“Litigation: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.”
– Ambrose Bierce
Do any of you see disturbing patterns in recent news? Patterns where people who, as it turns out later, have mental health issues, end up snapping and committing murder? These patterns are not limited to our country and unfortunately, they are becoming more and more frequent, especially in the area of family disputes.
In September 2013, a man kidnapped his small children in Tel Aviv, Israel, and ended up throwing them off an 11-story building, then taking his own life. That man, whose name was Eli Gur was estranged from his wife. After being found “unfit for duty” and released from the police force, Gur lost his mother and was living with his brother in her house. There was a restraining order in place and he could only visit his children under a social worker’s supervision. However, the court order did not prevent him from storming into his wife’s home, choking her, snatching the children and taking off.
In the U.S. we are all too aware, on a monthly basis, of people who seem to suddenly “snap” and commit murder – the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, a Delaware family court shooting in which the paternal grandfather shot and killed his ex-daughter-in-law during a custody hearing, etc.
After the fact, we often find out that the perpetrators of these crimes suffer from some type of mental illness that was either under-diagnosed or undiagnosed. They spend the bulk of their lives walking the fine and narrow line of being able to function in society in a sane and appropriate way. When they steer in the wrong direction, our legal system’s knee jerk approach is often to issue a punitive piece of paper that, instead of forcing them to behave, sends them further over the edge and actually may cause more harm than good to the victim of their offenses.
The post-mortem evaluations and conversations after these tragedies occur, often pit organizations, lobbyists and advocates against each other in a typical fruitless talk show banter of competing agendas: the mental health lobby, the anti-domestic violence lobby, the anti-gun lobby, the NRA…. Sadly, their spokespeople often merely repeat the same polarized talking points and, like narrow-minded one-dimensional characters in political cartoons, accomplish very little.
Mediators are rarely invited to participate in such conversations, yet they may have plenty to contribute. What would have happened if the parties to the dispute were steered toward a mediation process, as soon as conflict arose? Would a skilled, thoughtful and patient mediator, have been able to diffuse the tension, help the parties reach a viable temporary and ultimately permanent solution to their problem and avert the disaster? We don’t quite know, but what we do know, is that mediators have not been invited by the currently failing “systems” to try and do so.
The question is why?
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The Law Firm and Mediation Practice of Alla Roytberg, PC