The Pittsburgh Left

Robert - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 16, 2007

When stopped at a red light in Pittsburgh it is customary to yield the right-of-way to opposing vehicles to allow left turns in front of you when the light changes to green. This has been called The Pittsburgh Left in the media and, by the arbiter of all information, Wikipedia. I believe in The Pittsburgh Left. I practice it everywhere– despite the glares, blares and flares of the uninitiated and those not from Western Pennsylvania. When I was younger, I assumed it was a universal norm; traffic flows by permitting otherwise trapped vehicles to proceed with only a short delay to the pauser. Driving altruism creates social capital benefiting communal traffic.

Although a lawyer for 30 years, after two years of practice, I became a dispute resolver to align my values with my vocation. Legal education effectively teaches that the ends justify any lawful means; exercise of legal rights favors competition over cooperation. Competition doesn’t work in driving, nor for me as an advocate in a system based upon adversaries creating conflict. So I became a mediator. Adversity converts to opportunity when disputants are viewed as a troubled mini-community that can be addressed with compassion, operation and transparency. Mediators join the conflicted community as healers.

I am a joiner. At a conference years ago, the moderator’s complete introduction of me was as a “joiner” of lots of groups. I was offended then, but now understand its truth reflects my values. I believe in community with a small “c” based upon inclusiveness, and not the capital C of exclusion. My sustenance is consensus, not competition. We are all intraconnected by compassion constrained only by artificial borders and barriers. Communities thrive when citizens act responsibly through daily choices that build walkways and not walls. Mediators transform conflict by creating avenues similarly to the way The Pittsburgh Left creates cooperation among strangers.

Many of my cases involve people with disabilities or deaths of children, spouses, and parents due to medical errors or accidents. I witness both claimants and defendants start the sessions in extreme discomfort, but conclude with a resolution that propels them along the path of healing and closure. These resolutions of legal claims, although based upon economic compensation, encompass much more than the payment of money. In one case, a refugee from Sierra Leone whose child was born with cerebral palsy ended the day by affirmatively stating that she forgave the defendants and hugged them and their lawyers. I am privileged to be able to participate in the traumas of my fellow human beings by providing a method of communal healings as my calling. Mediation has carried me far beyond Pittsburgh and into the larger community. To further community and peace building at the social networking and grassroots level, myself and like-minded colleagues have founded Mediators Without Borders to provide conflict mitigation. Every time I honor The Pittsburgh Left, I serve as a good citizen of a broader community operating with fewer borders.