Friday, March 4, 2011

Fight Club Part 3: Compassion

Fight Club: Compassion

I will never know anyone else’s experience. I can share experiences. I can try to understand the significance of an experience. But I can never be anyone else. Ever. In mediation we presume this and we take that at face value. The only things that walk into a session are the people themselves. They represent only themselves and their own experiences.

This is a hard concept for many people. The propensity for the human mind to categorize and compare inclines many to import similarities and bring them to the table. I, as a mediator, have no idea if my experience is similar. My job is to understand the meaning behind the story, the person behind the generalizations and experiences.

Compassion is not imposing my experiences on the situation; it is not me believing I understand their pain; it is not me feeling sympathy for them. Compassion is genuinely caring about a positive outcome and a productive session. I truly care that everyone in a session gets what they want and are satisfied with the final result. Compassion is acknowledging the humanity and dignity of each party. It is completely reflective. It has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the parties in the session.

It is hard to do. It requires a dual-partisanship and very often walks the line of breaking neutrality. But it is possible. I have found that by being genuinely concerned that the parties find their own solutions, and focusing on that, I can be compassionate without imposing myself.

It is a huge check on our biases as well. It is a moment where we have to understand ourselves and what we are feeling. We are involved as translators. By taking what we hear and giving it back to the parties present, we are engaging them at all levels: emotional, spiritual, logical, moral, instinctive, etc. As mediators our obligation is to listen carefully and help everyone else listen better than we ever could.

Compassion thus becomes selfless. Our emotional goal is that our feelings are all about them. The thoughts and feelings I carry always go through the lens of mediation and come out as a mirror. To some extent the best mediator is an infinite mirror. Showing the parties what they already know in a way they couldn’t have seen before. And that is compassion. It is the pure trust that people can find what they are looking for if only we give them the attention and perfect presence that everyone deserves. It is feeling deeply for an unknown and anonymous human being as if they were those closest to us. It is acknowledging the validity of everything they say and giving it to them—polished and clean. Compassion is essential to remembering that everyone is a human with full experiences that deserve acknowledgment and encouragement.

Compassion is feeling the humanity in everyone.