One Easter I was out on a walk when I heard a child crying. I was heading toward some apartments, so I didn't pay too much attention, figuring parents were nearby. But as I continued to walk, the crying turned into full-on panic-stricken wailing that not only went unchecked, but continued to escalate. Snagged. Even as I felt the screams radiate through my body, they led me by the heart strings until I laid eyes on a toddler who was going to every door, trying to get in. She ran toward me when I squatted down, called to her gently, and held my hand out, smiling encouragingly.
She was obviously terrified as she stifled sobs, clutching tightly to her doll and her newest acquisition - my little finger. While I was looking for her, I saw other people rush right by her, visibly shrinking as they rounded their shoulders, ducked their heads, and took smaller, quicker steps, almost as if they didn't want her to see them. How was it, then, that now this busy apartment complex, previously humming with holiday traffic, was strangely and suddenly so desolate? Even the police were on the opposite side of the city when I called.
I sat down on the sidewalk to wait for police or parents, and ended up watching the rest of the world go by with a toddler (who still clung to my little finger) sitting on my lap. As time went on, I hoped police would arrive first so I didn't face the parent or responsible person alone. I performed a full concert of songs a capella, probably completely out of tune and definitely without much range, fully commiting to this child with complete abandonment of any other concerns I might have had that day. I was fully present for her, right down to my little finger.
Later, I smiled as I walked away from the scene of a police officer confronting the mother while a full audience of children in the neighborhood (who had suddenly materialized) watched and conversed about the cruiser, the gun, and the little girl. (Sounds like a title to a bad movie, doesn't it?) I felt some frustration with the mother who didn't miss her daughter for at least the hour it took for me and police to find her, and marveled at the way people suddenly seemed to reappear, but I still wore my smile the whole walk home.
Helping people resolve conflict is similar to that. There are few things that compare with the feeling of observing two or more people in that perfectly silent moment when shift happens and parties start to work together. And the moment when they take an appreciative breath as they recognize your effort to help out is rewarding, too, because it may have been the first break and the first opportunity for new perspective they have encountered.
That new perspective comes from using good listening skills and a willingness to meet them on their level, to get involved and collaborate, not impose. So if you have been sitting on the edge of conflict hesitating to step in and help out, please know that if, in that moment, nobody else is around or willing to help, then you are the best one for the job and sometimes it's not what you do or how well you do it, but the fact that you do something that makes the difference. And listening without judgment is a great place to start.