Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Musings on Mary's Visit With Elizabeth in Luke

What was the very first thing Mary did after being visited by the Angel Gabriel? She went to see Elizabeth and stayed there for three months. The slide show below examines some of what may be learned from their encounter. For best results, view full screen. Most art is from Wikimedia commons.

Advent Lessons From the Visitation of Mary With Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peace of Mind

What is peace?  Is peace a thought that the affairs of the world are ordered and in place, as they ought to be?  Consider this excerpt from Pippa’s Song, published by Robert Browning in 1841.  The last two lines graced a linen wall hanging embroidered by my great grandmother:


Pisarro Hay Harvest wikimedia commons
Pissarro “Hay Harvest”  (Wikimedia commons)
“The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!”


To my way of thinking, part of having “peace” is to know that things are set up, as much as possible, so that our small world – our small sphere of influence where we live – is in the best order we can make of it.  This blog post is about making things “right with the world.”   What can we do that brings us more peace in our personal lives?  

For one thing, we need to be proactive about doing things to make this happen.  Mother Theresa said, “Do your work as if everything depends on it, then leave the rest to God.” 

This post is about doing your work as if everything depends on it.  Namely, do you know what will happen to your property, and to your affairs, if something were to happen to you today?  

I want to urge you to create and maintain the legal documents you need to make things “right with the world” as far as your legal affairs are concerned.   

2010 10 08 chicago 105

People immediately think of their  will.  Do you have one? 

Under Title 62 of the S.C. Probate Code (which may or may not be similar to the probate code where you live),  what happens to your estate depends on who survives you.  Do you have a spouse, children, or parents?  The law allocates a division of assets based on who your survivors are. (For instance, if you leave a spouse or children, your parents receive nothing even if they were dependent upon you for support. If you leave children, they receive half even if you'd prefer for your spouse to receive the entire amount.)

Generally speaking, it's best if you state what you want by leaving a will.  This just eliminates doubts about what you might have wanted.  If there's something in particular that you want a person to have, that also needs to be designated specifically, but with flexibility and bearing in mind that the asset may be gone by the time you pass away. If there's an unrelated person or a charity you want to receive something from your estate, the only way to ensure that (other than giving it to them personally) is through a will. While a will doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, it is important that it be done right. For this reason, I would recommend having a lawyer draft it for you.

In terms of planning for the future, there are a couple of other documents which probably are equally, if not more, important, than a will.   Do you know what these are?   Health Care Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney, Trust Documents, Life Insurance designations, Retirement Account beneficiary designations, Bank Account ownership designations, to name some. 

For an example of how important these documents are, have you considered:  What would happen to you, personally, if something were to happen where you could not speak for yourself or make decisions on your own behalf? Who would make decisions about your medical care or how you should be treated? The document governing this is called a Health Care Power of Attorney. Everyone needs one. Any one of us, no matter how healthy, could be in a car crash tomorrow and need this document to ensure that our values are known and followed. (Alternative documents are known as "advance directives" or "living will," are not quite the same things and an attorney can explain the differences to you.)

What would happen to your business matters if you were in an accident and couldn't manage your own affairs? Who would get your mail? Who would pay the bills? Who would check on some suspicious credit card transaction? The document giving some agent power to act on your behalf when you can't do so is called a Durable Power of Attorney. Everyone needs one.

Who would become owner of your bank account?  If person A is authorized to sign on your bank account, do you mean for that person to own the entire account at the time of your death?  If not (for example, if you have two children and you want them both to share the proceeds equally, not just the one who has signature authority), then you need to set up the paperwork to reflect your wishes. 

These are just some of many documents everyone should consider having. Anyone who is divorced with children and considering remarriage should think about having a prenuptial agreement drawn up. A "prenup" can settle any potential property division questions many years before issues even surface. Anyone with young children should consider designating a guardian and trustee for those children in the event of parental disability. Anyone with a business should have a business succession plan, and a partnership or close corporation should have buyout provisions.

Lawyers don't just sue people. They help ordinary people make arrangements that help their lives run more smoothly when the going gets tough. I encourage people to get a "legal checkup" every few years just to make sure they have everything they need.  

Notice: this is not legal advice. It is a suggestion that you seek legal advice concerning these issues.   Because my goal is to help people manage their affairs in such a way that they stay out of court, I do offer a service of “Legal Checkup” to help you sort out these issues.  If you are interested in a one or two hour consultation in my office for a legal checkup, please email an inquiry to

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Santa, the Nativity, and ... What?

An Advent Message for 2010

(cross posted from my professional web site,

Just Mediation, LLC)

Of course Christ is the center of Christmas.  But, in fact, the season holds something for everyone who seeks a better world.   This is because,  no matter what a person's faith -- Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, Atheist, or something else  -- the Nativity gives each of us an opportunity to open our mind to the possibility of  miracles, including the  the miracle of peace.

By focusing our mind on the concrete reality of an historical, embodied fact, the Nativity of Christ invites us to imagine concrete ways an ordinary individual can seek the extraordinary --  even the miraculous – in the context of our ordinary lives.

The spirit of the Advent and Christmas season even invites us to take action that could make that imagined, and better, world become a reality.

An example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary lies in the legend of St. Nick.  Was he really just an ordinary guy who gave some gifts to some kids at Christmas?  Is he a magical elf who wears a red suit and lives at the North Pole?  Or, is he something else altogether?

This season, we at Just Mediation, LLC, know of a young child, age ten, who has begun to confirm their suspicions that the person who puts presents under the Christmas tree during the middle of the night on Christmas eve is not a person who arrives with reindeer and a red suit.

But does this realization, that the presents arrived in a different way than previously thought,  make the miracle of Santa any less of a miracle?

This little person has always been told that "Santa is someone who loves you very much."   Does the fact that Santa has a different permanent address than they previously imagined take away any at all from the joy and love of the Christmas spirit?

For many children, it does take away.  Most of us can remember with some sadness the first year we found out that Santa "wasn't real".  But, what if there were some way to hold on to that magical feeling about Santa?

In a sense, no matter what the physical facts, it can be said that “he who believes, receives”.   It is possible for Santa to remain very real, immortal, and miraculous.  How?  Because we make it so.   As adults with a more refined understanding of Santa, we can choose to redefine the way we view him.   Santa endures because he symbolizes, for all of us,  a spirit of giving, the magical power of love, and a wish for a world where all of our best childhood dreams come true.

We hope the child will come to understand that even if Santa doesn't squeeze down a chimney, there is still magic.  There are still secrets, there is still giving, and there is still joy in Christmas.    If the child can hold on to this sense of the reality of Santa, even while the child gains understanding of the “facts” of Santa, the child will have achieved a better understanding (indeed!) of the true magic of Christmas.

A true transformation of understanding will have occurred, and the child will have acquired a deeper and richer understanding of the meaning of the Christmas season.

The child’s transformation of understanding then becomes a lesson concerning love.   A new wisdom concerning the magic of Christmas will then be carried forward and continue to shape the way the child relates to others during the Christmas season.

Transformation of one's understanding of conflict, as applied through the style of conflict transformation employed by our mediators, works in a similar way.

The goal of the conflict consultants at Just Mediation, LLC, is not just to "solve" a problem by settling a case, allowing each mediator to get a “settlement star” on our achievement chart.   Rather, our goal is to transform your experience of conflict, literally, in a way that perhaps can be explained by the example of the child's transformed understanding at Christmas.

Our hope is that by assisting you in gaining insight to see your conflict in a new way, and in helping all parties to achieve a deeper understanding of the conflict itself, this insight may then open the door to new possibilities and new imaginings of how to resolve it.    It’s not always easy.  Old presumptions sometimes must be replaced with a new understanding.   There may be challenging issues, and old habits of  communication and distrust may need to be overcome.   Yet, with this new insight, sometimes the previously unimaginable becomes possible.

To characterize agreements reached through conflict transformation as the result of "compromise" is trite.   To call this "win win" is not always quite accurate.  But to call it a sound method for achieving a better result, that is quite accurate.

And sometimes, though not always, the results can be almost miraculous, offering participants an opportunity to transcend the “what has been” and achieve a better future.

As you contemplate the miracle of Christmas, we invite you to be open to the possibility of miracles everywhere.  Including the possibility that miracles sometimes can happen even in the ordinary, mundane world we inhabit in our daily lives.

Behold!  A mere babe in a manger.  Yet on another level, this Christmas season, be open to the idea that what is truly “real” may be altogether different from what is readily seen.


(Illustration of Tissot’s “Journey of the Magi” is courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Recommended book: "A Is For Asshole" by Vickie Pynchon

I'd like to highlight a review of a book written by my friend Vickie Pynchon. This book is easy to read and very helpful when it comes to dealing with conflict. Highly recommended. click HERE for a more extensive review by mediator Joe Markowitz, and click HERE for a more extensive review by Tammi Lenski.  The bottom line is, buy it.