Four years later, I'm still thinking a lot. Here's what happened this week.
1. I'm working in the early stages of a project to build tiny homes for the homeless. I was assigned to talk to Chris, the influential pastor of a church who also serves on the city council - to find out what Chris knew, who he knew, and who could help us. I sent him an email one Friday telling him briefly what we were up to and asked if he'd have time the following week to meet me for coffee. We got together last Monday - he had only half an hour open on his calendar - and talked for 45 minutes anyway. I asked a couple of open-ended questions and took pages of notes. I got a few names from Chris and gave him one of my own. I wrote up a report. The coordinator of the project trusts me and has asked me to interview another organization.
Now that I'm older, my instincts are better. I'm not trying to prove anything - just get the job done. If people trust me, they'll be more open. And the more I listen, the better.
2. I had a tough mediation on Wednesday. A divorcing couple needed to work out a dissolution agreement but they could not be in the same room with each other, so the two mediators had to shuttle from room to room to communicate the negotiation points. We had to listen carefully - past the anger and frustration and disappointment the two people felt - and extract the meaning in addition to the feelings. The mediation was scheduled for three hours and we were there nearly five, with a second session scheduled for this week.
These mediations are very tiring. They require patience, good listening, an intuitive give-and-take relationship between the co-mediators. Mediators must remain neutral and nonjudgmental. If the parties trust the mediators they'll be more open.
I trained to be a mediator after I stopped working, but I'd acquired many of the skills required in my work life and in the 12-step program I've been in for a couple of decades. It's mostly about the listening, and trusting the process.
3. My Unitarian church community is putting together a member photo book. A photography company is spending eight days at the church and the members' photo sessions are carefully scheduled. I offered to work with the church administrator to schedule the appointments and also the hosts for the sessions - community members to greet arriving people and get them set up for their photos. I probably spent 15 hours on this project in the last week. I sat in the church narthex for two hours each of the past three Sundays, sent emails and made phone calls and listened to people in person and on the phone. So far the sessions are going well and my work is nearly done. I joined this church in June, and the church administrator trusts me. I'm good with details, so I know I can be useful in my new community.
4. I attended a couple of meetings this week where people with diverse opinions were trying to reach consensus. I have opinions of my own, but I didn't talk nearly as much as I did when I was working. I was mostly listening and then reflecting back what I heard. I think this way of participating is more useful than advocating for a particular position. This is another advantage of being a mediator. It doesn't so much matter what my point of view is if I can help a group coalesce around a common understanding.
I have an old friend I met when we were both teenagers. We lost touch about 40 years ago, but through the miracle of Facebook we made contact again last year. We've chatted several times online. I knew my friend had worked for Apple and is now at Facebook, and she told me she travels a lot for her work. The night before last she posted on Facebook from India. As we chatted I realized that my friend plays a significant role at Facebook. She said, "Mark is fun so different from Steve." I realized she was talking about Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook and Steve Jobs who started Apple. She has been working directly with these world changers for over twelve years. I told her I was astonished she hadn't mentioned it before and commented on her humility. She said, "Well, I try to leave my ego at the door and be open to what I can learn." I said, "I'll bet you give your team all the credit." She said, "Well, I'm nothing without my team."
I hope that on my deathbed I will be able to make statements like that. I'm not there yet. So far I can think and I can listen, but I like to take credit for those things I do well. I hope I'll move past that.