All but one!
Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching certainly enhance the experience of connectedness in relationship; for good or ill. Probably long before, but certainly since using ‘writing’ in its various forms, people will have known that they don’t always need to have that physical presence to relate; to be in a relationship and be connected. It is a fundamental presumption of most world faiths that one can be in personal relationship with the unseen and unheard.
At about 3.00pm on 17th March 2020 I connected with the reality that for my work, all was about to change. Self-isolation means, “Your next working day and those after will be from home, Peter. We’ll make it work.” We had twenty-five active mediation cases (i.e. meetings taking place or being planned). That’s twenty-five families we had a support relationship with. And two cases pending.
I had two predominant thoughts. Firstly, even though I ‘knew’ that mediation would now be more useful than ever because of the extra strains and tensions that all are facing, the families would be ‘distracted’, ‘busy about other things’ and mediation would drop down their priority list.
Secondly, after twenty-six years of face to face / everyone in the room mediations, the use of video conferencing wasn’t going to be the same. Could they make it work? Could I make it work?
In short, I needn’t have concerned myself about either.
Families (adult and children) have responded to our offer of Skype or Messenger video meetings as enthusiastic as they had been before. Apart from the obvious physical difference, work has continued as before. Once we dealt with any fat-fingered technical glitches and once we had overcome the novelty of our ‘surroundings,’ people were quickly into their process; as present and committed to each other as ever.
All but one of our cases are continuing unhindered by the changes. And, to be honest, the one that has suffered was ‘wobbling’ long before any of this.
This experience has brought me once again to a deep truth about mediation. People, just as they need to have their conflict, when the time is right also need to find their way out of it. Mediation is merely a vehicle and the fact that the vehicle has had to change its wheels won’t stop people from doing what they need to do for themselves. In fact, I am noticing (though it’s early days) that some of the young people are actually more open and work harder in the video sessions. Perhaps it is more ‘their medium,’ or that there is one less adult in the room or maybe even that they are more at home, literally.
One ‘process’ issue that we have had to address has been how to make sure people ‘end’ the meeting and don’t try to continue the process when the mediator has ended the video call. In the past when people came to the YMCA, when the meeting in the mediation room was over, people knew emotionally and physically that they were ending and leaving. When video conferencing people at home, we have to make sure that the meeting actually ends for them. So, along with the help of the creative young people involved, we have been developing little physical rituals. For example, some will (in a different room) have a sheet of paper where they each ‘sign in’ and then ‘sign out’ afterwards.
I have always believed that it is healthy to keep work at work (just stay there if there’s more work to be done) and don’t bring it home. So, this is really new to me. I have been surprised at how well it has been working so far. I have managed to keep the working day and the home day as separate as possible; even down to my own little rituals (just as the families are asked to do). For example, the work day is done when I take off and hang up my YMCA fleece and lanyard. If there was more work to be done, it got done before I ‘hang up.’
Two very useful pieces of advice my manger gave me were, “Dress for work and begin your work day just like you would going into the office, or on a home visit” and “take exercise.” I have been doing both (and my colleagues know the weak relationship I have with exercise!).
I have known a marvellous amount of support from colleagues, who not only made sure I had great technology to stay well connected and continue the work, but who have ‘gone beyond’ in offering support by dropping things off if needed and asking what more they could do. I have to admit that the hardest thing of all has been the guilt I feel; knowing that my work colleagues are there every day, in the front line, putting themselves in harm’s way to continue supporting the residents, whilst I am safe at home. I sometimes see the strain in their faces and hear it in their voices.
Finally, in the short time I have been working from home, I have really missed what we Irish call the ‘craic’ – the laughter in the office next door, the little jokes as we pass each other by, the knowing smirks and the look of encouragement. It is partly kept up in each ‘zoom’ call. There is also the laughter and fun with the clients; often as a help to them doing their work. Still, as I said at the beginning, ‘Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching certainly enhance the experience of connectedness in relationship; for good or ill.’
The work goes on. We are here to be used and people still want to use us. That is what we at the YMCA are all about.
Words by Peter O’Reilly, Mediation Officer at YMCA Burton
Photo: Peter and our well-being officer Sarah Pettifer.