Texas Association of Mediators

Brad Heckman

Brad Heckman, from the New York Peace Institute, was one of our keynote speakers at the 2014 TAM Annual Conference. I had a chance to chat with him throughout the conference (and to tweet about him). He’s a great guy. He gave an outstanding presentation that made me think about what mediators should be doing. You should follow Brad at his blog, The Heck List.

Here’s his TED talk on Mediation and Mindfulness. By the way, he’s a terrific artist, also.

TAM Address

logoLast Friday (February 21) was special. That’s when my year of service for the Texas Association of Mediators began. For the next year, I have the privilege of serving as TAM’s president. Here are my remarks that I made to the organization. I’d like to know your thoughts–what is your perception of TAM? How can TAM improve? How can TAM serve you?

◊◊◊

Thank you for this opportunity to serve TAM. As the first order of business, I want to introduce our chairs who will serve TAM this year: Suzanne Duvall, Historian; Linda Gibson, Newsletter; Melanie Grimes, Texas Mediator Credentialing Association; Margaret Leeds, Membership; and Toylaine Spencer, Social Media. Let’s thank them for their service.

I want to thank Melynda Gulley for her leadership last year, and l’m looking forward to continuing to work with her this year as immediate past president.  It may not have been good form, but I asked Melynda what she wanted to recognize her service. I wanted us to get something that she wanted—that’s what we’re supposed to be about, right, meeting other’s interests? She said “No plaques—just give me some flowers.” So Melynda, no plaques for you, and here are a bunch of flowers. And I want to thank Toylaine and Erich for their excellent work in putting on this year’s conference. Great job!

Last year, Adam McGough and I had the honor of chairing the TAM conference in Dallas. Despite that experience, we remain friends. You may recall a story that I relayed to you…the story of two neighbors who lived in an apartment. One on top of the other. The downstairs neighbor killed his upstairs neighbors because they allegedly had been dropping pet feces in the downstairs neighbors’ porch. I asked where were the mediators…would the outcome of that dispute have been different if the parties had known about mediation. Would this tragedy have escalated to the point it did? What if we had a mobile mediation van that traveled to that neighborhood–the same type of van our neighbors in Mexico demonstrated for us this morning? It’s the type of dispute that doesn’t garner the attention of the Supreme Court, but it’s significant. Since last years’ conference, a jury heard the case and ruled the 76 year old grandfather who killed two people was guilty of capital murder and his sentence was automatic: life without parole.

What a tragic situation for all involved. Two parents killed. That couple were parents to a total of five children, one of whom was only a few months old at the time. The grandfather who shot them, well, he leaves a wife and family behind, as well. A lot of lives are broken over a neighbor on neighbor conflict.

This is why you all are so important. You place yourselves in the middle of conflict—a pretty unusual human motivation—and try to show people that there’s a better way. That’s why this conference is so important. For many of us, it’s a destination, an opportunity for us to see old friends,  make new friends, learn from our talented speakers, and hone our skills. This conference ought to be a destination for mediators and trainers from outside of Texas because the conference has that much value.

But this conference isn’t just a destination. It a launch pad, also. Think back to the pictures in your mind of a rocket blasting off. What a wonderful combination of engineering and imagination to make that rocket take off into space.  There’s a sense of wonder, even though we know that the math and science work,  there’s a sense of wonder when that rocket takes off.

Our conference needs to be like that—and your experience here needs to be like that. A wonderful combination of technical skills and imagination that are so critical to those we serve. Our conference needs to be a place where we find new colleagues, new information, new skills, and provide mutual help and support—and we take that with us from our conference to every part of the world that we serve.

Our friend Adam McGough at last year’s conference challenged us to keep the momentum going after the conference. That we keep in touch with each other. That we help each other. I asked that the more experienced mediators find younger mediators and mentor them, and that the younger mediators latch on to more experienced mediators and learn from them.

Have you?

This year will be a year of challenges for our organization—all good. We’re going to modernize and update our bylaws. Something that’s not glamorous but it needs to be done.  Your board is going to work on ways to increase the diversity—in all dimensions—of the membership of the board. We’re going to meet and have a planning session to see what TAM is doing right, how it can improve, and come up with concrete ways of making this the premier organization for mediators in the country.

Here are my challenges to you today:

Invite someone to join TAM. I’m asking everyone in this room to invite one person to join TAM, either as a member, a candidate for membership, or as a friend of TAM. We’re the best bargain in town. We offer a great conference and an information-packed newsletter. I challenge you to make it a goal to invite one person you know to join our organization.

Think about writing for our newsletter. We need good, substantive articles that will help our members. There’s a lot of talent and experience in this room that ought to be shared with others. Will you commit to writing an article? It doesn’t have to be long, just eloquent, relevant, inspirational, educational.

Spread the word that mediators are “innovative problem solvers.” That’s how we were described back in 1987 when the legislature backed us. Innovative problem solvers. That’s part of our theme this year. Commit to staying innovative.  Commit to talking to others about us as a vital compliment to the justice system. Develop your two minute talk about who you are, why you’re a mediator and why TAM is important to you.

Since last year’s conference, I’ve had a career change. I now work at Sam Houston State University as the Director of Student Legal & Mediation Services. The university I now serve has a motto. It’s not a fancy Latin motto, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s in simple, plain English. The motto is: The measure of a life is its service. The measure of a life is its service.

We became mediators to serve others— parties,  attorneys,  court systems, schools,  families, places of worship, neighborhoods, governmental entities, associations, and businesses. We are service professionals. I hope that at this conference, and in the days ahead, we can all affirm each other as being in the most noble—and most difficult—of professions: peacemakers.  And I ask you—with humility and with thanks –to continue to serve those back home, to serve our profession, to serve the Texas Association of Mediators, and to tell people about the good work that we do.

Thank you again, for this opportunity to be of service.