I just returned from the annual JAMS owners’ meeting where we were treated to a presentation from Brad Heckman of the NY Peace Institute. Brad and his colleagues are conducting a series of mediation trainings for the New York City Police Department. The training program teaches policemen how to mediate community-related disputes. The police are given the discretion to try to resolve certain conflicts they encounter in their jobs on the street through mediation, rather than issuing citations or arresting those involved. The JAMS Foundation, which provides grants to community based mediation organizations and trainers, is a funder of these trainings.
I learned a lot from Brad. One of the most interesting stories he told was of a hardened New York City cop who attended one four-day training. For much of the first three days, the officer sat arms crossed with little outward expression. Brad could not tell what he was thinking about the training – whether he was just biding his time or found it at all interesting. On the fourth day, the officer thanked Brad and told him that the mediation training had given him “a weapon as powerful as the one I carry at my side.”
This statement from an experienced and street-wise police officer reminded me of one of the first blogs I wrote about Nelson Mandela’s comment that “the best weapon is to sit down and talk.” Mandela, similarly, had lived a lifetime filled with episodes of both violent and peaceful conflict resolution, not to mention his twenty odd years spent in prison.
Neither of these men, the New York City police officer or the champion of civil rights, was afraid of conflict. Both of them had been put in harms’ way many times over many years and had witnessed all kinds of physical and emotional violence. Yet both came to believe, through different life paths, that negotiation and mediation – really just talking to one’s adversary – can be more powerful than confrontation.
Amazing stuff. Thank you, Brad, for your good and important work.