Monster derives from the Latin word monstrum, which in turn derives from the root monere (to warn). To be a monster is to be an omen.
--Stephen T. Asma, On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
Then let me tell you what got me thinking about monsters in the context of mediation. Recently I found an article written about a mediation training at which I assisted back in 1988. The lead trainer was Gary Friedman whom I had invited to New Mexico to conduct the seminar. In reading the article written so long ago, I was reminded of what is often missing in the mediation of today.
The article included several principles of the mediation model being taught at this Santa Fe seminar:
- "The most important aim of mediation, Friedman said, is 'empowering the parties.' He encouraged mediators to resist every attempt by parties to burden the mediator with the responsibilities that the parties themselves need to assume."
- "The voluntariness of mediation is one of its most empowering aspects, he said. The fact that either party may leave at any time is crucial to the process."
- "'Bringing in law relevant to a particular case requires the mediator to walk a thin line between, on the one hand, viewing law as determining outcome, and, on the other hand, viewing it as irrelevant,' he explained." The role it will play is up to the disputants.
- "The mediator needs 'inner freedom' to help the parties, Friedman indicated. That freedom is achieved by the mediator's awareness of his or her own reaction and biases." Both introspection and self-awareness are very important to the skill of a mediator and the success of the process.
Click to read the whole article: "Mediation Course for Lawyers Stresses Empowerment Of Parties" (BNA's ADR Report).
These four factors—party empowerment; voluntariness; law as, at the most, only one factor to be considered in resolution; and mediator self-awareness—probably have not increased in the field of mediation since 1988. In fact, there are many who would say they have decreased, and that the process has become more
If these shifts away from all or some of the four factors have occurred, there are those who will say that such changes in mediation are good: good for the systems in which the disputes arise, good for the parties, good for the professionals. Maybe.
But, even if so, that does not chase off the monsters. There are still omens that say something is amiss.
Some, if not many, mediators are not using practical wisdom. It was only recently that I realized that lack of wisdom is a mediation monster; likely the boss monster; the biggest, scariest one of all. Before this realization, my thoughts about the monsters tromping through mediation were inchoate, diffuse, tentative.
How did I recognize this big monster? Through serendipity, an email arrived in my inbox with a link that led me to an article in Psychotherapy Networker titled "The Many Faces of Wisdom." The article features five leaders in the field of psychotherapy discussing the important role of wisdom in their profession. A light bulb, actually a large, bright lamp, went on in my mind.
Wisdom, specifically practical wisdom, is critical to effective and client-centric mediation, too.
Following a strong and immediate impulse, I went to my bookshelf. After pulling down my copy of Practical Wisdom (by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe), I reviewed some of the passages I'd highlighted. Even though I had read this book not too long ago, I had not then connected its overarching message with mediation monsters. I have, now.In browsing through the lines marked with yellow and pink highlighter, I realized that in order to exhibit practical wisdom in mediation, we must be in touch with the practice's telos. From Practical Wisdom:
Acting wisely demands that we be guided by the proper aims or goals of a particular activity. Aristotle’s word for the purpose or aim of a practice was telos. The telos of teaching is to educate students; the telos of doctoring is to promote health and relieve suffering; the telos of lawyering is to pursue justice. Every profession—from banking to social work—has a telos, and those who excel are those who are able to locate and pursue it. So a good practitioner is motivated to aim at the telos of her practice. But it takes wisdom—practical wisdom—to translate the very general aims of a practice into concrete action.What is the telos of mediation? Your answer may be different from mine but having no answer is one mediation monster. Without telos, we get stuck at the level of rules and regulations. And certification, accreditation, and aligned activities and urges. Maybe mired in TED thinking? Again from Practical Wisdom:
We need to see how the current reliance on strict rules and regulations and clever incentives to improve practices like medicine, education, and law risks undermining the very wisdom of practitioners that is needed to make these practices better. Well-meaning reformers are often engaged in a kind of unintended stealth war on wisdom.That in a nutshell is a big mediation monster. With so much attention to the rules and regs, tactics and techniques, standards and supervision, have we lost our essence? Our soul? Our telos?
Of course, practitioners need skills, but skill that is not telos-guided can be monstrous. Schwartz and Sharpe say:
[P]ractical wisdom combines will with skill. Skill without will—without the desire to achieve the proper aims of an activity—can lead to ruthless manipulation of others, to serve one’s own interests, not theirs. And will without skill can lead to ineffectual fumbling around—the sort of thing we see in people who 'mean well' but leave situations in worse shape than they found them.
In rereading Practical Wisdom, I recalled that part of that above-described training program in Santa Fe was for each attendee to remember, or discover, his or her mediation telos, his or her will. In fact, all of the mediation programs I attended that were taught by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein had telos as one prominent goal, maybe the most important goal. (They did not use the word "telos" but the concept was the same.)Telos is an integral touchstone for self-awareness, one of the four factors mentioned above. If you don't know the deep "why" of mediation, as you have discovered it for yourself, then how can you know if you are going off track? Without telos, what map do you carry to keep you out of the land of monsters?
One last point: I fear that neuroscience in many instances has been co-opted by the mediation monster of tricky techniques (not to mention another mediation monster called inaccuracy) and has little connection with the telos of why and how we serve people. Let's bring what we know about the brain and the mind under the umbrella of practical wisdom before it drowns in the rain of nonsense.