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IOA Conference Highlights – “Where is your middle?”

I recently attended the IOA Annual Conference and, with just over 500 attendees, it was the largest conference to date! Thus, you can imagine the learning and networking and, of course fun in New Orleans, to be had by all! The conference included excellent plenary and keynotes along with a diverse selection of concurrent sessions. There are many highlights to share; however, the first keynote was fantastic!

The conference opened with a thoughtful, passionate and inspiring talk by Jon Lee who serves as an Associate Ombuds for staff at the University of New Mexico. Jon took us on a personal and professional journey as he shared insights from his upbringing as a Korean American, then linked this to the many perspectives of cubism and culminating in a Korean folktale about two brothers, a swallow and some gourds. With each segment Jon asked and challenged us to find our middle both as individuals and as ombuds practitioners.

For Jon, born in the U.S. of Korean parents, he was encouraged to become American and did so throughout his youth. This included baseball practice over Korean cultural activities although he also found opportunity to connect with his heritage. As I listened to Jon I realized that his insider/outsider status links directly with our ombuds practice. We need to be independent from the organization we serve yet connected and even integrated with it to serve effectively. People who seek the ombuds want both an outside perspective along with inside knowledge and access. I think this part of Jon’s journey prepared him well for his ombuds work.

From cubism, Jon explained how each part of a painting can represent a different perspective along both a location and time continuum. If the artist is painting a person, it might be just the eyes to start and then adding hair from a later time (different style and even color) and so on. For me this suggests that within all these multiple perspectives there is still a middle to be found and the middle is where the ombuds does the work.

We believe everything that is shared with us and also believe nothing at the same time (because we don’t investigate, we don’t know).  We withhold judgment of others and instead support all who may be involved in a situation. With over 30 years as a professional mediator, including the last 5 as an ombuds, I have significant experience holding the middle and this allows me to support people yet not take a “side” in any matter. And, as I contemplate Jon’s cubist reference, I even more fully understand that there are many more than two sides to every story with each accurate or perhaps true from the perspective of the beholder. And all lead us to the middle.

I’ll leave the story of the two brothers (Hungbu and Nolbu), the swallow and the gourds for another time and, with thanks to Jon, I’ll keep seeking my middle.

If you want some help with an issue, come join me in the middle and this will open resolution opportunities not previously considered.  Want some help – Go Ombuds !