By Jereme Brooks (aka Your Favourite Uncle Jer, esq)
Good Afternoon Kidlets,
It is I, your favourite Uncle Jer and I’m happy to connect with you today. Our topic of discussion is the recently held Share the Land Conference hosted by CLEBC, and chaired by Sharon Sutherland and Jenifer Crawford.
Now before I go any further, I’m going to confess a little something to you. I hate going to these types of things for a number of reasons:
- I could be working and making money instead of not working and paying money,
- I could be out looking for more work because eating is important to me,
- I could be catching up on paperwork because paper is important to some people,
- I could be sleeping, or otherwise lounging and finding the perfect waste of time, or finally
- Having some quality me time with my old pal Johnny Walker and his brothers Blackie and Red.
Regardless, when Sharon Sutherland calls – I answer my phone; when she says “Hey would you like to be in a video on diversity in the mediation community?” I say okay sure; when she says “Do you want to come to the conference it’s going to be shown at?” I pray that I’m booked that day, but eventually and inevitably say “Well absolutely, sure, of course…” and I do so with the biggest smile on my face. I then wonder what kind of hold she has over me, and resolve myself to reconcile that need for my former instructor’s approval in therapy at my earliest convenience.
And then the day arrived. I woke at 5 to begin my journey to Granville Island from Langley. Life on 4 hours sleep is a cruel existence so I quickly found the coffee on my arrival. I was practically on time so I made my way into the theater. The seat next to Darrin Hotte was empty so I took it. I smiled because he’s been a friend of my wife’s for 20 years and he’s actually a genuinely nice guy. I say hi, sit down and notice that he smells of good will and optimism – this was going to be a long day.
The first session I attended was in the theater. Once the logistical challenges subsided, the “New World” session discussed mediation activities happening around the globe. From mediation being used in a community development setting between corporations/governments and communities around the world– to mediation being used in a restorative justice context within the criminal justice system in New York, we were able to hear firsthand about how mediation was being used to open dialogue and make life better for people. It was pretty cool and I think Tony Prkacin would have been proud to hear the woman from New York say “anything can be mediated with informed consent”. It was nice to have that sentiment echoed from a different part of the world. Collaborative practice for everyone. Awesome.
It was at that point that I realized that my blood caffeine level was low. It was time for either more coffee, or whatever it was Lance Armstrong used to win those races. And since there was nowhere to lay down, or a reputable dealer in sight, I opted for more coffee.
The spread was really quite remarkable, although the stir sticks left something to be desired. The pastries and fruit were all very well prepared and so I got a refill of a very nice medium roast and headed for the next session Noob Cannon – which was the diversity panel.
Diversity and Identity
Noob Cannon, a workshop where you really had to kind of look around to see the Token Middle-Aged White Guy. Seriously, this was where the diverse crowd (the cool kids, if you will) went to learn and I was going to be at that table. Plus I was in the video, and I wanted to make sure they got my good side (they did not, or more reasonably I don’t have a good side). In any case, I showed up ready to experience a good old fashioned chat on the need for more diversity; which incidentally you would not have guessed based on the lack of Caucasian men in the room. Seriously, I felt like I walked into a Benneton Ad. The Liberal Government’s Cabinet is only slightly less diverse than the population of this room. Oh well, let’s preach to the choir. And then it begins…
I’m told that we’ll be doing a visual depiction of ourselves at which point I immediately began to freak out. Will we need to share this stuff? Do people need to see me? Can’t I just be a wallflower? All these and more questions flood my brain and then it’s my turn to introduce myself – awesome.
It’s at that point that I gave voice to my greatest fear, that I am different, lesser, not one of the crowd. My path to mediation was different, I am different, and I am foreign. And then I break a little.
Everyone is very nice and affirming at this point. I mustered up some courage, pulled it together, received the comfort and support so readily offered to me, and began a new stage of participation. The group helped bring me in.
We watched the video, chatted amongst our table and talk about our experiences and the need/benefit of diversity on the rosters. It was a great talk, I wish we’d recorded it. I wish less diverse groups heard it. Regardless, it was good, healing and reaffirming. There are others like me in some ways, and some others who are different but are providing assistance to people and groups in ways that I could not. I’m glad they’re here today. I’m glad I know them now.
Playback on Island Life
Lunch came – great food. Healthier than my body is accustomed to. But I don’t think you can get a stroke from the unwelcome introduction of Kale into a meal. Oh well, it was chewy; I’ll get over it. Pass the salt.
There’s a Vancouver Playback Theatre performance to entertain us. It’s improv, and liking improve, I settled in to enjoy it. And then I realized there are only seats up front – I’m screwed. But Julie Daum sat next to me so I figure it’s ok. They introduced themselves and said they do something like Conflict Theater, I realized at this point there will likely be no selzer gags. I’m happy to know I’ll stay dry, and yet some slapstick would have been a nice change. On with the show.
All was well with it: lot’s of gags, good movement, everyone engaged – and then they turned on us! They asked us to tell a story of a personal conflict. Yeah, okay. Why don’t I just give myself a papercut and you can pour some lemon juice on it? Or maybe you can date my ex? – you know, something equally as pleasant for me. Hey, while you’re at it you should correct my grammar. I love that.
But, good soldier I am, I turned to Julie and 5 seconds later she’s telling a story that had both of us in tears. Great.
And then it hit me. Many of us are carrying stuff and we have limited places to take it. We’re independent, neutral third parties. We don’t really have teams to debrief with, particularly in small practices like mine. It dawned on me that you guys are really the only ones who get what I do, and understand or empathize with the things I encounter. And at the same time, you’re all my competitors – except CD; I’m not really sure what he is yet.
The end result is that I spend my time in isolation, not really by choice but through circumstance and some necessity. I equate it to being on an island, separate and apart from others but able to be accessed as necessary. It’s not a bad life really; I commute by walking downstairs for the most part. And when I do venture out, I get to help people resolve disputes. It’s pretty cool, I feel very fortunate to be part of this. Other mediators understand what I’m saying, I just don’t meet many others.
As the next session begins I get a phone call. Feedback on a mediation, suggestions that I could have somehow done something different. I see Sharon Sutherland and approach her to vent a little. She listens, validates, challenges, guides and empathizes. 10 minutes later it’s all better.
I’d spoken to Sharon earlier in the day and mentioned my apprehension in making the video. That in doing so I didn’t want to insult anyone or say the wrong thing. I had this realization that when you have the concern against “biting the hand that feeds you” it’s an acknowledgement that there’s a hand and it does feed you – and it can stop feeding you.
That fear is the ocean surrounding the island. That fear has to go because I have to tell you, it was good to be with peers, and it was good to be in a place where we all understood each other. I thought to myself as the conference wrapped up how nice it was to be off the island for a day.
Peace out and rest easy Kidlets, and we’ll see you at the next training thing. I still have some more CPD hours to do before the end of the year.
Until then I remain,
Your favourite Uncle Jer, esq
 Not the American lawyer kind of esquire, but the haute gentleman
Jereme Brooks is a Child Protection Mediator and also works with, and designs programs for, high risk youth and families. In addition to his sense of humour, he brings strong connections to the two cultures he is a product of (Okanagan First Nation and Street) to his mediation practice.
Image Credit: Aleksandar Ciric