And so my Miss Marple series draws to a close. It is with some sadness that I close this series, as it has been massively enjoyable reminding myself of all the stories. Although I am a bigger fan of the movies / serialisations than the books, it is the character of Miss Marple who retains my interest. Why? Why should an oft described "little old lady" be a character of fascination for decades?
From my perspective, she intrigues us because of her many excellent qualities:
How is any of this relevant to conflict? Ah, that is easy.
There will definitely be more detective series going forward, so watch later in the year for a little Conan Doyle, Allingham, Sayers, Marsh, Sansom, They, Thomas, Buchan...to come.
The Mirror Crack’d has been filmed several times, with Angela Lansbury, Julia McKenzie and Joan Hickson playing Miss Marple. The story involves both high glamour and high tragedy. The movie star Marina Gregg (played by Elizabeth Taylor, Claire Bloom and Lindsay Duncan) has come to the English countryside trailing stardust. A series of murders occurs and the police believe that Ms Gregg is the intended victim given her notoriety. In due course, Miss Marple uncovers the tragic origins of the murders which can be found in the seemingly insignificant yet deeply consequential actions of the first victim. In the same way, small decisions now can have massive ramifications in future.
At present, many separated and separating parents are struggling to manage their interactions and co-parenting, with the added complexity of Covid-19. On one level there are practical concerns, if there is no school, how will children be cared for during the day? For schools which have gone online, how do parents manage their learning? With lockdowns in place in some countries, where should children live? How can access be managed? How can parents communicate to make arrangements?
On a more structural level, some families are re-evaluating everything. Perhaps one parent has decided that relocation to their home country is the only option, for health or educational reasons. Perhaps one or both parents have lost their jobs and can no longer manage the financial arrangements. Perhaps both parents are seeking to relocate with the children to difference countries.
For all of these questions, large and small, the interactions of the separating parents will impact the children long after the separation has occurred, and long after any court orders are put in place. In order to be able to address these questions, parents need to be able to move away from the past and towards the future, even though it is no longer shared.
This requires clarity of purpose and emotional strength. To allow of a future where conflict has ended and life has transitioned requires each parent to let go of the hurt / blame of the past and to move forward. This is easier said than done. Each person will experience letting go in their own way. Sadly for some people this may never happen. In addition, to be able to see reality as opposed to a desired for or feared future requires a positive choice.
As someone who has lived with heartache, Miss Marple knows that letting go of the past is a prerequisite for being able to move on with life. She comments of one character that “she couldn’t let go of the past and she could never see the future as it really was, only as she imagined it to be”. Letting go of the past and the imagined future, enables parents and children to realise their future.
I was reading a NYT article today about how separated parents are coping with the challenges of Covid 19. The author, Hannah Ingber explains that when social distancing in the US started she was worried about how co-parenting would work. Ingber and her ex-partner were in conflict over many parenting decisions. She is surprised and relieved to find that the petty differences between them fall away as they grapple with how to manage risks for their children. Perhaps in years to come it will become common practice to include pandemic arrangements in mediated agreements between separating parents. At present this is not the norm.
What is part of normal mediation practice is working to help parents to child-focus and to strengthen and re-imagine a co-parental alliance. The shared common value of keeping children safe can be a bridge for parents to adapting and changing. Adapting to the new circumstances; and changing established views of the other parent as the 'enemy'. The relative unimportance of that additional extracurricular activity, or whether handover is at 6pm or 7pm, is highlighted when parents must work together for basic health issues. this bridge can lead parents to shift from the negative views and beliefs about the other person as an adult, to a new vision of the other person as a co-parent. In the role of co-parent there is a chance for redemption and trust.
This ability to adapt and change is one Miss Marple has in spades. In "A Caribbean Mystery" she encounters Jason Rafiel, a rich and highly cantankerous man whom she wisely decides to avoid. However, through a series of circumstances, it becomes clear that Mr Rafiel has hidden depths of empathy and kindness. They become allies and work to solve the spate of murders at the resort.
If Miss Marple had held strong to her original beliefs about Mr Rafiel she would have lost the chance for his support and wisdom during her investigation, and his friendship thereafter. Without doubt, Miss Marple is justified in her negative opinion of Mr Rafiel's behaviour. What becomes apparent though is his intrinsic worth as a person is obscured by some of his behaviours. For many people in conflict, the behaviours are synonymous with the person. We observe the behaviours and weigh the worth (or otherwise) of the person themselves. As Miss Marple knows, people contain 'multitudes' (thank you Walt Whitman).
Being open to adapt and change, gives Miss Marple the edge in her investigation. In conflict, being open-minded can enable a shift in mindset from warring enemies to co-parents who can put their children first. Miss Marple knows that the charming host may conceal the murderer, the gentle lady in the next pew may be the poison pen writer. We need to be just as open to change and adapter as Miss Marple.
In 'Ordeal by Innocence', Miss Marple goes to visit an old friend who is marrying into her employer's family. As she reminds us there is a virtue in being non-partisan.
Sadly for Miss Marple's friend, there is no happy ever after for her friend, Gwenda. Despite, losing her friend, Miss Marple does not leave the scene. Although initially viewed with suspicion by some in the family, she perseveres with her moderate approach i.e. not fiercely partisan for her murdered friend, but open to hear any information from anyone.
In any negotiation or conflict, people will have a tribe behind them who supports and advises them. In every tribe there are people who play different roles, hawks, doves and moderates.
The hawks are easy to identify. They will be the ones advocating for the scorched earth, 'take no prisoners' approach. They are fiercely partisan. The challenge is that they can encourage or guilt parties into an adversarial approach. They will caution against concessions and will resist collaboration. For some parties, it can be challenging to resist the hawks and make an agreement. Parties can be embarrassed about 'disappointing' their hawks. They may reject a solution if it means they have to explain it to the hawk. I have seen parties in mediation, hesitate over a solution because they do not want to have to tell the hawks that the war is over and that they settled.
The doves are also easy to identify. They will counsel caution and unilateral disarmament. They will suggest that peace is worth it any price. They will be heavily focused on the costs of unresolved issues and the difficulties of holding out for a collaborative solution. They will be trying to spare their favoured party from the pain of ongoing conflict and will preach the benefits of taking what has been offered rather than continuing to work on a solution. For parties, it can be difficult to hold out against the doves. Their counsel sounds wise, but they are focused on accommodation to avoid conflict / negotiation rather than resolution.
Finally, the rare moderate. A moderate will acknowledge your pain and your positions, and they will be able to acknowledge that the other side may have pain and positions. They may be able to express the "other side's" thoughts in a manner that you can hear them. They are rare in the real world. If you have a moderate in your tribe, seek them out. They will be able to help you consider your perspective may not be the only one. They will help you to see all the sides. Not agree with all the sides, but at least see them.
Miss Marple is a born moderate. Her mind can see multiple sides to any question. She can appreciate that her favoured perspective (that of her murdered friend), is only one perspective in the tangled web of relationships. Using her ability to understand many perspectives is a key to unlocking the identity of the murderer. In conflict and negotiation, see if you can find your moderate. If you are supporting a friend in conflict / negotiation, see if you can be the moderate in their tribe.
You do not stumble over a mountain but you do over a stone
There is a point in some negotiations when a party will decide that this is the hill on which they will fight the final battle. They may have reached agreement on a myriad of issues but this one is “a principle” or “so unjust” that they are willing to walk away from the whole agreement if they do not get what they want on this one issue.
Often these parties have worked extremely hard and are at the end of their energy and endurance. It is critical at this stage for parties to take a moment and consider the entirety of the negotiation. It is helpful for parties to remember:
For me, this proverb rings true when I see parties who have overcome significant challenges and have climbed the mountain, only to trip over a stone in the path. Staying focused at this stage can help parties to keep sight of their goals and to side step that last stone.
A sari is not woven from a single thread
What could this mean in the context of conflict? Just as in any fabric where threads must go in two directions, the warp and the weft, a negotiation cannot just achieve one person’s positions. A durable solution, a negotiated agreement will have threads going in both directions.
Mediators are seeking to work with parties to find a solution that provides enough of what each party needs to make an agreement work. The warp and the weft are both needed to make the agreement sustainable.
Welcome to the last day of the decade. In order to celebrate the turning of the year and the decade, I am starting a new series next week based on Asian proverbs. Each week, I'll look at a proverb from around Asia which illuminates something for people in conflict or for conflict resolvers, or both. In the new year there is time for old wisdom.
It was inevitable that Bill Eddy would make the list. He has previously written a book called "It's All Your Fault" which deals with general conflict. However, this book translates those ideas to the workplace, "It's All Your Fault: at Work".
I know that when I worked in banking there were days when I felt that I was being blamed for everything including the tax regimes / short selling regulations / market disruptions of Asian markets.
Those familiar with Eddy will know that he has dedicated his life's work to understanding high conflict people and coming up with strategies for how to manage your interactions with them.
Whilst, it is not helpful or appropriate for anyone to use the book to diagnose a personality disorder, it is helpful to consider whether the behaviours are something you are experiencing in the workplace.
For example, if you are working with someone who has inflexible thinking, who is constantly seeking a target of blame, who never takes responsibility for anything, then you may need some help in working with that person. What will be noticeable is that this person will have a history of negative interactions with others. You won't be the only person with whom they have conflict.
Eddy suggests some tools which mediators have been using for years to try and help to manage conflict with someone who may be a high conflict person. One of my favourite strategies is BIFF. If you have a difficult email that you need to respond to, keep your response: Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm. There are many days when I have used BIFF as a mantra to keep me on track. I think everyone who has ever worked in a large office could benefit from reading this work.
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.