Tell me what you see. I see the hearts.

When I mediate or collaborate, I find myself going back in time and hearing the question, "what do you see?" This question has shaped my approach, my "lens," that I use in my divorce and child custody work. It has also allowed for my answer, "I see the hearts."

Let me explain. In my legal career, it began with clerking for a Family Judge and seeing families in the court system fighting - fighting over support, fighting over custody and fighting with each other. I saw and heard a lot of fighting and scared children in the courthouse.

Then, another layer of jury trials where I formulated the story behind the medical malpractice case and had to hold both the plaintiff and my client, the defendant physician, together so as to acknowledge both and weave their story to the jury. Did the "law" dictate the verdict? In the end, through my eyes, I think it was certainly a part - but - juries are individual human beings, having brought with them to the jury box their individual consciences. What the jury saw during the trial was the part that fascinated me as a litigator.

Then, another layer of mediation and arbitration of labor and employment disputes. Yes, the "law," but more poignantly, I saw the dynamics and systems encapsulating the conflict. The ultimate settlement, how much was the law and how much was touching a cord with the individuals making up the conflict? I was curious about that piece.

Then, the final layer, training in collaborative law and fine-tuning my mediation skills. Why the instant connection - the "aha moment?" It all came together, all the layers, everything I saw in the legal process and all my life experiences culminated. What was and still is, is a fundamental belief that the "hearts" control everything in my mediation and collaborative work.

Let me explain. As an individual, my life experiences are rooted in my childhood. I love art. That love came from my parents. At an early age, I accompanied my mother to Wunderly Brothers, an art gallery, at Wood Street and Oliver Avenue in Pittsburgh.

I watched as the owner, August "Gus" Wunderly, would bring out about ten paintings for my mother to see. Some were placed on the floor, leaning against the wall, while others were placed on easels. After a time, but not immediately, Gus would ask my mother, "which do you like?"

Invariably my mother would pick one that did not correspond with the one I picked silently in my mind.

Gus, in his quiet and eloquent manner, would ask my mother, "why did you choose that paining?" She always retorted, "I love what I feel about it and what I see in it."

As the painting chosen by my mother was wrapped, I would ask her, "what did you see?" She would tell me and then she would ask me, which one did you choose? I would tell her and she would ask me, "what did you see - where did the painting take you inside your heart?"

The feeling inside me when asked about which painting I chose and what I saw in the painting was sheer delight! It made me so happy - it felt good. I had a voice and a viewpoint which was allowed to be expressed and heard. It was never judged - how could it - it was my feeling, where the painting took me in my own heart.

In my divorce and custody mediation work, I see the "hearts." So, what are the "hearts?" The "heart" or "hearts" is your child or your children. Having a fundamental belief that the "hearts" matter, I ask parents if they want to explore the sounds, sights and emotions which will be felt by their children during the divorce. If this is the focus, the work that needs to be done is right in front of us. We work on the hearts.

Today, I have a very eclectic collection of art. A comforting part of the collection is the voice I still hear in my mind, "tell me what you see."