I grew up in a family where we had lively debates at the dinner table on everything from politics to music to sex education … and engagement was the rule of the day. You were not allowed NOT to have an opinion. And not only were you required to have an opinion, but you had to represent it, explain it, and defend it passionately … or be pilloried by the court of parental (mostly Dad) judiciary.
This made for lively discussions for those of us (mostly me) who enjoyed this sort of verbal jousting and brutal for my sisters who were not of like mind. Nevertheless, we learned one thing: Silence was not golden. You had to express your position, defend your position and hold your position or be sent to bed without dessert!
When I went out into the world, I learned that not everyone grew up like this. I thought it was de rigueur to debate, challenge and question anything and everything that was posited—not to take anything at face value. It was part of the game of life and no offense intended. It was fun!
When I realized that not everyone felt that way, I had to learn to channel my inquisitive and sometimes passionate nature for lively debate. Life is a great teacher. I learned that:
- Silence can be golden.
- Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say to someone is “no.”
- Sometimes it’s a good thing to hold your tongue.
And this brings me to mediation.
As a mediator, my job is to facilitate the voluntary agreements that couples make together, provide the type of information they need to make informed decisions and help them navigate what has been “the world of two” to what will become the “world of one.”
Sometimes during the mediation process, things are said that would have been better left unsaid. And although you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, or un-ring the bell, or tell the jury to simply “disregard the previous statement,” the question is:
- Do you react?
- Do you respond?
- Do you say nothing and ignore it unless it’s brought up again?
These are the nuances we mediators learn to handle during the process.
There is a lively conversation going on about everything that matters. Couples are dealing with:
- Their own insecurities
- Their fears
- Questions about an unknown future
- Worries about the kids
- An impending move
Things can be said and spill out in inappropriate and unintended ways. But not everything that’s said requires an answer. If it is a direct question, it requires a direct answer. If I sense that there is an underlying anxiety imbedded in a remark, I’ll address it. But there are times when something bubbles out and I know the bubbler wishes they could take it back. In that case, I’ll ignore it and move on to something else to diffuse and distract—usually to the great relief of both parties.
We all have the right … and good sense to remain silent.
Ada L. Hasloecher
Divorce Mediator / Center Founder
Divorce & Family Mediation Center, LLC