By Sheena Jonker
We need to encounter the pain and confusion head on so that we can heal. So, do we tell it like it is? Or do we tell it like we are?
We are all made up of a complex mix of our biology, our experience, what we’ve been taught, what made sense to us at the time, those who have influenced us, our suffering, our triumphs and I could go on.
So to answer the question, it’s probably a bit of everything. Both, and.
I spend my working life mediating high conflict and often complex legal disputes. This means that I spend a lot of time with people going through some of the most profound pain of their lives. In Criminal Justice and Civil Justice in the judicial system, the pain is often masked behind voluminous papers, warring legal teams, complex rules of procedure and the cumbersome of the bureaucratic. Lives are still falling apart, wealth and health is still being destroyed, but it may not have a human face. We lose sight of the pain.
In alternative processes like mediation we encounter the pain, the confusion, the torment head on. We also encounter the healing, the peace, the “just-ness” head on at various points along the way and at the end if we get all the way though to resolution. And that is why we do this work.
But we need to keep learning, keep avoiding assumption, finding new ways to remain open, compassionate and insightful. Especially when parties become stuck in the sheer woundedness of it all.
So I’m always seeking out new ways to learn of and understand the human condition in all of it’s messiness and beauty which can and often does exist all at the same time.
For Fear of Fear
I recently came across the work of Padraig O Tuama.
There is this Irish Phrase ar eagla no heagla that translates “for fear of fear”
What if the way we tell it, is the way it is, and the way we tell it is the way are and at that point where we are is in a place of being terrified of fear. So we can’t really be in the here, because we want to get out as quickly as possible and so we don’t stay and look around and learn what we need to learn.
Most conflicting parties I deal with are in a profound state of fear. More so, terrified of the fear.
In David Wagoner’s poem, “Lost”:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called here
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger
Taking Courage to Stop and Look Around
Sometimes we help parties stand still and look around. And meet the powerful stranger. We help them be here long enough to learn what they need to. To learn things from the place they are in but wish they are not. Sometimes that is the only way they will be able to move from that place. From here.
One of our most important roles may be to assist conflicting parties in taking courage to stop and look around in the here. Whether they are here by disaster or by choice. What must be learned here? We help them discover that.
O Tuama tells the story of Jesus and the disciples and the boat and the storm and he says it is as if to say that only in the middle of a storm can we find a truth that will steady us.
Sometimes we assist parties to go into the storm to find that truth that will steady them.
“What is the name of the place you are in now?” O Tuama says “It requires close looking. It requires the dedication of observation and commitment to truth. To name it requires to be in a place. It requires as to resist dreaming of where we should be, and look around where we are.”
Sometimes we resist naming where we are. Words have power and we fear giving power to a place we don’t want to be in, by naming it.
Helping Parties to take Courage
Sometimes we are there to help parties to take courage to name the place they are in assuring them that it doesn’t mean they will stay there. Anger. Pain. Trauma. What if my telling it like it is and telling it like I am is an angry, excruciatingly painful mix of all that has happened, all that is and all that I feel. And what if the same mess of things is true for the person I am in conflict with.
Sometimes we help parties start here. Stand Still. Look around. Go into the storm. The truth needed to steady them may be found there. And it will take courage.
Sometimes we are there to literally help parties be here.