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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Cluedo as a peacemaking tool? Sometimes it just isn't enough.

I have been thinking a lot lately about peacemaking. I think I have been a peacemaker since I was born, with an innate desire to get between warring parties and assist them to find a resolution to their conflict. 

As a child, I remember putting myself between my parents when they were in conflict. Fortunately Mum and Dad had a happy marriage, and conflict was rare, but as any child will tell you, they generally remember any parental conflict clearly. Children have an internal radar, very sensitive to conflict, and, like sponges, they soak up and wear the atmosphere around them. 

My earliest memories of these conflicts date from when I was 5 years old. Although my parents didn’t argue frequently, I learned that these conflicts followed a predictable course. There would be a verbal row, and because Mum didn’t drive, Dad was always the one to storm out in a rage and take the car, driving down to the Murray River where he would park for hours until he was calm enough to come home again.

Sitting at home waiting for Dad to return was agonizing. A few times I wondered if he would come back at all. During these times, Mum often retreated to the bedroom to gather herself, and my siblings and I would keep things to a whisper, if we spoke at all. 

When we heard the sound of the car returning, my siblings scattered to their rooms and stayed out of the way, but I knew that this was my cue, and I’d stay put at the kitchen table … waiting. Mum also heard the car, of course, and came back into the kitchen to busy herself. 

I never intervened during the early heated stage of my parents’ conflict, when words and accusations were flying wildly. My childish interventions took place afterwards when Dad was back home again, during these long silences when the heat had gone out of the argument, and both of my parents were licking their wounds - too proud to be the first one to speak or make the first move to reconcile. 

Dad would come back into the house, sit down at the kitchen table and open the paper. Mum would continue attending to the house. Both were careful to avoid catching the other’s eye. I’d sit and observe them, waiting hopefully for someone to speak first, so that I wouldn’t have to dig deep for the courage I needed to speak up. Both would also completely ignore my presence - until I made my move. 

However, the conversation never started up again by itself. Maybe it would have in time, if I’d left things alone. I’m sure before I was born that they were able to sort things out without any help from me at all.  Anyway, somehow, I would determine the time to act and make my move to restore peace and order. 

What was my childish solution? How did I get myself between my parents and break down the walls of hostility that they didn’t seem to be able to do themselves? I’d get up from my seat at the table, go to my bedroom and return with the Cluedo game. Mum, Dad and I loved this game and we often played it together. The other children were still too young at this stage to enjoy and understand the game. I’d bring out the game, place it on the table and start to set it up.

‘Can we have a game of Cluedo?’ I’d ask innocently. 

Without fail, Dad would fold up his paper, and Mum would turn from the kitchen sink, and both would take their places opposite me at the table. Those of you who know Cluedo will know that it cannot be played effectively with fewer than 3 people.

By the end of the first game, Mum and Dad would be talking again. It worked every time. At the end of the second game, Dad would sometimes get up and put a romantic Engelbert Humperdinck record on. And by the end of the third game, my siblings had returned to the kitchen and were playing happily as if nothing had ever happened. Obviously a lot more went on behind the scenes later in terms of resolving their conflict, but I’d done ‘my bit’ towards restoring my parents’ peace.

Now as an adult many years later, where do I find myself working? I work for an organization that provides mediation for separating couples in conflict over the shared care of their children. I don’t work in the mediator/peacemaker role, but as a group facilitator and educator, teaching the impact of entrenched conflict on children during separation. I have however, been thinking of studying for a mediator’s qualifications in the next year or two, thinking that this might be the next career step for me. 

I love my work with a passion and sometimes wonder if my childhood experiences have anything to do with it. I work with these separated couples, helping them to learn the communication skills they need to have a successful mediation, but as I consider the deep rooted conflict in some of the families I work with, I know that it will take a lot more than a game of Cluedo to resolve things. If only it were that simple.