There’s A Hole In That Bucket, Dear Liza…

By Laura Melton Tucker, July 9th, 2013

Listen to this entry.

As I come up on five years of mediation work, some patterns are emerging.  Many of my clients express the same concern prior to mediation: “It isn’t going to work!  Our inability to communicate is what got us into this situation to begin with!” This month’s blog responds to this frequent statement of doubt and fear.

When people show up to mediation, they arrive burdened.  Metaphorically, they carry two heavy buckets on a stick over their shoulders.  One bucket is labeled “wishes,” the other “grievances.”  There are other words written inside of each bucket, but you can’t read them, for the buckets are filled with muddy, dark water.

All of us – not just my clients – have a bucket of wishes.  These are our hopes and wants, the things that will finally make us happy, which, incidentally, will replace the things we got last week that we also thought would make us happy.  In this bucket you might find anything from a new pair of shoes to a better house to a more understanding mate.  The bucket holding our wishes is bottomless.

We also carry a bucket of grievances.  In this bucket are all the ways people disappoint, hurt, betray, injure, offend, and anger us.  Our grievance bucket is replenished every day we step out into the world and interact with other human beings.

The curious shift that happens in mediation comes when we shift the contents in these buckets.  In some mediations, I’ve seen people dump their entire bucket on the table.  Emptying the bucket creates a space that accommodates a new way of seeing an old problem.  How is this possible?  It isn’t magic, though it sometimes feels like it.  When clients sit with a stranger (the mediator) they speak differently.  When a mediator repeats what has been said, summarizes information that spills out quickly, asks for clarification, circles back to revisit ideas that came up before and now fit into finding a possible solution, clients experience the conflict differently and a shift in perspectives occurs.  This shift makes coming to an agreement possible.  The shift happens when the buckets start to drain.

The wishes bucket is the first to empty.  When you hear someone else’s wishes, yours don’t take up the same space.  The other person’s wishes stand in opposition to your own, and out of compassion, generosity – and sometimes sheer fatigue –  parties move to the middle to find a compromise between both sets of wishes.  Something else happens.  Inevitably, clients share positive as well as negative feelings toward the other party.  I hear so much kindness spoken between people:  appreciation for the role the other parent plays in their children’s lives; tender memories from the past about a relationship that started off well but couldn’t be sustained; praise for one another’s contributions over a period of time spent together.  This pattern of shifting away from wishing things were one way to appreciating things as they are, explains how and why people soften towards one another and let go their wishes. The word written inside the empty wishes bucket is gratitude.

The grievance bucket is extra heavy. I sometimes wonder if we like carrying around our buckets of suffering.  They make us strong, we tell ourselves.  They get us loving attention from people who care.  They keep us distracted from the work we might have to begin if we set the bucket down.  I have witnessed people setting aside their grievances in many of the mediations I conduct.  I am struck every time by the bravery of this conscious act.  It takes courage to see things differently when considering the other person’s perspective. The surprising thing about setting aside a grievance is that the act doesn’t require condoning the hurt, betrayal or failure.  Instead, it requires surrendering our grip on these feelings.  It feels lighter to let the grievance go, lay it aside, place it behind us on our path forward.  Inside the empty grievance bucket is the word “forgiveness.”

The takeaway is that when gratitude and forgiveness replace wishes and grievances, understanding and compassion lead the way to conciliation. — Wishing you a summer of lightness and light.  Oh heck…wishes aren’t necessary.  Count all the good things happening for you this very moment and go find someone to hug.  Peace and love, always. – Laura

4 Responses

  • Lori Kintzle says:

    Laura I am speechless as always. You could NOT have written it better and we can all benefit from your wisdom and experience. Thank you for putting it down on paper for us.


  • Vickip Philipps says:

    Wow Laura! I will forever remember grievances/wishes vs. gratitude/forgiveness with this amazing metaphor! I loved this and loved hearing you read it too! Thank you for such a great message!

  • Cheryl Hetherington says:

    Laura, I have used this all day with clients in my therapy office. It is such a wise and helpful way to frame conflicts and our ways of thinking. Thank you so much.

  • Mark Harris says:

    Wisdom. Congratulations, and thank you.

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