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I have been an attorney licensed in the State of Oklahoma for almost forty years, twenty two of which have been as a district court judge. As I have matured in my career, I have found that the skills necessary for effective mediation have stood out as my greatest strengths. I conduct settlement conferences for all the judges in our five-county district, and have conducted several hundred of them. It seems that I have had considerable success in negotiating settlements between litigants. When I was practicing law in the late 1970s and 1980s, I did a great deal of negotiating, often “carrying the water” as we sought to settle the case before litigation.
I have come to believe that a lot of my ability as a mediator was learned from my childhood. Although I am one of six children in my family, it seems that the family dynamic often placed me in the middle of issues involving my siblings. Two of the six are girls, Wilma and Janet, both of whom are over five years older than my oldest brother, and one of my three brothers is eight years younger than me. I remember many disputes between other siblings when I felt as though I were caught in the middle. These instances probably sowed the seeds which resulted in my aptitude for serving as an intermediary.
One way in which I was literally in the middle was our sleeping arrangement. When we were small, my two older brothers and I shared a regular sized bed, sleeping three across, in a bedroom unadorned with heating or cooling.
In the winter, the room sometimes got near freezing during the night. If the weather was extremely cold, Mother would heat bricks in the oven, wrap them in newspapers, and place them under the cover at the foot of the bed to help warm our feet. Since I was the smallest of the three bed partners, I was awarded the place in between James and Roger. I remember many times when covers would be pulled by one brother or the other, but I was rarely uncovered, as I seemed to benefit from whichever brother won the cover pulling contest. This experience helped equip me to be a mediator, as I understood the conflict from both sides, but was not adversely affected by it.
I have often thought of the concept of mediation as being involved in playing a game of cards from both sides of the table, since the mediator generally sees both hands and assists each side in playing their hand against the other, yet does not risk losing even a nickel. This fairly well describes my role in the cover-pulling contests between my older brothers.
The skills as an intermediary were honed more sharply upon the arrival of Stanley, my youngest brother, as it was only natural that I should develop a stronger bond with Stanley, since I was closest to his age. I recall that I sometimes felt as though I was negotiating between Stan and one of my older brothers.
My skills as a negotiator have developed to the point that, since my retirement, I have continued to serve as a mediator for the District Courts of Oklahoma. It may well be that my role as a mediator has come from being “caught in the middle” as a little kid!