Facing Conflict is a Healthy Choice?

Soon after four people in the mediated session sat down, they were wringing their hands with stress. Voices strained. The last months had literally brought headaches and sleepless nights for some. And now each was being asked by mediators to tell their story – to listen while others told things from their vantage point. It was not easy. But they had come too far to give up now.

Conflict brings stress. The physical and mental effects of a dispute is one of the definitions of conflict. Those effects are worsened or prolonged by ignoring nagging issues or combatively undermining the other person to get what we want. But there is another way. Dealing with conflict in a structured face-to-face dialogue like mediation not only relieves its stress, but also usually builds trust for the future.

Mediation is a process that enables people in conflict to talk through their concerns with mediators who advocate only for a fair process. The mediation process moves parties from thinking about “what they want” to building on what they already have, to an attitude of gratitude. A growing body of research points to practices of gratitude having significant physical and health benefits. Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego, found that 186 men and women with heart disease showed physical improvements when they had attitudes and practices of gratitude. Other studies corroborate gratitude as a source of reducing stress and increasing refreshment from sleep. (NY Times, Nov. 21, 2011)

The changes that come with life transitions in elder years bring natural opportunities for conflict. Increasing need for health care, moving your “home” and new financial decisions all raise divergent and emotional concerns. Dealing with these new issues can bring families together in their common concerns, or as we’ve too often seen, drive a lasting wedge between family members who fail to navigate it. Your family’s legacy, along with the health implications of prolonged, unresolved conflict are the basis for a new service, “Elder Mediation.”

In Elder Mediation, two unbiased, trained volunteers help each member of your family present, sometimes with attorneys or other outside support, to have a healthy conversation about these special concerns. The mediators are not only prepared to help each person listen and tell their own story, but they also have special training to help navigate senior-specific issues.

Is it hard? Perhaps, though not nearly as painful as the alternatives. But most families who take advantage of mediation emerge from a session that began as stress-filled and hand-wringing to report resolution, re-connection and relief. Many even leave a mediation and immediately go out to eat. So, despite the initial stress of having a face-to-face dialogue around tough issues, restoring relationships and health is more than worth it.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Chris Fitz, Executive Director, Community Engagement of Lancaster-based Advoz Mediation and Restorative Practices.