Asclepius, JD: What can this god’s daughters teach us about conflict?

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution .

"There is a dimension to the practice of mediation that has
received insufficient attention: the combination of psychological,
intellectual, and spiritual qualities that make a [mediator] who he or
she is.   . . .   Indeed, this . . . may be one of the most potent sources
of the effectiveness of mediation.

–Daniel Bowling and David A. Hoffman, Bringing Peace Into the Room: How the Personal Qualities of the Mediator Impact the Process of Conflict Resolution

Asclepius, the  Greek god of medicine and healing, had five daughters. For conflict resolution professionals, two of his daughters represent different roles these professionals can play with clients. Daughter Hygieia represented maintenance of good health and the prevention of sickness. Her sister Panacea represented cure from sickness. Hygieia was preventative; Panacea was curative. Both roles have a place in dispute resolution.

As I am sure both Hygieia and Panacea know, the reactive brain can lead to unhealthy conflict just as the reflective mind can facilitate healthy conflict—and resolution. Noticing the reactive and reflective gives us a way of looking at who is in a conflict. For the Neuroscience of Conflict Resolution seminar, I created a diagram to clarify the various combinations of parties to the dispute. (Click on the diagram to make it larger.)

In the seminar we look at conflicts between

  • people interacting with their reactive brains
  • people interacting with their reflective minds, and
  • reactive brains interacting with reflective minds.

Each results in a different quality of dispute and method of resolution.

Self-awareness is a requisite for using one’s reflective mind. (In the seminar, I present a top ten list of practices to improve and strengthen self-awareness.) A self-aware person will likely experience fewer

disputes and be able to resolve them more quickly. That person is practicing mind and brain hygiene.

Back to the daughters. The word "hygiene" comes from Hygieia’s name.
Taking care of your mind and brain to prevent conflict and other
discord in your life is an important kind of daily hygiene. Because of
what we know about emotional contagion (see the book Emotional Contagion), we can see that maintaining this kind of hygiene is in the best interest of those with whom we come in contact, too.

If you are careful not to expose people to your cold or flu or worse, are you careful not to expose them to your reactive amygdala
brain? As we discuss in the seminar, a person’s reactive brain can
bring another’s reflective mind down to its level (another reason to be
skilled at self-awareness because you will more easily stay

The good news: A reflective mind of a self-aware person can bring the reactive brain of another into the reflective mode.

In our personal lives, knowing the value of brain and mind hygiene
is extremely helpful. By imparting its value to our clients, we are
much like physicians who practice preventative medicine. Hygieia would

An important strategy for mediators and other CR professionals is
modeling the desired reflective behavior. Emotional contagion (and to
some degree mirror neurons) are important reasons modeling can be a
very effective conflict curative strategy, one that would surely please

A a CR professional, how are you like Hygieia and how are you like Panacea?


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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