The Mediation

by Duen Hsi Yen

I wrote this story in remembrance of an experience that took place in 1995. The story is true, but the names have been changed.

While substitute teaching a second-grade class in Hawaii, two girls came up to me, and told me that a boy in their class was bothering them. I told them that if they could not settle the dispute between themselves, I could "mediate" the conflict. Just before lunch, they again approached me, saying they wanted me to "mediate" the dispute and I said I would do so right after lunch. I'm sure they were wondering what "mediation" was, and they certainly wanted whatever that was to be done for them.

So, just after lunch, the three involved parties came over to my desk. In this classroom, all the chairs are small and low, even the teacher's. I found this eminently suitable for the task at hand, because, as is necessary in all forms of conflict resolution, all parties need to feel they are at an equal level, including myself. I don't want to be sitting in judgment, but rather be perceived as a facilitator. So the four of us were sitting there, and I asked, "Who wants to begin first?"

"Kimo wen' broke my pen." Alice said almost immediately, and anger was clearly evident in the tone of her voice. Her arms were folded around her chest, and a grimace crossed her face. Alice was a real tough girl. I had watched her play kickball on the playground, and she had all the determination and fierceness of a real warrior.

Andrea chimed in, "An' he push me."

So I paraphrased, and said "We have a broken pen and perhaps a small fight. OK, and Kimo, I'd like to hear your side of the story." Kimo, at this point, looked most discouraged. He was a tiny boy, and I was in a position to see that his eyes were moist with distress. He sat askance on his small chair, his arms draped over the back, looking down and avoiding all eye contact. I gently asked Kimo if he had anything to say. He continued to sit there in the most forlorn manner. Because he did not say anything, I asked him to turn, so that the two girls could see him more clearly, and said to the girls, "Kimo wants to say something, but not right now."

Then I instructed both of the girls to look into Kimo's eyes, and similarly, for Kimo to look into the girls' eyes. A cautious glance was made, and then I asked them what they saw. There was silence.

I reflected, "To me, I can see that Kimo feels hurt. Indeed, he looks to me that he is suffering quite a bit." As if on cue, a big teardrop drained out of Kimo's eye. At this point, I noticed that the girls' anger was softening, their arms falling to their sides.

Kimo, becoming a little more confident, was able, through his tears and hurt, to get a bit of anger and resentment off his chest and out into the open, saying, " an' they were teasing me an' calling me dumb."

So that's why he took their pen and pulled it apart, I surmised. I said aloud, "I see we not only have a broken pen, but also some teasing."

In defense, Andrea then said, "I fixed the pen, so it isn't broke no more."

At this point, I summarized my observations, "What I see happening here, is that two girls and a boy are fighting, and the result is that we have some anger, and at least, it seems to me, that Kimo feels and displays the most hurt."

I then gave a small talk, "Not only do children fight, but adults also fight, and let me tell you, they really know how to hurt! In fact, they even organize together and start wars, and you know the rest. You've seen it on TV. There is a lot of anger, fighting and hurt in this world, because the adults have not learned how to resolve their conflicts. However, I will demonstrate to you what I know about how to avoid conflicts, and make things better. You are in second grade, and this is a perfect time to learn about this." I paused to allow this to sink in. Then I deployed some encouraging words, "You are such precious children! So very very precious to me, and I feel a great deal of pain myself to see you fight. Look into my eyes. Can you also see that there are tears that want to come out too? So, this is what I suggest, that we don't blame each other further, and instead, forgive and say we're sorry to each other, and become friends. How's that sound?" I received nods of approval.

"Ok, so this is how we do it, and I will say it first, and then you imitate. So, let's start with you, Alice. You say, 'I'm sorry, Kimo that I hurt you. I feel very bad. Please forgive me.' Ok, now you try." And Alice said in the most unexpectedly tender way I have ever witnessed, "Kimo, I am so sorry that I hurt you."

At this point, she had a look of such care and remorsefulness, entirely incongruous with the scrappy youngster I had witnessed just minutes before on the playground at recess.

I further prompted her, "And"

"An', please forgive me."

"Good" I said. "Now Kimo, it is your turn." After waiting a few moments, I turned toward the girls and said, "I can see that Kimo is still too choked up to say anything, so I will speak for Kimo again. `I'm also very sorry that I hurt you, and I forgive you.'"

"It's Andrea's turn now" So prompted, she says, "I'm sorry Kimo" and she went up to him, and put her arms around him. "Please forgive me." This brought tears to all of our eyes.

And I said, "I will again speak for Kimo. Kimo says that he forgives you both and is very sorry he hurt you, and asks for your forgiveness." Then I added, "OK, now I want all of you to shake hands, and when you shake hands, everything is forgiven, and you will all become great friends. The three shook hands. "And I know we all believe in sharing, and helping each other." Everyone indicates yes.

I then sent the three of them back to their seats, still sniffling. When they got back to their seats and sat down, I could see a torrent of tears now flowing from each mediated child. The remorse these children felt must have been overwhelming. I decided to wait a little while, because I wanted to give them some time to process things. But then other children started to flutter and crowd around each of the mediated children and I could hear them asking what was wrong, paying the utmost attention to each of them with their big eyes. This only seemed to make matters worse, in that the three sobbed even more, but what happened next really surprised me. The children in closest proximity to the ones I had done the mediation session with, spontaneously started to cry, even though none of them knew what had happened. Like an especially virulent virus, the contagion swept throughout the room, and within a minute, nearly three-fourths of the class was crying!

Then the children who were not crying, came running up to me asking "What's wrong? Why is everyone crying?" I was not sure what was happening, but it seemed like the cases of mass hysteria I have read about.

I became alarmed, because I was wondering to myself, what if someone else walked into my classroom at that moment? What would they think? That I was somehow abusing them? I told the children who were asking me about the situation, "They are crying because they got too much love." Then I said to the whole class in a loud voice "Everyone stop crying!" and like the momentary ray of illuminating light piercing the clouds on an otherwise overcast sky, it was all over.

The End.

Last revised 1 June 1999

Copyright © 1999 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.


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