaurants that showcase local bands. And leave your server a nice big tip. And, speaking of tips - if you give the mailman, trash guy, or babysitter a cash gift also make a request that they spend that money in the local economy and not on goods made in a foreign country.

We are ready for a revolution of caring about each other. Christmas should no longer be about buying more crap from China. You already have enough junk in your garage. Instead, this year, focus on caring about your neighbor and encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away. When we care about our neighbors and our communities the benefits come back to us in magical ways. THIS should be the new American Christmas tradition.

Please feel free to copy this post, mail it to everyone on your mailing list, post it to a discussion group or on Craigslist, or send it to the editor of your local newspaper, radio station, and TV news department.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I was not dog crazy until I met my Stella

Six years ago, as David and I were on our way to stock-up at Costco, I felt a pull. Something was directing me to pass the store and keep going. “Let’s go to the humane society, I’ve got a funny feeling” I said. “OK” David responded, humoring me. We already had two elderly cats and they provided some real barriers to bringing any other animals home. Clearly he assumed we would be lookers, not takers.

At the shelter, we walked up and down the rows of cages, visiting with the inmates sitting in their sad death row cells. One of the wardens approached us. I told her about our cats. She was quiet for a few seconds and then she ushered us past the rows of cages and into the cat room. There, clearly out of place, amongst all the caged kittens, was a spunky black and white puppy in a big cage. The attendant opened the cage. The puppy dashed out, much more interested in her new freedom than in us. She ran around in circles – clearly delighted to have sprung the coop. I took her “cat room” confines as an omen. “We’ll take her" I said. David stood there, too shocked to speak.

A few days later, when the paperwork was complete, we left the shelter with our Stella. The attendant beamed and my eyes welled up with tears as she looked at us and said “see, sometimes life starts out tough and then it all works out really well.” I knew Stella was one lucky puppy and we would give her a good life.

During the last six years, both David and I have both built strong bonds with Stella who is a master communicator. Her boarder collie genes prepared her to communicate with the sheep herder and primed her to use emotion, hers and ours, instead of words. She is able to read us and to get her message across with amazing accuracy. Stella often acts as my sounding board, listening as I work things out. And, she teaches us about life and ourselves by mirroring those hidden traits we are not comfortable exposing.

Here are the three things Stella wants you to know.

1. Shelter dogs are the best dogs. Do not buy a dog from a pet store as most of them were bred in puppy mills. If you must, find a reputable breeder but that should be your second choice – for a variety of reasons.

2. Communities that don’t allow animal companions are missing out. A loyal dog or cat can change an elderly person’s outlook on life. And, by opening up to pets you expand the pool of potential buyers for property resale and so increase property values. Do not live in a community that doesn’t allow pets, something is wrong with people who don’t want animals around.

3. Life is full of delicious surprises. So get out there, smell around, and find them. And, then share the news – there is always something to bark about.

Five years ago we expanded our family and adopted another dog, so Stella would have a playmate. Our beloved Roscoe is not as brilliant a communicator as Stella but he is gentle and loving and a valued addition to our family.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Best Way To Get Over A Break-up

Q. What's the best way to get over a break-up?

I have Action and Attitude Strategies. Here they are:

Action Strategies

1. Create a concrete plan of action. List your personal resources and how you will use those resources during the next month, six months, and year ahead.

2. The key to healing from a break-up is having a strong support system. Create your support system by inviting quality people to join in your inner circle. This support system should include family members, old friends, and new friends. Find other singles that share a common interest - even if you have to organize an event or special project yourself. Connect with your neighbors and members of your community. Start or join a support group or meet-up. Make time for sharing breakfast, a movie, or a potluck meal. Some time to yourself is fine but it is critical that you avoid isolation and feeling alone.

3. Become an activist. Make a difference. Get involved with a cause that is bigger than your personal problems.

4. Meditate and breathe. When we are anxious we tend to hold our breath. Using a breathing meditation allows us to take in more oxygen. And, more oxygen allows us to think more clearly.

5. Explore local resources. Act like a tourist, but the goal is to become an expert on what your city has to offer. Find free or inexpensive activities in your community. Take a walk. Visit the park, beach, museum, and public library.

6. If finances are tight, find more creative ways to access the goods and services you need. Barter. Recycle. Negotiate. Create.

7. Clean-out the clutter and get rid of unnecessary reminders of your Ex. When your physical space is disorganized it produces a negative reflection. When you clean up your house you are honoring your home - the temple of your soul. Getting rid of "stuff" is one way to make room for the new person.

8. Live within your means and clean-up your credit. Enlist professional assistance or the aid of a friend who knows how to create a budget.

9. Adopt. Rescue a pet from a shelter and receive unconditional love and companionship in return.

Attitude Strategies

1. Start the morning with a positive affirmation.

2. Make a gratitude list and focus on the ways that the glass of your life is half (or more) full. Concentrate on the good - the things that give you joy in life.

3. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. Create new celebratory rituals to enjoy this year and in the years to come.

4. Avoid comparing your insides to someone else's outsides. When you think of yourself as the victim you further feed the negative emotions. Each life has high and low points. Almost everyone experiences a rejection, break-up, or divorce in his/her adult life and for most its a low point. So when you look around and everyone else seems happy remember that you are not the only one who has had to live through this experience.

5. See your break-up as an opportunity to shift gears. Don't dwell on your losses; mourn them, and let them go.

6. Accept those around you as they are. Focus instead on what can be changed in you and your attitudes.

7. When you are down, remind yourself that next year will be different, next year YOU will be different, and everything is temporary.

8. Use this time of transition as a time of assessment. Figure out what mistakes you made in the relationship and how you will avoid these mistakes in the future. A therapist or support group can help in this endeavor.

9. Call a truce with your Ex. Especially if you have children, let him/her know that you want to find solutions that work for both of you. It's hard to argue with someone who says "I want to find solutions that work for you and for me."

10. Give yourself time. Don't rush into the next relationship because you are lonely or feel rejected. The longer you wait the better your chances of success. It's OK to look (be a shopper) but don't buy too fast.

After A Break-up - With No Kids Involved - Is It OK To Stay In Touch With Your Ex's Family?

Q: After a break up - with no children involved - is it OK to stay in touch with your Ex's family?

The short answer is - it depends. Read the rest of my answer at

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aging: The Last Frontier: My Notes On Being An Elder In A Changing World

Last week David and I attended a magical weekend gathering - The Mankind Project's USA Gathering of Elders in Indianola, Iowa. Most of MKP's events are "men only" so this was a rare opportunity to share the energy of this powerful community and the coming together of elder women and men. Robert Moore was the key note speaker. Bill Kauth and Zoe Alowan gave a thought provoking presentation. And, I participated in a women-only retreat entitled Aging-to-Saging led by Rosemary Cox based on the work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Here are my take-away points:

1. As a people and a planet, we are shifting into a new consciousness. This ordeal, which includes an unprecedented economic and spiritual crisis, is going to continue into the next decade. The good news is that never before in history have there been so many resources.

2. Elders can help others deal with the new reality. But, we'll need the energy and courage to act. Amidst the bearers of despair we need to be the bearers of hope. We need to ask "how are we going to create, build, and occupy our new world?"

3. We have been colonized by the military, financial, medical, agricultural, religious, and industrial complexes. This colonization is about empire building. (The young people protesting in the middle-east (and Occupy for that matter) could have chosen to be terrorists. Instead, they chose to take a stand against Empire.)

4. Robert Moore's name for the Universal Energy Force is "The Great It." He says "It" cannot be named. But "It" is in you and you are "It." All we need to do is let the energy of "It" shine through us. (BTW, "It" doesn't like empire building.)

5. The science we hope for is already here. Take a look at the Human Energy Systems Alliance.

6. Elder versus elderly. Aging is the process of becoming the final product of creation. 55-75 is the liberation phase, 67-90 is the summing up phase. Do we see the aging population as a resource or as a problem?

7. Every generation becomes flavored with the essence of its time. And, the brain rewires itself to fulfill the role we play in society.

8. We live too short and we die too long.

9. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. In addition to exercise, learning something new, mental stimulation, and new experiences are good for the brain. Visit Lumosity for computer games for the brain.

10. Forgiveness is a part of the elder's process of life review and life repair. Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves - whether we are forgiving ourselves or someone else. The goal of forgiveness is to free ourselves to live more freely and to become more inwardly vibrant. Without forgiveness we perpetuate grief, stay fixated on the past, and remain connected to the "offender." Just by saying "I want to forgive ___" we change the pathways in the brain. The feeling can then catch up to the choice. The path to forgiveness can be a long journey. Honor the feelings - don't deny them or you bury them alive. "I forgive myself. I was just young."

11. I was disappointed there was no mention of Susan Jacoby's book Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing Of The New Old Age. Maybe at next years USAGE or MKP's World Elder Gathering 2013 in Australia.

All manner of good things will come to you now. Blessings, Elinor

Thirty Five Years of Mediation: Why Haven't We Come Farther?

With Co-author/Guest blogger Professor Susan F. Dubow

The history:

Using mediation to resolve disputes can be traced, across a variety of cultures, to biblical and ancient times. In this country, the founding fathers recognized the process but mediation did not have a valid place in American policy until 1946 when the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) was formed to resolve labor disputes. During the 1960s the seeds for paradigm shifts and social change were planted and cultivated. The civil rights, feminist, environmental, and peace movements were born. There was dissatisfaction with governmental and other institutions and the courts were backlogged. A push for a better way to resolve disputes ensued.

In 1976 Chief Justice Warren Burger held a conference and ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of legal scholar Roscoe Pound’s presentation The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice to the American Bar Association. Pound’s paper of 1906 changed the direction of the American courts. At the Pound Conference of 1976 legal scholars met to brainstorm possible improvements to the American legal system. The potential of the mediation process was acknowledged and Chief Justice Berger “blessed” the start of the ADR movement. That was 35 years ago. Today, the average person and the average legislator still don't really understand or appreciate the concept or how mediation can be best utilized.

Together, Susan and I have spent more than a half century in the mediation industry. We created a mediation training business and during the last eleven years we’ve trained more than 10,000 professionals in the mediation process. We believe tremendous brain power and effort has been devoted to the process and profession. But, ultimately when we compare mediation to other things that have been around since the mid-1970s we are disappointed. We ask ourselves “what went wrong?” “Why haven't we come further?” “Why hasn’t mediation made it into the “cultural mind?” We spend a lot of time asking ourselves and other mediators these questions.

As we see it, there are nine things wrong with the mediation picture.

1. When the human animal (like other animals) feels threatened the initial response is fight, flight or freeze. People in conflict want blood, vengeance, and validation. Asking someone in conflict to collaborate is contrary to biology. Mediators have not found a way around the physiology.

2. Most mediators are not able to create and maintain an environment safe enough for true collaboration. Mediation horror stories abound. People often emerge from the process feeling railroaded and coerced.

3. Even after thirty five years there is still reluctance on the part of the legal industry to accept the mediation process as a stand-alone method of dispute resolution. Instead mediation is often viewed as a component of the litigation process. (Is mediation still perceived as McJustice or is there a fear that mediation will cut into the finances and power the status quo affords?)

4. Advocacy is much sexier than peacemaking. Remember, super-heros don’t sit down and work-it-out with the bad guys.

5. There is no American Mediation Association. Without a national organization no one is there to give us a unified voice, protect our legislative interests, or promote good mediation PR.

6. Mediators work in a wide range of niche markets, facing different issues and interests. (For instance, mediators in the financial services arena operate in a different world and with a different world view than those who provide Victim-Offender Mediation.)

7. Baseball, Middle-East, and other highly visible mediation processes often bring no resolution.

8. The results of the mediation process are typically narrow. Until we can broaden the effect and actually provide transformation the participants and the public have nothing to talk about. And, without that buzz we are going nowhere.

9. While many mediators are persuasive magicians, capable of amazingly altering perceptions, ultimately we mediators suffer from a unique form of low self-esteem. Many of us refuse to even embrace the title “Mediator.” Instead we identify ourselves and each other as Attorney-Mediator, Therapist-Mediator, Non-Lawyer Mediator, etc. Do we see ourselves as bit players along the Conflict Management Continuum? Is it conflict phobia that fuels the burning desire to eradicate conflict? Or is there another reason that so many of us are willing to work as volunteers, more invested in the outcome than the clients we serve?

Just consider this:

A Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. A 2007 study by the U.S. government found that nearly 9.4% of U.S. adults (over 20 million) had practiced meditation within the past 12 months, up from 7.6% (more than 15 million people) in 2002. Why has meditation done so much better at going mainstream than mediation?

Steve Jobs founded Apple Computers in 1976. If he had been at the Pound Conference instead of in his garage working on his computer where do you think the mediation process would be today? Who among us has the Jobs-like vision that will be necessary to take us to the next level?

Clearly, current shifts in almost every aspect of our society – economic, familial, political, and environmental – point to the need for a new problem-solving mechanism and mediation just might be an idea whose time has come. So stay tuned. Our next article will focus on what each of us can do so that we are not having the same discussion ten, twenty, or thirty years from now?

Susan F. Dubow, a pioneer in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution, served as the Director of the Court Mediation and Arbitration Program, the ADR Division of the 17th Judicial Circuit, Broward County, for over 22 years. She is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Primary Mediation Trainer and a member of the Florida Supreme Court's Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee. Susan is an Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center, President and CEO of Mediation Training Group, and a Past-president of both The Association of South Florida Mediators and Arbitrators (ASFMA) and The Florida Academy of Professional Mediators (FAPM.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Egos and Emotions: The Three Things You Need To Know About Conflict and Conflict Management

What do The Beatles, Joe Robbie Stadium, and Friendster have in common? They were all destroyed by conflict. Our conflicts, which are the inevitable and natural outgrowth of working and living together, can be very productive or very destructive. And, of all the competencies necessary for success in life, the ability to manage interpersonal conflict is one of the most critical. My 22 years of working with people in conflict provided the foundation of my philosophy of conflict. Here are the three essentials components of my conflict philosophy that you need to know:

1. Under every human conflict someone feels dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised, or disrespected - basically devalued. And, while there is no consensus on the definition of conflict I find conflict is best defined as “a result of differences in perception regarding what is and what could or should be.” So, when faced with conflict my first step is to look at the perceptions and the emotions involved.

2. Effective conflict managers use conflict to promote positive growth, solve problems, engage in brainstorming, improve relationships, lessen tension, and eliminate long-standing problems. On the other hand, when conflict is not managed properly it can destroy you, your family, or your organization. In my own life, when my commitment to a relationship is high I am willing to walk through the ugly tunnel of conflict to clear the air and get a positive result.

3. I believe, practice, and teach nine critical conflict management strategies. Everyone should know how to use these strategies - The inner circle; The safe space; Shared vision/values and complementary skills/traits; 5 Negotiation styles; UVP: What's in it for me; External, internal and purpose driven motivation; Difficult conversations; The power of the apology; and Delegate this task.

Having a conflict management framework in place will provide you with a guide for addressing conflict when stress is high and allow you to act as a mediator for the fights and feuds of those around you. Stay tuned. There's more to follow.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Open Letter To Kim Kardashian

Dear Kim,

Marriage is difficult and every marriage presents challenges. Read on.  Here is what you need to know as you enter into the tunnel of divorce.

Call me if you need a mediator. And, remember I can do a sisters-in-conflict case too.

Best regards, Elinor