Roles and Listening

Leo Cardenas

Former CRS Mediator, Denver Office

[Full Interview]

We train our conciliators and mediators to actually carry easels, or have some place to write so everybody can look at the same thing. In a lot of cases we will initially do the writing, because we of course know the language. We will do the writing on those issues, and then in a very timely manner, we'll ask one of them, "Why don't you continue this while I take a break?" Eventually they can take ownership. People in dispute come together with a lot of emotions, and while they have all of the skills, talents, and intelligence to participate they can only provide a certain amount of time to a community dispute. It's not their bread and butter. Their reputations might be at stake or they can even say their children's futures are at stake. They can only give a certain amount of time and effort and so their involvement lasts only the time that the meeting lasts. They don't go home and get on a computer and start working on it. The school system on the other hand, the school superintendent assigns someone to work on the case. The committee doesn't have that, and so keeping them together, keeping them focused, and being realistic as to how long they can keep together becomes our task. We do that. It's actually their task, but we focus a lot as to how to keep together and who's going to do what and when. It's not that the leadership doesn't have the ability and capability, but they don't have the resources for long-term projects. Any disputes that we're working with, to us, is a very short-term project. We're looking at resolving it within two or three days. We're looking at resolving it with one meeting and they never look at it that way. It's also important to note that a lot of the disputes that we handle are in smaller communities, say a community of three thousand. We get there, and we're introduced and we give our spiel and then they get up and start telling us of all the ills of that community for the last ten to twenty years. Then we'll say, "Well, could we ask the leaders to assign someone to work with us tomorrow?" One person will meet with us and we have fulfilled their goal which was for someone in authority to listen to their complaints because no one has done it before. We happen to be from the US Department of Justice. We happen to have someone who knows how to listen, and that's it. We'll come back later and ask the city, "Well, whatever happened to that case? There were forty people there and you had a list of fifteen items. I can't get a hold of anybody, nobody will answer my calls." We have fulfilled our mission and we have provided a service to that community. That's all that's going to happen. They'll never admit to it, but that's all they wanted, someone to listen to them.