I appreciate the invitation to act as editor of the Transformative Section of Mediate.com and to assist with facilitating a forum for discussion of ideas and questions about transformative mediation. Transformative mediation received its label soon after the publication of The Promise of Mediation by Robert A. and Joseph P. Folger in 1994. The ideas put forward by Professors Bush and Folger engendered great enthusiasm and great controversy in the conflict resolution field they described as “at the crossroads” back in 1994. Many mediation practitioners and teachers identified themselves with this approach and the interest continues to grow along with the demand for transformative mediators in the workplace and in community centers and in private practice. Along with that growth comes continuing questions about transformative mediation as a form of practice and its difference from other approaches.
I took my first training in mediation more than twenty years ago. The trainer, John Haynes, who became a giant in the field, said that as a mediator he talks to the “good” that he believed existed in every human being. That made sense to me then – and still does. I believe that good exists in every human being, and I have found that demonstrated over and over again by my clients in my private divorce mediation practice, in cases at the community center where I volunteered and in many other settings including group facilitation and workplace mediation. As mediators we know we are privileged to work with people who struggle with the good that exists within them and the opposing emotions and motivations inspired by conflict. As mediators who are also human beings living our own lives we also face our own struggles – at work, at home, in our communities and with each other. Can the idea that we “talk to the good” be of assistance to us?
As mediators, we all know that conflict is inevitable, a fact of human existence. We all know that conflict engenders a host of negative states and emotions including fear, suspicion and hostility. The transformative mediator understands conflict in a particular way: as a crisis in human interaction that knocks a person off balance or “sweeps the rug out from under a person.” In comparison to where that person was before, the person “off balance” feels relative weakness (confusion, fear, disorganization, vulnerability, powerlessness, uncertainty, indecisiveness) and relative self-absorption (self-protection, defensiveness, suspicion, hostility, closed-mindedness). The resulting negative dynamics often set off a vicious circle increasing each person’s sense of weakness and self-absorption and further degenerating interactions.
In spite of the destabilizing impact of conflict, people can and do recover their balance in the situation. They experience changes that transformative mediators call empowerment and recognition “shifts.” People in conflict, with or without the help of a mediator, do gain self-confidence and personal strength to deal with the conflict (empowerment shift). They also develop openness and responsiveness to the other and the ability to understand the other’s situation (recognition shift). When these shifts take place, a positive human interaction can develop – one that is constructive and connecting.
“The good” I see in every human being is this innate drive to develop personal strength and self-confidence and, at the same time, to be open and responsive to others. How we “talk to the good” as mediators could be the subject of some interesting discussion and further editorial columns in this section. For now, as we officially initiate the Transformative Section of mediate.com, I suggest we consider what we hope to achieve in our discussions and interactions. I would like to consider the possibility of “talking to the good” as we talk and interact with each other in order to have a positive and connecting interchange in this forum – one that allows each of us participating to retain and develop confidence in our own sense of worth, while at the same time being open and responsive to each other. It we can do that, not only will it be valuable for us as human beings, but also for the development of our field. We and our field will be enriched whether we agree or not. I’m interested to hear what you have to say.
Executive Director Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation