Looking Toward the Future, While Taking Account of the Past

When disputes are resolved in court, judges generally make a decision based on how the law applies to what happened between the parties – to past events. This keeps the dispute, and the parties in the dispute, generally oriented to the past. One reason mediation makes particular sense to parties is that the focus can be on what is important for the parties in their lives presently and going forward. Many parties to disputes, whether business people, divorcing spouses or others can easily become stuck in the past. “Conflict” readily keeps them focused on bygone grievances, hurt and justifications. Understanding can soften the hold that conflict’s focus on the past can have over them, and allow them to build greater understanding toward the future. If the focus is exclusively toward the past, it is easy to become or stay stuck there.

A focus that looks forward does not mean, however, that it is wrong to talk about what happened in the past (as some approaches to mediation suggest). Indeed, it can often be critically important to clarify, understand and to receive and express understanding for each other’s perspective on what happened in the past that can allow for a fuller and more whole-hearted movement into the future. This work can be important for individuals when they want the resolution to take account of the hurt and angry feelings that may have been so central to the dispute even if they will not have a future relationship. It can also be particularly important and desirable when there is ongoing relationships such as between parents in a divorce or business associates as they continue to interact in the future. A firm ground going forward can be built upon a fuller understanding of what happened in the past. To do so means creating the opportunity for letting go of the hold that “judgment” can have over us and being open to the meaning that understanding can have for us.