I have had the unusual pleasure as a family mediator of working with some couples who wish to try reconciliation. Family mediators will tell you that these cases are unusual and that often people do not survive the crisis which brought them to mediation. However, from my perspective, I always feel honoured to work with people to try and design a roadmap for reconciliation.
For some couples, a crisis has precipitated the decision to come to mediation. For most people by the time we are sitting in mediation, it is too late to reconcile. Too much has happened and without knowing it the parties have crossed a line in their relationship. Even in these cases, one party may wish to reconcile. However, for reconciliation to work, both parties must be committed to the process.
For other couples, both people feel a great deal of ambivalence. A crisis may have occurred but there are reasons which make them want to try to save the relationship. This book, "Should I stay or should I go?" provides a potential way out of that dilemma.
Raffel suggests that parties need to respond to the crisis, which he sees as a "call to action". He suggests a controlled separation gives both parties time and space to heal and to work on the reconciliation.
To work towards reconciliation, the parties will need to work with a counsellor to address the relationship issues which led to the crisis. However, in mediation I can work with people to create a roadmap for reconciliation. We can work on the practical issues:
There are times in life when we feel with absolute certainty that we are totally correct. It can be intoxicating. Sometimes in mediation, I see parties who have this sense of absolute correctness. They are certain about what they believe and about what is right.
"On Being Certain" explains in a way a non-scientist (like me) can understand how thoughts are created in our brains. Burton describes in easy to follow detail the mechanisms at work in our brains to stimulate thoughts.
I particularly enjoyed his description of the neural connections and that the "committee" of all relevant neural connections meets behind closed doors to decide what to do about the stimuli. I felt comforted by the thought that inside my head there are innumerable committees meeting to manage everything about me. Somehow, having all of those nameless bureaucrats working to support me as I go about my day, made me feel very supported.
The one thing I missed in this book was the ending. After convincing me as to how certainty is created in our minds, Burton sadly did not explain how to shake the certainty. Maybe this will be his next book?
Finally Winter has arrived in Hong Kong. To celebrate, I am sharing a colouring page in the link below. As I have mentioned before, drawing and painting are a necessary part of living, especially when things are challenging. I hope this gives you a few minutes off to get out your watercolours or paints and just breathe.
This book is so dense with ideas that my tightly typed summary covers 22 pages. From the first chapters, where Feldman Barrett explores what do we mean by emotion? are they universal? I was hooked.
"How Emotions are Made" lifts the curtain on our own emotional creation and describes a world where emotions are constructed. We create mental concepts and categories to help us navigate the world. Emotions are not reactions to the world, they are our constructions of how we will react to the world.
Most striking is her description of our brain as a scientist, trapped in a dark box, it uses the data we provide to form predictions about how to keep us safe, what is happening and what we need to do about it. Her approach is that we construct our emotions - we do not react to stimuli but we are responsible for how we feel about other people and events. As she points out, if we just reacted to things, we would be dead. It is too slow a way to function effectively.
Just like a scientist sometimes our brain gets the prediction or hypothesis wrong. If our brain is a good scientist then it will re-calibrate and try again. If it is a bad scientist, it will be selective about the data it uses or even worse ignore the data.
Why do we invest all this effort into the brain and its predictions? because the brain is trying to keep us alive. It is managing our body budget which monitors all of our systems to keep us functioning. When we are not in balance our brain will search for an explanation and a plan of action.
One key lesson is that she warns we must give up on the fiction that we know how other people feel, as she puts it "being curious is more important than being right".
Do you sometimes wonder why someone digs in their heels and refuses to change their mind even when it makes no sense? Do you sometimes see people make illogical or irrational decisions which they cling to in the face of all evidence? Then you like me need answers. This is one of my all-time favourite books.
"Mistakes were Made (but not my me)" explains the power of self-justification to make rational that which is not rational. In respect of some decisions, we make an emotional decision, we will then use our cognitive powers to rationalise this decision. The authors describe how we make a decision based on how we feel and then use our mental tools to support it.
The book starts with the work of Leon Festinger and his research into doomsday cults (where the spaceships don't come on the scheduled date!). It examines different areas of human experience: criminal work / relationships / politics / etc. Tavris and Aronson explain how we can start down a path from which the return journey is all uphill. From how people interact within a marriage to historical examples from Nazi Germany, the power of our minds to convince us is astonishing.
In terms of understanding others decision-making, the authors explain how we each essentially want to think of ourselves as good people. We may do things that are wrong or inflict pain on others but we are good people. The gap between our belief in our own goodness and the wrongness of our actions leads to cognitive dissonance. We desperately need to resolve this dissonance. We are good people, therefore we must have a good reason for acting in that way. It can't be that we would do something wrong, or behave badly? there must be a reason.
How do we do resolve the cognitive dissonance? we convince ourselves that there is a justification for our behaviour. Our memory becomes a "self-justifying historian" who is able to provide the proof that the person we have harmed is bad / wrong / evil / not human.
It can be uncomfortable confronting the truth about some of our strongly held beliefs and justifications. However, if we can understand how cognitive dissonance drives our decisions and beliefs, we have the opportunity to be free of it and, importantly, to let go of the need to be right.
As the weather in HK finally turns cooler, I wanted to share some of the books that I have really enjoyed reading this year. Over the next few weeks, I will highlight some of the great reads that have helped me think about things in a new way or given me new ideas.
In addition to having ideas worth considering, they are also well written.
So get ready to boil the kettle, plump the cushions and settle in for a good read.
A campaign group in Finland has decided to crowdsource a forgiveness emoji. Their website, Forgivemoji shows the submissions so far which they intend to submit to the Unicode Consortium and request the creation of a new emoji.
Looking at the emojis is an interesting way of seeing how people think about forgiveness. The emojis focus on healing (.e.g a heart with bandaids). However, many of the emojis show an exchange between one person and another. They use clasped hands and hearts being exchanged.
However regular readers will know that Dr Fred Luskin has a fundamentally different view of forgiveness. From his perspective it is a choice we make for ourselves. Forgiveness may be a group activity but it does not have to be. These emojis communicate that forgiveness is part of an exchange between the wronged and the offender. However, this traps us in a bind. If they do not apologise, if we are not in contact how do we ensure release from pain?
Forgiving someone else is a gift we give ourselves. Dr Luskin gives examples of forgiving people who are dead, who we have lost touch with or who we do not wish to communicate with. Forgiving in these circumstances highlights that forgiveness is a release we can control. Rather than being absolution for the other person, forgiveness frees us to move on.
In life, I find this concept of forgiveness very comforting. It restores power to the wronged person. Even if the other person does not apologise or seek forgiveness, we can still be free. We can choose to focus on our own health and not on the offender. Dr Luskin gives clear steps as to how to achieve this forgiveness. It is not an instantaneous process, however, he manages to show the benefits for everyone in learning these skills.
Be the person your dog thinks you are
There is no better advice. I hope you have enjoyed seeing the world a little from the perspective of our canine friends. My thanks to my models in the photos, Fred and Ginger.
As humans we susceptible to feeling judged all the time. In conflict, parties can feel judged by the other side, by their lawyers, the mediator and even, themselves. Dogs know that judging others is a losing proposition.
Dogs do not judge us. For many humans this is one of their best qualities, their non-judgmental gaze. Dogs are not thinking that you could have handled that situation better or been more diplomatic in your response. Dogs are not considering that they would have managed things better if given the chance.
As we work with people in conflict, we need to remember as participants, mediators and lawyers that judgment may feel satisfying but achieves nothing. People who feel judged are not more likely to be negotiable, or reasonable. We are apt to feel more defensive and less conciliatory if we feel that we are being judged.
Dogs know this.
When a dog looks at you, the dog is not thinking what kind of person you are. The dog is not judging you.