My sweet tooth will be my undoing.
I just got back from the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) conference in New Orleans. Among other highlights, I got to meet some Twitter followers in real life -- to wit, Jason Dykstra, Tammy Lenski, Cinnie Noble and Ben Zeigler. Check them out, because they're doing amazing work. It was also great to hobnob with my fellow board members of the National Association for Community Mediation and the New York State Dispute Resolution Association, as well as my New York Peace Institute peeps...all of which rolled deep in the Big Easy.
And, I got to hear Leymah Gbowee's plenary spiel. If you're not hip to her work, please watch Pray the Devil Back to Hell right quick. She's fierce, funny, charismatic, and she's done groundbreaking things to stop violence and promote women's rights in Liberia. One the many gems she dropped: To build people's capacity to build peace, first build yourself -- a lesson I took to heart in the story that follows.
So. Miller Beer was having their annual convention in the same hotel, and they hosted a reception with a table full of king cakes -- a Mardi Gras confection covered in a half-inch of crazily dyed sugar, with a plastic baby baked into it. I was hellbent on getting me some of that cake.
As the Miller folks glandhandled and high-fived and schmoozed, I meandered through the room, giving knowing nods and vague "hey" gestures to the attendees. Then I made my big move and grabbed a slice. Clearly, I can't pass as a beer guy, as I was busted toute suite by a Miller exec...here's pretty much the ensuing convo:
Miller Beer executive (politely and firmly): Sir, this is a private event. You can't take our food.
Me: Sorry, must've walked into the wrong conference and...
Miller Beer executive: Well, I saw you wandering around for quite a while, so, looks like you knew where you were.
Me: Uh, I already touched the cake -- should I put it back, or...?
Miller Beer executive (tilting his head toward the door): Just go ahead and take it.
Confession: There was a little part of me that wanted to lick the cake, set it down, and walk out with a George Jefferson swagger. Or let it fall to the ground, mic-drop style and declare "Heckman OUT," as if I'd won an 8 Mile-esque rap contest.
Though I've been building people's capacity to build peace for some time now, I guess I need to build myself a bit more, at least when it comes to my lizard brain reaction to cake.
Luckily, I was able to override my sugar-addled lizard brain instinct, and I apologized profusely. I explained my sweet tooth problem, and I invited the Miller exec to pop by our conference and take one of our snacks. (I tried to apply the key elements of effective apologies -- admit wrongdoing, explain your actions, acknowledge the impact, and offer compensation.) Miller man relaxed a bit, in that he didn't have hotel security give me the bum's rush.
I later went on a New Orleans ghost tour (Johnny Depp lives in a haunted house!) with some ACR folks, and they made a point of buying Miller beers. So these things have a way of evening out.
In mediation, we see a little slice of people's lives that is probably not representative of the totality of their character. We often experience people at their worst -- angry, hurt, frustrated, exhausted, defeated. Clients in mediation are far, far more than noisy neighbors, morose teenagers, contract breakers, and rent shirkers. Mediation is a great opportunity to help our clients see each other a bit more three-dimensionally. And if that can happen, mediation is successful -- with or without a settlement.
Another nugget from Ms. Gbowee, from her experience bringing Muslim and Christian women together: Get people talking long enough, and they'll defy your stereotypes.
(I would certainly be grateful to be seen as someone more than the guy who bogarts food from beer companies. Though that is, sadly, a facet of who I am...and something I'm working on, following Ms. Gbowee's self-building advice.)
Miller conventioneers -- apologies, once more, and thanks for the cake. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I hear your product tastes great and is less filling.