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Beth Brown Ornstein, J.D. 1998

All of us experience conflict regularly. It may be conflict with our spouses, ex-spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, or co-workers. Depending on the circumstances, we find many ways of dealing with it. At one end of the spectrum, we ignore the conflict, denying or simply accepting its existence. At the other extreme, we participate in litigation, allowing a third party to decide the outcome for us. (This article does not address situations in which we engage in extreme physical or emotional violence to resolve disputes, though such conflicts may be mediable.)

At various points between these extremes, we attempt to communicate with the other individual(s) involved to find ways to resolve the conflict. Although such communication may be unpleasant and often requires supreme effort, it is possible to take advantage of this communication to use the conflict as a springboard for spiritual development.

When conflict occurs we often experience anger and hurt. To make positive use of this painful experience to promote spiritual growth, we must learn to acknowledge these feelings. If we can move beyond the anger and hurt, we can begin our gradual spiritual journey. First, we can begin to assume responsibility for our own actions and develop awareness of how our own actions affect others as we begin to listen to the concerns of others. As we begin to acknowledge and respect those concerns, we begin to recognize the other person as a fellow human being.

When this happens (and it may take considerable time), we have the opportunity to continue our journey toward healing our relationship and experiencing awe at the uniqueness of each individual. These are spiritual opportunities to move beyond cynicism, to transcend our egos, and to accept the possibility of positive change.

Taking advantage of opportunities for spiritual growth in the midst of conflict is not easy. Individuals sometimes need help finding ways to successfully communicate with each other. This often occurs in domestic conflicts where individuals experience difficulty trusting each other. In such cases, mediation may be helpful. In mediation, an impartial mediator helps establish a process for communication in a safe and neutral environment. Simply by agreeing to participate in the mediation process, the participants tend to put their best faces forward and commit to the things they say. Through their agreement, the participants may agree to work toward recognizing each other while assuming responsibility for their own decisions and actions. Parties to domestic conflict typically know how to press each others’ buttons and tune out the other. The mediator can help by allowing each person time to be heard. As an expert in process, the mediator can assist each individual in recognizing and acknowledging the good in the other and what is going well in the relationship. This acknowledgment often opens the door to effective communication and the ability to move forward on the spiritual journey.

Once individuals begin to listen to each other, they can begin to understand whether their conflict is rooted in lack of information, misunderstanding of information or goals, differences in goals or values, or inappropriate behavior. The mediator can help sort out common goals and assist in finding ways to share accurate information. If one party has wronged or offended the other, the mediator can help the parties safely discuss whether there is a need or way to approach reconciliation, and potentially, forgiveness. When this happens, the participants are ready to move forward to take charge of their own future actions, appreciate the the real concerns and emotional needs of each other, and find ways to work collaboratively in the future. Through this sometimes lengthy experience, the participants may be better prepared to continue on their spiritual journey and deal with future conflicts in positive ways.

Choosing the Right Mediator

Mediators use a variety of styles and approaches toward the mediation process. Often the same mediator can offer a variety of styles. It is important to understand a potential mediator’s approach to mediation to determine whether that mediator can most effectively help you accomplish your goals through the mediation process.  In some cases, the mediator uses an evaluative approach, advising the parties about the strengths and weaknesses of their positions. Often the mediator shuttles from party to party to negotiate settlement. Other mediators use a more facilitative approach to help the parties communicate directly. Facilitative mediators tend to focus on interests rather than positions in helping the parties find creative solutions.

There is also a mediation style now being described as "transformative." The focus of this style is not agreement, but promotion of individual empowerment (sense of self-respect, self-reliance, and self-confidence) and mutual recognition (acknowledgment and concern for each other as human beings).*  If you are seeking opportunities for spiritual growth, you may want to choose a mediator skilled in use of the facilitative and transformative approaches.

* Bush, Robert A. Baruch and Joseph P. Folger, The Promise of Mediation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994).

 Beth Brown Ornstein, J.D., is founded the Colorado Center for Mediation, L.L.C. which mediates all types of family and civil disputes.   She also volunteers as a mediator with the Boulder County Victim Offender Reconciliation Program. She can be reached at 303-415-2042; http://www.meditationnow.com/cmc Send an Email: Click Here

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