A Most Unexpected Solution

May 5, 2016


Intractable problems can feel, well, insurmountable. Yet sometimes they just require a bit of creative thinking -- as you will see in the situation below:

 

If you've ever been to the Old City of Jerusalem or know anything about this area, it houses an impressive array of religious institutions -- Jewish, Christian, and Muslim -- all sitting in close proximity to one another. And despite the news headlines, the real headline on most days is that everyone went about their daily routine and went home.

 

But occasionally, as anywhere, disagreements do arise. And for those disagreements, there is a mediator in the city's government assigned to help parties work things out. On a visit to New York a few years ago, the mediator related an incident he was asked to address -- and how he wisely helped to solve it:

 

The complainant was a Jewish school where students each day carry out their morning prayers in a room with big windows facing the inspiring landscape of Jerusalem.  It also faces a church next door. One day the students suddenly found themselves facing a giant cross, sitting atop the church. To face this cross while saying their prayers each day was not exactly what they wished, and they asked that the cross be removed.

 

The mediator was brought in, spoke with both parties, and predictably the church refused. Feelings were becoming quite hurt on both sides. And no one could think of what to do that would satisfy both parties. 

 

Now it is not normally the role of a mediator to come up with solutions.  But there is a saying that a mediator should be what the parties need them to be. And in this instance, the mediator had a thought.  Take a look at the two photos below and perhaps you'll understand:

The mediator went to the church's leadership and asked: "What would you think of turning the cross 90 degrees?"  In this manner, what the school's students would see is figure 2, a simple line in their field of vision as they prayed. The church leaders went back to their congregants to discuss the proposal, and the school next door was informed of the idea and they discussed it too.

 

After careful consideration by both parties, the mediator's proposal was accepted, a potentially delicate disagreement was resolved, and both institutions could continue on with their important work.

 

Just another day in the life of mediators?  Perhaps, and also a reminder it is not only disagreements that are based on different points of view. Sometimes, solutions can be based on them too. :-)

 

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

 

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Joshua de Sola Mendes