September 25, 2017


What is happening here? These two are the hardest working people in the room, and burn some significant ethical boundaries along the way. 


Clearly, I am late to the Wedding Crashers party. I saw this movie three days ago for the first time on a girls' night, and while the premise of this movie is preposterous and, dare I say it, moronic--come on, how could it be otherwise with these guys?--this first scene struck me as providing a teachable moment, particularly if you find yourself in need of a mediative practitioner.


When you enter into mediation, even if it is court-ordered, it is your opportunity to create a now and a future now that is of your own design. This is a great idea in theory, but difficult to get there when expectations for the process are anything like any of the following: vindication, revenge, withholding, to humiliate or annihilate, or any other type of retributive desire toward your rival. 


Dwight Yoakam and Rebecca DeMornay, the actors playing adversaries in this property division settlement, are having some big feelings. The type of negotiation they are engaged in is positional and each is treating the answer as a zero-sum gain where there is only one winner. Even when one makes a small concession, it is so small that there are miles to go (pun intended) to achieve a settlement, and what we really see going on here is a need to be seen, felt, and understood. 


They both seem "right," especially when looked at from the seats in which they respectively occupy. They are angry, vengeful, and stuck. This is a good time for the co-mediators to ask some questions to get the process moving, or to call for caucus. They do ask some questions, but even though their intent is to move the parties to engage in fruitful resolution, they end up being the hardest working people in the room, and breach some serious ethical boundaries in the process. They have insinuated themselves into the parties' process, albeit for well-intentioned reason--to have them empathize with one another and move forward.


It is easy to recognize that underneath the issues presented here--she demands the miles accrued during his years as a businessman because he accrued some of them to visit a mistress; he believes he is entitled to the company of his mistress because she was not tending to his sexual needs. These are surface issues. 


At stake, deep below the surface of these complaints and demands, are grief, despair, need for respect, need for love and acceptance, acknowledgement and forgiveness. It is only when they begin to recognize the "who" of one another that they relent and move forward. Neither is making a small "concession" any more. Those miles were not miles--they were the sticking point to their grief, despair, need for respect, love, acceptance, acknowledgement, and forgiveness. In this moment, they each received what they needed, and the want for punishment evaporated.


The power of mediation is in getting to the underlying needs of all parties (not the mediators--no, the mediator should never have a "need" or "want" of any kind in your mediative process) so that true peace can be made. It is not about compromise or giving up some footing on a position--it is about equanimity, compassion, and communication, even if you are never going to see one another again. In fact, finishing up business peacefully affords both parties the opportunity to move forward in a clean and healthy way with no loose ends and hopefully with little regret.

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