I was recently asked to mediate a family business dispute, something I’d never done before. Having previously worked as an actor, I did what any actor would have done if they had been in a similar position. In other words, when an actor is asked during an audition whether they can ride a horse they say “yes” whether they can or not. Then, as soon as the audition is over, they go out and learn how to ride a horse. I did my research and read many mediators’ stories of having mediated family disputes, and on the day, I got an agreement in under three hours.
But like Arlo Guthrie said in Alice’s Restaurant, that’s not what I came here to talk to you about. I came to talk about love in mediation. Again, as an actor, we learn to love our characters no matter who they are or what they are supposed to have done. In the same vein, what works for me in mediation is that I have to find a way to love my clients. Not love what they have done, or been accused of, but find a way to love them as human beings in the throes of challenges they are unable to reconcile, ostensibly without my help.
Doing all this virtually, which is the modus operandi of my mediation practice, affords me at once the distance that is inherent in the medium combined with the proximity of being face to face on our respective monitors, picking up all their facial expressions, trying to glean hints of need or hurt that might lead to transformation.
They all need my help. More than that, they expect my help. Indeed, they are paying for my help. For that, it behooves me to be the end of their nightmare, a conduit out of their turmoil, a loving hand offered to guide them away from their respective precipices. How can I do that if I don’t truly care?
For instance, when my family argues and asks for my advice, I find that I increasingly draw on my skills as a mediator, loving them in spite of their bad behavior. When I argue with my partner, I may not use those skills as wisely as I would like, but my love for her
provides me with enough sense to know that I can do better.
Which brings me back to loving my clients. We can all do better. Some of us find ways or have ways thrust upon us, to utterly screw up our lives. When those lives come before us as mediators, love ought to be at the forefront of our arsenal of tools. Love is the receptacle with which we listen to their various challenges. I like to tell myself that “…there before the grace of God…” In other words, step back and let the stories unfold without judgment or preconceived ideas. Because every single one of them has a little bit of you in them.
That’s what I came here to talk about.