Shore Story: A resource for peaceful resolutions

This is part of the series Shore Stories: Life Along the Lakeshore, columns by local and former residents about their lives. 

When I was a child, I avoided conflict whenever possible. I stayed away from people when they were angry, and I did anything I could to prevent people from getting angry with me. I desperately tried to avoid disagreements, especially among the people I love. I remember feeling physically uncomfortable when my parents would argue and felt bad when these exchanges gave way to the silent treatment. 
Penny Shuf
I’ve learned it’s not unusual for a first-born child like myself to become a conflict-avoider and feel a mistaken responsibility for other people’s emotions. I grew up as a person who wanted to please others. I was someone who achieved good grades and experienced real joy by giving emotional support to others. As an adult, I developed a natural desire to be a peacemaker and demonstrated empathy whenever possible. This served me well later. 

My chosen profession was broadcast journalism where I worked hard practicing good storytelling. Over the years, I learned the difference between a good story and a great one was my ability to listen, so I focused on honing this skill in order to tell meaningful human interest stories. This also served me well later. 

Mediation Services

Today, I work for an organization where I show up as my authentic self as a peacemaker and use many of the skills I learned during my broadcasting career such as being a good listener. As director of development and communications for Mediation Services, I support an organization that helps people confront conflict instead of avoiding it, which I have grown to appreciate. I am passionate about this work. The little girl I once was smiles as I do this work. She now knows conflict when mediated can give way to peaceful resolution. 

Through the process of mediation or restorative practices, Mediation Services helps people get through difficult conflicts using two specially trained volunteers called mediators or restorative practice facilitators. These volunteers are impartial and guide people on both sides of the conflict toward a shared resolution. 

Mediation Services is a nonprofit organization relying on the generosity of volunteers to serve as mediators, which makes the service more affordable compared to private mediation. These volunteer mediators are modern day peacemakers, and I am proud to promote their selfless work. 

As development and communications director, it’s my job to raise funds and generate awareness to keep Mediation Services a sustainable nonprofit. I am also a trained mediator and use my active listening skills in all I do personally and professionally.

Our service makes a real difference in people’s lives. Whether helping parents negotiate time with their children after divorce, assisting neighbors bickering over property issues or addressing debt collections, mediation keeps people talking. And when people in conflict are still talking, there’s hope for reaching a peaceful resolution. 

Still a peacemaker

The peacemaker in me still struggles with conflict and doesn’t have the answers but neither do the mediators who are not allowed to offer solutions. They merely provide a platform for people to discover their own way out of conflict. I think it’s effective because mediation seems to give people the chance to recognize the humanity in each other, (even for just a moment) while they are still disagreeing, and that’s one reason it seems to work. 

In a way, working for Mediation Services has offered me a different way to think about my own personal conflicts. I’ve grown from avoiding every uncomfortable situation to understanding there’s a place to turn if I’m ever facing a difficult conflict, and I wholeheartedly would support this organization even if it wasn’t my job. 

So, if you ever need a peacemaker, Mediation Services is here for you. 

Penny Shuff has a journalism degree from Michigan State University and has owned a home in Holland for 17 years where she likes to hike with her husband Tom and mini-sheltie dog, Cooper. She is passionate about educating voters through the League of Women Voters and recently became a member of the Human Relations Commission for the city of Holland.
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