The future of mediation and conflict resolution is the transpersonal. “Transpersonal” means a view of the person as more than their conscious mind. It includes:
- The unconscious: The aspects of our mind that are in play when we are not conscious
- The subconscious: Those parts of ourselves we haven’t yet acknowledged or have repressed
- Higher consciousness: Our peak psychological states and stages
- Collective consciousness: The capacity to relate to and intuit the collective’s values and ideas
In the past century the transpersonal perspective has been hugely influential in psychology, for example in the work of Carl Jung. With some exceptions, up to now mediation and conflict resolution haven’t paid much attention to it. A healthy future requires that it looks far more closely at the transpersonal.
In this article I will sketch a future model of mediation based on the transpersonal perspective. I will argue that this model of mediation: (A) is integrated not distributed (B) is self-aware, (C) better understands empowerment and (D) better understands the client / mediator relationship.
- A Transpersonal Approach Will be Integrated and Not Distributed
Schools of mediation often exist side by side without a lot of mixing. A case in point is the tension between so-called “interest-based” schools of negotiation and more “relational” approaches. For example, Bush and Folger are adamant that their ‘transformative’ approach can’t be combined with any other (2005, 45).
A transpersonal approach questions this. Ken Wilber uses the phrase “transcend and include”. This means overcoming the limitations of a particular approach (“transcend”) while bringing its insights to bear on the new approach (“include”). The future of mediation involves reimagining the paradigm of conflict resolution in which, for example, there is no longer a false choice between emotions and interests, that is, between relationship and results. How can this happen?
The transpersonal perspective sees continuity between the sub-conscious, unconscious, the conscious and the collective consciousness. As such, it sees continuity between a person’s public or commercial life (their “interests”) and their private yearning for flourishing and growth (their “deeper” needs).
An integrated, not a distributed, paradigm for mediation places our emotions, intuitions and personal needs as well as our interests, ambitions and objectives in a broader and more joined-up framework. Roberto Assagioli’s famous “egg” diagram is just one example of how to do this.
- A Transpersonal Approach Will Help the Mediator to see “Shadow” at Work
Picture a client who has deep and reactive anger against someone in a mediation. A transpersonal approach will see this in a new light. It’s entirely possible that they are projecting unconscious anger because of their “shadow”. This is a term used by transpersonal psychologists to describe those features of ourselves that we haven’t acknowledged. If we don’t acknowledge them we will then project them onto another person because we can’t deal with the reality that it is in ourselves. This is why angry people see anger in everyone, sad people see sadness in everywhere and bullies are hyper-alert to the threat of intimidation and domination.
This is where conflict resolution meets psychotherapy, but this does not require conflict resolution professionals to be psychotherapists. It just requires them to operate with an awareness of transpersonal dynamics. This will help facilitate a more accurate reading of the nature of the conflict and therefore a more enduring resolution.
- A Transpersonal Approach Will Redefine “Empowerment”
The future of mediation must let go of clichéd ideas of “empowerment”. “Empowerment” means more than increased or equal participation in public life (a political definition), or the capacity to find and articulate one’s voice and preferences (a psychological definition). In future, a transpersonal approach will incorporate these dimensions to empowerment. But it will go further by emphasising that empowerment is fully achievable by taking responsibility for the fact that we create our own reality.
The philosopher Jean Gebser was a seminal figure in transpersonal thought. He summed this up by saying that unless we take responsibility for ourselves by acknowledging all the aspects of our consciousness, then we will never have true power. We know when a person has this awareness of all their levels of consciousness because they will be:
“Someone who has learned to avoid placing blame or fault on others, on the world itself, on circumstances or ‘chance’ in times of adversity, dissension, conflict, and misfortune and seeks first in himself the reason or guilt in its fullest extent – this person should also be able to see through the world in all its entirety and all its structures. Otherwise he will be coerced or violated either by his emotions or his will and in turn will seek to coerce or violate the world as an act of compensation or revenge” (1985, 141, first emphasis added).
Despite the gender exclusive language of the translation, Gebser’s point is clear: Authentic empowerment mandates that we contact and take responsibility for our various forms and levels of consciousness.
- A Transpersonal Approach Will Endorse Intuition and Enable a New Kind of Client Relationship
Working in a manner that is receptive to the transpersonal helps endorse and give credibility to what the transpersonal is saying to us. There is a connection between seeing a hunch as coming from outside our waking consciousness and accepting it as valid (though just because it comes from outside our waking consciousness doesn’t make it accurate or valid. My hunches are wrong half the time!)
Interpreting one’s actions as safe and valid is fundamental to others seeing them as such. This process, in which authenticity is conveyed from one party to another, is at the heart of all credible interaction, be it in sales (Willingham, 1987), business (Kofman, 2006), teaching (Palmer 2007) or public or private discourse of any kind (Habermas 1984, 1987, 1990). As such, it is vital when operating within the dynamics of conflict resolution.
A transpersonal perspective will give the practitioner a new understanding of their clients. Naturally, they will also be seen as agents with a transpersonal dimension, whether they are conscious of them or not. Moreover, it influences the mediator’s understanding of what is causing the conflict (disowned anger, issues related to shadow and so on) and what constitutes a successful outcome.
This article is intended to start a conversation. My priority is to set out how integrating a transpersonal perspective into mediation and conflict resolution is both viable and, in terms of the evolution of our discipline, unavoidable. The conversation on this topic is only beginning but it is one that theorists and practitioners in this field must take seriously.
Originally from Ireland, Donal O'Reardon is a mediator, coach, author and founder of O’Reardon Consulting. He holds graduate degrees in theology and philosophy and specialises in communication and conflict management skills with an emotional intelligence foundation. He is the author of “Introducing Philosophy: Questions and Readings” (Emond Montgomery, 2014) as well as a forthcoming book on best communication practice for professional and personal development.