Boundaries in Church Families

The closer the family, the greater the need for good boundaries. it is in congregations where “enquiring minds want to know” that there is the greatest danger of conflict. One thinks of a close knit community as one where everyone knows everything about everyone else but this is not quite true. In Main Street, Sinclair Lewis’ famous novel, there was great knowledge of each other in the town of Gopher Prairie but that knowledge was frequently demanded and, once obtained, was treated with disdain. A healthy town, family or church is one where intimate knowledge is not demanded, but freely given. It is freely given because individuals understand that others have their best interests at heart. Hence, in a healthy organization if anyone is, for example, absent it is the responsibility of the absent individual to give or withhold the reason for the absence. A healthy congregation does not search until they find the reason for the absence. they simply wait patiently for the person to explain the absence or are content with the knowledge that the individual will explain the absence if s/he feels comfortable sharing. It is when people are forced into disclosure or privacy is taken from them that conflict arises, because it is in such families, towns and churches where people people feel the need to distance themselves from others either physically (by leaving) or emotionally (in conflict). The closer people truly are in a church, the more boundaries are respected.

Togetherness in Mediation

Togetherness is an illusive quality in mediation yet it is precisely why people come to mediation in the first place. It is because they can’t work together that they come to mediation for help. Togetherness is not only useful but necessary: unless both parties (or all if more than two) truly agree, there is no end to the conflict but it is only postponed until one or the other has more energy to fight. Some mediators hold people at the table in mediation until they are exhausted and are willing to agree to anything. I find this counterproductive: temporary insanity brought on by fatigue is not helpful. Among couples who smoke there is great solidarity in smoking together in breaks. Indeed, I have seen mediations that were going down in flames until they were settled in smoke! More than smoking, however, is the chance to get alone together after struggling together toward a common goal. More disputes are settled in or immediately after a break than at any other time.

A good mediator crafts everything so the parties feel the togetherness, both consciously and unconsciously. Seldom does mediation work when both parties are sitting across the table from each other. Rather, it is when they are side-by-side, literally and emotionally, that settlement get crafted. The expert mediator continually shifts the discussion so emotion and attention are directed at the issue in dispute, not each other. In high conflict, the need to redirect can be almost constant. But when the parties truly begin to work together is when positive emotions are generated. It is positive emotion (the feeling that he/she really does not want to keep fighting) rather than logic that ultimately settles a conflict. That is why smoking, or any activity traditionally undertaken together in happier times, works so effectively toward settlement