Category Archives: Seasonal

New Year resolutions: on friendship

More than kisses, letters mingle souls, for thus friends absent speak; copyright Diane J. Levin, do not use without permissionThe start of a new year spurs many of us who observe the Gregorian calendar to take stock of the year just gone and to set goals for the year ahead, whether personal, financial, business, or spiritual.

In looking back on this past year, one event stands out: I lost my beloved friend Maureen last April when she died after a two-year battle with cancer.

What kind of friend was she? Here’s what kind:

Quite a few years ago, my career headed in a new direction, I was about to depart on an out-of-state business trip that would take me many miles away from home and well out of my comfort zone. (I also have to confess that I was terrified of flying.) Knowing how important this first trip was, how much was riding on it, and how absolutely petrified I was about getting on that plane, Maureen mailed me a card filled with handwritten words of encouragement, optimism, and love. I immediately put it inside my briefcase so that it would be with me on my trip. The trip was a success, just as Maureen predicted it would be.

Her card’s my good luck talisman and travels with me to this day, no matter where I go. The envelope that contains it is frayed around the edges, and the card itself is battered and worn from holding it in my hands so often, but the words, in Maureen’s handwriting, remain clear.

Maureen was an extraordinary, luminous soul, lit from within by all the qualities of character she possessed. She let that light shine brightly into the lives of those fortunate enough to have known her. Like that card I carry with me, Maureen’s love still travels with us, packed up safe inside our hearts.

I will always remember how much that simple and sincere gesture meant to me. A card, a stamp, a few handwritten words. That was all. Friendship is built upon such foundations – the thoughtful deed and the stalwart heart.

And so, in Maureen’s honor, there’s one resolution I set for myself this year: to be a friend like her.

With best wishes to you all for a joyful and healthy 2010, and may you be blessed with loyal friends.

Thanks so much for reading.

Mediation Channel begins a new season

Mediation Channel out of reruns and broadcasting againI know that an unaccustomed silence has fallen here. The last two months have brought difficult challenges for my family and me to face. With regret I had to put so much on hold, including this blog. Many of you have contacted me to ask if I’m okay, and I am deeply grateful to you for your concern.

Like many, I am glad to see a new year begin. May 2009 bring to all of you health, friendship, and hopes fulfilled.

I look forward to beginning our conversation anew.

Judaism, media literacy and U.S. elections: reflections on the Jewish New Year

Media literacy

Last night marked the start of the celebration of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. In anticipation, several days earlier, I began rereading a book I’d acquired several years ago, Nothing Sacred, a controversial work by media critic Douglas Rushkoff that seeks 21st century meaning in the traditions and texts of Judaism.

Rushkoff argues that Judaism is “a religion dedicated to media literacy” — an approach to deconstructing, analyzing and questioning media’s messages — which offers digital-age lessons in participatory democracy for the secular world.

He points to Judaism’s core practices:

Judaism is a religion dedicated to media literacy. The initiation to adult practice is not an act of faith, but a demonstration of literacy called a bar (or bat) mitvah…Jews have to be able to not only read the text, but also understand what it means…

Further, Jewish rituals require community participation. The Torah scroll cannot even be read unless ten people — a minyan — are present. This was a safeguard against isolation and its destructive impact. If only such priorities were used in the media space, where an isolated, self-doubting viewer is considered the most valuable target for markets selling on TV or the Web.

In an undated interview with the Jewish Public Forum, Rushkoff observed,

The fact that Jews are not supposed to read the holy texts alone – we’re not even supposed to read the Talmud by ourselves – is also fascinating. It forces us to be social and interactive with our stories and laws, rather than alone with them. It’s more like participating in a chat room or newsgroup than sitting passively on a Web site. We can maintain some critical distance. We are invited to think and comment. The text is kept alive. Transparent.

In Rushkoff’s world, Judaism’s traditions translate into lessons for 21st century citizens.  We all bear responsibility to remake ourselves into knowledgeable, literate consumers of modern media who can analyze and decode its messages and gain resistance to propaganda and distortions of fact. Discussion and constant questioning, not blind-faith acceptance, are essential to uncovering truths and debunking false claims, whether in spiritual practices or political ones.

Today, as a new year begins, as the U.S. faces financial chaos, and a presidential election looms just weeks away, I pause for a moment to consider how Rushkoff’s insights on Jewish traditions apply to the secular texts that are the foundation of American democracy — our Constitution, our laws — as well as to the cacophony of messages through media — TV, radio, print, web — that seek to sway us.

Rushkoff of course is right: to participate fully, to be engaged citizens, we must demand media literacy of ourselves (and also, I would hasten to add, of those who would lead us).  We must be literate enough to decipher the messages that shape our lives and our decisions — at the moment, the choices we Americans will make in the voting booth in November.

Make ribs, not war: Super Bowl party at Mediation Channel

Super Bowl 2008During my first year of blogging, I posted “Breaking bread: Could sharing food foster cooperation between parties in mediation?“, a story from Deltona, Florida, about a failed mediation involving a land dispute. An ingenious Deltona resident had an inspired idea: why not settle differences instead over a plate of barbecue? But I suggested taking things one step further: mediate and eat barbecue.

I still think it’s a great idea.

The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and football means barbecue. (Baseball means barbecue, too, but we’ll revisit that on Opening Day.) In the interests of encouraging Patriots fans and Giants fans to put aside their differences and come together, here’s my recipe for grilled baby back ribs.


2 racks of baby back ribs

For the dry rub

  • 4 tblsp. sweet paprika
  • 2 tblsp. chili powder
  • 2 tblsp. ground cumin seeds
  • 2 tblsp. ground fennel seeds
  • 2 tblsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tblsp. white sugar
  • 2 tblsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tblsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tblsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 – 2 tsp. chipotle chili pepper or hot Hungarian paprika (depending on your tolerance for heat)


Put all ingredients into a plastic lidded container, close lid, and shake until well blended. Store in fridge for up to 2 months.

Four hours before you start your fire, rub the dry rub on the ribs. Place on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap and place in fridge. One hour before you plan to put the ribs on the grill, remove from fridge and let stand at room temperature.

I use a 22 1/2 inch Weber kettle grill for these ribs. If you’re using a gas grill, you’re on your own here, but you’ll be grilling these using indirect heat using a covered grill. Build a charcoal fire, and promise me that you’ll use a large charcoal chimney, not lighter fluid, to light your charcoal.

Fill a large chimney with coals and allow to burn until covered with a light layer of white ash. When the coals are ready, pile them up on either side of the grill with a drip pan in the middle filled with the contents of a bottle of beer (domestic or imported, it’s up to you). Put the cooking grate in place, cover the grill, making sure the vents are open, and let the grill heat for about 5 minutes. Place the ribs on the grate, cover, and cook for 2 hours. You may need to replenish the charcoal halfway through, but resist the temptation to lift the lid and check otherwise.

Now here’s the important part. Remove the ribs from the heat, wrap up tightly in one large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then fold up in a large, heavy bath towel and leave the ribs to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes to a full hour.

Unwrap, brush with the barbecue sauce of your choice if you want (or enjoy the smoky pork goodness all on its own), cut the ribs, and serve. Feeds 4.

(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe Grilling & Barbecuing.)

Why I blog: reflections on Mediation Channel's 3rd anniversary

connecting to the worldIt’s been such a busy month that my third anniversary of blogging, January 10, 2008, passed unnoticed. I completely forgot until now.

That is partly due to the attention that my blog’s move to a new home required, as well as the demands of work. And among the tasks involved in that move was the slow sorting-through and creation of categories for over 650 posts, the product of 36 months of blogging.

Among my archives I discovered several posts that reminded me why I continue to blog — some thoughts I’d like to share with you as I look back on three years.

Blogging of course is an effective marketing tool, one reason why many businesses and entrepreneurs are drawn to it, as my friend and fellow New Englander, Tammy Lenski, reminds readers today in asking an important question, “Is blogging a good mediation marketing strategy?

Blogs are also tools for gathering and disseminating knowledge and information. In a post from June 2005, “Five reasons why ADR professionals should be blogging“, I argued that blogging may make you smarter:

Successful blogging requires research. So bloggers surf the web, cruising for news. We’re Internet blood-hounds, tracking down the elusive scent of stories that will pique the curiosity of our readers. That constant prowling alerts us to stories, trends, breaking news in our field—and even in fields that have nothing whatsoever to do with our blog’s focus, which, I would argue, makes us well-rounded individuals.

But blogging by nature is designed to connect not just ideas but people — for me blogging’s greatest appeal. As I wrote in November 2006, “Get the connection: building your network through blogs“:

Although I have made many contacts the old-fashioned way—through personal introductions, conference attendance, and committee work–nothing has connected me to the world around me faster or more dramatically than blogging has succeeded in doing.

Blogs bring people together like no conference or convention can. It allows for conversation in a multitude of ways.

Here’s one: Publish a post and instantly the whole world hears your message. But this is no one-way conversation–because most blogs permit reader comments, the world can talk back.

Here’s another: Another blogger reads your post. Intrigued by the viewpoint or links you shared, he or she riffs on what you’ve written and links back to you, amplifying the conversation. Suddenly your voice is joined by someone else’s. Other bloggers chime in and the chorus of voices grows.

Here’s another: Someone discovers your blog. One of your posts has sparked their imagination or triggered questions. They email you to tell you. Or they email you a link to an article they think you’d find interesting. Or they email you just to say hello.

With a little encouragement, these conversations can ultimately give rise to meaningful connections–to collegiality, to inspiration, to collaboration. These connections, as I have happily discovered, can produce discoveries, insights, and, most rewardingly, friendships.

Contrary to popular belief, blogging is not a solitary activity. It is joyfully, boldly public.

You can shout into the canyon and hear your own voice echo back.

But wait and shout again, and you will hear other voices rise in greeting.

That, more than any other reason, is why blogging remains such an essential part of my professional life. It is the collegiality, the friendships that have sprung up across geographic distances. It is the pleasure of mutual discovery, of interests shared. It is the sparks struck and the ideas that ignite when viewpoints collide.

Here on the web, what matters most: Only connect.

Thanks to all of you for sharing some or all of those three years with me.  I’m glad you were here.

Mediators may need mediator to settle football rivalry

Football rivalry needs mediationIf you don’t like American football or live outside the United States, you’re probably not aware (or even care) that the undefeated New England Patriots are squaring off against the San Diego Chargers this Sunday in the battle for the AFC Championship and the right to play in the Super Bowl, that most sacred of American sports events. The top-seeded Pats, 17-0, are considered the odds-on favorites.

Some folks, however, are rooting for the San Diego underdogs. Kristina Haymes, an attorney and mediator who blogs about mediation marketing, and also an avowed Chargers fan, has thrown down the gauntlet. Knowing that my heart belongs to the Patriots, she asks me,

What do you say Diane are the Pats going to trounce the Chargers? Do the underdogs have a chance?

I confess that I’m torn. How to respond? The superstitious sports fan in me never makes public predictions about my team’s likelihood of victory (a superstition borne of a lifetime as a Red Sox supporter). Yet the pulse-pounding excitement of the 2007 football season has gone to my head.

Should I simply say, “Let the best team win?”

Nah. There’s only one answer for Kristina:

Go, Pats!

New Year's (Dispute) Resolution #4: Master the art of saying no

Learning to say noAs difficult as it can be to make requests of others, as I discussed in “New Year’s (Dispute) Resolution #3: Don’t be afraid to ask“, saying no to requests that others make of us can be just as hard.

Guilt can push us to say yes when all our instincts say no. Or we worry that “no” will harm a good relationship. Or we are convinced that saying no to them today will make them less willing to say yes to us tomorrow.

There’s an art in saying no well. And compelling reasons why no may be the best answer. According to negotiation expert William Ury‘s 2007 bestseller, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say NO and Still Get to Yes,

In saying No positively, we are giving ourselves a gift. We are creating time and space for what we want. We are protecting what we value. We are changing the situation for the better — and all the while keeping our friends, colleagues, and customers. In short, we are being true to ourselves…

No is no longer a negation but an affirmation of the honesty that good relationships depend upon:

Your No can be a gift to the other as well. “Tell me Yes, tell me No, but tell me now” is a refrain I have often heard from those on the receiving end. The other often much prefers a clear answer, even if it is No, than continued indecision and waffling. A No allows them to go ahead and make their own decisions.

Indeed, a Positive No can bring us closer to the other, into a more authentic relationship. If we do not speak our truth — our No — we may in fact distance ourselves from the other, as there will always be something important that lies unspoken between us.

We need to gain greater comfort in saying yes to No.

New Year's (Dispute) Resolution #3: Don't be afraid to ask

It never hurts to ask when it comes to negotiationThose of you who are teachers or students of negotiation are no doubt familiar with one of the field’s best known texts, Negotiation: Readings, Exercises, and Cases, by Roy Lewicki et al.

One of its exercises, “Collecting Nos”, is designed to aid students in confronting and overcoming what is for many an overpowering fear and a mighty stumbling block to effective negotiation: the anxiety associated with asking for stuff.

Asking is hard for obvious reasons. We worry that our request will be denied — rejection is tough. Or we’re concerned that we’ll be perceived as pushy or demanding. Or we’ve been taught that it’s rude. But that kind of thinking can get in your way of getting what you need — and keep you from being a good negotiator.

To complete the “Collecting Nos” exercise, you must make requests of others until you have collected 10 nos. My partner Moshe Cohen, who uses this exercise with his students at Boston University School of Management, further specifies that you are limited to one request per person and that the person you make the request of must have the power to grant it.

To vary the exercise slightly, if you get a “no”, ask that person again later on a second time. If they still say no, ask, “What would have to happen for you to say yes?”

In completing this exercise, people make two surprising discoveries: first, how difficult collecting 10 nos turns out to be — people are often much more willing to say yes to requests; and second, good things happen when you ask. Clients I have assigned this exercise to have reported negotiating better fee agreements with their own clients, salary increases, and even job interviews.

It just goes to show you that it never hurts to ask.  So why not try the “Collecting Nos” exercise for yourself?  Who knows what might happen.

(Source for “Collecting Nos”: Negotiation: Readings, Exercises, and Cases, Roy Lewicki et al., 5th edition, p. 570.)

New Year's (Dispute) Resolution #2: Be alert for cognitive errors

Be on the alert for cognitive errorsAnais Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

Indeed, numerous studies have demonstrated how easily our senses can be fooled. We are susceptible to influences of which we are unaware, which can shape our perception and judgments. Consider, for example, the extraordinary optical illusion in a BBC video, “The Mind’s Eye”. As the narrator says,

It’s an astonishing example of how much our visual memories, our imaginations, can influence what is right in front of our eyes.

However, knowing our propensity for making these errors, we can be alert for them. Are you ready?

A happy New Year message from Online Guide to Mediation

appy 2008 from Online Guide to Mediation!Please click here to view a New Year’s Eve message from me to you.

Best wishes to everyone!