Go back to your school playground. Someone has hurt another child. An adult is telling one child to say ‘sorry’ and for the other child to ‘forgive’ them. As children we are told to respond reflexively to an apology and offer forgiveness. The challenge is that we are not often taught what forgiveness means or how to do it. It can seem to mean:
It is important for people to recognise that Luskin is not proposing a selfless and self-sacrificing forgiveness. His forgiveness is a form of empowerment. It is not about minimising what happened or denying that something happened. It does not mean reconciling with the person who hurt you, they may never know that you have forgiven them.
For parties in conflict, there can be a significant amount of unresolved pain and anger over behaviour / events / decisions. Luskin explains that remaining in anger and pain is a choice. By learning how to forgive, parties can free themselves. In mediation, this freedom translates into an enhanced ability to negotiate in their own best interests.
Next week, why is forgiveness good for us?
Between the books and the screen adaptations there is one significant difference. In the books, Moriarty is described as the Napoleon of Crime, yet he appears in only two stories. Whilst Holmes acknowledges his importance as an adversary, he is not the only source of crime, evil and plotting.
In screen adaptations, Moriarty is regularly shown to be the puppet master and the focus of Holmes's obsession. Moriarty is behind every twitching curtain and nasty plot. Perhaps this intense relationship was most striking in the BBC adaptation, Sherlock.
in conflict, we can become obsessed with the other person. They become a target of blame, they are all bad. They have hurt us intentionally. This may be true. It may not be true.
Regardless, the question remains is it helpful? In Luskin's Forgive for Good, he suggests that when we focus on the person who has hurt us and continue to focus our blame on them, we cede power. We give power over how we feel, and how to hurt us to a person who probably does not have our best interests at heart.
Luskin asks us to reclaim our power. To change our story about what happened from a victim story, to one in which we are the hero. To refocus our attention on to our well-being and forgive the person who hurt us. I will be sharing some blogs about forgiveness over the next few weeks.
Sherlock, never learns to leave his obsession. In the books and also the adaptations he vanquishes his enemy. In real life this is not an option, better to learn to keep our power and to heal ourselves.
In A Study in Scarlet, we are introduced to one of the greatest teams in all of fiction. Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are thrown together by the prosaic need to find a flatmate. Their relationship is one which endures despite their differences and is fuelled by their deep love for each other. Over the years, their friendship is strained, by Holmes' "death" and by Watson's marriage, and yet they remain bonded.
Without doubt, the support of Watson enables Holmes to meet his full potential. Rather than the stock image of Watson as a buffoon, in the books he is revealed as a decent and humane man of action and learning. He brings his skills as a doctor, and his empathy and kindness to assist Holmes. This support and his care for Holmes is a key part of the reason we keep reading and watching these stories.
In conflict, people often have to build their own support network. This may be an existing network of friends and family, a tribe. Sometimes it involves working with a counsellor or psychologist. When working with people in mediation, it is helpful for me to understand what resources are available to them. For parties in family mediation, separation and divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. I often suggest to parties to work with a professional.
There are many benefits to working with a professional. They are able to put what you are experiencing into context. It can feel very isolating to separate and divorce. A counsellor or psychologist (listen to my podcast about working with a psychologist with Dr Monica Borschel) can help a party to understand they are not alone in how they feel. The emotions that people experience in separation can be confusing, there may be anger, bitterness, betrayal or even ambivalence about the other person. Building a framework to understand these feelings can help parties to process them.
When working in mediation, parties can also benefit from skills and tools that counsellors and psychologists can suggest and develop. Every little bit of help counts.
If the great Sherlock Holmes can reach out a hand for help, we would be wise to follow his lead.
Of all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, hands down my favourite is Jeremy Brett. For those who have missed the Granada adaptation, it is worth seeking out. I have to admit to a certain fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch, but Brett is the Holmes that runs around in my head when I am reading the books.
The adaptation Brett starred in was a faithful interpretation of the books and revelled in the period detail. In such a constrained time as the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, Holmes' lack of conventionality stands out. By any measure Holmes leads an unconventional life. He is indifferent to the social norms of his times and impatient with convention. He has the means and social standing to choose his own life and to live according to his preferences.
It may seem that unconventionality is not a quality that relates to conflict. However, I think it can be truly important. In conflict, you will have a support team of people who want the best for you as they see it. Parties in conflict need to feel free to seek unconventional solutions which meet their needs. This requires reflection and an ability listen to yourself.
Sometimes as parties move to resolution, one of them will say something like "but how will I explain this to [name of lawyer / significant person]". They are reaching for a solution, but are held back by concern about how it will be perceived by others. In reality, your lawyer will support you and your support team will be there for you, but only you will have to live the conflict and the solution. Being able to choose a solution which may not be conventional from others' perspectives but which meets your needs and those of the other party is the key to finding resolution.
Holmes is empowered to accomplish incredible feats and acts of heroism through his belief in his own methods. In a way he is free, free from the expectations of others, free from societal constraints and free to listen to himself.