Rey CarrRey Carr
By Rey Carr
As a cyclist I am acutely aware of the tension that exists between auto drivers and cyclists; and as an occasional auto driver I am very sensitive to the transgressions of other cyclists. Sometimes, unfortunately, the proximity of cyclists and drivers can result in serious injuries. Most of the disputes that arise between the two groups typically result in name-calling, finger pointing (and not necessarily the index finger), or angry letters to the editor. On occasion, however, such confrontations can lead to violent acts.
Several weeks ago, I rode by a helmeted cyclist shaking his finger over the car roof at a driver who was shaking his finger back. Something about that scene sparked my helper reflex and I stopped my bike and walked back to see what was going on. When I reached the cyclist I asked him if he was okay and uninjured. He was. Just then I noticed that the car driver had pulled into a parking space and was walking towards us. When the driver was close enough I asked him if he was okay and uninjured. He was. They both then proceeded to start talking very angrily to each other about what had happened.
I told the agitated pair that I had not actually seen what had happened but that I came to the scene to determine if they were okay or if they needed help. I said that it looked like things were heating up and I wanted to make sure that no one was going to get hurt. They accepted my presence and agreed that no one was going to start a fight, but then they both returned to increasing the loudness of their claims against each other. Neither person was listening to the fear and worry of the other and instead they were both aggressively responding to being blamed and criticized.
At one point the cyclist expressed how scared he was when he thought the driver was going to cut him off and that is why he slapped the car with his hand. The driver responded by saying he had seen the cyclist, that he was a very experienced driver with a ticket-free driving record and thought he easily cleared the cyclist's path. My intervention consisted of having each participant listen to what the other had said and acknowledge the main point. The driver said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." The cyclist said, "You're a capable driver and you thought you had enough room." The tension virtually disappeared and they both spontaneously shook hands and turned to me and expressed their thanks for my assistance.
The fact that the mediation worked and the disputants recognized my role gave me a thrilling feeling. Most of my previous mediations had been in training activity role plays or on-the-job with colleagues and other people I knew. This was my first experience working with complete strangers and reinforced how important mediation can be within a community focus. All I did was adapt mediation principles to fit the situation and while it might not work all the time, it definitely reinforced my willingness to (cautiously) try it again.
Here is my analysis of the mediation steps as they applied to this situation.
Step 1:Set the Stage. By saying I was there to see if anyone was hurt or needed help and that I was concerned about the possibility of violence, I was staying neutral, expressing an agreeable purpose and setting the stage for acceptance of my involvement.
Step 2: Talk to Each Other. When the car driver came over to talk, the disputants, although agitated, were facing each other and talking to each other.
Step 3: Establish Ground Rules. The disputants agreed to a no-violence interaction; this seemed tentative, but their agreement established a ground rule and also started them towards agreements rather than conflicts.
Step 4: Tell Your Story. Although spoken for possibly the second or third time, each disputant told his side of the story.
Step 5: Listen to Each Other. It is not unusual that during the story telling the other side interrupts or disputes what the story teller is saying. I helped them to vary this by having each side respond to the feelings of the other person. This often allows each person to agree with the undisputable parts of the story. I accomplished this by "interrupting the interrupter" and saying something like, "he just said 'he felt scared'."
Step 6: Focus on Needs. As a mediator, I helped identify what appeared to be the most important point expressed by each disputant. For example, I said: "He (the driver) just said, 'I pride myself on my driving skills'."
Step 7: Generate an Agreement. Without any prompting the disputants recognized that no specific solution was necessary other than a sense of relief that the tension was reduced and that they could genuinely shake hands and apologize to each other. This seemed to me to be the equivalent of a firm agreement.
I was delighted with the outcome of this community mediation. The intervention I used parallels most accepted mediation steps. I know it might have been a risk for me to intervene. The two disputants could have resented it and possibly aimed their anger towards me; and maybe even involved me in a physical confrontation. This is a risk I am willing to take (sometimes). At the same time it is exactly this kind of opportunity for spontaneous mediation that has propelled my commitment to bringing people together in the community, our nation and the world.
I am eager to see more people trained and willing to take this kind of risk, and fortunately, many colleges offer courses to help people learn how to successfully work with people in conflict.
About the author
Rey Carr is the CEO of Peer Resources, an international non-profit organization that provides information and resources on mentoring, coaching and peer assistance. He is an avid cyclist, and lives in Victoria, British Columbia, a city that prides itself on being called “The Cycling Capital of Canada.” He is a life member of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, and has written several articles about cycling trips on his website: www.peer.ca/cycling.html