The Gray Magic of Mediation

By Laura Melton Tucker, April 17th, 2017

As if under a spell, I haven’t posted a blog entry in two years. Spell, by the way, is defined by Miriam Webster as a “state of enchantment,’ which in my case is related to starting a psychotherapy practice. But, throughout this new professional venture, I have continued to mediate with couples, families and business partners. Mediation, you see, has been a decade long “gray magic” practice, with the potential to transform clients’ hardened views into a new way of seeing things.

Turn’s out, gray magic is a thing.  One of my teen clients reads fantasy novels set in the world of magic and he tells me Gray magic is one of three kinds of magic. Black magic is a nefarious force that creates evil for selfish purposes…hexes and curses, voodoo dolls and chants over boiling cauldrons. White magic’s purpose is selfless and good. With pagan roots in nature’s healing, white magic is the power behind a prayer for blessings, protection, guidance or mercy. Gray magic resides in between the two. Gray magic invokes the benefits of white magic, but it also neutralizes evil in the world. Isn’t that brilliant? Maybe mediation is a form of gray magic?

Consider this story as an example. A 3-generation farm family hired me to mediate their business dispute. It seems their conflict had escalated to the point where they were ready to divide their land and go their separate ways. For this farm family, even more damaging than the financial loss of a business split, was the family’s risk of losing one another. Cut-offs happen when people feel emotionally unsafe. Too anxious to stay in relationship, they cut ties and run. But, during a cut-off, hurts calcify. The family discord forewarned a cut-off in the family if the mediation didn’t resolve the conflict. Their conversation that day focused on misunderstandings about shared commitment to the business. Why were some members taking time off to play with family during the harvest? Why were some choosing not to work on the Sabbath, while others, equally pious, were setting aside personal needs to protect the collective? Stories and memories were shared. Magically, tear soaked, weather hardened faces softened into smiles. In two hours they made a new set of rules for running the farm as a team of equals. Their agreement was based on their desire for clear requests, transparent actions, and generous latitude to accommodate one another’s needs. Their differences were dwarfed by their common goal for family unity.

Again and again, I have had the privilege to see how mediation transforms conflict into resolution. When people participate as engaged, accessible and receptive co-creators of meaning, acknowledging that each side has only part of the picture, they create the possibility for seeing things in a new way. No side in a dispute has a corner on truth. The takeaway is that mediation has the magical power to neutralize conflict and dispel misunderstanding. In the words of Andre Gide, “The color of truth is gray.”

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