It’s Hard to Hate up Close

I read an interesting article about a black man who was responsible for over a 100 Ku Klux Klan members leaving the organisation. What was his secret? He said, “It’s hard to hate up close.” He didn’t try and convince them that the KKK was wrong. He just asked them to spend some time getting to know him. Many had never had a proper conversation with a black man. Each of the departing KKK members found that they no longer had it in them to hate a black man that they now knew. Clearly that’s an extreme example of bridging an empathy gap. However, I’m sure we can all recall a time when we fell out with someone or drifted apart. Communication will have deteriorated and it’s natural to then fill in the gaps and made assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling. When communication is good, empathy flows and allowances are made for friends and partners; “I know she wouldn’t have intentionally forgot, she is very busy and has a lot on her plate.”  When an empathy gap forms, goodwill is less forthcoming.  People stop understanding one another and frustration and resentment can build.

It_s Hard to Hate up Close Focus mediation Blog

Bridging The Empathy Gap

Mediation involves bridging the empathy gap between separating couples. If there’s no empathy, there’s often no compromise. “He’s the one who had a one night stand and ruined our marriage. He can spend Christmas alone, why should I spend any time away from my children? ” Or “Why should I pay her any spousal maintenance? She had an affair and left me; let her feel what it’s like to live without my hard earned salary.” It’s so difficult for angry spouses to place themselves in the other’s shoes when their own pain feels so overwhelming. Their anger often masks underlying pain. Whilst anger is a normal part of grieving for a relationship; it can be self destructive if it doesn’t dissipate over time. As Nelson Mandela wisely said, “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

A mediator’s role isn’t to convince couples to fall in love again or to even like each other. The past can’t be changed but a mediator can encourage clients to focus on the future. Clients might be  frightened about where will they live, how will they pay the bills and whether they will be able to spend enough time with their children. This fear can lead to each becoming positional; “Give me the house and I won’t touch your pension. If you don’t agree I’ll take you to court. I’ll claim the house, high maintenance for life and most of your pension.” When resolving finances in mediation we take a very practical approach. The clients work together to identify and then quantify their assets. Only then can they explore options. The mediator will ask them to check mortgage capacity and suitable housing options, amongst other things.  During the process communication improves and each begins to better understand the other’s concerns and worries. Sometimes I can pinpoint when the tide changes. Recently, a wife turned to her husband and said after several sessions, “Deep down I do know you want me to be ok, and I want you to know that despite everything, I want you to be ok too.” I sat back and observed as they nodded knowingly at one another. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations to resolve issues arising from separation.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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