Sometimes a parable can say more about something in a few words and bring more clarity and understanding than an academic explanation. I had an occasion to conduct a refresher course on the basics for a group of university workplace volunteer mediators. Such a parable became the foundation for this discussion. I expressed it both verbally and visually: mediation is like a temple.
The foundation layer is the safety of the participants. This safety addresses their general well-being and considerations that might put them at risk. We clarify our purpose so they know what this thing is that they are committing to do. We explain our fees so they are not financially broadsided by unknown economic burden. We assess potential exposure to injury. We explore their cultural and language needs so they can safely function in the cognitive dimension. Their special mental and physical are also weighed into our approach. Without such a sound foundation, mediation has no hope of bringing meaningful solution.
The floor of the temple is confidentiality. It is a type of safety, of content, if you will. This form of safety sets mediation apart in that the content of the parties’ experience is restricted to them and them alone. While the foundation of safety alone should be an assumable fact for the parties, the protection provided by confidentiality is probably the significant foundation reference point for the parties themselves. From this floor they can freely engage each other in a discussion that is unique to their relationship and issues, without concern for external interpretation or inference.
The foundation and the floor provide the environment.
The pillars of the temple are the mediator. One is the mediator’s knowledge and skills. The other is neutrality. The first is the body of ability and understanding the mediator brings to support the actions of the parties. They need to be soundly based and seasoned by experience. Whether this experience has been acquired or is in process, continuing education, and collegiality are needed to insure this pillar can carry the weight.
Neutrality is the other critical pillar to support the weight of the purpose of mediation. This pillar is equally essential to the soundness of the structure and cannot be treated lightly. The mediator must monitor themself at all times for personal bias and interest than can significantly weaken what they are intending to uphold. Particular attention to cracks caused by weakness or indifference are critical. Professional mentoring is the prophylaxis that will maintain the soundness against the onslaught of the elements that will surely pelt the mediator. the quickest way to cause the collapse of the structure of mediation is mediator isolation – away from learning, reflection, and support.
The structure thus far supports a ceiling of self-determination. This is why the temple exists.. Under the shelter of this roof, people get to be themselves as fully as possible, not some caricature defined by a social system, fully facing their own lives, with the warts and blemishes they bring to that life. They are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their lives and the bumps and potholes that go with them, and find their own answers, unique to them and their situation.
Everything up to the ceiling serves the purpose of that shelter. If each part of the temple’s structure does not do its part to support that purpose, that structure will not meet the code and will only provide a false front to the community, dragging down the value and confidence put into mediation.
Almost all classic temples have a tympanum, a triangular type profile that supports the roof, much like a gable. If the temple is soundly crafted and exercised as it was intended, not only will the roof lift to a grand height, but also better shed the elements that may fall upon it.
The tympanum of our temple is the future for that is where the self-determination will reach its heights and handle what may befall the parties’ relationship. My believe is that a good mediator will, as much as possible, work themself out of a job with each set of parties: help equip the parties to effectively live their lives without need for further conflict and intervention. While, in real life terms, this does not always happen, it provides a strong design feature of a mediator’s practice.
Finally, the temple is typically capped with a symbol of its purpose for all to see. This icon announces to the community, “This is why I am here”. The icon for mediation is hope. Mediators should announce to the world that we are here to bring hope to a conflicted and hurting world, on instance at a time. In our labors, we should be the living reminders of that hope for the parties. We can convey it from our first letter to them, through our reframing and problem solving, to our drafting of their agreement statements.
We, as mediators, are the high priests of hope: our practice is the temple that brings that grace to the world. May we humbly honor the work we have been given to do.
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