Indeed, what if… ?
CMS: Its Context and Mission
Perspective of its Founder
CMS evolved from my observations, insights and critiques of the Family Court in New York City. Eight years of working as a Law Guardian for Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division had a profound impact on me in two ways. First, it made me appreciate the need to treat youth as people with needs and opinions and not to patronize them as “damaged children.” Secondly, I reached the conclusion that the adversarial process is both inappropriate and damaging for solving most family problems. The exceptions being when the court is used to protect an individual’s personal safety or to provide a coercive last resort.
At CMS we endeavor to put these lessons to practice. We cultivate respectful rather than combative relationships among participants; we foster communication and understanding rather than intolerance within families and communities; and ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, we hope to empower individuals both to become their own advocates and to become advocates for others is their communities.
In 1980 I began developing programs to divert people from the court system. From the first program – the simple yet effective Queens Adolescent Diversion Program (QADP), a mentoring program for juvenile delinquents staffed by nonprofessionals – we continued to add programs and incorporated as a nonprofit, Community Mediation Services, Inc., in 1983. Today, we have 24 programs and 98 staff. As the years have past and CMS has continued to expand and evolve, it has gained shape. For all our programs are linked together by a common philosophical approach: to respect, educate and empower youth, families, and communities.
Each of our programs is an attempt to foster community collaboration (between and among individuals, family members, schools, agencies, courts, institutions, community consortia) and youth development (leadership and mentoring in schools and the community). It is conflict resolution that serves as the basis of all our work. It is a vehicle for growth; it is what makes life interesting, exciting, and creative. Relationship building and mediation are the methods we use in order to resolve conflict resolution between neighbors, landlords and tenants, family members, divorcees, and various members of the community.
In recent years, I have been increasingly influenced by the work of Dr. Victor Frankl. I have found that his philosophies resonate with the beliefs that have been embedded within CMS from its birth. Understanding his writings has given me a new way to articulate the work we do at CMS. At the core of Frankl’s writings is the belief in what he calls “values and meaning.” It is the “will to meaning” that is the drive toward personal fulfillment. Frankl maintains that every person is responsible for his or her own life. Each person’s goal is not simply self-actualization, but self-transcendence. He writes that the meaning of life is a function of:
- Creating a work or doing a deed.
- Experiencing something or encountering someone.
- The attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Interestingly, each of these aspects of “the meaning of life” is in fact an aspect of conflict as well. And thus, each of these principles that Frankl delineates directly tracks with an aspect of the work we do at CMS.
The first area is the one we are most involved at CMS: doing work that has value and meaning. We strive to do this consistently in a selfless, humble manner. Our job is to help transform negative to positive, conflict to resolution and struggle to learning. Moreover, by sharing information and eliciting a thoughtful process, we empower people to make their own decisions based on their own values and meanings.
The second area is one we must contend with every day. We must work with each client and colleague with respect that honors their uniqueness as individuals. We believe that we can effect change by connecting with the humanity of others. For it is the most powerful transforming force we have at our disposal. We strive to facilitate this approach in others.
The third area is the most challenging. We believe that within each of us our mettle is determined by how we are able to find meaning and positively act on and learn from unavoidable suffering. All too often we are required to help our client find such meaning in the traumas they have suffered.
Notice that these are all ends outside ourselves; they are all, as Frankl would put it, Self-transcendent” goals. Through these actions we find our own personal fulfillment while helping other in the reach for their goals.
Join us. Discover more about CMS, conflict resolution, community collaboration, youth development, and the role you can play in the work we do. Learn about all the programs and how they work with the clients. Understand about all the systems: legal, mental health, education, child welfare, substance abuse, dispute resolution. Do not view them with blinders. See where they interface, in what manner they interact, and how we integrate them creatively to best serve our clients.
Mark Kleiman, Esq.