Looking Beneath the Dispute to What is at Stake for Both Parties at a Deeper Level

The positions that we take when we become mired in conflict easily and naturally become reified and take on a life of their own. We are “for this” and “against that,” and our adversary obviously (and we believe, malevolently) seeks the opposite. When we look beneath the problem that has emerged in terms of the surface positions, we often find that we have more in common that we thought, and at least what is important to each of us might not be mutually exclusive.

In terms of people’s experience at a more personal level, the challenge is how to talk with each other and in the presence of each other about what is important to us in our lives. That is particularly difficult when we have had difficult or hostile relations with each other. Since our most basic needs are for survival and self-protection (including our families and others closest to us), protection against the other becomes understandably the highest goal when the other appears to pose a threat. We are often so intent on protecting ourselves against what we are convinced is the overreaching or hostile intent of “the other,” not only can we not see their humanity, we can easily lose sight of our own. Mediation can allow the possibility of moving toward a greater acceptance of the other and, simultaneously, to a fuller acceptance and recognition of the depth for understanding within ourselves.