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Welcome to the November issue of The School
In this issue, inspired by the Harvard Negotiation
Insight Initiative, I explore why I see mediation as a
spiritual practice. As always, please send along
reactions and thoughts.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Correction: Francine Rondina, one of the
featured in last month's issue, neglected to
mention that her talented colleague, Yael Hurwitz-Lange,
acts as co-coordinator of the Lowell High School SCORE
peer mediation program one day each week. Apologies
to Yael. Let's hope she gets a free lunch out of the
I was pleased to attend the inaugural presentation of the
Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative (HNII) last month.
HNII is a project of Harvard Law School's Program on
Negotiation, the people responsible for Getting To
Yes and other groundbreaking works on conflict
resolution, negotiation and mediation.
HNII's mission, under the stewardship of the wonderful
Erica Fox, is to "engage the cutting edge conversation
between the fields of negotiation and conflict
management on the one hand, and those of mindfulness
and the great wisdom traditions on the other." Put
simply, HNII wants to get spirituality and conflict
At the kick-off event, renowned leaders Bill Ury and Marc
Gafni discussed what their respective fields had to learn
from each another. Their conversation was erudite,
funny, and most of all, inspiring.
Attending this event clarified the degree to which
working as a mediator is an extension of my own spiritual
life. As someone who has never felt comfortable with
organized religion, mediation is one "practice" through
which I apply my deepest understanding of the world.
I'll try to explain. Just as there are principles that help
us understand the way the physical world
works-principles like gravity and the laws of
thermodynamics-I believe there are equally useful
that govern human relations and human longings.
And like the physical scientist in his or her laboratory, I
observe and study these more spiritual laws in my own
"laboratory:" mediation sessions.
I recently came across one such law expressed
succinctly in a sacred Buddhist scripture called the
Hatred never ceases by hatred;
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.
There are likely many such laws or principles. One which
particularly interests me could be expressed as follows:
All people instinctively and profoundly desire to live in
This desire or force urges us toward balance with our
fellow human beings. It exists within each person and
yet is greater than any individual. Its source is at the
confluence of self-interest and "other's" interests-it is
fundamentally better for all of us to live together in
harmony. And to me, this force is as real as the chair I
am sitting on.
Of course, we need look no further than today's
headlines to know that there has to be more to the story
For starters, people instinctively and profoundly want to
satisfy other, more basic needs as well. As Maslow articulated, people want to feel safe and
understood, to feel loved, to feel useful. And humans
are quick to forgo interpersonal harmony when doing so
seems necessary to meet these primary needs.
Many additional factors serve to inhibit our
desire for harmony. A short list includes:
* Common childrearing practices which leave many
deep (and often unconscious) feelings of despair and
* Each individual's unrelenting focus on their own
* The intense challenge of perceiving reality
(e.g.: did she just look at me funny?).
* The seemingly inverse relationship between age
one's ability to imagine solutions to a problem
the same dilemma to separate groups of 8 year olds and
40 year olds, and the former will generate 5 times as
many potential solutions as the latter).
It is any wonder that the impulse toward interpersonal
harmony is often buried or overwhelmed?
But overwhelmed or not, this impulse always exists within
and between people.
As a mediator, I serve as a midwife for this particular
desire. I watch for it, create space for it, and
opportunities for people in conflict to act upon it if they
For just as plants are instinctively drawn to sunlight, I
know that once people find a way to meet their basic
needs, they similarly will be drawn to resolve their
conflicts and live in harmony.
I wouldn't say that mediating is how I pray.
But for me, tending this process is a humbling and
eminently spiritual experience.
Do you see a spiritual component to your mediation
work? How would you describe it?
Please share your
(Thanks to Bob David for reviewing a draft of this issue.)
Read a previous issue of The School
Mediator that deals with a related theme.
More information about the Harvard Negotiation Insight (HNII).
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates
has been devoted to the application and promotion of
mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform
schools into safer, more caring, and more effective
institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens
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