Notes on the World Mediation Summit; Madrid 2017

World Mediation Summit

Madrid 2017

I have been very remiss in neglecting to write about this.

As some of you may know I attended the World Mediation Organization in Berlin in 2015. My notes on that event are here.

When I found that the Madrid conference was at the time that I was near Toulouse I decided to attend as the opportunity to hang out with mediators from all over the world is just not to be passed up. Berlin had been fantastic and after a brief impromptu presentation on Journey to Empathy I had been invited to Linz in Austria to present it there. Since I had presented in Berlin and Linz I sent a submission of Journey to Empathy and was accepted to present it. The full paper is here.

Then of course there comes that moment of ‘ok I’m committed’. The work begins. However I have presented it many times in many formats and so I feel good about doing it. They didn’t pay; just a discount on the conference. I am beginning to get an idea about how and why these conferences take place. The organizer has made it their business. Knowing that mediators are always looking for more magic they create a space for us to get together and exchange ideas and indeed cultures.

The conference was divide into a Spanish and an English stream with most non Spanish speakers opting for the English forums. Several plenary sessions were provided with simultaneous translation.

Dr Srdan Smac, a judge from Croatia told me the story of how he came to Canada and studied mediation. Now at home in Croatia he might say to the parties that what they are about to experience might not be what they are expecting. As part of his role as a civil judge he will begin to use explorative questioning to seek a more collaborative solution to what he would do as a judge which is win lose. He said that the process is very successful and definitely leads to better solutions.

Alexander Dunlop and Joanne Vlahos of the ACCA Accountants’ group world wide described how the investigative process works and how the defensive responses of professionals being investigated are overcome. They are experimenting with some possible ways to encourage solutions. They have the power to impose sanctions but would prefer voluntary compliance. A suggested plan might see the legislative sanction for the offence sealed in an envelope that the party can open and accept as an alternative to continuing to engage in discussions with the complainant.

Irena Vanenkova the executive director of the International Mediation Institute in Den Hague spoke about IMIs role in bringing mediators and mediated settlements to conflicts around the world. She also described the process to get onto IMI’s roster of mediators.

Matt Thorpe from Canada talked of the genuine transformations possible by not pulling any punches and being authentically ‘in your face’ in his interactions with parties. His ‘Indian’ name which translates as Tornado gives some indication of his presence and style.

Vishal Shamsi from Karachi is a lawyer/mediator powerhouse of energy bringing mediation into all forms of conflict in Karachi. As a woman training men in Pakistan she navigates the local culture with a skill that gets her acceptance in a culture where the divisions between men and women are very strong.

Ana Criado specializing in cross border child abductions and seeking agreements that ultimately are best for the child.

Line Brylle, Global Armed Violence Reduction Advisor for the Danish Refugee Council. This is definitely the front line of mediation where the mediations are carried out between armed groups.

Susan Johnston from Ottawa is passionate about creating spaces for dialogue and collaboration on complex issues. A circle keeper and radio host she ran through circle dynamics and logistics.

Ruth Sirman another Canadian had a very interesting presentation about the hidden system dynamics often in play in large organizations and how to address these when conflict has arisen.

These are just a sample of the English stream. The full list of speakers is here

My own presentation on Journey to Empathywas well received although in my personal evaluation I did feel that if I was to do it again I could do better. I always get some people who say it is the best thing that they experienced at the conference and others who think that I am just an old hippie and ‘all you need is Love’ is not true in international mediation.

Maybe they are right but it sure helps.

Kind regards

Martin

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Journey to Empathy; Madrid 2017

Blurb for Madrid

Journey to Empathy

As mediators know empathy is a central skill. To be able to really listen and to understand what the reality of a situation is like for the parties and to help those parties to that level of understanding of each other is paramount in our world.
Martin Golder started a practice in conflict management as an adjunct to his architectural practice in 1996. He quickly discovered that empathy was not one of his native gifts or perhaps it had been surgically removed in British boarding school. Using a contrived surface veneer of empathy, mechanical empathy if you like, works well as conflicting parties are too wrapped up in their own conflict to notice the artifice. However Martin decided that ‘real’ empathy might work better and so embarked on a quest to find it. This participatory presentation is the result of that quest.
Magic and meditation are involved.

¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬__________________________________________

Today I would like to tell some stories and take you on the journey that I am still on into the nature of conflict and the place of empathy in working with conflict. I will not only talk about the sorts of situations with which you are all undoubtedly familiar but also I will drift into metaphysics and the coming major shifts in our civilizations and cultures. I will however start with something about mediation in British Columbia in general. Also I am sure many of you would like to know about mediation in Canada. I can really only speak a little bit for British Columbia. As you know Canada is really big and Europe is a lot closer to Eastern Canada than we are in British Colombia.

I feel though that I am perhaps here as an imposter.

I say I am an imposter because my career was primarily as an architect in British Columbia Canada until one day I was putting an addition onto the back of a lawyer’s house. She came out to me and said “You should be a mediator” I asked “What’s that?” She told me that I had done such a good job mediating between her and her husband on the design of the addition that she recognized the skills. I then told her the architectural joke that custom housing design is 50% marriage counseling which of course is absolutely true. You don’t want couples to argue for the next ten years over some feature that one wanted and one did not. So that Autumn I signed up for a mediation course just for my further education and I went back and told her that I had signed up for a course in Mediation. She said “Which course?” And when I told her she said “I’m teaching it”.

It turned out that she was one of the top mediators in Victoria BC and she became my mentor for the next 10 years as I developed a sideline in conflict management and resolution alongside my architecture. One story she told me that she said made her a believer in the usefulness of mediation was about a mediation over a patent dispute. One party had left a company and started up another using information that they carried with them from the first company. The first company sued them for patent infringement. She said that when the mediation started the parties were very angry at each other and had a hard time even being polite. At the end of the mediation they left with a joint venture. Can you imagine how this might have ended if it had gone to court.

As mediators of course we capitalize on conflict.
Its management, resolution and mitigation is our fertile ground. Every project manager, landlord, and president knows this and is usually highly skilled in conflict management. Conflict can be destructive. But it also is creative. I would even suggest that all creativity has a root in conflict. How do we ride this fine line between the positive and negative views?

When participants or should I say customers walk into our offices they are mostly there because of a negative perception of conflict. However there are worlds where the participants recognize that conflict is a certainty and managed properly can be beneficial. They are likely to see the need for a professional conflict manager to be involved as early as possible. These are the sophisticated clients. For example: Big construction companies will often start a project with partnering workshops involving all the participants including the clients, the architects and engineers and the trades and subtrades where the certainty of conflict during the course of the project is discussed and various conflicts are modeled so that a conflict resolution process is designed before any real differences arise. There may also be an expectation that the resolution of some of these issues will lead to a better project.

So what are the processes, the secrets of mediation that are part of our Guild?
I am sure that you are all familiar with the seminal work by Fisher and Ury ‘Getting to Yes’. The book is really the first text that we read. It is the story of the Harvard project amongst the coal miners strikes in America. Certainly before this work there was no formal process of mediation. In British Columbia mediation started to come into the dispute resolution field in the 1980’s. Mediation was not taught at all in the schools. Lawyers were educated in tight adversarial tactics. Commercial and insurance conflicts obviously had discussions to try to avoid litigation. As the formal processes of mediation grew academically insurance companies especially started to use them. Insurance companies are risk adverse and they quickly found that mediation reduced their costs and payouts if they listened and settled quickly. Currently in British Columbia according to one experienced mediator that I interviewed before coming here this lesson has been forgotten and the process has changed to a more American Corporate model which doesn’t involve much listening and leans to a dictatorial statement ‘This is our offer, take it or take us to court.’ This is backed up by as many lawyers as it takes to make sure that it never comes to court. A cynical and perhaps even immoral approach.

However the main model of mediation that is used in areas where it is appropriate is interest based mediation. This is now even taught in law schools. As I am sure that you know this process drills down into the positions that the parties enter the room with to find out what are the interests that drive those positions. When these interests are exposed it is common to find that both parties share some interests. Then on the basis of these agreed areas a new picture of the relationship can be constructed which includes the best alternatives.

There are other models of course such as the old judge who was in a mediation course some years ago when the Judiciary decided that judges should know more about mediation. He said ‘Within 5 minutes of walking into the room you know what the solution is. The rest of the mediation is to drag the parties kicking and screaming to it’. And probably it is a very good solution as judges are very smart and have seen so many situations. However I would have a hard time calling this mediation.

In the mid ‘80s in BC when mediation was still really unknown most contracts were written with arbitration as the alternative to legal action. In fact when I became a mediator I also became an arbitrator because this is what people knew. When I was offered an arbitration I would give the participants a short course on mediation as an option and what its advantages were. Most people would then choose mediation. Now most contracts will have mediation as the first alternative to legal action. Acceptance amongst lawyers is high but definitely not universal. Most larger firms however will now have an Alternative Dispute Resolution section. Some of the old timers call it the crunchy granola section. They probably think that all the young lawyers in that section live on communes.

British Columbia also has an organization called MediateBC which has become in many ways the branch of government that organizes much about mediation. They hold a roster of mediators both Civil and family who can be drawn from their website. They also run the Court Mediation Program for smaller cases in which I worked and mentored for a number of years. This program in now being discontinued I hear in favour of some sort of on line system. We will see how that works out. EBay and Square Trade have an on line mediation system in which the early stages were run by algorithms. Now many disputes are settled entirely by algorithm. So your jobs may be in jeopardy.

There is a model called Med/Arb or Mediation/ Arbitration. In this model the parties mediate as much of the problem as they can and then go to Arbitration with what remains. This of course holds down the costs of the process because arbitration is more expensive that mediation. In some cases to hold down costs even further the parties may agree to having the mediator become the arbitrator. They have already worked with the mediator and have built up enough trust in the mediator that they are willing to let them arbitrate even though the mediator will have heard a lot of evidence that is inadmissible when working with the law as an arbitrator must do. I was involved in a model like this to resolve some land border issues where I was to be the mediator and an experienced arbitrator sat in on all the mediation sessions and was to rule on any outstanding issues. This saved on starting an arbitration where all the evidence needed to be presented again within a legal context.

Before coming here I interviewed three experienced mediators to see what they had to say to you. Probably what they all agreed on was that the courts and legal system are completely inappropriate places for families. So there is a family mediation system which in many cases can keep families out of the adversarial dynamics of our legal system. Disputes between neighbours likewise are more suited to mediation. Mediation is now often compulsory in condominium and strata title disputes.

We are as I am sure you all realize entering a period of massive and rapid change. It is difficult to even anticipate what this is going to look like. Immigration, refugees, Climate Change, over use of resources, new energy systems, political shifts, the restructuring of economic systems are going to need a lot of your skills. It is probably fair to say that many of the patterns that have guided us may no longer work.

This applies to the legal system as much as any of our systems. The mediators I talked with had some agreement of where the system works and where it does not. As one of them said. ‘If the legal system is designed to work for the multinational corporate sector then it works. If it is designed to work for Civil Society then it is Broken’. There is virtually no point in any citizen trying to use the courts to redress an injustice. It is just too expensive. And if your opponent is a corporation then they can use their legal department to stonewall anything. So perhaps if the courts are no longer any use to the average citizenry then parallel systems will spring up. Religions have parallel systems. Professional associations have parallel systems. Communities sometimes provide mediation services. I think the bottom line here is that whatever ways we devise to solve and manage conflict in our communities is evolving and mediation based on ethical behaviour is a very positive model. However as my friend said ‘It may not be appropriate when one party is a psychopathic pariah with a high conflict appetite and no interest in settling’.

So what can we do with them. They might make lawyers rich and they might bring the legal system to a standstill. This largely is what is happening.

So I am going to shift now to my own experience and research into conflict and the skills of mediation that might have some application in this new system.

When I was studying mediation all the text books from Fisher and Ury 40 years ago to Bill Eddy today talk of empathy as a central skill. The ability to actually be there with the participants in the mental space that brought them to this conflict.

Empathy, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, mechanical empathy, sympathy, compassion and kindness. These then are themes of what I will talk about and you may experience today.

Searching for definitions by itself can be quite difficult .
In my search I encountered an old joke that I often now use to start a discussion on empathy.
There was a rich woman who wanted to have her portrait painted by a famous young artist. She called the artist to her mansion and instructed him that she would like her portrait to be painted with empathy. The young artist arranged for her sittings and commenced the work. He would not let her see the painting until it was completed as he rejected any artistic intervention. Finally the day came for the unveiling. The family gathered round. The artist pulled back the cover. And there was a gasp from the assembled group. The portrait was magnificent, however there was a man standing behind the rich woman with his hand over her shoulder and stuck down the front of her dress. The rich lady gasped, composed herself and said ’Young man, what is the meaning of this?’
The artist replied ‘Ma’am, I must confess that when you asked me to paint your portrait with empathy, I did not know what empathy was. So I looked it up in the dictionary and the definition said ‘A fellow feeling in one’s bosom’.
Indeed! A fellow feeling in one’s bosom is a fine definition of empathy if a little ambiguous. I apologize for any language difficulties here as I know it is difficult for jokes to work in foreign cultures and languages. A ’fellow’ is an English word for a man and a ‘fellow feeling’ is a feeling that is in agreement with someone else.

However I must confess that the ability to be truly empathetic eluded me for many years. I would be in a mediation and as I was listening to someone’s story I would be thinking ‘Get a life buddy and stop whining’ at the same time I might say to him “That must have been a really difficult time for you.”

I had a complete disconnect between what I was thinking and what I was saying. However the participant would respond with “Yes it was a difficult time” just as if they really thought that I was empathizing with them. My mentor at this time suggested that I write a book called ‘Mechanical Empathy’. The amazing thing was that it worked well. By and large most people are so wrapped up in their own conflict that they do not even recognize the artifice that I and perhaps some of you practice every day. As professionals we need to do our job every day and some days we just are not into it so we act. (Fortunately my secret weapon is that I do have a degree in acting that I received by accident in the 70’s as I studied Shakespeare’s famous lines “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”.)

Whilst I found that my mechanical empathy worked well in mediation I could not help thinking that perhaps real empathy might work even better if I could somehow learn how to feel it. I joked that my empathy had been surgically removed in British boarding school. And there is a lot of truth to that. I decided to go on a quest to discover what this empathy is that all the mediation text books talked about. Do you either have it or not? Can it be learned? How useful is it really?

Through a series of life changing circumstances in the ‘90s I found myself trekking in the Himalaya for three months during which time I did a 10 day Vipasana meditation course in Kathmandu and hung out with a brilliant Guru in Rishikesh for two weeks. He was a follower of Ghandi and had as a teenager spent time in jail with him. All these experiences went to the core of my being and although at the time I didn’t know it they had moved my consciousness into new territory.

Some years later I was in a mediation which had not settled and the participants were leaving. I stopped them and gave them a little talk in which I complimented them on the work that they had done in the mediation. I wanted them to know that they had all done good honest work towards a solution. They had not quite made it but I wanted them to go away feeling good about the process that they had been involved in. They paused for quite a few silent seconds before returning to the table and settling. I was amazed. What had happened? What sudden shift had made them settle? As I analysed it later it was all in the little talk I had given at the end. I started experimenting with giving little encouraging talks and had some great results. I actually had one period where every mediation settled where before I was at about 66%. I was so amazed that I decided that I should pass on this information to my fellow mediators. I wrote a short paper and submitted it to a Conflict Resolution Conference in Winnipeg. I travelled to Winnipeg and presented it as a short workshop. It was quite well received so I turned it into a one day course which I have given to lawyers and mediators in British Columbia. The original conference submission was called Magic in Mediation. I had some pushback on the word Magic. People it seemed were not ready for Magic although this is what it seemed like to me. I changed the name to Journey to Empathy because the course is really based on my personal journey to find Empathy and the impact that has had on me and on the mediations that I do.

The content of the course is an introduction to Vipasana and metta meditation. Vipasana teaches the skill of focused attention and intention. Metta is known in English as the loving kindness meditation. I am sure many of you are familiar with it. It is a five stage meditation with a mantra in each stage. The first stage mantra is ‘May I be free of suffering, may I be free of enmity, (enmity is like animosity, hostility or unfriendliness) may I be Happy. The second stage is the same sentiments towards a friend, May you be free of suffering, may you be without enmity, may you be happy, The third stage is towards a neutral person who you may not even know. May he/she be without suffering, may he/she be without enmity, may he/she be happy. The fourth stage which for some people is the most difficult is to project these same intentions towards someone who you do not like or who is giving you trouble. Lately I have been using Donald Trump. May they be without suffering, may they be without enmity, may they be happy. The fifth stage is to project these intentions out to all sentient beings. May all beings be without suffering, may all beings be without enmity, may all beings be happy.

So for those who are into hard nosed business and legal conflict this might all seem to be somewhat irrelevent. However the credentials of these ways of dealing with our lives and conflicts is many thousands of years old and current research in many respected universities is providing the scientific proof of the effectiveness that our culture demands.

So now we will have little introduction to these meditations. The first time I did a short talk like this instead of the full day course I thought that I would not do the actual experiential piece however several people who had done the full course encouraged me to at least include a few minutes so that people could have the experience of meditation however short. So I ecourage you now to prepare. Of course it goes without saying that all your devices are switched off. And now get comfortable, sit up straight. Don’t put too much pressure of your chair back. Feet flat on the floor. Hands resting on your lap. Eyes closed.

(Vipasana and Metta practice. 10 min)

After the group has had a taste of both Vipasana and metta meditation they are sent off in pairs to come up with a conflict that they can role play. This takes about 5 minutes and they come back with some great conflicts. Then two participants will role play their conflict whilst the rest of the class watch and listen in the role of the mediator. The mediator is only allowed to say something when it is not only a kind statement but also equally kind to both parties at the same time. When a mediator gets this right it can completely shift the mediation in a moment. The participants are hurled into a realization of their common humanity as participants in some cosmic Shakespearian play which is their conflict. It is quite amazing to see the transformation that can occur in an instant.

Getting it right is where the empathy comes in. This is mostly achieved by listening. And when I say listening I mean it in a very active and focused sense. And it is meditation that increases this skill.

Listening without thinking about what you might say or do next. Listening without looking for solutions. Listening without thinking that this is just like a previous case. Just listen. That’s the whole story. Just listen. Shut up and listen. Keep your opinions to yourself and just listen. As you get better at it, it gradually becomes a habit. Gradually you even truly understand what you hear. Gradually as you really begin to hear, respect grows for the person talking. This can be difficult at times especially if someone is shouting and using abusive language. However in the act of listening the talker (or shouter) is calmed.

As you really listen you move to where the person is. This is the definition of empathy. A very deep understanding of what is going on for them.

If you are lawyers and judges and mediators you will have many tried and true techniques that work for you. You will have seen similar conflicts that settled in certain ways. It is difficult to leave all this experience aside and just listen. Some of you will undoubtedly think that it is wasteful of your experience. You have been hired because of your experience and many clients and clients’ lawyers expect to see that experience on display. I have received some criticism for this technique from a top commercial mediator who felt that it was too ‘Hippie’, too soft, that legal personnel would not respect it. All of this has some truth but research is supporting this approach. Research at Stanford, Gronningen, Zurich and other places has shown that meditation actually changes the structure of the brain quite quickly. Empathy can be learned and it can be embedded into the brain. It also has shown that the application of empathy and compassion in conflict situations yields better more lasting solutions for all the participants. In international conflicts it has been shown that empathy based citizen groups are a crucial component alongside diplomatic negotiators.

You may have come across Bill Eddy who teaches on High Conflict Personalities. He famously talks of EAR statements. EAR stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. In dealing with High Conflict Personalities it is very effective to show them a high level of empathy. This can be difficult as they are probably exhibiting very obnoxious behaviour. But if you really focus (Vipasana training) on their communication and give them the attention that they seek and let them know that you understand what they are saying and respect them for saying it, it can transform their presence into something more manageable.

A year or two ago I attended Compassion week at Stanford in San Francisco. It was week of 4 conferences and a two day retreat all around empathy and compassion. The first two days was all about the science. It was a series of presentations by PhD types on their research with fMRI machines and genetic coding into the physiology of compassion and empathy. It turns out for instance that two weeks of a meditation program of an hour a day can physically change the brain in ways that can be seen with an fMRI. The first Phd in Empathy that I met had been in London at the Empathy and Compassion in Society conference in 2012. I never even knew such a degree existed. A Phd in Empathy. Olga Klimicki was a specialist in brain plasticity. And here I was two years later hearing that you can actually see the physical changes to the lobes associated with empathy in two weeks of meditation.

There was also an epigeneticist who presented a picture of DNA strands that were severely broken. He said that when you see DNA damaged like this it is normally a chemical such as cocaine or benzene that might cause it. This break however was caused by loneliness. What’s more it was reversible. Remove the loneliness and the break starts to quickly heal. Astounding stuff.

I should say something about the difference between Empathy and Compassion. Empathy is that ability to experience and understand the emotional state of another. This is a useful skill for a mediator but realize that if their emotional state is negative and pain, empathy will cause you to feel these too. As Paul Bloom points out in his book ‘Against Empathy’ there are situations where empathy might be inappropriate. Compassion on the other hand is a projection of goodwill and positive feelings towards another which will make both them and you feel better and often has an action component.

There was also a two day conference on applied compassion in business and public administration. The Compassionate cities movement had a number of mayors from different cities who talked of the success of having a conscious compassionate lens in policy development. A CEO talked of approving empathy and compassion training in his company without much thought that it was that significant. It was not expensive and people liked it. A year later the employee satisfaction was up. The customer satisfaction was up and profits were up. The last weekend had a two day retreat where the techniques of learning compassion and empathy were demonstrated. Meditation and various empathic exercises were demonstrated and practiced.

So to recap. Just as the text books said Empathy is a very powerful tool in solving conflict situations. And to increase empathy in mediators the use of meditation is effective. And if you can reach a point where you can feel deep empathy for all the participants and then project good metta towards all the participants the space that you create will have seemingly magical qualities. If when you make an intervention it is seen as equally kind to all the participants then transformation can occur.

So the central skill of mediation might be distilled to four words. Listen and be Kind.
It is however not easy.

Thank you very much

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Journey to Empathy

 

This was the text that I wrote to guide my talk on empathy to the World Mediation Summit in Madrid in June this year 2017.

I did not present it. I talked from my heart instead. All that I talked about is in this text but I left out much of it as irrelevant. The story is ‘Listen and be kind’.

As mediators know empathy is a central skill. To be able to really listen and to understand what the reality of a situation is like for the parties and to help those parties to that level of understanding of each other is paramount in our world.

Martin Golder started a practice in conflict management as an adjunct to his architectural practice in 1996. He quickly discovered that empathy was not one of his native gifts or perhaps it had been surgically removed in British boarding school. Using a contrived surface veneer of empathy, mechanical empathy if you like, works well as conflicting parties are too wrapped up in their own conflict to notice the artifice. However Martin decided that ‘real’ empathy might work better and so embarked on a quest to find it. This participatory presentation is the result of that quest.

Magic and meditation are involved.

 

­­­­­­­­­__________________________________________

 

 

Today I would like to tell some stories and take you on the journey that I am still on into the nature of conflict and the place of empathy in working with conflict. I will not only talk about the sorts of situations with which you are all undoubtedly familiar but also I will drift into metaphysics and the coming major shifts in our civilizations and cultures. I will however start with something about mediation in British Columbia in general. Also I am sure many of you would like to know about mediation in Canada. I can really only speak a little bit for British Columbia. As you know Canada is really big and Europe is a lot closer to Eastern Canada than we are in British Colombia.

 

I feel though that I am perhaps here as an imposter.

 

I say I am an imposter because my career was primarily as an architect in British Columbia Canada until one day I was putting an addition onto the back of a lawyer’s house. She came out to me and said “You should be a mediator” I asked “What’s that?” She told me that I had done such a good job mediating between her and her husband on the design of the addition that she recognized the skills. I then told her the architectural joke that custom housing design is 50% marriage counseling which of course is absolutely true. You don’t want couples to argue for the next ten years over some feature that one wanted and one did not. So that Autumn I signed up for a mediation course just for my further education and I went back and told her that I had signed up for a course in Mediation. She said “Which course?” And when I told her she said “I’m teaching it”.

 

It turned out that she was one of the top mediators in Victoria BC and she became my mentor for the next 10 years as I developed a sideline in conflict management and resolution alongside my architecture. One story she told me that she said made her a believer in the usefulness of mediation was about a mediation over a patent dispute. One party had left a company and started up another using information that they carried with them from the first company. The first company sued them for patent infringement. She said that when the mediation started the parties were very angry at each other and had a hard time even being polite. At the end of the mediation they left with a joint venture. Can you imagine how this might have ended if it had gone to court.

 

As mediators of course we capitalize on conflict.

Its management, resolution and mitigation is our fertile ground. Every project manager, landlord, and president knows this and is usually highly skilled in conflict management. Conflict can be destructive. But it also is creative. I would even suggest that all creativity has a root in conflict. How do we ride this fine line between the positive and negative views?

 

When participants or should I say customers walk into our offices they are mostly there because of a negative perception of conflict. However there are worlds where the participants recognize that conflict is a certainty and managed properly can be beneficial. They are likely to see the need for a professional conflict manager to be involved as early as possible. These are the sophisticated clients. For example: Big construction companies will often start a project with partnering workshops involving all the participants including the clients, the architects and engineers and the trades and subtrades where the certainty of conflict during the course of the project is discussed and various conflicts are modeled so that a conflict resolution process is designed before any real differences arise. There may also be an expectation that the resolution of some of these issues will lead to a better project.

 

So what are the processes, the secrets of mediation that are part of our Guild?

I am sure that you are all familiar with the seminal work by Fisher and Ury ‘Getting to Yes’. The book is really the first text that we read. It is the story of the Harvard project amongst the coal miners strikes in America. Certainly before this work there was no formal process of mediation. In British Columbia mediation started to come into the dispute resolution field in the 1980’s. Mediation was not taught at all in the schools. Lawyers were educated in tight adversarial tactics. Commercial and insurance conflicts obviously had discussions to try to avoid litigation. As the formal processes of mediation grew academically insurance companies especially started to use them. Insurance companies are risk adverse and they quickly found that mediation reduced their costs and payouts if they listened and settled quickly. Currently in British Columbia according to one experienced mediator that I interviewed before coming here this lesson has been forgotten and the process has changed to a more American Corporate model which doesn’t involve much listening and leans to a dictatorial statement ‘This is our offer, take it or take us to court.’ This is backed up by as many lawyers as it takes to make sure that it never comes to court. A cynical and perhaps even immoral approach.

 

However the main model of mediation that is used in areas where it is appropriate is interest based mediation. This is now even taught in law schools. As I am sure that you know this process drills down into the positions that the parties enter the room with to find out what are the interests that drive those positions. When these interests are exposed it is common to find that both parties share some interests. Then on the basis of these agreed areas a new picture of the relationship can be constructed which includes the best alternatives.

 

There are other models of course such as the old judge who was in a mediation course some years ago when the Judiciary decided that judges should know more about mediation. He said ‘Within 5 minutes of walking into the room you know what the solution is. The rest of the mediation is to drag the parties kicking and screaming to it’. And probably it is a very good solution as judges are very smart and have seen so many situations. However I would have a hard time calling this mediation.

 

In the mid ‘80s in BC when mediation was still really unknown most contracts were written with arbitration as the alternative to legal action. In fact when I became a mediator I also became an arbitrator because this is what people knew. When I was offered an arbitration I would give the participants a short course on mediation as an option and what its advantages were. Most people would then choose mediation. Now most contracts will have mediation as the first alternative to legal action. Acceptance amongst lawyers is high but definitely not universal. Most larger firms however will now have an Alternative Dispute Resolution section. Some of the old timers call it the crunchy granola section. They probably think that all the young lawyers in that section live on communes.

 

British Columbia also has an organization called MediateBC which has become in many ways the branch of government that organizes much about mediation. They hold a roster of mediators both Civil and family who can be drawn from their website. They also run the Court Mediation Program for smaller cases in which I worked and mentored for a number of years. This program in now being discontinued I hear in favour of some sort of on line system. We will see how that works out. EBay and Square Trade have an on line mediation system in which the early stages were run by algorithms. Now many disputes are settled entirely by algorithm. So your jobs may be in jeopardy.

 

There is a model called Med/Arb or Mediation/ Arbitration. In this model the parties mediate as much of the problem as they can and then go to Arbitration with what remains. This of course holds down the costs of the process because arbitration is more expensive that mediation. In some cases to hold down costs even further the parties may agree to having the mediator become the arbitrator. They have already worked with the mediator and have built up enough trust in the mediator that they are willing to let them arbitrate even though the mediator will have heard a lot of evidence that is inadmissible when working with the law as an arbitrator must do. I was involved in a model like this to resolve some land border issues where I was to be the mediator and an experienced arbitrator sat in on all the mediation sessions and was to rule on any outstanding issues. This saved on starting an arbitration where all the evidence needed to be presented again within a legal context.

 

Before coming here I interviewed three experienced mediators to see what they had to say to you. Probably what they all agreed on was that the courts and legal system are completely inappropriate places for families. So there is a family mediation system which in many cases can keep families out of the adversarial dynamics of our legal system. Disputes between neighbours likewise are more suited to mediation. Mediation is now often compulsory in condominium and strata title disputes.

 

We are as I am sure you all realize entering a period of massive and rapid change. It is difficult to even anticipate what this is going to look like. Immigration, refugees, Climate Change, over use of resources, new energy systems, political shifts, the restructuring of economic systems are going to need a lot of your skills. It is probably fair to say that many of the patterns that have guided us may no longer work.

 

This applies to the legal system as much as any of our systems. The mediators I talked with had some agreement of where the system works and where it does not. As one of them said. ‘If the legal system is designed to work for the multinational corporate sector then it works. If it is designed to work for Civil Society then it is Broken’. There is virtually no point in any citizen trying to use the courts to redress an injustice. It is just too expensive. And if your opponent is a corporation then they can use their legal department to stonewall anything. So perhaps if the courts are no longer any use to the average citizenry then parallel systems will spring up. Religions have parallel systems. Professional associations have parallel systems. Communities sometimes provide mediation services. I think the bottom line here is that whatever ways we devise to solve and manage conflict in our communities is evolving and mediation based on ethical behaviour is a very positive model. However as my friend said ‘It may not be appropriate when one party is a psychopathic pariah with a high conflict appetite and no interest in settling’.

 

So what can we do with them. They might make lawyers rich and they might bring the legal system to a standstill. This largely is what is happening.

 

So I am going to shift now to my own experience and research into conflict and the skills of mediation that might have some application in this new system.

 

 

When I was studying mediation all the text books from Fisher and Ury 40 years ago to Bill Eddy today talk of empathy as a central skill. The ability to actually be there with the participants in the mental space that brought them to this conflict.

 

Empathy, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, mechanical empathy, sympathy, compassion and kindness. These then are themes of what I will talk about and you may experience today.

 

Searching for definitions by itself can be quite difficult .

In my search I encountered an old joke that I often now use to start a discussion on empathy.

There was a rich woman who wanted to have her portrait painted by a famous young artist. She called the artist to her mansion and instructed him that she would like her portrait to be painted with empathy. The young artist arranged for her sittings and commenced the work. He would not let her see the painting until it was completed as he rejected any artistic intervention. Finally the day came for the unveiling. The family gathered round. The artist pulled back the cover. And there was a gasp from the assembled group. The portrait was magnificent, however there was a man standing behind the rich woman with his hand over her shoulder and stuck down the front of her dress. The rich lady gasped, composed herself and said ’Young man, what is the meaning of this?’

The artist replied ‘Ma’am, I must confess that when you asked me to paint your portrait with empathy, I did not know what empathy was. So I looked it up in the dictionary and the definition said ‘A fellow feeling in one’s bosom’.

Indeed! A fellow feeling in one’s bosom is a fine definition of empathy if a little ambiguous. I apologize for any language difficulties here as I know it is difficult for jokes to work in foreign cultures and languages. A ’fellow’ is an English word for a man and a ‘fellow feeling’ is a feeling that is in agreement with someone else.

 

However I must confess that the ability to be truly empathetic eluded me for many years. I would be in a mediation and as I was listening to someone’s story I would be thinking ‘Get a life buddy and stop whining’ at the same time I might say to him “That must have been a really difficult time for you.”

 

I had a complete disconnect between what I was thinking and what I was saying. However the participant would respond with “Yes it was a difficult time” just as if they really thought that I was empathizing with them. My mentor at this time suggested that I write a book called ‘Mechanical Empathy’. The amazing thing was that it worked well. By and large most people are so wrapped up in their own conflict that they do not even recognize the artifice that I and perhaps some of you practice every day. As professionals we need to do our job every day and some days we just are not into it so we act. (Fortunately my secret weapon is that I do have a degree in acting that I received by accident in the 70’s as I studied Shakespeare’s famous lines “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”.)

 

Whilst I found that my mechanical empathy worked well in mediation I could not help thinking that perhaps real empathy might work even better if I could somehow learn how to feel it. I joked that my empathy had been surgically removed in British boarding school. And there is a lot of truth to that. I decided to go on a quest to discover what this empathy is that all the mediation text books talked about. Do you either have it or not? Can it be learned? How useful is it really?

 

Through a series of life changing circumstances in the ‘90s I found myself trekking in the Himalaya for three months during which time I did a 10 day Vipasana meditation course in Kathmandu and hung out with a brilliant Guru in Rishikesh for two weeks. He was a follower of Ghandi and had as a teenager spent time in jail with him. All these experiences went to the core of my being and although at the time I didn’t know it they had moved my consciousness into new territory.

 

Some years later I was in a mediation which had not settled and the participants were leaving. I stopped them and gave them a little talk in which I complimented them on the work that they had done in the mediation. I wanted them to know that they had all done good honest work towards a solution. They had not quite made it but I wanted them to go away feeling good about the process that they had been involved in. They paused for quite a few silent seconds before returning to the table and settling. I was amazed. What had happened? What sudden shift had made them settle? As I analysed it later it was all in the little talk I had given at the end. I started experimenting with giving little encouraging talks and had some great results. I actually had one period where every mediation settled where before I was at about 66%. I was so amazed that I decided that I should pass on this information to my fellow mediators. I wrote a short paper and submitted it to a Conflict Resolution Conference in Winnipeg. I travelled to Winnipeg and presented it as a short workshop. It was quite well received so I turned it into a one day course which I have given to lawyers and mediators in British Columbia. The original conference submission was called Magic in Mediation. I had some pushback on the word Magic. People it seemed were not ready for Magic although this is what it seemed like to me. I changed the name to Journey to Empathy because the course is really based on my personal journey to find Empathy and the impact that has had on me and on the mediations that I do.

 

The content of the course is an introduction to Vipasana and metta meditation. Vipasana teaches the skill of focused attention and intention. Metta is known in English as the loving kindness meditation. I am sure many of you are familiar with it. It is a five stage meditation with a mantra in each stage. The first stage mantra is ‘May I be free of suffering, may I be free of enmity, (enmity is like animosity, hostility or unfriendliness) may I be Happy. The second stage is the same sentiments towards a friend, May you be free of suffering, may you be without enmity, may you be happy, The third stage is towards a neutral person who you may not even know. May he/she be without suffering, may he/she be without enmity, may he/she be happy. The fourth stage which for some people is the most difficult is to project these same intentions towards someone who you do not like or who is giving you trouble. Lately I have been using Donald Trump. May they be without suffering, may they be without enmity, may they be happy. The fifth stage is to project these intentions out to all sentient beings. May all beings be without suffering, may all beings be without enmity, may all beings be happy.

 

So for those who are into hard nosed business and legal conflict this might all seem to be somewhat irrelevent. However the credentials of these ways of dealing with our lives and conflicts is many thousands of years old and current research in many respected universities is providing the scientific proof of the effectiveness that our culture demands.

 

So now we will have little introduction to these meditations. The first time I did a short talk like this instead of the full day course I thought that I would not do the actual experiential piece however several people who had done the full course encouraged me to at least include a few minutes so that people could have the experience of meditation however short. So I ecourage you now to prepare. Of course it goes without saying that all your devices are switched off. And now get comfortable, sit up straight. Don’t put too much pressure of your chair back. Feet flat on the floor. Hands resting on your lap. Eyes closed.

 

(Vipasana and Metta practice. 10 min)

 

After the group has had a taste of both Vipasana and metta meditation they are sent off in pairs to come up with a conflict that they can role play. This takes about 5 minutes and they come back with some great conflicts. Then two participants will role play their conflict whilst the rest of the class watch and listen in the role of the mediator. The mediator is only allowed to say something when it is not only a kind statement but also equally kind to both parties at the same time. When a mediator gets this right it can completely shift the mediation in a moment. The participants are hurled into a realization of their common humanity as participants in some cosmic Shakespearian play which is their conflict. It is quite amazing to see the transformation that can occur in an instant.

 

Getting it right is where the empathy comes in. This is mostly achieved by listening. And when I say listening I mean it in a very active and focused sense. And it is meditation that increases this skill.

 

Listening without thinking about what you might say or do next. Listening without looking for solutions. Listening without thinking that this is just like a previous case. Just listen. That’s the whole story. Just listen. Shut up and listen. Keep your opinions to yourself and just listen. As you get better at it, it gradually becomes a habit. Gradually you even truly understand what you hear. Gradually as you really begin to hear, respect grows for the person talking. This can be difficult at times especially if someone is shouting and using abusive language. However in the act of listening the talker (or shouter) is calmed.

 

As you really listen you move to where the person is. This is the definition of empathy. A very deep understanding of what is going on for them.

 

If you are lawyers and judges and mediators you will have many tried and true techniques that work for you. You will have seen similar conflicts that settled in certain ways. It is difficult to leave all this experience aside and just listen. Some of you will undoubtedly think that it is wasteful of your experience. You have been hired because of your experience and many clients and clients’ lawyers expect to see that experience on display. I have received some criticism for this technique from a top commercial mediator who felt that it was too ‘Hippie’, too soft, that legal personnel would not respect it. All of this has some truth but research is supporting this approach. Research at Stanford, Gronningen, Zurich and other places has shown that meditation actually changes the structure of the brain quite quickly. Empathy can be learned and it can be embedded into the brain. It also has shown that the application of empathy and compassion in conflict situations yields better more lasting solutions for all the participants. In international conflicts it has been shown that empathy based citizen groups are a crucial component alongside diplomatic negotiators.

 

You may have come across Bill Eddy who teaches on High Conflict Personalities. He famously talks of EAR statements. EAR stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. In dealing with High Conflict Personalities it is very effective to show them a high level of empathy. This can be difficult as they are probably exhibiting very obnoxious behaviour. But if you really focus (Vipasana training) on their communication and give them the attention that they seek and let them know that you understand what they are saying and respect them for saying it, it can transform their presence into something more manageable.

 

A year or two ago I attended Compassion week at Stanford in San Francisco. It was week of 4 conferences and a two day retreat all around empathy and compassion. The first two days was all about the science. It was a series of presentations by PhD types on their research with fMRI machines and genetic coding into the physiology of compassion and empathy. It turns out for instance that two weeks of a meditation program of an hour a day can physically change the brain in ways that can be seen with an fMRI. The first Phd in Empathy that I met had been in London at the Empathy and Compassion in Society conference in 2012. I never even knew such a degree existed. A Phd in Empathy. Olga Klimicki was a specialist in brain plasticity. And here I was two years later hearing that you can actually see the physical changes to the lobes associated with empathy in two weeks of meditation.

 

There was also an epigeneticist who presented a picture of DNA strands that were severely broken. He said that when you see DNA damaged like this it is normally a chemical such as cocaine or benzene that might cause it. This break however was caused by loneliness. What’s more it was reversible. Remove the loneliness and the break starts to quickly heal. Astounding stuff.

 

I should say something about the difference between Empathy and Compassion. Empathy is that ability to experience and understand the emotional state of another. This is a useful skill for a mediator but realize that if their emotional state is negative and pain, empathy will cause you to feel these too. As Paul Bloom points out in his book ‘Against Empathy’ there are situations where empathy might be inappropriate. Compassion on the other hand is a projection of goodwill and positive feelings towards another which will make both them and you feel better and often has an action component.

 

There was also a two day conference on applied compassion in business and public administration. The Compassionate cities movement had a number of mayors from different cities who talked of the success of having a conscious compassionate lens in policy development. A CEO talked of approving empathy and compassion training in his company without much thought that it was that significant. It was not expensive and people liked it. A year later the employee satisfaction was up. The customer satisfaction was up and profits were up. The last weekend had a two day retreat where the techniques of learning compassion and empathy were demonstrated. Meditation and various empathic exercises were demonstrated and practiced.

 

So to recap. Just as the text books said Empathy is a very powerful tool in solving conflict situations. And to increase empathy in mediators the use of meditation is effective. And if you can reach a point where you can feel deep empathy for all the participants and then project good metta towards all the participants the space that you create will have seemingly magical qualities. If when you make an intervention it is seen as equally kind to all the participants then transformation can occur.

 

So the central skill of mediation might be distilled to four words. Listen and be Kind.

It is however not easy.

 

Thank you very much

 

 

 

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Thoughts on The World Mediation Conference in Berlin 2015

I had to keep pinching myself to realize where I was. 4 days of presentations from all over the globe on mediation practice. British Columbia was well represented with 5 practicing mediators from BC. In addition to myself there was Arlene Henry QC, Joseph Boskovich, Norm Smookler and Martyn Westermann.  Although the conference was quite intimate with only about 40 participants, 27 countries were represented and with 5 speakers a day. About half of the participants were also speakers.

The WMO is the brainchild of Dr Daniel Erdmann of Berlin who had the theory that we all have the inclination and in fact some native ability to solve the problems that we encounter around us. He began to gather a group around this idea to develop these abilities into practice. When these groups had come into existance in 4 or 5 countries he merged them together into the WMO. Since then the group has held conferences in several locations in Europe, Asia and Africa. In contrast to the International Mediation Institute in Den Haag which is mostly composed of ex-jurists, the WMO tends more towards the idea that conflict resolution is not in the sole jurisdiction of the legal profession. There was however an impressive list of mediation professionals present.

Dr Erdmann had teamed up with the German Mediation Academy to run this event and Patric Illigen and his wife Sylvia orchestrated our days. The presentations typically of about 90 minutes each were then interspersed with networking breaks that were long enough that by the end of the four days I was starting to know everyone a bit and some people very well.

The presentations illustrated a wide and diverse view of what mediation can be in different situations from our familiar interest based model to evaluative and facilitative.  Perhaps the most unusual was a Rumanian presentation from Nicoleta Munteanu on mediation in classified information scenarios. While I am sure that this is a necessary level of certification in some jurisdictions I felt like I had suddenly dropped into a John LeCarre novel.

Mordecay Cristal was at Camp David talks with Clinton, Arafat and Barak and presented a fascinating account of how even these international level talks have a huge human component that ultimately can determine how it all turns out. I thought of Helen of Troy.

Maria Theologidou a lawyer from Greece presented a fascinating review of dispute resolution techniques in antiquity and mythology.

Sarah Blake spoke about intercultural mediation from her perspective working with Indigenous Australians. Her work has aimed to shift the dominant society view of cross cultural mediation as one that uses the interest based models of the dominant society to jurisdictional convergence mediations that seeks to respect the dispute resolution traditions and methods of both parties equally.

Prof Andrew Goodman a very distinguished lawyer and mediator travels all over the world helping governments and companies set up dispute resolution systems. He talked of our vaunted neutrality as something of an illusion as the mediator will not be able to resist a certain level of judgement about which parties are worthy or undeserving. His presentation method was delightfully and deliberately provocative and generated some good discussion.

And then there was the dynamic Beverley Tarr, a transplanted Brit in Chicago who seems to have single handedly changed the process of divorce in practice and in the legislation in Illinois. She developed a 2 day divorce mediation process that is integrated into legislation.  And yes you read that right, 2 days. She has done over 1400 cases including many high profile and high value cases and the process has been successful in 99% of the cases.

Roland Wilson from George Mason University focuses on East Asian conflicts and Peace issues and is in the process of setting up a George Mason University school of dispute resolution in South Korea. His experience in Asia is extensive in military, government and academic fields. He spoke of the need to ‘people’ international conflict with grass root groups that interact and influence their cultural milieu.

Sandra Thaler an Austrian mediator spoke on the transfer of farms and businesses down through generations. Not only are there the issues of a farm or business being passed to only one descendent and how the other siblings are woven into that process there are also the dramatic differences between the values of generations.

Dr Inge Vanfraechem from KU Leuven Institute of Criminology in Belgium was project manager of a European project on restorative Justice in intercultural settings. The power of RJ while recognized academically is still in its infancy in actual practice.

Douja Elhajj a muslim mediator in Australia has taken on the brave (in my mind) and daunting task of bringing traditional Islamic law and Australian law into balance in her community.

Thalia Veintitimila works in LA with Mexican US immigration conflicts and family reconciliation issues.

Mario Appiano from Turin talked of a familiar subject of getting recognition for mediation as a preferred method of dispute resolution by introducing it at the school level.

Ana Maria Rocha talked about the use of mediation in domestic violence situations. With experience as a lawyer, Member of the Portuguese National Parliament and in international work in compliance with the International Human Rights Standards she brought an unbiased and thoughtful view.

Prof Anna Rosario Dejario Malindog spoke from the Philippines on various mediation practices of indigenous and ethnic peoples of SouthEast  Asia since time immemorial. They certainly have similarities to North American practices and I felt encouraged to look more deeply into these.

Dr Ilona Németh-Kiss a Hungarian lawyer living in Moscow presented her thesis with WMO which took me back to why we choose to be mediators and the high satsfaction rates that mediation engenders.

I have missed some I am sure but you get the idea of the wide ranging experiences represented. There were a couple of speakers who were unable to attend and so one slot was filled with the BC mediation experience. Joseph Boskovich started with a bit of history of mediation in BC followed by Arlene Henry who talked about the present and MediateBC. I finished with an introduction to Journey to Empathy, the use of focused empathy and compassion as an impasse breaker.

In general the BC experience was viewed in high regard as some jurisdictions were just starting out. Afterwards we were approached with the possibility of presenting some courses so I think there is a market out there for BC experience. I specifically was interested in the response to Journey to Empathy. Several people said they were so glad to hear that empathy can be difficult at times. Andrew Goodman was sure that it was not for him and even went so far as to say that this ‘soft’ approach to mediation might actually put mediation into disrepute. I can certainly see where he is coming from with this as in ‘hard nosed’ mediations empathy can be viewed as a weakness to be exploited. However the neurological research on the use of compassion and empathy supports its use as a path to better solutions.

After I left Berlin I was planning to visit a workshop in Geneva on this very subject hosted by Olga Klimecki, François Bogacz and Jeremy Lack. Unfortunately I was not able to make the workshop but François kindly sent me the slides from the presentation.

I remain firmly convinced that Compassion and Empathy are the most powerful tools in our arsenal as mediators. The scientific back up for this is growing by the day. The historical evidence goes back thousands of years at least to the Vedas. Being able to suspend your judgement is more effective than using your judgement to manipulate a solution. Both methods perhaps have a place as many of the presenters showed but even in ‘hard nosed’ international peace deals the participants are still individual human beings.

Martin Golder

Berlin 2015

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Revolution revolution revolution

Revolution revolution revolution alternatives few and far between drag out the guillotine or is there another way. A way forward a path a brighter future. Change needed change happening so fast so fast but is it fast enough? Anger shame shame shame the human race so greed driven so blindly driving forward into oblivion. Is it my job to change its course, my job to feed my neighbour, my job to be human.

Greed greed greed. Everywhere I turn. Inside outside I still want more of this or that. More stuff more love more control more bodies squeezing me tight hold on hold on it’s a wild ride. It’s all downhill from here a waterslide to the big splashdown. It’s out of control turning points reached passed by observed unobserved no matter the fact is it is unfolding regardless, irrespective too late for action maybe.

Death death death comes to us all why be worried if it comes to all of us? The universe unfolds as it should or not extinction just another step along the way for me for you for humanity for all life just unfolding as it should or shouldn’t should I be worried should I cry should I do something anything to stop the impotence of the headlong rush off the lemming cliff.

Joy joy joy to the world from who from me from a god of mine of yours existing not existing yet permitting seemingly unjoyful times to befall. Is it all in the eye of the beholder or the consciousness of the creator, the destroyer Kali to the world. To find joy and meaning in a hell of ones own making Victor Frankl like rising from the ashes a phoenix of creation an illusion but I can see it.

Hope hope hope maybe the ultimate sin is the abandoning of hope can I find it anew to power thought intent action action to create life beauty joy as antidote to this oblivion just me just you just local immediate reality is all after all the only place to be or do which ever you wish hold hands hold minds hold hearts together sing dance and love in the now this is after all all there is?

Martin Golder
2014

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Compassion week at Stanford 2014

Compassion Week 2014

At CCARE
Stanford Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

I did promise several people that I would write a few notes about this wonderful week in San Francisco.

 
Compassion is being aware of the suffering of others and empathizing with it and then being motivated to action to help alleviate it. That action might be one of kindness.
This then can put Compassion, empathy and kindness into context.

Compassion is focused on suffering whereas you can empathize with many emotions including Joy, happiness, anger and even hatred.
Compassion has a motivation to action. Empathy may or may not be action oriented.
Empathy does lead you in the direction of connection to the other in a holistic way. (walk in their shoes).
Sympathy tends to separate you from the other whilst feeling their pain.
Pity is complete separation from the other.

 
Any of these can motivate action and the action is the ‘proof of the pudding’. If you relieve the suffering of someone it doesn’t really matter to them initially if you act from compassion or pity.

Two years ago I attended the first Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference in London. I wrote about it here. So when I saw that this year it was to be in San Francisco at the Fort Mason Centre whilst I was in Victoria I decided to attend. It turned out that the Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference was now teamed up with two conferences from Stanford, Compassion Charter day and a two day retreat on Campus. I settled on The Science of Compassion, Empathy and Compassion in Society at work and the Living Compassionately retreat.

The Science of Compassion was a jaw dropping two days of PhD research into the physiology of Compassion and how it impacts human interaction. An example: a geneticist shows a slide of the human genome which has a big shift in the middle. He says that normally you might equate this type of disruption in our DNA with a chemical such as benzene. The slide he was showing however was a disruption caused by loneliness. It was however reversible. The scientists came and went and showed brain scans that showed all kinds of brain impacts of both negative emotional states and corresponding positive situations such as meditation. Two weeks of meditation showed large growth in parts of the brain associated with positive mental health. The vegus nerve pathways are the link between the brain and all kinds of parasympathetic bodily functions. The link between healthy mind, healthy body. Meditation affects the brain which affects the heart and other organs instantly and significantly.

Part of me wondered why we in our culture have the need to see the scientific evidence before we can accept knowledge that has been known and documented for thousands of years. We and in that I include myself, are astounded and feel vindicated when the empirical science supports what we intuitively know already. We just know that to be kind is good. We know that a business that treats its customers as real people with all the same loves and issues as its employees and management will do well. And yet the capitalist model of bottom line economics and growth paradigm steamrollers over our basic humanity in its greedy search for growth and profit.

CCARE has as its patron the Dalai Lama and much of that ancient knowledge is codified by Tibetan Buddhism. There were many references to the Dalai Lama and to meditation practices. Some of the early experiments about which I am sure you have read were bringing experienced monks into the laboratory and measuring their physiology whilst they meditated. Seemingly impossible human states were documented. Total control over what we thought of as autonomous bodily systems were observed. Well these experiments have now gone much further as the equipment has become more amazing. fMRI machines that can give detailed pictures of soft tissues such as the brain in real time. To see a series of pictures showing great growth in the brain after just a few weeks of meditation is certainly a motivation to practice. Meditation changes you quickly and efficiently into a happier person. Fact.

Paul Ekman was present for several presentations and showed a short clip of part of his 60 hours of discussions with the Dalai Lama. He asks the Dalai Lama a long and highly technical question about the belief systems in Tibetan Buddhism expecting a long and detailed reply and the Dalai Lama replies “Yes, that’s right”.

Following the Compassion Science Conference there was then a conference on Compassion in the health care field which I missed as I am not in that field. Instead I took the day to explore San Francisco. What a great city. All day I was struck by the genuineness and kindness of strangers. I had warned my friends at home that I would return Californicated.

Thursday and Friday then was the 3rd Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference that had initially attracted my attention in London. This year it focused on Compassion in the workplace. It opened with a short impassioned plea from Karen Armstrong, the founder of the Charter for Compassion. She talked of Compassion as profoundly disturbing, uncomfortable and revolutionary. I am looking forward to watching her talk again when the videos come on line. You can see many of her speeches on line including the original TED talk.

There was a CEO of a major US health providers (big business in the US) who talked of improved customer and employee satisfaction which impacted the bits that good CEO’s like to see improve – the bottom line. Mayors from several cities that had joined the Compassionate Cities movement. The Mayor of Louisville Kentucky talked of the many benefits of viewing all policy through a lens of compassion. All those usual indicators of a healthy city improve with this approach. Other cities were looking at Louisville and wondering what they had done to improve all these indicators.

Compassion really is the magic bullet to solve all issues it seems.

One presentation that absolutely blew my mind was Julia Kim who had flown in from Bhutan where she is a senior program advisor on the GNH (Gross National Happiness) indicator. We all know that the GDP is killing us with its focus on growth and the bottom line. The GNH was developed at the UN where she worked on it and Bhutan agreed to be the test case. The work she has done and is doing was worthy of sainthood. Again I will be watching the Empathy and Compassion website for the video.

 
A little story. When I went to register I turned around and behind me was Edwin Rutsch of Culture of Empathy whom I had met on line and briefly corresponded with. I felt that I knew him from our on line connection and we immediately bonded. Edwin is a front line empathy warrior. The theory that the PhDs relish is not where his rubber meets the road. He has currently set up an Occupy Empathy tent in Berkeley and meets all comers with fierce empathy. We talked one day of an idea I had to use empathy as a weapon and he immediately started a dialectic between us where we explored that idea. He interviews on line all comers about empathy. His web site has all these interviews available. People who have written books on empathy and even the subject of the movie ‘I, Psychopath’, Sam Vaknin. Sam uses ‘cold’ or ‘mechanical’ empathy and does a great job of ‘outempathying’ Edwin in the video. Every student of empathy should watch it. 

The list of participants is a veritable who’s who of the empathy world but I do have to mention Paul Gilbert a professor of clinical psychology at Derby UK and founder of The Compassionate Mind Foundation.

There are many videos of his on line which can provide a full education in compassion just for the watching. A brilliant man and therapist who entertains his audiences as he dances an impish dance of Joy.

The last two days were devoted to a retreat at Stanford where the practices that lead us to a life of compassion were presented and briefly practiced. It seems that California is at the crossroads and linking point of East and West. Ancient wisdom is studied, proved, codified and packaged into consumer society products. The Tibetan book of the dead is one such ancient codification. A new product from CCARE was rolled out called CCT Compassion Cultivation Training. The first 18 teachers were introduced and we were introduced to the practice. I took care to notice that one of the teachers Magdalena Szpala was from Vancouver BC and we have since connected and started a conversation.

My wife says that ‘Yes, I have been Californicated’. My passion for Compassion has been ignited. If you are going to have an addiction then Yoga, Tai Chi or Compassion are all suitable candidates.

Compassion is a learnable skill that is worth learning because life is better, happier and healthier when it is practiced. It is however like any other skill in that it must be practiced or like tennis, French or ski jumping it will wither.
 

Martin Golder

Victoria BC

December 2014

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The Guillotine Index

The Guillotine Index

guillotine

When I was about 12 years old I made a model working guillotine in the school shop. I can remember thinking how cool it was with absolutely no negative thoughts about its gruesome purpose. Perhaps this is just the normal emotional intelligence of a 12 year old boy. Perhaps empathy would be a real problem in a killing culture and schools made sure it was surgically removed at an early age. I enjoyed the famous stories of the French revolution as much as I enjoyed tales of war and of cowboys and Indians and other such racist and bloody tales.

The guillotine was really a very efficient machine especially compared to anything else on the market including the latest in ‘humane’ drug cocktails. Firing squads might be good for a battlefield one off situation but for mass eradication they would need to brutalize the consciousness of large numbers of squad participants and they are noisy and messy. Chopping peoples heads off with an axe or sword is likewise very messy and has potential for error and great pain. The electric chair was probably just an expression of the electric age and ‘dying better electrically’. Hanging has been the staple method in many killing cultures and is probably a serious competitor to the guillotine as it is less messy and done right is reasonably efficient.

The guillotine however has one huge advantage over any other method in that it will always be associated with the French Revolution and the rising of an oppressed populace against an arrogant and filthy rich elite class that thought that they were God’s gift to humanity and that they ruled and ponced about by Divine right.

This is where it all starts to be so familiar and how the idea of the Guillotine Index (GI) became such an obvious measure of the potential for revolution in any particular system.

When the private ‘powers that be’ started shutting off water supplies to the poor people in Detroit the GI in Detroit rose to actual revolution levels. The seeds had long since been sown by the autogarchies closing down their factories and moving production elsewhere rather than to pay the pensions that they were committed to. All that was now needed was a trigger event. As the people surged into the streets and onto social media the powersphere folded and gave authority back to the people just in time to prevent more carnage on the streets than is normal for Detroit.

When Nestle’s not so charming CEO started getting major air time on social media with pithy sayings such as ‘water is not a human right’ his personal GI index started the climb to the top where he even outdid Wall street bankers from Goldman Sachs.

When through the wonders of the Internet the world discovers that 85 individuals have the same amount of wealth as 50% of humanity the Global GI index is at boiling and steam is popping out all over the place.

I find that now in my old age I do have some empathy but I really have to work hard to generate it for greed driven arseholes. I realize that is pretty judgemental but then again I’m not perfect. If a coterie of the worst offenders were marched off to the guillotine I don’t think I would shed a tear.

So whilst the GI is a hypothetical index it might be sensible for those who find themselves with an index rating to examine their behaviour and count their chances.

The GI is a number from 1-10. To calculate the GI of any person or group just ask a selection of random people this question. ‘If A had behaved like this at the time of the French Revolution, would they have been sent to the guillotine?’ Simple Yes/No. Score 1 for each ‘yes’ and reduce the numbers to base 10. i.e. if you ask 10 people then the number of yeses is the GI. If you ask 100 then divide the yeses by 10.

The GI is not intended to be a incitement to violence of any kind. Rather it is a measure of the social perception of extreme behaviour to encourage moderation.

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