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What we don’t always realize is that when we fail to peer into this inner world, it simply projects itself onto our outer life. We literally start to see and experience externally what we think and believe about a situation. Then we mistake these external events as the source of our conflict and troubles, literally blocking our discovery of their internal origin. The end result is that we put off acknowledging our role and contribution to the conflict. The almost reflexive dynamic of projection also keeps us from our faculties for realizing solutions, as we are only able to see the thoughts that gave rise to conflict in the first place. But when we give attention to and clean up this inner world, as best as we can, it can become a source of creativity, greater well-being, and ultimately solutions. This clearing effort allows us to see more of the world around us, to see beyond the confines of the thoughts and beliefs we previously held so tightly. In this newly discovered space, we can begin to see a range of solutions that may not only be acceptable to us, but actually better for us.
As mediators, we often disclaim that we are not therapists, and of course we are not. However, this does not mean that our methods are not therapeutic, and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that our clients don’t also know that fact. After all, what is more “therapeutic” than facilitating client explorations of their thought and belief systems surrounding a present conflict. Part of our work may involve asking a client to see if they can generate alternatives to their preferred position, one that may run counter to what they think or believe and inherently prompt reconsideration of their point-of-view. We may also ask questions to draw out what underlies their position, where clients may become aware of their motivations for the very first time. Some of us even practice reflective listening and repeat back to clients our understanding of what has been said, inviting greater awareness of the thoughts and ideas in the room. These are but just a few examples, each pointing to the fact that our facilitative skill is more than just a surface tool to move parties toward resolution. It is this very skill that can support parties in going inward to realize and transcend the thoughts and beliefs that have stood in their way of recognizing solutions to conflict.
Perhaps then mediation might also be considered a meditation, a meditation on the constellation of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions of our inner life and a curiosity and questioning of those that don’t serve us. The process of mediation and its facilitative nature makes it well-suited to invite such inquiry, and the subject matter of conflict is more than worthy of the effort–not just on a personal level, but on an interpersonal as well as societal level. For a conflicted mind can only continue to produce further conflict. No mediator can force, nor should we, someone to delve into their inner world. Some clients may not need it, others may manage it well on their own, and some may simply have no interest or capacity to do it. But we as mediators can come prepared with the skills to support such an exploration and offer the invitation when appropriate.
Underneath the flurry of our internal thoughts and beliefs is a space that holds this inner life. A space where we can experience a loosening from the rigidity of our views and positions and can become conscious of the variety of ways to see and understand the conflicts we face. It has been said that we never face a problem for which there is not an answer–those answers are internal and we must clean things up so that we can come to recognize them.
Michael S. Wright is a licensed attorney and trained social worker and mediator. He has focused his career internationally on corporate social responsibility and human rights, including serving a five-year term as Legal Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for business and human rights. He has also worked as a Fellow with Harvard University’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, where he led the development of an online platform to support the exploration and resolution of conflicts between businesses, workers, and communities. Michael has also held consultancies with governmental, nonprofit, and for profit organizations in this field, including the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Conflict Risk Network, and Sancroft, a private UK based CSR consultancy.
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