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Holistic Communication: How to Include the Heart and Soul in Mediation

It is widely known that there is a crisis of confidence in the professionals (Donald Schon, The Reflective Practitioner Basic Books (1983) p4).  Almost every skill and trade has become a profession for status, for standards and for money.  The crisis is largely related to a lack of trust in delivery of the profession.  The professional who was once upon a time seen as the most honorable person one could find, is now seen as the new self serving businessman. 

One of the functions of being a person as well as a professional is to survive, to be able to pay bills, keep updating knowledge and satisfy the human needs that include feeding and housing self and family.  The second function which is not a runner up, but actually considered as critical for defining a human being is the need for transcendence. The ability to go beyond the self.  In Positive Psychology Martin Seligman has repositioned the direction for well being away from satisfying self to appreciation.  This shift is a defining moment in the history of human educational development. The shift takes us away from the survival element of human needs, the focus on fear, on anxiety and on depression, towards a focus on the transcendent part of being human, developing awareness and practices that go beyond self centeredness. Many people knew this from the beginning of time, but for many reasons including the rise of the professional, this wisdom of compassion, generosity and kindness did not make it to the professional standards and competency list. 

It is well known that many years ago, when a person went to their doctor with  signs of stress, grief, depression or sadness, one of the recommendations was a change of scenery,  (an experience of appreciation, and beauty)  and to do some volunteer work, help others  in need.  (an experience of kindness, expanding beyond the self, generosity)  The Psychologist Eric Erickson created a term to describe this stage of life from the mid 40’s to the mid 60’s. He named it Generativity vs Stagnation.  Generativity is the concern for guiding the next generation based on what one has discovered was beneficial in one’s own life.  It takes us about 40 years to have enough experience and time to discover what really matters and Eric Erickson saw that successful and well adjusted elderly people were people who looked back over their lives and recognized where they had received benefit, where it came from and had the desire to give back, to keep the appreciation on a journey.

When Christopher Moore, one of the pioneers in the professionalization of mediation, was asked:  Has the mediation movement given what you hoped for?  ( interview with October 2010   42.10)     He replied:

“Yes, and No.”…..From a small grass roots movement driven by environmental issues etc, now it has become very, very, mainstreamed.  Lawyers think they invented it, but they didn’t, they are one stream among many.  I am very pleased when I see how it is now practiced in so many fields.  I am not as pleased when I see it is now being primarily practiced as a commercial enterprise, and it is not because I think Mediators should not earn their living by it, because I do believe people should be able to earn their living by it..  …..I would like to see Mediation as a profession that has retained its heart, I believe we should be pragmatic dispute resolvers, we should also be dispute resolvers with souls and we should deal with the party’s souls we are working with.”

If Christopher Moore says it is the heart and soul of mediation that needs our attention then let us look at what others have said about the heart and soul of mediation.  Kenneth Cloke Professor of Law and Dispute Resolution, writer, judge, past president and founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders, says that he is in mediation for the magic (  In a paper written by Kenneth Cloke titled “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom:     A Holistic, Pluralistic and Eclectic Approach to Mediation”  Kenneth Cloke says:

…..’I propose …that we search for the hidden unities that connect these diverse practices; adopt a  holistic, pluralistic and eclectic approach to mediation styles; seek to identify what makes each one successful in different circumstances; and “let a thousand flowers bloom.”  We are far too rich in hidden possibilities and the problems we address are far too layered in subtle, diverse forms of information to discourage or foreclose any potentially successful approaches….”

What I believe is lacking in mainstream professional teaching and practicing of mediation is this appreciation for sensitive perception (Yosef Yitzhak Schnnerson of Lubavitch relates this phrase to being able to hear), perception that is outside of our accepted standard for communication in English.  To use the phrase sensitive perception to describe the soul comes close to the distinction that perception otherwise offers.  It is developing the sensitivity of perception that can allow one to come close to the deeper layers of life, and the deeper layers that connect or disconnect us from each other.

Holistic communication is about nurturing sensitive perception.  There are character development skills to enable us to tune into this wavelength, this aspect of being that we all have whether we develop it or not.  For the past few years I have taught these skills as a resource for assertive communication.  The majority of the students who have taken these classes have resonated with the good sense that these skills offer in dealing with challenging times and especially conflict.  Bringing together traditional wisdom as passed down from mystical sages and drawing on recent multidisciplinary research allows us to view a fuller picture of reality, an inclusive and holistic vision.

Including the heart and soul into mediation practice requires a twofold process. The first is being able to tap into one’s own heart and soul, to discern between the body’s functioning and the souls perception.  The second fold is being able to guide the parties into the same realization, that there is a whole world that may be bigger than the one we are used to interacting with, a whole world of otherness that may make peace and harmony closer to our lives if we take the time and space to seek it out.

Click here to read the expanded article.

Click here for a review of Michelle Brenner’s recently published book, Conscious Connectivity.


Michelle Brenner

Michelle Brenner PGDip Conflict Resolution (Macq.Univ.) was one of the first to receive post-graduate qualifications in Conflict Resolution within Australia in 1994. Since then she has been a pioneer in the practice and development of the field. She was a forerunner in mediation in local government, being the first full… MORE >

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