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Introspection and forgiveness are powerful tools in mediation.

October 7, 2011

Forgiveness is a powerful tool in mediation, and in life, to allow people to move on from the disabling conflicts that preoccupy their thoughts and actions.  Further, I agree with Kenneth Cloke who writes extensively about introspection as a way of getting there.  See, e.g., Cloke, Mediating Dangerously (Jossey-Bass, 2001).

The concepts of introspection, forgiveness and repentance came to mind in a mediation this week because the mediation was taking place during the “Days of Awe,” the period between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  As a creative way to introduce these concepts for the disputants – this is a part of mediator risk-taking about which I wrote last time – it seemed like a short discussion with the litigants about the coincidental timing of the mediation and the Jewish High Holy Days could ensue, which it did.

The result was as interesting as the discussion.

Our discussion recalled that Yom Kippur was upcoming, that introspection, forgiveness and repentance were central to the observance, that the prayer called Al Chet was a confession of sins (see one translation at and that all of it allowed people to forgive others, and themselves, for real or perceived errors in judgment.

Forgiving others and forgiving oneself for perceived errors in judgment was the theme I wanted to stress.  Now for the results:

First, I learned from the disputants that the discussion resonated with them, although one lawyer didn’t like it that much.  Nevertheless, the litigants appreciated it and some identified with the experiences of Yom Kippur and how they live their lives.  I had the strong feeling that they were interested in, and touched by, the discussion and this gave the opportunity to develop rapport — and to create “affiliation” with those who were Jewish too (most were).  See, Fisher and Shapiro, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (Penguin Books, 2006).  Apparently that part worked because one litigant told me he liked me very much and was happy for my help.

Second, notwithstanding the rapport, affiliation, and trust created by this discussion, I was reminded that people in conflict are not always willing to allow themselves to engage in the introspection I was after.  At least for one person, this party was stuck one whether the other side would repent and therefore pay a large settlement.  This party was unwilling or unable, then and there, to refocus on the introspection and forgiveness that would have allowed instead for conciliation, compromise and peace.

But I have not lost hope.  Yom Kippur starts tonight.  Perhaps in religious services tonight and/or tomorrow, these parties will be able to recall our discussions when the Al Chet prayer is said, and they will find that they are able to forgive themselves and the others for any perceived errors in their judgment which led them into the conflict and fueled it.  Perhaps thereafter they will return to mediation and/or settle their dispute.

It is my hope in this holiday season, that these litigants, all those who read this, and all of us who observe Yom Kippur and otherwise, will find renewal through introspection, a refreshing new beginning, forgiveness of ourselves and each other and lasting peace.   (Amen.)

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