Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon
Is it finally time for Charlie Brown to trust Lucy not to pull the football away? As mediators, we like to see our clients regain or establish a level of trust that allows them to make commitments to each other and move forward. Sure, many times Lucy has pulled the ball away from Charlie at the last minute, despite promising otherwise. But here they are in mediation, a chance to turn over a new leaf, to come clean, to let go of their mistrust and to collaborate. Isn’t it our job to encourage Charlie to take a risk?
Or maybe it’s our job to do the opposite. We know Lucy’s history on this issue. We’ve seen poor Charlie be duped by her many times. Maybe it’s our job to remind Charlie of the risks, do some “reality-testing” – “Charlie, you’ve been through this before, right? What makes you think this time will be any different?”
An argument can be made in either direction. Either Charlie should take a risk and do the one thing that makes it possible that he and Lucy will collaborate in a successful football kick; or Charlie should face up to the reality that that’s never going to happen and maybe seek other people to hold the football for him. Both approaches, opposite though they are, seem to have some wisdom behind them.
This situation reminds me of the power and the limitations of what I can do as a mediator. Charlie has good reason to be uncertain about what to do; I have even better reason to be uncertain about it. But since I don’t know what he should do, how can I contribute to Charlie’s (and Lucy’s) process? I can support them in doing whatever helps them both make the best possible decisions, even though I have no idea what those decisions are. I can be there while Charlie balances his desire to work with Lucy with his desire to avoid the humiliation and pain of falling on his butt if she pulls the ball away. I can give him the space to ask Lucy questions that may shed light on her likely future behavior. And I can provide similar support for Lucy.
What sort of results can I promise? None in particular. After all this, Charlie might choose to trust Lucy, and she might pull the ball away once again. Or Charlie might choose not to trust Lucy and he might miss out on the long-awaited successful kick that might have happened.
So what can I promise? I can promise to support Charlie as he sorts out his values, thinks through what risks are worth taking, contemplates what all this means to him and makes whatever decisions he wants to make at this time. I can promise that Charlie will receive support from someone whose only biases are that these are Charlie’s decisions to make and that he knows best. I can offer the possibility that, though the future remains uncertain, Charlie feels that he has risen to the occasion to live up to his ideals of both standing up for himself and treating Lucy as the fellow human she is.
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