Every day, regardless of the weather, I walk three miles through my neighborhood. While I walk I listen to audiobooks, mostly fiction, mostly excellent. I trawl through the New York Times looking for book reviews or winners of the Booker or Nobel prizes and download them.

It is awesome training for a mediator. To listen while I walk with flowers blooming, a myriad of scents assailing me, the sun or the wind or the rain assaulting me even as I focus on the lives that are being meticulously described through my ears while I try to follow the various circuitous routes their relationships take. Like a mediator has to do with people they have only just met as they dump the detritus of their lives on the table for us to sort through and sort out.

In my books I rarely have anything obviously in common with the characters I listen to. That changes by the end of the book, no matter how foreign or far-removed. The writer crafts entrances and exits, and creates a narrator who is either trustworthy or not, involved with the action or not, omniscient or third-person, sympathetic or nasty. The writer plays God with their creations and decides the lives they lead and the choices they make.

And as our clients breathe life into their conflicts in front of us, do we have the courage and focus to give ourselves over to these new, combusting realities? Is our attention span ready to reach out and encourage them through the filters of their scarred lives, to shine a light on a decision not taken, a choice not made, an idea not pondered?

Listening to audiobooks can prepare us as mediators for the introduction of complex new lives into our own lives. Raging battles, inelegant entanglements, malicious intentions, venality, honor, respect in the most unlikely places, rabid dishonesty,  moral vacuums, moral high grounds constructed from the ruins of previous lives. We can believe it or not, but believing is not our job.

Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge urged us to do, we have to willingly suspend our disbelief. That is the mediator’s job, to listen and not judge. To welcome other ideas, other perspectives, and learn even as we are guided through beautiful, or perhaps, not so beautiful, lives and eventually, after the usual one-sided narratives, we are tasked with helping them to create their own ending.

And sometimes we have to sit back in awe after listening to these extraordinary stories and wonder, like Hamlet does when he says:

“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in
reason? How infinite in faculty? in form and moving
how express and admirable in Action, how like an Angel
in apprehension, how like a God