At the end of the talk, someone from the Minneapolis audience asked the Dalai Lama, “Why didn’t you fight back against the Chinese?”

I leaned in as the Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet just a bit, then looked back up and said with a gentle smile, “Well, war is obsolete, you know.” But his face grew more grave.

“Of course, the mind can rationalize fighting back,” he said, “but the heart…the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself—the heart and the mind—and the war would be inside you.”

How much of our life do we spend in struggle and rationalizing fighting back? How do we as human beings defuse and redirect the energy of warring parties so that they can heal? When the war is already inside them or us, by what means can we peacefully bring that fight to the table and collaborate on solutions toward an equitable resolution? Francis Moore Lappe says, “When we see through the eyes of others it exposes key information – assumptions, prejudices, values and needs all essential to finding solutions. It can deepen our understanding of problems, often offering more solutions.”

The use of mediation skills is essential for effective leadership, parenting, peacebuilding, and partnering. The way we shift our angle of vision makes all the difference. Here are four principles we can all incorporate into our relationships through constructive dialogue with others. Mediation and listening skills make us richer human beings and recognize our ubuntu nature.

The first is to move from emphasizing the past to looking at the future. We dwell in so many thoughts, worries, and fears about the past that it can be paralyzing. “I know that must have been very painful. But what do you need now that can help change the future?” Get people stuck in conflict to look ahead. That is where hope lies and dreams may come.

Second, move from personal attacks and threats to tackling the problem. Instead of saying “You are a liar. You had better do X or else,” or “He is an asshole and an idiot,” help redirect the dialogue to: “How do we listen to each other better?” and “We need to get more time together.” Or “What can we do to address this problem?” Common ground is often found in looking at the problem, rather than lingering in attack mode.

The third is to move from sayings it is the other’s problem to defining it as a shared problem. It is easy to point the finger and blame another. But the world is not so black and white.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote:

If it were all so simple,
If only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds,
and it were necessary only to separate them
from the rest of us and destroy them.
But the line dividing good and evil
cuts through the heart of every human being
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Any conflict means you both have an issue or a problem that needs to be addressed. When we accept it as a shared problem then it creates a safe container in which individuals can create durable solutions. “You” messages are too often laced with blame and guilt.

Finally, we can shift from inflexible demands to aspirations. Lines in the sand can appear difficult to overcome and naming it as something that the other person wishes to achieve acknowledges their goals and feelings and helps you to together start carving out paths toward those goals. Instead of “I want that promotion and a substantial raise and I am never willing to give that up,” you can learn to say “My goal is to better myself and get the type of position and pay that makes me feel valued and moving forward in my career.” It’s harder to argue against one’s aspirations, but making an inflexible demand can leave the parties in an eternal standoff.

Indigenous Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim once said: “The greatest distance in the world is the 14 inches from our minds to our hearts.” Mediation skills and active listening, and learning to daily incorporate mediation skills into our world, shortens the gap.

Read more about mediation in Eric Sirotkin’s book, “Witness: A Lawyer’s Journey from Litigation to Liberation,” available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Click here to purchase.


photo: greg-rakozy-oMpAz-DN-9I-unsplash