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Final days in Boston-2007


August 25th

Boston’s History

Today a local Boston historian gave me a full tour of the democratic and geographic development of neighborhoods in Boston.    He wove his own history, as the descendent of early Irish immigrants, into that of my own family (British-Scots), as well as the Italians, the Black Caribbean communities, the Brazilians, etc. 

We passed the house and entire neighborhood that the John Adams family had owned.  My guide explained that while the Adams had been progressive for their time, they had still kept slaves and spawned a political culture in Boston that had marginalized his own relatives. 

We passed a plaque documenting the expulsion of Anne Hutchinson from the Boston puritan community.  The puritans expelled her because she insisted on advocating freedom of religion, literacy for females, and women’s participation in leadership roles in the church.  How much have times changed?

Then we passed through a neighborhood known historically for its break off from the Puritans because its members refused to give up alcohol.

Next we drove through blighted neighborhoods sandwiched between affluent tree-lined, Brownstone streets.  One minute all pedestrians were white.  The next they were black or Hispanic.  The street names shifted from universities to King, Washington, etc.  In my daily routine commute to work and home I would never have realized what contrasts co-exist in Boston or the stories that lie behind them.  Each community has a story, a challenge, a contribution to discover.   It took coming to Boston and digging a bit for me to discover mine.

August 26th


Wonderful news!  Ericka Gray is an external consultant who has been training us in facilitation techniques throughout the summer.  During our last session she announced that she would be leading a week of intensive mediation training for top Croatian judges this fall.  Then she added “and I was wondering if any of you Fellows might like to come as co-trainers!”

I was dumbfounded.  Two months ago the field of mediation was one that I desperately wanted to enter, but a lack of entry-level positions made it quite a difficult dream to realize.  Now, two months later, a veteran mediator is asking us to come with her not even as participants – but as co-facilitators!

Once my surprise subsides I am sure that nervousness and feelings of inadequacy will supplant it.  But after three months of training here in Boston, I am feeling ready to dive at the opportunity and give it my best try.  I may not have a first placement lined up yet, but this opportunity definitely will serve as a consolation in the meantime.

August 28th

Character of Mediator versus Negotiator

Today we met with a representative from the Harvard Mediation Program to begin our mediation training.  Up until now most all of our trainings have been in negotiation.  Before this summer I had mentally lumped conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation together in one category.  But over the summer I have begun to recognize the significant differences between being a direct party to a conflict and a disinterested one.

During our training session, I spotted that very different qualities are needed to be a good mediator than those needed to be a good negotiator. For example, a negotiator must be assertive, direct, set the agenda, lead, and show confidence and strength even when she may not feel it. 

In contrast, a mediator is simply the lattice for the vines of the negotiation.  Her job is to be tough on the process but soft and sympathetic on the people and the content.  Being too assertive, direct, or micromanaging will actually hurt prospects of parties attaining a sustainable resolution.

Going through the role-plays, it felt much more natural to listen and facilitate rather than calculate interests, options, and alternatives.  Many of the weakness and frustrations I have in negotiation sessions were no longer apparent when learning to mediate.  Rather I could simply be as authentically myself as possible and let the rest follow.  Best that each person discovers this for themselves early in the learning process!

September 2nd

Determining a good outcome 

Time is ticking!  I now have less than two weeks left before leaving.  Keeping track of contacts, plane tickets, health insurance, and vaccinations is making my head spin.  It has become quite difficult to keep track of the bigger goals of this year.  In a conversation with a past fellow I tried to explain this concern.

In response he asked, “What would be a good outcome for you for this year?  How would you define it?  What would it look like?”

I used to always be disappointed with my accomplishments even when all around me judged them as good, he went on to explain.  David, Insight’s president, advised me last year to make a concerted effort to define desired outcomes before I embarked on any significant venture.  As I began to specify concrete measures for success I realized that I actually was reaching my goals for performance.  I became much more satisfied with my experiences rather than rueful for what they were not.

It has been a long time since I have thought through the question, “What outcome do I want for this year?” with such prospective vision.  Circumstances of the last few weeks have forced me to give all of my energy to short term goals.  But after this conversation, I realized how easy it would be for the craze of the past two weeks to become the craze of each week throughout the year until it was over.  If I do not take the time now to step back and set some concrete outcomes for the future, time will fly by and I will be left wondering if I met my goals; did I make the most of this singular experience? .

September 5th


Stretching Boundaries with the Musical Saw

Every Tuesday night this summer my roommate and his friends gather to play improvisational folk music.  Working twelve plus hour days, I usually arrived home just as their sessions are finishing or fell asleep listening to them in the background. During my last week here, however, I made a point to be home during the session to see what I had been missing.

A new roommate of ours had just arrived from Georgia.  He added to the gathering a harmonica and most interesting of all – a musical saw.  I had never heard of this instrument.  It is a large carpentry saw bowed on its flat edge as one would bow a cello.  The sound comes from rocking the saw, bowing and bending the blade to adjust pitch.

I had played violin for nine years, but the prospect of transferring the skills to a construction implement seemed far fetched.  With intrigue I watched our roommate close his eyes, settle back and bow the melody to Greensleeves.  The sound was haunting – somewhere in-between the Disney renditions of ghosts’ voices and an opera soprano’s high range arias.   From the rasping tone it seemed that you could make out words in the vibrations coming form my roommates’ bow.

After a few songs some group members turned to me and asked, So what are you going to play?

“Me?” I thought. “What could I possibly contribute that would not make the music worse?  I loved listening, but improvising has always been a great fear of mine.  It comes down to the same challenges I find in facilitating and public speaking.  I like to plan ahead, be prepared for any glitches, and avoid surprises.  Improvisation requires that one plan nothing, clear the mind, and act on the spot.

But they persisted, There are so many instruments that we are lacking, and too few of us.  We need a tambourine, a recorder, a drum …”

In the end, I settled for the instrument that seemed the closest to what I knew – the musical saw.  All eyes on me, I propped the saw between my legs, shook it up and down to create the vibrations, and clasped the end of the blade between my thumb and forefinger.  Taking a deep breath I drew the bow across the highest point of the arch.  The saw sung immediately, responding to my bow as if it was emanating from my own vocal chords. 

To a round of applause I settled into a chair in the circle and the music resumed.

September 9th

Mormon Church

I grew up in the Mennonite Church – a church often associated with misinformed stereotypes.  Accusations ranged from “duty shirkers” (due to fact that Mennonite males are conscientious objectors) to “primitive livers” lacking electricity and cars (not the case for Mennonites, but rather for their more conservative cousins the Amish).

This summer I met two friends who are members of the local Mormon community.  At first I found myself doing exactly what I had always resented others doing with Mennonites.  Rather than questioning my colleagues about their faith and its principles, I quietly wondered about the stereotypes I had most often heard associated with Mormonism

I was a bit surprised when they never once tried to talk to me about their faith so I decided to start asking.  I quickly learned that polygamy had been outlawed years ago, that only people on their mission years are meant to proselytize – and then only to the willing and interested.  As we talked more I realized that values around community support, service, and family importance were quite similar between our church and theirs.  They put a strong emphasis on service, helping community where needed, people rather than clergy making the church function, etc.

On my last weekend in Boston I decided to take a leap and attend church with them.  I do not know what I was expecting to find, but it did not prepare me for the overwhelming hospitality and social network support I observed.  The congregation ran its own service from the set up of communion, to the sermon, to sweeping the floor after the service.  In Sunday school there was active debate and questioning around a particular tenet of the faith (tithing), and finally – men and women met separately to discuss respective issues in their lives.

More than a motion or habit, their worship seemed to be an intentional community – almost like an extended family.  There was much to be admired.  This breaking of assumptions will be a good lesson to carry with me as I take off on my month of Ramadan throughout three different Muslim countries.  What new assumptions will be dispelled?  What new similarities will be found?