When looking to train mediators, we look for the sharpest of minds and the softest of hearts.

-Sheena Jonker


I blog in peace.

I can be a real genius at times. And by genius, what I mean is dumb-ass. (“Ass” in this context means “donkey” or “Mule”. No really.)

If you read my last blog, you will know that I recently took up freediving. If you, haven’t yet, you should read that blog. It’s cool, if I may say so myself. On the weekend of the course I had sinus and so I didn’t think I would do the open water dives on the Sunday. However, on Saturday night I took sinus medication. I did the same on Sunday. So I decided to attempt a five metre dive and all was cool in paradise. No pain. Then I decided to attempt a 10 metre dive and at 8 metres, my head pretty much exploded. So I called it on the dives for that day. Three days later both my ears ruptured.

So what happened? This is what happened. Painkillers. Numbed pain. The problem was still there but I was numb to it. And so I proceeded through numbed pain and caused more damage.

Sound familiar? I am not the only genius out there. We all do this stuff all the time. We numb the pain. Whether it is through substance use or abuse-alcohol or prescription drugs-, tuning out by staring at our smart phones or TV screens, shopping, over-eating, cutting behaviour in teens, most of us have a story to tell of how we try to tune out the pain.

Human beings will do just about anything to numb pain, whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual. Some of the stuff we do just causes further detriment. Pain is a powerful life-sustaining resource. It is an indicator that something is in need of attention.

Most of the people who arrive in my office are going through a life crisis. Divorce, workplace conflict, strained business relationships and all kinds of legal disputes. It is possible that the majority of those I encounter are medicated: there is a psychiatric  drug for every life crisis and I hear stories all the time of scripts written out within minutes of walking into a doctor’s office and mentioning a particular life crisis.

Am I proposing that we take everyone off the drugs? Am I proposing that we don’t seek medical attention in life crisis? In an ideal world, yes. But the world is not ideal, so no, I’m not. Unfortunately, withdrawal from psychiatric drugs is dangerous.

But I do say this: when dealing with those in conflict, one of our prime objectives is to help them courageously and robustly address the source of the pain in their lives which often is the source of conflict. Disconnectedness in relationship is fertile ground for conflict in families, schools, workplaces and in business. Escapist techniques that help us avoid addressing the problems only perpetuate disconnectedness.

So first up, we acknowledge that almost everyone we deal with, is in profound pain. We teach people that pain is necessary and life-sustaining. We look to point them in the right direction via a collaborative approach invoking other disciplines and engaging other professionals if necessary. We start helping them to build courage to face the issues causing pain, and to start to see and acknowledge that substance use and abuse and other escapist techniques are counterfeit and simply mask the pain for a short while but help to perpetuate further detriment.

It is relatively easy to settle legal disputes and all kinds of other disputes, and we do that all the time. But actual conflict resolution, and life change for the better, takes time. It takes courage. It takes intention. It takes commitment. Many come to us in weakened states due to long term conflict exacerbated by detrimental pain-numbing techniques encouraged by the instant gratification world we live in.

So we train mediators. And as you have probably heard me say before, those we look to train are those with the sharpest of minds and the softest of hearts. We see too many professionals losing sight of the pain in the lives of those they deal with. We never want our mediators to own the pain of others, but our mediators can only help disputants to address pain if they see it.

I read a lot, research a lot, live a lot of stuff. Every process I am involved in teaches me. Every experience educates me. I am about to embark on an LLM and then an LLD in non-adversarial justice with the Institute for Dispute Resolution Africa. I am so excited. I am so honoured to have spent time with and to be getting to know Prof Faris. Such a great mind. Such a masterful teacher

The following are new aspects to our ADR and Mediation Training programs informed by my experiences and dealings over the last six months:

1.  Learning skills in Non-Violent Communication

2. Teaching others to communicate non-violently

3. Dismantling adversarial mindsets and systems in family relationships, schools, workplaces and in court

4. A collaborative approach to conflict resolution: shifting parties out of disconnected states and reducing anxiety in order to prepare for conflict engagement

5. Shifting from punitive justice to restorative justice

6. Process design

For more information on our Programs, please email adr@mediatorsa.co.za

Until next time, peace

Sheena Jonker

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