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  • Wed, January 05, 2011 12:24 PM | Alexander Yaroslavsky
    Last month I had a commercial mediation that took an unexpected turn.  It began as most of my mediations do - everyone gathered in a conference room, I framed the discussion with an opening statement.  Then, each of the parties explained their view, aided by their counsel.  I looped and summarized what I heard until all sides were nodding.  Then I asked to meet with each side privately and begin the process of moving the parties toward the possibility of settlement.

    During one of caucuses, I asked one of the principals about the value meeting in a joint session as the first mediation step.  I didn't know what the response would be and would not have been surprised if the person said that it wasn't that valuable.

    However, what happened after I asked the question really surprised me.  Before the principal even opened her mouth, the attorney leaped forward as if I had fired a bullet at the client and yelled "Don't answer that!!!  That is an inappropriate question, and this mediation is over!"  With these words, the attorney began to collect her papers and motion to her client to do the same.  

    I was stunned.  I had mediated many cases and have never seen such a charged response to such a seemingly neutral question.  I quickly collected myself and asked if I could meet with the attorney in private.  After some coaxing on my part, the attorney agreed to briefly speak with me.

    We went into a small conference room and I asked what caused the attorney to defend her client so staunchly.  I expressed my honest surprise and assured her that I was only trying to find out what happened.  After some hesitation the attorney told me that any conversations about the value of the case should be discussed with her, not her client. 

    Suddenly the exchange made sense to me!  I explained that the word "value" in my question meant "importance" and was not intended to elicit a dollar figure.  The attorney accepted my explanation and the mediation continued.

    As I reflected on this incident, I began to think about how often words and phrases, all spoken in English, carry such different meanings for the speaker and the listener.  As mediators, we are trained to listen for these differences, and be aware of how our questions can land.  When I train new mediators, I always stress these skills.  

    Nevertheless, sometimes wires get crossed, and an innocently uttered phrase can land very differently than it was intended.  So, what's a mediator to do?

    To me, awareness that a miscommunication can happen despite our best intentions is the first line of defense.  It's no-one's fault, it's just a part of life.  Taking on this perspective can help a mediator keep her/his balance when an incident actually occurs.

    Keeping the ego in check is another piece of the puzzle.  I vividly recall feeling offended by the attorney when "she misunderstood my good intention" of trying to engage her client in a "constructive dialogue."  I was able to shake off that feeling, and was able to approach the attorney as a colleague in the process.  Without making that mental shift, I would have remained seeing her as "against me" and would have surely lost her willingness to cooperate further.  

    Remaining curious is another mental tool I find helpful.  Following the jolt of indignation I felt, I remember becoming truly curious about what happened.  I felt confident that I didn't say anything wrong, so what could have caused this reaction?  I believe it was that sense of curiosity that made it possible for the attorney to engage with me and help me understand.
  • Tue, January 12, 2010 9:12 AM | Steven Yadegari

    here is a place where comments can be posted regarding our site.  I would like to see a link to the newly formed ACR job board.

    Georgia's chapter has done this

  • Fri, December 04, 2009 4:49 PM | Alex Yaroslavsky (Administrator)

    Post Trauma Growth, Cultivating the Seeds of Forgiveness and Meaning-making: Utilizing the Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model

    Summary of Breakfast presentation Dec 3, 2009


    Dr. Ani Kalayjian, Founder & President of Meaningfulworld/ ATOP



    How does a country, community, family or an individual learn to heal from trauma, betrayal, humiliation, or a heartbreak caused by another during historical crisis, global wars, genocides, or in interpersonal relationships? How can the generational transmission cycle be transformed into a healing journey and lessons learned?  

    Dr Ani Kalayjian, presented research findings showing how practicing forgiveness is essential for individuals as well as for collective health and transformation of horizontal violence. Forgiveness releases people from a paralyzing past by helping them to enjoy the present, and envision a future without judgment, resentment, anger or sadness. According to Kalayjian’s research conducted 80 years after the Ottoman Turkish Genocide of the Armenians, resentment and anger continued in the hearts of many survivors due to the ongoing Turkish government’s denial of the Genocide. Validation of a traumatic experience is an essential step toward resolution and closure. An explicit expression of remorse by a perpetrator to a victim has enormous healing value (Sullivan, 1953). Against a background of losses and atrocities well beyond the realm of usual life experience, these aged survivors reflected a sense of personal and communal accomplishment, tempered with anger regarding the perpetrators’ denial of how they were victimized (Kalayjian, et al 1996).

     Individual case studies in psychotherapy practices have revealed that holding a grudge is detrimental to one’s physical, mental, emotional, ecological, and spiritual health. When individuals have anger against themselves, someone else or a group of people (such as perpetrators) this anger forces them to feel helpless, as they are expecting something that has not happened for over 94 years (in case of the Genocide of the Armenians). The power of transformation is important to embrace as if not we are doomed to pass it on to seven next generations (Kupelian, D., Kalayjian, A. S., & Kassabian, A. 1998).

    One therapeutic way to shift this helplessness into empowerment is through forgiveness, empathy, self-validation, and meaning-making. In spite of all the positive findings regarding the effectiveness of practicing forgiveness there is growing confusion about how to practice forgiveness, if forgiveness is indicated when the perpetrator does not express remorse, or even when they are in denial (Kalayjian & Paloutzian, 2009).

                 This presentation addressed post trauma growth, meaning-making and the challenges of practicing forgiveness. The challenge of how to integrate past traumas into our psyche, how not to react to old hurt and pain, as well as, building peace in one’s self and therefore, building peace in the community and the globe.  Dr Kalayjian presented her case of being threatened to be tortured and to be killed by extremists in Turkey while she was attempting to present her research findings on the aforementioned study with Armenian Genocide survivors (Kalayjian, 1999).  She said:

    “I submitted a paper to an International European Traumatic Society’s Congress on Psychotraumatology and Human Rights that took place in Istanbul, Turkey. Being fully cognizant of the Turkish government’s denial propaganda, I entitled my abstract “Mass Human-Rights Violations: Resilience vs. Resignation.” At the conference, the keynote speakers talked freely regarding the host country’s more recent human-rights violations against the Kurds. I felt encouraged by this and decided to distribute my original abstract on the genocide against Armenians. At this point, the threats began. First, my life was threatened by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), to whom I responded with skepticism that I did not believe that anyone would dare kill me in front of the 600+ scholars from 48 countries who were present at the conference. The following day, I was threatened to be tortured if I talked about the genocide.  On the third day, the abstracts of my presentation were snatched from my hands.   On the last day of the conference I was called by the organizers from Istanbul and the (British) then-president of the European Association for Traumatic Stress Studies for a private meeting. At this meeting, I was presented with an ultimatum: Either I must sign the letter stating that I would agree to refrain from talking about the genocide of the Armenian, or forcibly leave the conference escorted by the Turkish police (who were waiting at the door) without addressing the conference. Although I reminded the police and president that they were attending a human-rights conference and that they were in fact violating my human rights as a presenter, it was to no avail.  They reiterated that because of the political situation, they were obliged to “protect the conference organizers from the government.”

                After a difficult deliberation, I chose to sign the letter so that I would not lose the opportunity to address the conference.  Colleagues helped me revise my transparencies by covering the controversial words with a special marker provided by the audiovisual department. When I began delivering my lecture and the first transparency was projected, I apologized for the black lines without looking at the screen, and then noticed that many of my colleagues had smirks on their faces. The Turkish audience was enraged. When I turned around to look at the screen, I saw that the censored words were showing through the black marks. I then spontaneously said: “Whoops, the light is so bright it is coming through. I guess we cannot hide it any longer.”  Tension grew in the audience. At that point, I told the audiovisual department to turn off the projector, and reinforced that I was there to focus on transcending hatred and embracing forgiveness through dialogues.  I focused on the importance of empowerment and moving on to the next phase of dialogue, education, and collaboration.  I asserted that the admission of genocide is a very difficult task to take on, especially when survivors of the perpetrators have been misinformed for almost a century. I then asked the scientific community to assist the Turkish community to accept responsibility and apologize for the wrongs of their ancestors. They too, need to forgive their ancestors in order to overcome denial and accept responsibility. After the lecture, numerous international colleagues came forward and hugged and congratulated me for my courage and for the depth of my message.  I cried in their arms out of relief, happiness for being alive, and for having delivered that important message.

                I returned safely to the United States. Then a devastating earthquake hit Turkey. I decided to go and assist, in spite of my colleagues’ assertions that I must be crazy to take such a risk. For me, a humanitarian outreach eschews geographic and political boundaries.  I developed the Mental Health Outreach Project for Turkey, and spearheaded a team that worked for several weeks under tents with more than 500 survivors via group therapy, debriefing, and application of the Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model (Kalayjian, 2009).


                 Currently Kalayjian has collaborative research on post trauma forgiveness and healing in Sierra Leone, Armenia, & US, and has organized and delivered over 2 post disasters humanitarian outreach projects.

                The seven-step Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model was shared, developed by Kalayjian, and used in over 25 post disaster humanitarian outreach projects (Kalayjian, 2002).  Through these 7-steps various aspects of dispute, conflict, betrayal, humiliation, or disagreements are assessed, identified, explored, processed, worked through, and reintegrated.  Dr Kalayjian also shared the new released book on Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Psychological Pathways to Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, edited by Kalayjian and Paloutzian, (Springer, 2009).  Paper back is available for $24.99 through

    Kalayjian shared some of the myths regarding forgiveness compiled from her lectures and research around the world:

    1.  If I forgive, I will forget

    *     2.  If I forgive, you will do it again

    *     3.  If I forgive, the enemy will be set free

    *     4.  If I forgive, I will hurt those who died

    *     5.  If I forgive, there will be no justice

    *     6.  If I forgive, I will no longer be a victim

    *     7.  I need the anger to survive

    *     8.  I have to wait for the enemy to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness first

    *     9.  Only survivors themselves can forgive, offsprings should not forgive

    *     Only God/Allah or other deity can forgive, not humans.


    Kalayjian concluded that practicing forgiveness is essential for creation of peace on the interpersonal and intrapersonal levels as well as ultimately for creating peace and reconciliation worldwide.  As Dalai Lama said: Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.





    Kalayjian, A. (2009).  Forgiveness in Spite of Denial, Revisionism, and

    Injustice, In Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Psychological Pathways in conflict transformation and peace building, Eds. Kalayjian & Paloutzian. New York: NY: Springer Publishing.

    Kalayjian, A. (2002).  Biopsychosocial and Spiritual Treatment of Trauma.  In R. Massey & S. Massey (Eds.), Comprehensive Handbook of Psychotherapy. Vol. 3, Interpersonal/Humanistic/Existential.   New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Kalayjian, A. (1999). Forgiveness and Transcendence.  Clio’s Psyche. 6(3).116-119.

    Kalayjian, A S., Shahinian, S. P., Gergerian, E., & Saraydarian, L. (1996).  Coping with Ottoman-Turkish Genocide: An Exploration of the Experience of Armenian Survivors.  Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(1), 87-97.

    Kupelian, D., Kalayjian, A. S., & Kassabian, A.  (1998). The Turkish Genocide of the Armenians: Continuing Effects on Survivors and Their Families Eight Decades After Massive Trauma.  In Y. Danieli (Ed.), International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma (pp. 191-210). New York: Plenum Press.

    Sullivan, H. S. (1953).  The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.





    By Dr. Ani Kalayjian



    Forgiving means freeing oneself

    of the chains of anger,

    unlocking the locks of resentment, and

    undoing the cycles of hatred.


    I challenge you to love the truth,

    But to know how to forgive, for

    “He who cannot forgive

    breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass;”    George Herbert

    And because

    ‘Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds

    on the heels that has crushed it.”              Mark Twain


    As we approach a new millennium,

    let’s help each other to forgive, and

    to become stronger and more centered,

    and conquer all obstacles,

    transcending our understanding

    and reaching new heights;

    Since “When one helps another,

    both are strong;”                                     Swedish Proverb

    and since “The greater the obstacle,

    the more glory in overcoming it.”            Moliere


    With love and forgiveness

    we will help one another

    to break the cycles of violence,

    and to prevent

    future genocides,

    by reasserting our humanness.




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