Mediating Beautifully: The Alchemy of Aesthetics in a Fragmented Age
Posted: 24 Feb 2020
Date Written: September 12, 2016
This was a keynote address for the National Mediation Conference, Australia, 12 September 2016.
We live in a fragmented age of conflict resolution. Advice on mediation techniques and models abounds. Different disciplines offer windows on the subject, drawing from diverse theories, systems, literature, models, jargon, processes and practices. Their bodies of published work explain strategy, structure and skills from a variety of perspectives; they promise efficiency, effectiveness or success.
What they do not provide is insight into the essential roles that beauty and nature—aesthetic elements— play in mediation.
Overlooked through lenses that accent utility and orderliness, beauty and natural metaphors introduce a range of sensual, embodied ways that our human thirst for belonging and for feeling moved is implicated in mediation. When these ideas are introduced to the corpus of work on mediation, mediation becomes more vivid and compelling. Possibilities appear that were unavailable via more analytic ways of imagining mediation processes; opportunities to move beyond fragmentation and towards congruence emerge.
In this presentation we will explore how integrating vital understandings of beauty and natural metaphors into mediation can change our experiences of conflict resolution processes, the people in them and the outcomes themselves, yielding changes that encourage congruence in how we define, practice and regulate the mediation field.
We will tap into a significant 21st century vein of scientific, philosophical and aesthetic work that underlines ways we are all interconnected, portraying humans as porous beings with the ability for agency and mutual, multidirectional influence. What we previously believed as real—Cartesian duality of mind and body and separateness between individuals and objects — is a fast-fading myth. This significant shift in thinking has profound implications for our approach to mediation. It connects via astonishing parallels to much older ways of knowing, such as the process of alchemy.
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