Restoring Hope in Times of Crisis: Lessons from Hurricane Harvey for Mediators

As America watches the worst hurricane on record ravage parts of Texas and move in towards Louisiana, I am heartened by the stories of ordinary citizens volunteering to shelter and transport those whose homes have flooded and those who have lost, in many ways, everything but hope.  Apparently, the water comes in quickly--and what is an initial breach of a window or door quickly becomes 2 feet of water, and then 4 feet--in one's bedroom or doorway!  Still, we are hearing of stories of furniture stores who open their doors to evacuees to sleep on a dry mattress in their warehouse, or restaurants who provide a warm meal to families and elderly people who suddenly find themselves drenched, cold and hungry in the heart of such a vibrant and well-developed city as Houston.  Out of desperation, come quiet heroes who literally bring in watercraft to the heart of a City and deliver them to safety.

With complete humility, I understand that mediators are nothing like these heroes.  And yet, I do see that those in conflict, those desperately seeking relief, can benefit so much from having someone involved in the crisis bring hope in.  In a recent case, the first session of mediation ended not only in impasse, but in a sense of despair (by both sides).  The crisis had been going on for a long time and the expenses and anxiety and contentiousness seemed like it may never end.  In a very real sense, the parties were feeling trapped and flooded by the onslaught of discovery, accusations, and trial preparation. It was only by offering hope that both parties agreed to return to the negotiation table.  Sometimes, hope is enough to begin or resume.  And sometimes, it takes a willing stranger to bring that hope in.

Jan SchauComment