The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen June, 2002

in this issue

The Benefits of Playing God

About Us

Welcome to the June issue of The School Mediator.

The feature story this month explores the deeper lessons our student mediators are learning.

This is the last issue of our first year of publication, and it has been a great pleasure. The next issue you receive will be in September.

Enjoy your Summer,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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The Benefits of Playing God

I sometimes hear the expression "stop playing God" used to criticize a person who arrogantly makes decisions for others or orders them around. It uses an image of God as boss, and not a very nice boss at that.

I am no theologian, and in sharing my thoughts below, I certainly want to respect the diverse spiritual lives of the readers of this newsletter.

But my own sense of divinity is quite different. To my mind, if there is God energy in this "cruel, crazy, beautiful world," two of its essential characteristics are that:

1. It has no ability to control human decision-making. People are empowered to choose how to respond to the circumstances they face. God mostly watches.

2. It is a force of unqualified compassion for all people, regardless of race, religion, color, and the relative benevolence of their actions and beliefs.

Empowerment and compassion.

Sounds a lot like mediation, doesn't it?

Don't we mediators sit with those who are in conflict, listen as compassionately as we can, help them understand themselves and their adversaries (whether they choose to agree with them or not), and in the end, stand back and let them make their own decisions?

I am not implying that mediators are God-like, at least no more so than anyone else. Like the parties we serve, we are flawed, and when not mediating, are occupied with similar struggles.

But in our capacity as mediators, we are called on to embody compassion and empowerment: to care, to refrain from judging, and to help others chart their own course. According to my newly appropriated expression, to "play God."

How wonderful that we now encourage young people to do this. Here, we say to our student mediators, go into this room, use your skills to demonstrate that you understand and care about these peers in conflict, and then help them decide how they want to proceed.

I for one think that we have yet to appreciate the impact this work has upon those peer mediators who are lucky enough to mediate regularly. My guess is that it goes well beyond the benefits usually associated with peer mediation: learning important life skills, making a valuable contribution to one's school, and feeling the satisfaction of doing so.

Consider this: For millennia, educators have encouraged young people to practice athletics and musical instruments, not so that they could be great high jumpers or violinists, but so that they could develop the deeper characteristics we associate with these activities: discipline, teamwork, sensitivity, confidence, selflessness, determination, attunement to beauty, etc.

Now, through programs like peer mediation, we enable students to practice listening non-judgmentally, to practice demonstrating compassion, seeing the big picture, and empowering others.

Mediating can be educational for anyone. But for young people, who are in such formative stages of life, it has the potential to be life altering. Experienced students mediators can't help but carry deeper lessons into their lives outside the mediation room.

Remember: In the blink of an eye, these young people will be our leaders instead of our students.

Clearly, sometimes it is a good thing to "play God."

Send us your thoughts...

About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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