So it should come as no surprise that when I am stuck in a case, I often think of advice or words of wisdom imparted by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Qui Gon Jinn . I present some of my thinking and some of my favorite quotes below in relation to how I may use them as a mediator and peacemaker. If you are a mediator and you know these films but never made the connection until now, I wager you're making your own list right now. For those of you unfamiliar with Star Wars let me reassure you that this is not merely homage and you need not rent 6 films to understand the article. As the storybook records used to say when I was a kid “Let’s being now…”
The Jedi (like Yoda, Obi-Wan, and the Skywalkers) were considered the "guardians of peace and justice" and were portrayed as peacekeeping, philosopher-warriors, who espoused that "there are alternatives to fighting", but never seemed leery of drawing a lightsaber to keep the peace. Their eternal enemies were The Sith (like Darth Vader, Darth Sidious/The Emperor), who fed on fear, anger, chaos, and power.
Central to the Star Wars Universe and to understanding “Jedi mediation” is the concept of The Force. In the films, The Force is an energy field surrounding all life forms that binds everything together. Interestingly, while The Force affects everyone and everything, only those with natural gifts who are trained to understand it can access and harness its power. Understanding and harnessing The Force is how both Jedi and Sith get their powers. The Jedi get their powers from the “Light side” (a term never used in the films) and Sith from the “Dark Side” of The Force. The Light Side is accessed through knowledge, patience, calm, focus, and being at peace. The Dark Side is accessed through impatience, lack of control, fear, anger, and hatred. Embedded in the film are lessons on how to avoid the Dark Side and become a Jedi. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi impart most of these lessons to Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader when he does not heed the warnings) and later to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, a secret child hidden from Anakin/Darth Vader right after he is born. While Obi-Wan shares some basic and (sometimes frustratingly ephemeral) lessons with Luke, like “Trust your feelings” (Lucas, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977), Yoda gives the more practical and pointed advice, through the films.
The Force in Mediation
In conflict and mediation work, The Force can be used a metaphor for the energy created through our relationships and interconnectedness with other people, it is what surrounds us, binds us together, and is essentially a neutral, natural force. Positive growth in relationships creates and is nurtured by “the light side” and result in knowledge, patience, and peace. Conversely, negative conflicts create and are exacerbated by the “the dark side”. As Yoda (the greatest Jedi Master) says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering (Lucas, Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones, 2002).” In other words, negative conflict begins with and feeds on fear. Fear of an unknown future, private thoughts being shared in public, failure of relationships, pain, bankruptcy, and any other fear humans in conflict experience. Yoda also teaches us, “A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will” (Kershner, 1980). This is a warning for those of us who work as mediators. In the moment, it is easier for our clients to be angry, hurtful, lash out at each other, and to feel a powerful catharsis in the hurt that they can bring. That cathartic feeling is the path to the Dark Side. Hurting the other person that brought them fear, made them angry, and in turn result in these aggressive acts makes them feel better and more powerful while they are doing it; however, those hurtful things cannot be taken back. They necessarily lead to more hurt and pain, thus making the conflict worse. Taking this “path” makes it harder to turn back and resolving conflicts without help more difficult.
Techniques in using The Force
As much as The Force is a mystical abstraction from which one derives power, as mediators do from their disputants in conflict, there are specific techniques and skills that Jedi employ in their use of The Force. All of the Jedi’s techniques are designed to avoid, defuse, or resolve conflict, never to initiate or exacerbate it. As Yoda says “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack” (Kershner, 1980).
The Jedi Mind Trick
One technique is introduced when Obi-Wan needs to get past some Storm Troopers standing guard at the entry to Mos Eisley. The guards say “Let me see your identification,” with a subtle wave of his hand Kenobi says “You don’t need to see his identification” and the Stormtrooper mindlessly repeats “We don’t need to see his identification”. Kenobi then says, “These aren’t the droids you are looking for,”, the guard again repeats Kenobi’s words “These aren’t the Droid we’re looking for” (Lucas, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977). After a few more subtle hand waves and carefully worded phrases, the Stormtroopers let them pass unencumbered. Luke later says “I can’t understand how we got by those troops back there, I thought we were dead.” Kenobi replies, “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded.” Audiences later come to know this as the “Jedi Mind Trick” (Marquand, 1983).
While mediators rarely have the full powers of the Jedi Mind Trick, there are an arsenal of communication techniques that can have similar impacts on conflict, such as “I messages” paraphrasing, reframing, reflecting feelings, and summarizing. Although none of these have the immediate effect of the Jedi Mind Trick, the cumulative effect can be the same: persuading others to see a different point of view and leading them to accept these ideas as their own. When mediators can truly facilitate improved communication and understanding among the parties, relationships can change.
The lightsaber and redirecting energies
It would be impossible discuss the Jedi without mentioning the Lightsaber, a “laser sword” that is a Jedi’s only tangible weapon. Obi-Wan Kenobi first described it as “Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age” (Lucas, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977). Although Jedi and Sith fight with lightsabers throughout the saga, most often Jedi usr them as defensive weapons. Lightsabers can parry away laser fire and redirect it back to the enemy who fired it. It is clearly a part of the Jedi philosophy that there is no reason to slash or stab your enemies when you can simply redirect their energy back to them. This redirection of energies, which is essential to martial arts practices like Aikido, is also an important skill in mediating conflicts (see Saposnek, 1998). In Episode II, Anakin refers to “aggressive negotiations” as “negotiations with a lightsaber”, so it is clear that sometimes that extreme measures are required in this universe (Lucas, Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones, 2002).
Back in our universe, mediators may choose to take “aggressive” measures to bring sessions back into order such as reality testing, caucusing, threatening withdrawal, or bringing in co-mediators. While this is not mediating with sword in hand, these are the types of ultimate options mediators in difficult situations are often required to employ in ensuring the process continues in a positive direction.
Multiple points of view and forgiveness
Although not as flashy as the lightsaber, the most powerful weapons in the Star Wars universe become understanding and forgiveness. In Anakin’s conversion to the Dark Side, he refuses to acknowledge that the Emperor/Darth Sidious has been manipulating him and all the Jedi into an unjust and unnecessary war, which tears apart the universe and turns Sidious from an elected Chancellor into a dictatorial Emperor. Anakin defends the Emperor out of loyalty, kills a Jedi colleague in anger, and completes his journey down the Dark path from which he see no return since he is unable to forgive himself for a series of terrible actions. Later, Luke is angry at Obi-Wan because Kenobi told him Darth Vader killed his father rather than “the truth” which was that when Anakin Skywalker embraced the Dark Side he changed his name to Darth Vader and Anakin “no longer existed”. Kenobi tells Luke, “you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."
In both of these cases, Anakin and Luke are distrustful of the person holding the power because they have not been completely honest. This distrust leads Anakin and Luke to feel hurt, betrayed and angry. Luke overcomes this by accepting that Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are the same person and forgives Anakin in a way that Anakin has been unable to forgive himself. In the final act, Luke sacrifices himself by refusing to kills Darth Vader or defend himself against the Emperor (which he knows would turn him to the Dark Side) and trusts that the “good” that still resides in Darth Vader will cause him to save his son. He’s right and act of forgiveness and trust becomes what destroys the Emperor and the Dark Side.
In any conflict it is often a simple act of acknowledgement, acceptance, or genuine forgiveness that resolves the conflict more than any of our techniques, skills, or masterfully crafted agreements. When mediators truly embrace that the conflict belongs to the parties and allow them to be the ones leading the process, amazing things can happen. Truth and reconciliation processes have demonstrated that unlikely alliances can be formed and conflict can be transformed when people are ready to address the issues of the past in an attempt to create a positive future. While not everyone in mediation will lie down on the floor and allow themselves to be jolted by Force Lightning until their emotionally conflicted father throws their attacker down a bottomless pit, things rarely happen the way they do in the movies. Of course, few people thought that apartheid would end either.
“Use the Process, Mediator”
In the original Star Wars film, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi famously utters the phrase "Use The Force, Luke" (Lucas, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977) to Luke Skywalker as he attempts to fire the proverbial “shot in the dark” and destroy the Death Star, a star ship which can blow up an entire planet. The Death Star only had one weak spot, a small ventilation shaft that went straight to the core of the ship, and only a direct hit would destroy the ship. Destroying the Death Star was essential to bringing a feeling of safety and security back to the universe as it contained the power to destroy all life. When I was a kid, I saw the heroic image of a boy taking a leap of faith based on his trust in his mentor to save the universe. Now I see something different.
Walking into a difficult conflict or mediation session, I imagine myself as Luke Skywalker in that ship flying towards the Death Star, knowing that there may only be a small window of opportunity or one key issue that can really get to the “core” of the conflict and get these clients to an agreement that will end this conflict. There are times when I feel impatient and begin to fear that the resolution is slipping away. If my fear leads to anger at the clients for not seeing the obvious, I am tempted to slip into directive, authoritarian mode and start giving them advice on what they should do (for me this is the Dark Side, although this may be different for others). Then I hear the voice of my mentors "Trust The Process, Mediator”. I hear the voice, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, remember that The Process only works when we are calm, focused, and at peace. While being directive and making decisions for them may be the “easier more seductive path”, that if I use my communication skills, remember to help everyone see truths from multiple points of view, deflect their negative energy blasts with my “light saber”, and “Trust The Process”, that I will find that window to destroy the Death Star this conflict has created for these people.
Kershner, I. (Director). (1980). Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [Motion Picture].
Lucas, G. (Director). (1977). Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope [Motion Picture].
Lucas, G. (Director). (1999). Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace [Motion Picture].
Lucas, G. (Director). (2002). Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones [Motion Picture].
Lucas, G. (Director). (2005). Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith [Motion Picture].
Marquand, R. (Director). (1983). Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi [Motion Picture].
Saposnek, D. (1998). Mediating Child Custody Disputes: A Strategic Approach (Revised Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.