Often, during a mediation, I will ask a party, “What will it take to resolve this dispute? ” Every once in a while, I am met with silence or a blank look. Why? I suspect it is because she really has not had the “quiet” time to reflect. Like everyone else in today’s world, the party was moving quickly from one task to another almost like an automaton without giving much thought to anything: she was just trying to get through the day.
An article in the New York Times (Sunday Review, September 27, 2015) entitled “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk” by Sherry Turkle prompted my reflections. While the theme of the article discusses the decline in empathy due to modern technology and more specifically, our ubiquitous dependency on smartphones, Ms. Turkle discusses the more distressful result of our modern technology: we do not enjoy much less engage in solitude. As a result, we do not know ourselves or what it is we really want!
Because of our smartphones, we text, play games or participate in social media rather than sit and talk with one another, uninterrupted. We do not converse or otherwise engage in open-ended and spontaneous conversations that allow us to be creative and, perhaps a bit vulnerable. Consequently, by our constantly checking our smartphones for “whatever”, we do not make eye contact, we do not learn how to read body language, and we do not pick up on someone’s tone; in short, we do not learn how to comfort someone, be intimate, or how to empathize with their plight. (Id. at 2-4).
If we put down the smartphone, or even go so far as to turn it off, we can then have a meaningful conversation with someone; one that lasts more than a few sound bites, “… In conversation, these go best if you pay close attention and learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes….Conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do.” (Id. at 4.)
How does this tie into solitude?
…The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude.
In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.
A VIRTUOUS circle links conversation to the capacity for self-reflection. When we are secure in ourselves, we are able to really hear what other people have to say. At the same time, conversation with other people, both in intimate settings and in larger social groups, leads us to become better at inner dialogue. (Id. at 4.)
…In solitude we learn to concentrate and imagine, to listen to ourselves. We need these skills to be fully present in conversation. (Id. at 5.)
In short, “… the most crucial conversation you will ever have will be with yourself.” (Id.) So, as the author notes, slow down and do one thing at a time—unitask. Take the time to sit quietly and reflect; listen to your inner self; think about what it is that you want! Or, in the words of Simon & Garfunkel, ” Slow down, you movetoo fast, You got to make the morning last ….” (The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (1966).)
Only then- will you be able to answer the question that I or any other conflict resolution specialist will no doubt ask you: “How do YOU envision settlement?”
…Just something to think about!
By Phyllis G. Pollack