In this month’s issue of Catskill/Cairo magazine is an article about Common Ground, an organization that specializes in mediation. As an example of how it works, they present a California case between two neighbors of different cultures and languages. Neither spoke much English. The woman, a Hmong from Southeast Asia, owned a flock of chickens. The man, from Mexico, was accused of stealing one of the flock.
The woman became frantic and demanded that he return the chicken or pay her $3000. The man didn’t have $3000, nor could he return the chicken because it had been served at a family barbecue.
The mediator didn’t speak much of either language, but managed to elicit the fact that the woman had recently lost a son. The man asked, “Did the chicken belong to your son?”
The woman, whose religion espoused reincarnation, claimed the chicken was her son. The man, at last understood what the situation meant to her, apologized most profoundly, and promised to take the place of that son. She, in turn, was able to grasp his lack of awareness and to accept the apology. We’ll assume he still had to make some sort of reparation for the theft.
Two cultures, two languages. Even with those barriers, the mediator succeeded in bringing about a mutual understanding and a peaceful solution.
As I read that on what would have been Ryo Kiyan’s 52nd birthday, I remembered his own idea that the issue between him and Miss M (see earlier posts), which ultimately led to his suicide, could have been settled with a simple mediation session. Those were his words, “a simple mediation session.”
Later, when I mentioned this concept to others, some were horrified at the thought of forcing poor, frightened Miss M into the same room with her nemesis.
Who said anything about forcing? It never occurred to me that anyone would think that. Needless to say (or perhaps not so needless), such a session is entirely voluntary. Mediation cannot take place if either party is coerced. Presumably both sides would agree that talking things out through a skilled mediator could help them settle their dispute to mutual satisfaction.
This was something Ryo suggested privately, not to the powers in the Sullivan County government who prosecuted him. Being lawyers and bureaucrats, they did it the bureaucratic way, which meant holding a formal hearing at which no witnesses were called for his side and he was not permitted to speak for himself, only to answer questions. Even Michael Sussman, the attorney he hired to defend him, did nothing to bring up the Asperger issue which, in the long run, was the crux of the problem. Aspie minds are organized differently from those of non-Aspies. They simply cannot see things the same way, and vice versa. And because they’ve been Aspies all their lives, they often don’t realize how different their worldview is from that of others. The same is true of those others. They can’t grasp how an Aspie sees things, or the size of the gulf between the two minds.
Ryo’s cousin, Sharleen, understood. Her actual words were, “His reality was different from the norm, but that was what made him unique.” She knew him well enough to appreciate those differences, rather than feel threatened by them, unlike Miss M and Sullivan County. A mediation session would have explained to Miss M that Ryo meant her no harm, that he only wanted answers. He didn’t think of himself as a danger. He thought they were friends, and knew his intentions were benign. It never entered his Aspie mind that she might have a different take on things.
Mediation would have made clear to him that she did have a different take, that his persistence frightened her to the point of carrying a knife and pepper spray for protection. It would have explained that the friendship he valued so highly was only a casual office acquaintance and to her, his constant insistence on dialog seemed more like stalking than talking. He learned the truth only at the hearing when it was too late to change anything.
In my last post I promised to talk about a piece I came across by an Aspie in which he describes what it’s like to have Asperger’s. My plans for that went awry when I read the article on mediation. It seemed so apt, I just had to get it in. Next time I will discuss the Aspie story.