When Slowing Down Speeds Things up

By Laura Melton Tucker, April 21st, 2009

I’m one of those people who collects aphorisms the way others collect shoes…well, okay, maybe I collect shoes too. Like shoes, I need an aphorism for every occasion. One of my favorite quotations comes from Art of the Inner Meal, a book about the zen of eating and mindful living: “Life is short. Move slowly.” What does this mean, and how does it tie into mediation? Wait for it.

That’s another little phrase on the same subject. This buzz lingo of hipsters, “wait for it” winks at our popular culture’s hunger for instant gratification. But aside from its use in jokes or story telling, the phrase offers sound advice. Wait for it. Don’t rush ahead. When two parties sit down to mediate, I join them with the intention of helping them to understand one another. I want their time at the mediation table to be productive, but they decide what that means. As our time together unfolds, there is usually a point where slowing down the conversation speeds up understanding.

Imagine a mediation between two disputing neighbors. Their issues revolve around a dog that leaves gifts, chews tree trunks, chases children and steals newspapers. The dog owner is listing all of the ways – in equal measure – that his neighbor disturbs his peace; lawn mowing before 8 am, teenage children whose car tires peel out of the driveway, trumpet practice with an open window, and the list goes on. The dog owner misses a quiet remark from his neighbor about splitting the cost of a fence to keep the dog confined. As mediator, I will step in to say something like, “If you don’t mind, I want to take just a moment to recap what I’ve heard each of you say…” Essentially, I slow things down. When both sides listen to a mediator re-state their positions, they’ll have another chance to consider what has been said. As a result, they may head off in another direction, revisit a point for clarification, or refine the conversation based on something they’ve rethought or possibly heard for the first time.

Not being able to hear the other party happens a lot in a conflict-based conversation. In telling our side of the story we become immersed in details, time-lines, layers of significance and our feelings about all of it. The communication process brings these things close to the surface where they pool and flood our consciousness. It is hard to hear outside of ourselves. That’s when it is helpful for the mediator sitting on the side to step in and slow the process. Hearing, processing, understanding, takes time.

So, back to my favorite aphorism about slowing down. I suppose I carry the thought in my consciousness to remind myself that life happens in a blur. Our best defense is to pay close attention – to move slowly – to counterbalance life’s brevity. Actually, moving slowly improves many areas of our lives: exercise (a slow crunch is harder and more productive than a fast one), eating (have you ever forgotten to taste what you’ve swallowed?), and, especially, talking to one another (most racing minds cannot hear and think about the next talking point at the same time). The takeaway is that if we want to resolve conflict, we may have to slow the conversation. On the path toward making a situation whole, it takes time to speak, hear and process the pieces…”life is short, move slowly.”

Comments are closed.

© Peacewise Mediation, Iowa City. All rights reserved. Design by Christina Willner