html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Not there yet.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Not there yet.

I live on a corner and have seen five car accidents in the several years I’ve been there. The fourth car accident was yesterday morning; no one was hurt. The fifth car accident was yesterday evening; it was more dramatic, but thankfully no one was hurt then either. Late last night, a very drunk driver hit a number of parked cars on P St, drove the length of my block on the sidewalk, then t-boned another car when he came out on Q St. A crowd gathered quickly, checking on the cars and calling cops. The drunk driver refused to get out of his car, which turned out to be a very good choice, because the crowd started getting ugly. About half a dozen men gathered round the car, shouting at him; the driver had no sympathy in the groups on the sidewalk either. I was scared for him by the time the cops came.

There was a brawl in our fall league. A bench-clearing, two-team brawl. Women on both teams running over to kick the men fighting on the ground. The more Ultimate you’ve played, the more this will shock you. I was responsible for beginners’ night, but the most I could manage during the brawl was to hover on the periphery, shouting pointlessly. (I was surprised at how quickly the brawl came to equilibrium on its own. The guys were grappling more than throwing punches, and all three groups of fighters were immobilized within three or four minutes. It started and ended fast.)

So here’s the thing. I want to be a mediator, entirely separate from this stuff. I want to fully participate in my community. I want to be brave in these situations and help direct them away from violence. Last night and last fall, I didn’t offer anything useful. I watched, and I wondered if maybe now I should say something, and kept thinking I was on the verge of going right over there to make it better. And here’s another thing. Groups of angry men are so scary. They are so big and they are shouting and they aren’t in their minds and that’s where I know how to reach people.

I need to do better. Some of it is skill, but some of it is acting the way I believe is right. I can learn the skills, but I am going to be disappointed in myself if being scared is all that stops me.

(I understand about common sense and staying out of fights. I don’t need comments saying that I did the right thing to stay out of danger. Before the danger, there must be a time when I can act and a way I can help.)

8 Comments:

Blogger Ananda said...

Part of the difference between mediating a sudden episode of violence and a more structured mediation is that in the latter case the mediator can prepare and has understanding of both sides' reasons for joining battle. Also, the people in conflict have an opportunity to know the mediator, and to respect his/her reputation. (This is what a police uniform does, most of the time -- it allows the officer to instantly gain the credibility he needs to defuse a situation... unless he is in a place where the police are despised and distrusted.)

So, I guess the short answer is that it isn't just training and attitude -- it's reputation, and reputation that the parties are aware of. I'm not sure how, in modern society, a person gains that sort of reputation in a local community.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I think you have to carry it in your person. Voice, presence, approach. I can't use physical size if it is a group of men, but feminity might carry weight, too.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

Okay, so there's a brawl. Here's what you do.
Find the biggest guy in the melee, and kick him in the balls. His screams will quickly subdue the rest of the participants, and from there, you can calm everyone down. Sure it sucks for that one guy, but you can't make an omellette without breaking eggs right? (Pun intended).

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Roxie said...

I've thrown myself into melee before and I have to say there was no thought in my action. It was basically instinct and adrenaline. Because nothing get's me more riled up then seeing someone being victimized.

One situation involved a man about to beat up on a woman and I put myself in between the attacker and his victim. I was lucky to have police come onto the scene before any real harm was done, because I'm sure although I may have been a brief deterrent for the attacker, that I wouldn't have stood much chance against him.

Anyway, I think mediating especially in impassioned situations involves a strong instinct of justice and having the clarity to do what is right.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Ananda said...

I think you have to carry it in your person. Voice, presence, approach.

Putting it bluntly, I think this is much more true in the movies than it is in real life. The reason is that in real life people are just too different from one another to respond consistently to a specific presence or bearing.

I think mediating especially in impassioned situations involves a strong instinct of justice and having the clarity to do what is right

I think this is true, but the people involved have to recognize that one has this instinct of justice. And I don't know how you communicate that to people who are trying to hurt each other physically.

On an unrelated note, the Blogger anti-comment-spam code for this post was "skzfrt", which is by far the most amusing-sounding code I've ever seen.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment on mediation, many school districts (at least in my part of the country) are now looking for volunteers to mediate between families and the schools in truancy situations. Most offer a short (1 or 2 day) training course and then you volunteer one day a month. I have found it to be pretty interesting if mediation is something you are really interested in

8:13 AM  
Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

I can't imagine any situation involving multiple angry men, where anyone without imposing physical stature can stop a fight. If it's just two guys about to get into a fight, maybe, but not multiple people. Angry people, especially angry men, really don't listen to anything, so there's not much to mediate.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

Or you can simply understand what makes people tick: see http://www.secondjourney.org/newsltr/05.06/05.06_Aikido.htm. I must say the older Japanese gentleman must be one of the greatest natural psychologists ever.

9:43 AM  

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