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Reading For Stretch

From Of Seeds and Sowers, NAICR’s distinguished newsletter that includes current programs, projects and tele-classes, as well as humor and inspiration. Visit the site to learn more about the work of Barbara Ashley Phillips and Kenneth Cloke.

Join us as we challenge our beliefs, while looking at some very good books. Perhaps you share the view that we move, make interventions and decisions based on often unconscious views concerning human nature, what works in human interactions and the nature of reality. If so, it’s important to ask “What are these and how do they affect us?”

Our culture is thorough-going Newtonian: linear, cause and effect, physical. For decades science has been revealing disturbing flaws in the logic of this perspective, but it is literally so embedded in the culture, that for a long time, it has been asserted that these discoveries could be compartmentalized to an obscure sub-set of science: small particle physics. Continued research has indicated this is not so. And there are implications of this research in our own field.

For example, Newtonian dictates that to work with someone, we have to do or say something, preferably in their physical or auditory presence. Not so, says the research. When we are still and relaxed inside, – as we can be anywhere, anytime – our thoughts can influence people, for better or for worse. More than that, our hearts have more than 60 times the power of influence that our minds have, according to research by the Heart Math Institute. They analyze how much people are affected by training in accessing higher performance states on demand. See HeartMath Achieving Performance Studies. Their work has great similarity to NAICR’s programs and teleclasses, that all incorporate heart-based performance enhancement resources. Why should we settle for anything less? Why should our clients and those we interact with every day?

Michelle LeBaron in her book, Bridging Troubled Waters, takes the situation in hand, showing how in reality, what conflict – and all human interactions are really about – is relationship. Perhaps it is my legal background, but I still don’t even find it strange that so many professionals squirm at any talk of feelings and emotions. Like, maybe, we don’t have any? Yet that is our culture and it is that culture she challenges, showing, for example, how intuition, the hunch and visualization can be used for the benefit of the parties. Michelle does a fine job of telling stories that illustrate the richer tapestry of conflict resolution and its creative well-spring.

Journalist Lynne McTaggart’s book, The Field, brings together recent research evidence concerning the nature of physical and non-physical reality. Step by step, in the same adventurous approach used by James Gleick in his book, Chaos (explaining the discovery and development of chaos theory), she takes us through the travails of physicians, biologists, chemists, physicists and others as they stumble upon and then live with the profound ramifications of a whole new way of thinking about the world we participate in. (Notice the language here.) No longer is it in any way credible to speak or think of ourselves as outsiders to anything we participate in. Gone in one fell swoop are the scientific underpinnings of the cult of the expert, on which so many have pegged their dreams. Highly readable and recommended. The ramifications are staggering.

Bert Hellinger, remarkable founder of the worldwide systemic constellation movement, and author of Love’s Hidden Symmetry, (commented upon in the Reading Room of our Library), has another equally ground-breaking book out, Love’s Hidden Truths. Last year, Sue Bronson demonstrated this work in a program at the ACR San Diego conference in 2002. Since then, I have taken some training in the work and am bringing the training this winter to Alberta, Canada. It is being used in Europe in conflict resolution work to reveal the hidden dimensions of conflict systems, as it has been used so successfully in family systems. You may be surprised to learn that much of what is dysfunctional or pathological has its roots in a distortion of love.

Futurist Ervin Laszlo is also in my seasonal reading basket, with his book, Macroshift – You Can Change the World. In this highly readable Report from the Club of Budapest, he shows how, globally, we create the reality we live in and how we can shift from the breakdown just ahead of us to a breakthrough that will allow us to transform into a sustainable world. It is up to us to define and live our way out of outdated beliefs and obsolete values, or bring about the collapse of life as we know it. And, like the other authors discussed here, he lays the task at the door of our consciousness. Everything hinges on a change in consciousness.

Stewart Levine’s book, Getting to Resolution, again challenges us to go beyond getting a settlement. He offers many powerful beliefs that neutrals can hold – rather than just whatever happens into the mind at the time – that can powerfully benefit participants. He coins the term “resolutionary” to define one who operates from a new paradigm in which we are responsible for what we think and for our attitudes, rather than the old paradigms of fake, cover, justification, illusion.

Levine’s small chapter on Opening to Vulnerability draws heavily on Angeles Arrian’s The Four-Fold Way. This was what people read long before they ever heard of The Four Agreements, and it is still well-worth reading. If, in reading The Four-Fold Way, you substitute “leader” for “warrior,” the language of this book is as relevant to today as the day it was written. There is great depth in Arrian’s book that can take you to some things that you actually know, but have forgotten, about authenticity, honesty, and character.

No booklist of the power of changing perspective is complete without a reference to John Paul Lederach’s Building Peace – Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies.

This book has informed a generation of conflict resolution professionals, trainers and consultants, who are doing their best to work from the inside out, getting people to integrate greater appreciation for the wisdom on the ground.

The impact of this on our acquired belief in experts is profound. We with advanced degrees, we whom people pay for our expertise, bask in a different assumption: that wisdom can be bought for our reasonable fee. What can be bought is knowledge. Wisdom cannot be bought. Our culture has much overemphasized the role of experts and – here’s a prediction: that day is past. People are tired of being “talked at” from a presumed place of superiority. Those who we hunger for are those who help us understand and bring forward our own wisdom and knowledge, where we least expect to find it. By letting this vision inform our work, we, too, can move in this direction, in everyday conflict resolution work.

This thread can take us broadly into many conflict management processes besides mediating. We could profitably redefine who we think we are. Bernie Mayer in chapter 10 of his book, The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, explores some of the growth points of mediation, showing us how confining our thinking to mediation is unduly and unproductively limiting. He offers chapter and verse on where less limited thinking is taking those who are on the cutting edge of work in the field.

Here’s to open minds and open hearts. Let your reading and ruminating integrate greater recognition of newer, more creative, more life-serving possibilities. The more mediation gets institutionalized and formalized, the more difficult it is to think beyond present formulations. The sooner we start getting serious about nurturing our own personal growing edge, the better. Enjoy looking for ways old thinking creeps into your own daily life and work, and letting that go. It’s up to us.


Barbara Ashley Phillips

Barbara Phillips has 19 years of widely varied mediation experience, specializing in complex, technical and sensitive matters. A graduate of Yale Law School, Phillips served as an Assistant United States Attorney and practiced primarily federal civil trial law in Oregon and California prior to becoming a mediator. In Phillips' mediations,… MORE >

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