Mediation, Part 1 – The Basics
The Assisi Option is a plan to deliver and teach the disciplines of mediation, pastoral counseling, and spiritual direction. The first discipline we will discuss is mediation.
A spiritual director frequently encounters people embroiled in conflict. The conflict may be pressing — the wolves may be at the door. Or it may be an old unresolved clash that operates in the background, diminishing the joy for life.
In fact, many people seek out spiritual direction because conflict is ruining their happiness. Thus, it is likely that people visiting the Assisi Center seeking spiritual direction will need help reconciling relationships and will need training in mediation.
But you might ask what is mediation? What should they expect?
In mediation a neutral party facilitates a process in which two or more parties seek to resolve a dispute or repair a broken relationship. Mediators guide warring parties through a process that leads to reconciliation.
Though it is not the most common situation — a conflict may ripen into a lawsuit that ends up in the courts. Most of the time a spiritual director will not run into this situation. Nonetheless, we will take a moment to consider the role mediation has played in the courts — where many difficult conflicts are resolved.
In the late 1980’s, mediation became an alternative to litigation. Parties discovered they could achieve greater satisfaction through mediation than they could through litigation.
One reason for the greater satisfaction was the increased control the parties exerted over the final outcome.
Mediators facilitate the process they do not render verdicts. They coach the parties in communication and guide their negotiation. In contrast in litigation the final decision or verdict is rendered by someone else, usually a judge or a jury.
Mediation helps parties explore issues more deeply. Confidentiality provisions promote candor. Mediation thus brings about an openness that is strictly avoided in most litigation.
Parties may not be experienced in negotiation. And their communication skills may be limited. Thus, they can benefit from the professional skills that a mediator brings to the process. In this way mediators increase the odds of success.
Mediators usually begin by asking what happened? After listening to the conflict narratives they gradually shift party focus to future plans. They help parties reach a consensus regarding the path that lies ahead.
Though considerable good work has taken place in the courts, mediation is a flexible process whose value extends well beyond the court setting. In the court setting mediation is usually biased toward negotiation that leads to a settlement. The parties may plan to never see each other again. In other settings there may be a greater focus on reconciling relationships.
Nonetheless, mediation continues to be extremely valuable for resolving civil disputes as well as divorce proceedings, employment disputes, and other conflicts that typically come before the court.
But perhaps there is no more powerful approach than faith-based mediation. In the contemporary mediation profession this approach may seem new, but it is actually one of the oldest.
It can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18: 15-18. In that passage Jesus laid out a conflict resolution protocol: In that protocol we first respond to a dispute by taking a conciliatory approach. We meet with our brothers and sisters to share our concerns and upsets.
If this first step does not result in reconciliation, Jesus advises us to return with a witness. When we study this suggestion closely, we realize that a “witness” could be and should be a mediator.
The witness comes to the dispute as a neutral that views with fresh eyes. He comes as a neutral to help those in conflict see the truth behind their clash. Jesus does not tell us to bring a strong friend who can intimidate our brother. Rather he speaks of a witness — someone who can see clearly enough to facilitate a reconciliation. And that is very much the role of a mediator.
Jesus instructs us further — only if that second effort fails should we resort to judicial processes such as hearings or trials. Only then are we to seek out an authority with the power to render a verdict. His advice might be considered the inspiration for our faith-based mediation practice.
More than once we encounter the phrase Christ the Mediator. He is the primary Mediator, with a capital “M.” He reconciles humans with God. He repairs broken or damaged divine relationships.
This is a form of mediation we hear very little about in the contemporary discipline. And yet it is the most powerful form of mediation any human can experience. Not only does the idea of faith-based mediation have a precedent in scripture — it turns out to be the most robust form of mediation possible. It is a form of mediation designed to reconcile man with his spiritual roots and his divine origin.
In the next episode, we will take a closer look at the features of faith-based mediation that make it truly unique.
Until then reflect on the conflicts that may be stealing your happiness. What will you need to do to begin to resolve those disputes?