Work place conflict

Stopping Founder Fallout from Turning into Start-up Failure: Supporting Structures

The statistical failure for new start-up companies is disheartening. Depending how you define ‘failure’ in this context it is estimated anywhere between 70% – 90%. The shear stress involved in starting up a business, inadequate appreciation of who the potential buyers are and, basically, running out of capital are often cited as major reasons for failure.

But another contributor to the failure of start-ups, particularly those involving two or more entrepreneurs, is fallout among the founders. Stella Fayman suggests conflict between founders early on in the process of establishing new companies is a major factor in start-up failure. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/stellafayman/2013/04/19/what-happens-when-startup-founders-disagree/) (accessed 30/07/2013)

The ability to work with conflict should rank alongside those skills essential to successful running of a business. I would suggest that these skills need to be complimented by some practical structural factors at the beginning of any new venture.

Attitude is fundamentally important. In my workshops on conflict resolution I often refer to the two characters that combine to make the Chinese word for ‘crisis’. Ji and Wei respectively refer to ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Like ‘crisis’ conflict provides not only a dissonant moment in a relationship but also an opportunity for growth and learning. As Fayman comments in the above article, ‘conflict is good’. A positive orientation toward conflict – along with the realistic expectation that you will have it – may go a long way in providing the positive energy for weathering those early differences you may experience with your business partner(s). Of course attitudes around respect and the ability to listen is equally important. I will talk more fully about these and a particular skills set that will contribute to the success of a start-up in another blog.

Here I want to say a few things about the importance of basic structures incorporated into a business early on. Awhile back I was working with staff involved in a newly launched business providing an alternative education. The enterprise was actually in its second year when I was invited to work with staff and founders in regards to a conflict threatening to bring the business to an end. What surprised me was to discover that no solid policies had been in place regarding conflict resolution and disciplinary procedure. All power devolved to the founders (a married couple) and they were (absurdly) the arbiters in disputes between themselves and their staff. The situation was made more delicate by the relationship between the founders. Short of a mature capacity to bracket personal interests and listen to others’ concerns – which was much in lack – a foundation of clear policy defining procedures for resolving disputes would have provided a solid base for engaging with differences whether among founders or between founders and staff members.

At the very outset of a start-up it would be helpful in the long term if partners could agree on basic policy covering eventualities of differences between them or between them and other workers they employ. The document might identify a third party process for resolving differences and also cover some of the critical co-founder questions posed by Dhamesh Shah: how should shares be divided? How will decisions get made? What happens when a partner leaves the company? Can a partner be fired? By whom? And for what reason? Etc.. (see http://onstartups.com/tabid/3339/bid/99/, accessed 31/07/2013)

Clearly written policy documents outlining processes and procedures or addressing difference will go far in placing a start-up on a more secure footing in a venture that holds enough challenges without conflict between founders.

Bridging differences 1

Bridging Extreme Differences: is it possible?

I recently attended a conference hosted by BIMA (Belief in Mediation and Arbitration) at St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. The venue itself is a powerful symbol: a twelfth century church in the city of London significantly destroyed by an IRA bomb in the early nineties, it now exists to host events themed around peace and ideologue between different groups.

The focus of the conference was ‘bridging extreme differences’ and featured some awesome panellists at least one of whom journeyed from the posture of an actively committed jihadist to a wider place of engagement and a commitment to pursuing understanding across religious and ideological divides. All of the panellists carried first-hand experiences of life amid political and religious extremists bogged down in mutually reinforcing demonization of one another. Needless to say, with apparent intractable conflict raging in Egypt and elsewhere and polarised conversations about same-sex marriage and (in the Church of England) female bishops filling the news, the conference was particularly resonant.

It is difficult enough bridging differences with a neighbour over building work on their property never mind some of the issues mentioned above. I left the conference in a ponderous mood yet somehow inspired. After all, ‘what exists is possible.’ We can take experiences of bridge building in South Africa, Northern Ireland and other places (however much a work in progress some of these situations remain) as hopeful signs. Some of the common factors around successful bridge building in extreme conflict situations have been:

1. Trust building: the process of trust building takes time. In South Africa conversations between the ANC and the white minority government had been going on for many years. Thabo Mbeke led the ANC delegation meeting secretly with the South African government from 1985. It was touching to hear Henry Brown, a barrister from South Africa, relay a story from this period. The head of the security services for the South African government, who took part in these early talks, was asked by his superiors whether Mbeke could be trusted. He commented, ‘I would trust him with my life.’ It took a long time to get to this place. But it bore fruit in the end when transition to a majority led government happened without the horrible bloodshed many had anticipated.

2. Patience: this quality enables people to stick with long processes of trust building, cycles of rehashing old ground and the ‘two steps forward, several steps backward’ that may happen at stages in the process. Senator Mitchell commented on the challenge he faced chairing the talks leading to the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland and participants returned over and over again to their sense of being wronged over the long history of the troubles and their outrage at one another. It took enormous patience to stay with that energy while it expended itself and much wisdom in gradually redirecting the focus so that progress can be made. Today Northern Ireland is a very different place than it was at the end of the last century, however much work remains to be accomplished.

3. A will to engage in positive ways and resolve the conflict: Participants themselves must ultimately take responsibility for the conflict and find ways of processing the memories of hurt and overcome these with gestures of toward peace and reconciliation. In the wake of the recent grisly murder of a serving member of the armed services in North Woolwich, the right wing EDL (English Defence League) organised marches on mosques (which clearly framed the issue in terms of religion rather than political extremism). These were potentially violent and volatile situations for all involved. At one mosque in Harrow, the young Imam, Ajmal Masroor, told the congregation not to react. Instead they adopted the risky strategy of opening up the mosque to visitors. Ajmal went out and met the leader of the mob gathering outside and invited him into the mosque to talk. He said ‘I will bring you in, protect and hug you, feed you and we can talk.’ The EDL leader said, ‘Give me five minutes’, left and did not return. The gesture was not wasted even if the invitation was not taken up. (At another mosque the congregation and leaders came out with tea and biscuits and a massive conversation opened up with protesters.) One is also reminded of the gestures offered by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi that eventually wore down the moral will of their opposition and created space for dialogue and change.

4. Finally, reframing conflict situations may also help to bridge extreme differences: In the story above there were those attempting to wrongly frame a conflict in terms of ‘Islam vs. Everyone else’ rather than in terms of ideological extremism. But even here a further step must be taken to reframe conflicts in terms of human well-being in order to heighten the possibilities for common ground to emerge. (Other issues do not go away but by enlarging the human space where people can be heard with some compassion, they may be engaged with more fruitfully.) Ajmal attempted such a reframing at the mosque in Harrow.
I do not intend to reduce the daunting prospect of bridging extreme differences to a formula .What I have written just a hint in the direction of tools and qualities required for such a task. All of us share responsibility for bridge building in our own situations regardless of whether we regard ourselves as the aggrieved or the perpetrator. The conflicts in our communities, workplaces or homes may not be extreme cases. But change is possible.
We were asked at the end of the conference to write down one thing that we would be willing to do to make a difference. The cumulative energy of that will to make a difference can be an awesome force. While I cannot take responsibility for what others may or may not do, Gandhi’s words resonate for me: ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world.’

Job Queue

Lessons from the Job Queue

It is good news to hear that unemployment has fallen, especially in the private sector. Apparently it is the sharpest quarterly drop in decade. It is also good news that more full time jobs are now in the offing for job seekers. At the moment it is news I savour from a distance. Ten months on and I am still looking for work. After several interviews and short-listings garnered from the 60+ applications submitted over those months, it is tempting to give in to despair and self-pity. No income or benefits coming in to help with the bills, just the occasional paid service I am able to render to the Church as a priest. So far my account has kept just a hair’s breadth ahead of the pack of wolves in hot pursuit. (Even for those in employment the costs of living continue to outstrip salaries – unless one is a CEO or works in the world of finance.)  But I remain hopeful – and happy.

Paring down wants and consumption habits has had a salubrious effect at one level. I realise I can live well enough on the reduced expenditure incumbent on me at the moment. (Though it is a bug-a-bear when something goes wrong with the heating system in this cold weather and one slips more into credit having to sort it out, etc..) Mind you, it is not that I don’t occasionally indulge in a reverie of wistfulness about acquiring a new Apple laptop. But I now find that a cup of coffee at my local café while reading a book or writing in between job searching is a real joy. The glint of pristine sunlight also surprises me with its radiant laughter in a way that is somehow more emphatic these days.

Also, I am even more attentive to people walking along the high road and side streets: I notice their expressions, the worn looks some of them carry, the distracted airs and happy preoccupations. Increasingly I also pass individuals drawing courage and fortitude from cans of strong beer, carrying belongings in a supermarket cart,  bloodshot eyes, resigned to the idea that life will bring nothing more their way. Their ‘Underverse’ is a secret presence beneath the indifferent rhythms of our own daily routines.   In contrast I feel a pang of sadness at the bombardment from advertising and media promoting the idea that life is for the trim and the beautiful and wholly subsisiting in what you can buy. The Christmas story of hope and joy is reduced to a vision of brightly lit lorries with fairy lights and images of Santa delivering ample supplies of Coca Cola for the holidays. Magic!  I am aware of an enhanced sense of bad taste the clichéd commercialising of Christmas leaves with me.

I do want to be in a better position to provide for my family and I have no otherworldly illusions about the darker realities of the bread queue: but the experience of the last 10 months has been gift to me in many ways. It has helped make me a better human being and, consequently, a better priest.

Above all, I am more aware that the best present we can bring to someone else is our own authentic and attentive ‘presence’. And you can’t buy that at John Lewis.

I guess that Apple laptop can wait.

Adam and Eve

Religion, like sex….

Why are jokes about religion or sex funny? It is possibly because they are serious subjects that touch upon the deepest parts of our being. Both have the power for ennobling human life and relationships. Both have the power to –if you will excuse the expression – screw us up good and proper. Sexual expression can enrich a loving relationship; where it becomes a tool for exploitation in can scar and ruin a life. Religion can build orphanages, serve the poor, produce marvellous art, express the pinnacle of the human spirit’s quest for transcendence; it can also bomb abortion clinics, send suicide bombers into crowds of innocent people, produce neurosis and fly aircraft into buildings.

The recent statistics about the rise and fall of formal religious affiliation in England and Wales were interesting. Speaking only to the data regarding Christianity, there were approximately 4 million fewer people identifying themselves as ‘Christian’ than there were in 2001. Also the numbers of those claiming no religion has increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011. One reading of this may be that people are a bit more authentic and less likely to identify a religious affiliation that is not meaningful. E.g. being baptised in the Church of England may not mean a lot to an individual for whom church attendance ended on the day of their christening. In the past they may well have ticked ‘Christian’ on the census form but it may feel far more genuine to say ‘no religion’ in this case.

More authentic or not, the statistics still give pause for the wider Church to ask itself why they are failing to connect with and increasing number of people outside the Church. Again, it is not the mission of the Church to increase its numbers so much as to be faithful to its calling to be an extension of Christ’s presence in the world. But still one must wonder to what extent the parochial pre-occupations, addictions to patterns that have long proved dysfunctional, and – in the Church of England’s case – a cultural alliance with state power and the class system have to do with ‘being Christ for the world’.

One of the positive emphases in the document ‘Transforming Presence’, now under consideration among churches in my own Diocese of Chelmsford, is the cultivation of spirituality. This is different than the cultivation of religion, narrowly understood. Spiritual practice aims deeper and focuses on enlarging personal engagement with faith’s underlying values. Practices like meditation and other disciplines aim to connect us one another, the world and ultimate reality, Holy Mystery, God or whatever term one prefers as a reference to a larger meaning-giving framework. They help to reify the core values of love, compassion and wisdom which, by the way, resonate across many religious traditions.

Love, compassion, authenticity: these characteristics, when vital realities in the Church’s life, may also make it a more attractive option for people seeking to explore life more deeply.

 

Successful failure 3

Being a Successful Failure

How do we fail successfully?

Not that failure is a worthy goal or anything like that. But there are times when we are glad that some endeavour failed. For example, there may be the job one is shortlisted for only to realise during the process of being interviewed and meeting the potential line manager that you would prefer to quaff down a pint of warm spit rather than work there! I recently went through a day long interview process for a job with three other candidates. In the end when the post was offered to one of the others, the two of us who ‘failed’ high fived each other on our lucky escape. The successful candidate was hardly enthusiastic about the offer and went home ‘to think about it.’ They are probably re-advertising for the position as I write.  I guess that was one kind of ‘successful failure’.

But I have something else in mind.

Once Woody Allen commented on the secret of his success: ‘I just keep showing up’ No doubt many of those occasions on which he showed up would have proved futile on the surface and failed to produce any immediate results. Allen’s comment suggests he was a man who knew how to fail well. That is, he used each opportunity that came his way and continued to ‘show up’ rather than give up. I believe J.K. Rowling’s first book in the Harry Potter series ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (as it is called in the UK) was rejected by nine publishers before the manuscript was accepted. Dr  Seuss (a favourite author of children’s books like ‘The Cat in the Hat’, etc.) has his first manuscript ‘And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street’ rejected by 27 publishers before it was picked up by Vanguard Press. The rest is history, as they say, for both the above authors. I guess they just kept showing up.

Successful failing is about not giving up. But perhaps it is also about what most deeply motivates us. Albert Einstein’s words are noteworthy: ‘I try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value.’ The old cliché about the difference between being and doing holds here. ‘What kind of human being do I want to be?’

Sometimes we are knocked for six by repeated attempts to achieve something – like finding the right job, getting published, or accomplishing some long standing ambition. None of us are strangers to disappointment and even depression at our repeated frustrated attempts at one thing or another, and these will vary in their degree of personal importance. (At the moment I am aware of the 60+ applications I have submitted for work over the past several months only to be shortlisted for 6 or 7 and not  ‘successful’ at any so far. But my day will come!) There are times when the only thing we can do is to keep on keeping on.

Failure is a crucial junction on the road to success. Investment manager Diane Garnick, who taught a course on failure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, put it succinctly. “We learn more from our failures than we could ever learn from our successes.” Hence John Seely Brown, head of Palo Alter Research Centre (PARC) can comment that “trafficking in unlimited failure” is key to enabling PARC’s employees to invent once-unimaginable technologies.

So keep showing up. Keep on keeping on. Above all aim to be people of value rather than people of success.  Your day will come.

Head in Sand

The Silver Lining in This Cloud of Ecclesiastical Goofiness.

Thomas Hardy provides one of the most poignant scenes in literature in his novel, ‘Jude the Obscure’. Jude and Sue arrive back at their lodgings to discover the bodies of their children hanging in the room. The eldest, nick named ‘Little Father Time’, under the delusion that he was helping to relieve his parents of a heavy burden in their current poverty, has killed his siblings and committed suicide. Amid the devastating sorrow descending on the parents Jude becomes aware of the murmur of voices outside the window. He looks out to discover two clergymen having an abstract debate regarding the precise eastward direction of Jerusalem: theological twaddle amid the debris of life and sorrows.

The metaphor is powerful if perhaps extravagant in the light of the Church of England’s apparent determination, courtesy of General Synod, to make itself utterly irrelevant to life as lived by most people. I am angry because I do love the Church of England. But my feelings pale into insignificance beside those of thousands of clergy denied full acceptance as equals in ministry in the Church.  The vast majority of those who voted supported the idea of women bishops. But thanks to the rules governing these matters, a minority carried the day.  Proclaiming the gospel in a world where most people live without reference to the Church is made more challenging by the very public silliness of the Synod vote. The Church may appear more out of touch than people thought.  And what impression will it give to have Bishops in the House of Lords making decisions related to Equal Opportunities Law.

The silver lining in this cloud of ecclesiastical goofiness is precisely that an overwhelming majority of bishops, clergy and laity voted in favour of women bishops. It seems inevitable that one day the Church of England will be graced with the gifts of women in Episcopal oversight as in other Provinces of the Anglican Church.  Until then it is up to the wider Church – ordained and laity – to make the case for the relevance of the Church of England through the quality of their commitment to the wellbeing of their communities.

It may be that the institution looks remote and rather like imploding on itself in an orgy of its own ‘la-la-landers’, but up and down the country there are thousands of people actively involved in making this world a more humane place through community organisations, campaigns to address issues of poverty, as representatives in local authorities and Parliament, and as volunteers supporting numerous causes, offering care and humbly sharing the good news of God’s love in practical ways, all of whom find spiritual nourishment in that odd, sometimes infuriating creature – the Church of England.

I am angry and sad – on my own account and on behalf of my sister laity and clergy.  But I still love the Church of England and am foolish enough to believe it still has a future.

 

 

Coexist

Peace Amid The Coincidence of Opposites

The 14th century bishop, Nicholas of Cusa, proffered the idea that we might well find truth precisely in the conjunction of opposites: ‘and I have learned that the place wherein Thou art found unveiled is girt round with the coincidence of contradictories, and this is the wall of Paradise wherein Thou dost abide’. (The Vision of God)  For Nicholas of Cusa God is the font of all truth. But we needn’t be religious to appreciate that potentially the meeting of opposites may be productive of genuine insight, deep understanding and help us to get closer to the truth a the matter.  But the key is not the assorted ‘facts’ assembled by one side of the other but the attitude with which we approach one another’s account of reality.

My philosophy professor at Heythrop, Peter Vardy, was fond of saying to his students that, however confident we were in our point of view, there should always be space for the small qualifying voice that says, but I could be wrong’. Behind this comment there was an assumption about the nature of faith: it has less to do with confidence in iron clad certainties and more to do with our capacity to live with questions and uncertainties of life. This attitude toward our different ‘truths’ is as relevant for secular humanists and religious believers alike.

The problem with rock hard certainties from faith and secular camps is that they are seldom as certain they seem. More seriously is the tendencies for iron clad truths to morph into justifications for violence. The violence may not always be physical in nature. It may be expressed in an unwholesome contempt for the human being before us or even regard the person as one underserving of respect. The atheist Richard Dawkins and the religious right share a similar rhetoric. At worse the certainties become a source of actual violence. The long and bloody conflict playing out in Israel is fed by the rock hard certainties of people on both sides of the divide. They have become each other with tragic and devastating results. (Rene Girard would call it ‘bad mimesis’.)

Whether in hotspots of conflict around the globe, here in the UK or amid post election tumult in the USA, we need to commit to commit ourselves to creating spaces for authentic listening. Too often voices are drowned out by the mutual shouting of slogans and abuse and the root issues are seldom thoughtfully explored. News agencies, media pundits, politicians and grassroots people carry a responsibility here. And amid the noise of polarised opinion and inflaming stories we need to, in the words of Jesus, ‘take heed how we hear’. Is it possible to bracket my certainties, connect for a moment on the limits of my own vision and,rather than dismissing the other side as a bunch of  ‘nutters, bigots and half-wits in the pocket of corporate interests’, ask about their fears? Fear is the real ‘mind-killer’ and the font of hate and violence. Or instead of  dismissing the other as ‘God-hating, fetus-aborting liberals’ can we ask about their motivating concerns and values? All of us benefit from nurturing our capacity for compassionate and critical listening. The ‘other’ may prove to be our guide and guru insofar as they help us grow in an understanding of a position different form our own– even if we continue to disagree. At the very least, the climate of debate and discussion can change.  We might discover that reality is a bit more complex than can be cast in terms of either pro-life or pro-choice / liberal or conservative / pro Israeli / pro Palestine alternatives. You might even be surprised by some common ground.  There can be peace amid the coincidence of opposites.

angry voter 2

Before You Drive Your SUV Over Your Spouse…

The post-election rants from voters disappointed with the re-election of President Obama have in turn been amusing and disturbing. One pundit has predicted that there will never again be an election as Obama will stay put in the White House, trash the constitution and rule by executive order for the foreseeable future.  The more religious orientated among the disheartened have regaled us with biblical texts, called for repentance and taken some schadenfreude at the prospect of a consequent apocalypse. One preacher has declared that the president’s victory is a prelude to the reign of Antichrist.

The Heavens have apparently been shaken and God’s ire roused by those who voted for the Democratic ticket. Not a surprise then that there are now petitions circulating in some of the states calling for secession from the Union.

In a not unrelated story, a woman in Arizona ran over and seriously injured her husband with her SUV for failing to vote in the election. Holly Solomon was upset about President Obama’s electoral triumph and accordingly held her husband to account.  She blames Obama for many of her recent hardships. (Though I suspect mental instability and a taste for the odd bit of violence may also play a role here.) It is no coincidence that some of the most aggressive, fear-fuelled polarising rhetoric re: President Obama had found a home in Arizona.  And to be fair, on a wider front, this  generally proceeded from both camps. Just check out the various posts leading up to the election about both candidates on social networking sites like Facebook, etc. Some of the commentary was as comic as it was fictional; but much of it was vicious and hateful.  And that what concerns me.

The polarising language – whether in the form of liberal gloating or conservative hysterics –  underscored by its black and white vision of the world, barely conceals a violence that may prove seductive to fringe characters. For them actual violence may be seen as a redemptive alternative. They may even see themselves as somehow heroic, patriotic and servants of God. (The Taliban are not alone in sipping from that heady cocktail of fear, rage, hatred and religious ideology.) Hilarity at pictures of secessionists holding placards misspelling ‘secede’ as ‘SEECED’ aside, it all points to a kind of excess that I trust is only marginal –however loud -among conservatives and liberals alike. But the problem with this kind of excess is that it takes on a life of its own. The world becomes a distorted place where those who disagree are demonised as enemies of God.

Liberals and conservatives – and how I dislike these pigeon holing terms – will do well to abandon the polarising discourse that in the long term simply feeds a violent mind-set. Let go of the caricatures and, in some cases, deliberate falsehoods we have flung at one another and replace it with sound debate and reflective analysis.I say we all vote for a more responsible public discourse. We will still disagree because we will be starting from different sets of priorities.  But there will be no need to throw a wobbly and ‘secede’ from the national sandbox with our toys because the democratic process has gone in a way that disappoints us

Cats, Contemplatives and Mediators

In some ways my cat Freya possesses attributes that would make her an excellent mediator. There is the calming influence she exudes as she sits next to me on the couch. She listens and has an extraordinary ability to hear things. She will know well in advance that my wife or some other family member is approaching the front door or that someone is about to descend the stairs. She is always at the ready to greet and meet them with a welcoming chirrup.  Okay, perhaps the impression that she is actually ‘listening’ is slightly adrift. I am under no delusion that when I am speaking to her (as one does) that she is actually engaging. I suspect the mantra ‘food source, food source, food source’ more likely goes through her head at such times. In fact, in some ways, she is an appalling listener. ‘Freya, stop doing that!, ‘Freya, leave that alone!’ or ‘Freya, don’t do that inside the house!!’ etc. rarely meet with a positive response.  But, at the very least, her calming influence and attentiveness – if not obedience – do suggest positive examples for mediators or anyone interested in genuine and active listening.

Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, addressed a Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops. He spoke on the theme of contemplation and its importance in shaping the ethos of the inner person and just action in the world. (He cites the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer’s words written from a Nazi prison cell to the effect that we are called to ‘prayer and righteous action’.  He presents contemplation as something rather different from navel gazing and establishes it as an integral base for transforming action in the world.

While prayer and contemplative practice – or religion per se – may not be every mediator’s cup of tea, there is something to be said for a practice that sustains and develops the mediator or active listener’s skill and quality of presence.  (In fact, a friend of mind wrote his MA thesis on the connection between meditation and mediation a few years ago.) It is the presence’ of the helper, not merely their technical skills, that is key to effective mediation or support at times if crisis.

What is it to be present to someone else? Louise Gold, in her article ‘Influencing Unconscious Influences: The Healing Dimension of Mediation’ describes ‘presence’ in terms of the mediator’s centeredness (inner stillness and grounded quality), a connection with one’s own governing set of values and belief, a connection to the other person’s humanity, and congruency. The latter quality is about integrity and consistency: being what you do and doing what you are.

Whether one comes from a religious or secular perspective, meditative practice is potentially a great enabler for those who deem being fully present to others is important. In my own experience it is vital to my vocation as a priest and my work as a mediator. It is certainly crucial to any relationship we may value in our professional or personal lives. Developing your own personal discipline of meditation is well worth the bother and may prove transformational on all levels.

Now I must go and feed my cat.

 

morpheus

The Wisdom of Morpheus

Matrix fans will remember the scene: Neo asks Morpheus why they do not simply unplug everyone from the illusory world of the matrix. (For the one or two folk out there unfamiliar with the Matrix films, the Matrix is a computer-generated reality into which humans have been plugged into by machines, to sustain the illusion of life in what is ultimately a false reality.)

Morpheus replies: ‘You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.’

We have all met individuals who cling to a perception of reality that flies in the face of the obvious.  This is particularly so when conflicts have reached a certain level of polarisation and people are locked in to a single narrative.  Occasionally, in the process of mediating between two individuals, I have noticed that one person in particular will remain unmoved by any fresh information or possible insight shedding light on the dispute with the other. I recall one instance where some indisputable information was presented by a person clearly indicating there were no grounds for an accusation that had been levelled against them by the other party.  But the other party remained adamant nonetheless that their take on reality was valid. One had a sense that this was one of those people Morpheus is talking about: for whatever reason, they were not ready to be ‘unplugged’ from an illusory reality.

But rather than halt the mediation and dismiss the person as ‘one of the unplugged’, to coin a phrase, the challenge is to get behind or even beyond facts and explore the phenomenon of clinging.  What are the hurts, anxieties and needs behind clinging to a perception that one has been slighted by some action (which in the above case did not even happen!)? The strategy here may be to bracket the facts and unpack the feelings of being dismissed, undervalued, un-liked, or put upon by others.  After all the feelings are real, if not the perceived facts of the case.

Getting away from the specific incident and helping the two people talk about the wider relationship between them in an honest way in which both feel safe to let their guard down and, perhaps, glean a deeper understanding of each other may possibly prepare the ground for both people to unplug themselves from their own private matrices.