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MCFM President's Message - 2020

Transcript of Audio:

Hi, I'm Justin Kelsey. My firm is Skylark Law & Mediation. My pronouns are he and him, and I'm the newly elected president of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation and these are my brief thoughts on my hope for this organization.  This is my President's message

During my predecessor, Vicki Shemin's presidency, we updated our mission. Our mission is:

Advancing Mediation to transform the way families resolve conflict.

It's powerful! It's not just about mediating divorce even though that's a lot of what we all do. Looking to transform the way families resolve conflict requires us to look beyond just our private practices, beyond what we do in our offices and in our branding and in our mediation room. 

Transforming the way families resolve conflict requires us to think about the place of our community, the mediator community in the larger community.  And to ask "Is our mission affected by the events of the world around us?"  

I am starting my presidency at a particularly difficult time. We're in the middle of a pandemic. I wish I could say that we were at the end of it but I don't think we are. And that's affected all sorts of things in our practices: our ability to meet in person with our clients and our own individual ability to socialize. And we're also in the middle of a significant civil unrest with protests going on in all 50 states of the United States over issues of systemic racism, police abuse, injustice, and there's a real lack of peace right now in the world, in our world and in a way that many of us have not experienced personally; speaking for myself, because of my own privilege.

Where does our mission fit into that? How do we transform the way families resolve conflict when all families are under a heightened pressure? Does this change our mission? Well, I don't think it does.  I think our mission just becomes more critical, now more than ever to spread the seeds of effective conflict and dispute resolution. And we as mediators are particularly poised to do that.

We can't simply swoop in and solve centuries of oppression, conflict and rage, rightful rage, by putting on our mediator hat. We're not superheroes. We don't stand above everybody else or apart from everybody else in these conflicts, and in fact I don't think we stand apart from the people in the room when we deal with family conflict in our mediation room.  Just by observing the conflict we change it and we affect it. And we're part of it. That's one of the reasons that as mediators we have to be comfortable with conflict. We have to address it when others say let someone else decide. 

And so we're not superheroes but we do have superpowers. And with great power comes great responsibility

Because we as a mediation community we have experienced solving tough problems.  And even when we don't solve problems, we have experience having difficult conversations. And we have an obligation to share that experience.

I'm gonna talk about what I think those powers are, real quick, and how they apply to what I think MCFM can do over the next two years and beyond. So what are the powers of mediation?  Well, we start joint problem solving by sharing information, by agreeing to be transparent.

And hopefully by sharing information, having transparency, that leads to knowledge.  Knowledge is something more than just information. Knowledge is understanding information. While information can enlighten people, knowledge can empower them. And education includes self-education when we're part of the conflict system. 

So what MCFM is looking to do is continue our strong programs of professional education. Since I've been a member there have been at least 4 programs per year of professional education.

The pandemic hasn't stopped that.  We're moving online. At least through December MCFM programs will be still provided, they'll just be provided online. In some ways that makes it easier for people to participate but we understand it makes it sometimes more difficult for us to connect. We're looking at hosting our annual Institute for the first time online.

I'm excited about the potential that that carries with it.  We're going to find ways to keep the connectivity and the networking opportunities, the things that make our institute so special.  We're working hard to find ways to still include those things. You have a board of directors that is committed to making programming throughout the rest of this year still live up to the standard that has been set in the past.

And now is a time to look at the programming and say what education do we need beyond mediation skills. We have a new diversity, equity, and inclusion committee that will be meeting over the summer. We're looking into bringing in a speaker to help educate us about systemic racism, how it affects the work that we do, how it affects our communities and how to talk about it. 

As we were to continue to increase our information and knowledge we will use our trademark curiosity. There are two heroes of mine who constantly talk about curiosity. One of those heroes is Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Star Trek: The Next Generation show and the follow up sequel show Picard. He always brought curiosity when trying to solve a problem and in the finale, without giving anything away if you haven't watched the series yet, in the finale multiple time he encourages people to look at the conflict and be curious.

The other more down to earth hero who talks about curiosity constantly you all know: John Fiske, who was one of my trainers, one of my mentors.  He brings a natural curiosity to the work that he does.  It's obvious when he demonstrates a mediation. And he talks about the power of it constantly. It opens people up to new ideas. Both the people we're being curious about and ourselves.

And it is a superpower that is underused and hopefully not undervalued. And I think the beauty of real curiosity and its ability to show empathy 
leads quite often to acknowledgment. Acknowledgment: those are the magic moments we talk about in mediation.  We get together in peer groups and we talk about our failures and our wins. For me, most often a win includes a moment where one client reached across the table to the other and gave acknowledgment.

And, acknowledgment only comes after understanding, after transparency, curiosity. It comes out of a willingness to be a little bit vulnerable. It takes time to get there.

Ultimately all this is wrapped up in one thing: hope. Dealing with COVID-19 has been tough. But I've never lacked for hope that our way of life would continue.  Maybe with some small tweaks.  Maybe we do a little bit more Zoom. Maybe there's some good in that.  Maybe some mediations are better off being online. 

The other issues that have been brought to the surface, so much so that they've overshadowed an ongoing pandemic. Watching the death of George Floyd, reading the stories of so many like him. Facing what's not a temporary issue like COVID-19, but a century and centuries long history of oppression. And having to face that we're still so stuck in the middle of the effects of that past and present oppression. It's harder to have hope. 

And I have had moments myself of hopelessness about seeing improvement. These lessons of transparency, understanding, curiosity,  the potential for acknowledgment and being surprised by the way that that often happens in the room, it brings me back to a sense of hope. To see the good news in the amount of people who are now willing to speak up, to self-educate.  And I think we can bring, as mediators hope to the world that the most difficult conflicts can be improved using these tools.

If you got nothing else out of what I said today, I hope that you take your successes as mediators that you look at our community and the amount of people and families and children that we have helped over the years, and you see the potential for those superpowers to heal our communities, to solve conflict beyond family conflict.

I get so much motivation and hope when I watch someone like John Fiske mediate, and I get to sit in the observer chair and see the optimism and curiosity he brings to the room and we don't always get to see that in our own mediations because despite the fact that we've got a little Zoom screen, where we can see ourselves now, we're not looking as that observer, we're in it with the family. But know that what you are doing brings hope to people and there's nothing more powerful than that.

Keep up the good work! 

Thank you for your membership at MCFM.  Thank you for listening to this message. And I hope to see you soon.


Click here to learn more about Justin Kelsey.



Thanks so much Justin! So true, so needed, and so inspirational!

No Doubt About It

Thank yhou Justin for volunteering to commit your impressive knowledge and talent to MCFM and ourt profession.  Nicely put.


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