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The Magic of an Elementary School Reunion

Posted October 24, 2019 • Conflict Mastery,Mindfulness • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

Photo by Adrian Fussell / The Riverdale Press — The campus of P.S. 24

Dear friends,

In less than a week, on Wednesday, October 30 at 12:30 pm EST, I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. Unlike the private work I do in client organizations, this is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict.

If you’re seeking greater impact, you can invite your colleagues, family and friends to join us by sharing this blog post with them. Attending as a team or group will open up dialogue and insight for all of you.

You can find more information at the bottom of this post or Click here to register.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the piece below.

The Magic of an Elementary School Reunion

This past weekend, I attended my elementary school reunion. Thirty classmates and I went back to our public school in Riverdale, The Bronx, to celebrate the years we spent together from kindergarten through 6th grade. We reminisced about the old days, and shared in enduring friendships 33 years later.

All this reminded me how influential our personal backgrounds are on the ways we approach challenging situations at work, at home, and in public life today.

Who would we be without the particular experiences we had when we grew up?

Who would we be if we’d been born at a different time, in a different place?

Who would we be if we hadn’t been surrounded by these particular people?

In psychology, much emphasis is placed on our relationship with our parents. But my two decades of research and work with executives and students begs the question: how does what we learned from the other people we grew up with, such as teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends, influence how we approach life today?

One of the reunion organizers asked us to record short videos talking about our memories from P.S. 24, and he created a video montage of them.

Watching the montage, I was struck by how many of our memories centered on our teachers, and even our assistant principal and gym teacher, with whom we rarely spent one-on-one time, but who nonetheless impacted our experiences in a profound way. More than thirty years later, when we had only a few minutes to recount a few precious memories, these were the people we spoke about. They (and some of their eccentric practices) influenced who we have become and how we see the world (for better and for worse).

What does this have to do with conflict?

In my forthcoming book, Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life (HarperBusiness, February 25, 2020), I describe how to create a conflict map. By drawing a simple picture using circles and connecting lines to depict the people, groups, events, relationships, and background influences that might be relevant to your situation, mapping is a unique and incredibly useful tool for freeing yourself from conflict.

Mapping prior influences from your own life can give you a three-dimensional sense of how past experiences may impact how you are approaching any given situation today. It can offer you the opportunity to view the situation from a different vantage point, which can provide a lever for change in the situation that you haven’t noticed before.

Go back in time: Notice past influences

The next time you’re stuck in conflict, stop and ask yourself: how might the way I grew up impact the way I’m seeing, and being, in this situation today?

Think about where you went to school, and what extracurricular activities you engaged in. Think about the friends you hung out with, the neighbors, teachers and coaches you had, and what lessons you might have learned from them (for better and for worse).

See if you can identify one person or group who had a profound impact on you (again, whether because your memories about them are positive or negative).

What lessons, if any, did you learn from this person or group directly? What lessons, if any, did you learn by observing their actions?

How might this person or group have influenced who you have become? What connection can you make, if any, between their influence on you, and how you approach challenging situations in your life today?

How can you honor your past experience and also chose a new, different stance that will help you achieve the outcomes you hope for in any given situation?

Remember: Everyone else has influences from their past, too

The next time you and I talk, remember that you’re not only talking with me. You’re also talking with my early influences: Assistant Principal Mrs. Charles who taught me to dance to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” at lunchtime; gym teacher Mr. Lederman who repetitively yelled, “Attention!” to get us unruly students in line; science teacher Mr. Bernstein who introduced me to the wonders of the night sky; and my childhood best friends who became like family to me.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we are all simply products of our circumstances, lacking the power to overcome influences that were not helpful. Quite the contrary, I hope that each of us does the work of wrestling with our preconceived notions, and changing them so we can grow into the people we mean to be.

am suggesting that thinking about our own influences can give us more compassion for ourselves, and that considering others’ influences can help us extend a new understanding to them, too.

In freedom,


P.S. If you’d like to dive more deeply into this and other related topics, I have 3 suggestions:

1. You can learn much more about conflict mapping at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity at Columbia University:

2. Join us on Wednesday, October 30th, when I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. It is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict. I love complex problems, so bring me your questions about conflict mapping, and all topics related to how to free yourself from conflict, and we’ll apply the Optimal Outcomes practices together.

3. For even greater impact at work, at home and in the community, invite your colleagues, family and friends to join us by forwarding this blog post to them.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

12:30 pm EST / 9:30 am PST / 4:30 pm GMT (find your timezone)

Click here to register

Once you register, you’ll receive a more detailed agenda and answers to frequently asked questions about the webinar.

Think of it as a lunch-hour webinar for East Coasters, a “Start your day with freedom” webinar for West Coasters, and an “End your day with freedom” webinar for those in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Please join us and forward this post to invite colleagues, family and friends who would enjoy a freedom break!

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