Thursday, September 1, 2011

Does money grows on broccoli? Finders Keepers??

A man in Chicao Illinois went to his garden to pick some peppers and broccoli to go with dinner and found a duffel bag stuffed with $20 bills which would later be valued at $150,000 when both bags were counted. 

According to the newswire, he contemplated his position for about a half hour, then--fearing that the money might have come from a bank robbery and someone might come back looking for it—he called the County Sheriff’s Department.  He told  WGN-TV. “What am I going to do? I don’t know where it came from. With my luck it came from a bank robbery, and I’d be charged with bank robbery.” So he turned in the money.  Authorities remain mystified because no residential or commercial burglaries in the area have been reported. 

I asked some neighborhood elementary age kids (5-12) about the scenario while they gleefully munched on they chocolate cupcakes in our backyard.  This was their bottom line insight… "It’s not about whether or not you get caught…it’s about doing what’s right.”  They believed he should turn in the money even if he thought he wouldn’t get caught by the police or get hurt by the real thieves.  After much discussion and lots of frosting on happy faces,  here is a summary of our agreed-upon neighborhood playground rules that were previously unspoken:  1) If you find something that’s not yours, leave it there for the person to come back to it OR turn it in at lost & found  2) Don’t grab things out of people’s hands. 3)  Ask to borrow things that clearly aren’t yours and if they say ‘no’ then that’s their choice.  4) Don’t make deals that take advantage of others -- Treat people how you’d like to be treated.

What happens when worldviews clash and we use different rulers? Some people in the world believe that if they are lucky enough to find something, then the item should be theirs regardless if someone else is currently using it.  Some believe that if someone else didn’t protect their valuable, then they didn’t really deserve it; therefore there is nothing morally wrong with being opportunistic or ascribing to the “finders keepers” principle.  Some believe that if they are smart enough to make a deal that benefits them (even if it is one sided or unfair to another) then they are to be rewarded for their cunning spirit or business acumen.  Some believe that they are simply superior and deserve whatever they can wrestle away from others.  Some believe that if they are strong enough to wrestle it out of someone else’s hands, then they clearly deserve to keep it.  Some believe in an arbitrary statute of limitations: if they have possession of something for a certain length of time, the other party should stop whining and “just get over it.”  Some believe that any action is justifiable.  Some believe that if you NEED it, then stealing/keeping things not yours is ok.

Some colonists believed that if they are lucky enough to find some desirable land, then it should be theirs regardless if another people group currently lived there.  Some explorers believe that if the First Nations didn’t successfully protect their land, then they didn’t really deserve it; there is nothing morally wrong with being opportunistic or using the “finders keepers” principle.  Some leaders believed that if they are smart enough to make a deal that benefits their family/country/people group (even if it is one sided or unfair to another) then they are to be rewarded for their cunning spirit or business acumen.  Some immigrants believed that they were simply superior and deserve whatever they can wrestle away from others.  Some early leaders believed that if their army was strong enough to wrestle it out of someone else’s hands, then they clearly deserve to keep it.  Some citizens in North America now believe in an arbitrary statute of limitations: because the land has been part of the USA or Canada for over 200 years, the First Nations should stop whining and “just get over it.”   Some believe that any action is justifiable.  Some apparently believe that if you NEED it, then stealing/keeping things that aren't yours is still ok.


As I continue to volunteer as a mediator/facilitator, I recognize that adults don’t generally believe that kids playground rules apply to treaties, land deals, business transactions or government affairs.  Now some would say that kids are too simple, too na├»ve, that kids can’t begin to understand the “adult world.” It’s apparent that there are two different sets of values and rules.  I wonder when the rules shift…3rd grade?  Middle school?  College?   When do we “grow up” and shift from valuing fairness to valuing being tricky, savvy and the “ends justify the means.”

In mediation, it’s not my job to decide whose worldview is “right” and whose is
“wrong,” nor to convince either side of anything.  And I’m not trained to administer the law and holding up the measuring stick to a situation.  Rather mediation is simply about guiding a process to bring two parties with conflicting world views and perspectives to select a solution that both parties can live with.  You can probably tell from my writing how I view the world, but in mediation it’s not about me and my personal values – it’s about the parties.  Unlike arbitration or judicial process, neither party wins.   It’s not even about who is better prepared, talks louder, who has the law on their side, who has more people to agree with them or are sympathetic to their cause. It’s not about who is more right.  Rather it’s about getting past an impasse.  Both give in.  Both lose something…but both get the dignity to accept a deal and to get closure.

Mediation isn’t always fun, simple, glamorous, or quick.  (Just like I tell the young men who train with the hockey team…if it was easy everyone would be doing it!)  But I believe it’s worth the investment when the parties agree on a solution they can live with.   And so until money truly grows on broccoli plants and elementary kids rules the world, I’m just going to keep plugging along and hoping that somehow it’s making a positive difference.