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A drink with Lorig Charkoudian

The Baltimore Sun



Lorig Charkoudian, 34, grew up outside Boston. She came to Baltimore in 1995 to get her Ph.D. in economics at the Johns Hopkins University. While in school, Charkoudian started the Community Mediation Program. The Baltimore-based service helps people resolve disputes, such as those between neighbors, family members or prison inmates. In 1999, she was part of a group that started Community Mediation Maryland, an association of 18 community mediation centers across the state. She is now its executive director. In 2004, Charkoudian made national headlines when she took on another cause, becoming a breastfeeding activist after an employee in Starbucks asked her to cover up while she was breastfeeding her infant daughter. While still considering herself a Baltimorean at heart, Charkoudian now lives in Takoma Park with her partner, Matt Rogers, the director of development at a homeless healthcare facility in Washington D.C. They have two children, Aline, 4, and Rafayel.

You specialize in helping people resolve their fights. So, what kind of fighter are you? Here's the great thing about it. Our work is based on not judging people in conflict, to resolve their conflict. And I think one of the reasons I'm so good at supporting people, and not judging them, is that I know how bad I can be.

In arguments with Matt, does he ever say, "remember your professional training?" Either that, or he says, "stop mediating me." I can't win. [She laughs.] It's not that I don't work hard, really hard, to put the skills into practice in my own life. But, conflict is tough stuff. And when you feel passionate about something ... it is hard to work through. ... I've actually used mediation five times myself. Initially, with Starbucks, that's how I started with them. I asked them to mediate. So, I believe in it for myself. I'm just not a saint.

You seem very passionate about the things you get involved with. Do you think you lead with your heart, rather than your head? I'd like to think I have a really good balance; heart and head, soul and mind. There's the part of me -- the Ph.D. economist -- where I can explain all of the things that I work on. How it makes economic sense; mediation, breastfeeding, how we should be drinking fair trade coffee. ... When we look at the current state of the world, anyone doing social change work has to go just a little bit beyond the rational. There has to be almost a little bit of crazy faith. Otherwise, you feel pretty hopeless.

What are your private passions? I run. I've run a couple of marathons. The last couple of times I've trained, I've gotten pregnant. So, now I'm afraid to train again. Before I had kids, I had a motorcycle and I rode cross-country by myself for two months: 10,000 miles. ... I'm a vegan, also. I try to live on principle. ... I think you can live an intentional life with joy.

Do you have any secret talents? It's not a secret. But I've done some organizing of kazoo bands. We marched in the Charles Village parade. ... Really, the kazoo is a beautiful instrument. It's the great equalizer. Everyone can play it.

Are there words you live by? There are several, but I'll go with two. The first is "She who laughs, lasts." The other would be a tribute to Gandhi, "Be the change that you want to see in the world."

In Sunday's "A Drink With" column in the Modern Life section, Lorig Charkoudian's drink was misidentified. She was drinking fair-trade coffee. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
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