Ever since 1987, Mark Umbreit has used the language of energy to describe the power of movement and flow within the context of restorative dialogue and mediation processes. This involves both the negative emotional energies that build up as a result of conflicts and harms, but it equally involves the positive life-giving energies that can be harnessed during a resolution process which can overcome the negative forces.
Why is the language of energy so relevant to the work of mediators and facilitators? Perhaps the real question is: Why is there no better language than that of energy when it comes to describing the blockage and subsequent release that is so common to resolution processes? Is it because there is the possibility of profound shifts or changes that happen in many dialogue processes? Might these transformations require the depth and complexity found in energy language that is not found in any other set of language?
But here is a new consideration. Is the language of energy simply the best metaphoric language for describing conflict and resolution dynamics? Might it not be that very real energy forces, far beyond the realm of metaphor, are at play with neurological and cardiological aspects of human interaction, and therefore the relevance of energy language is precisely a matter of real, yet not fully-explainable dynamics? Simply put, why is it that heart-to-heart conversations are so moving and life-changing for people? What is actually going on with and around the human heart during these interactions?
One thing is certain. Anecdotal evidence from people who have experienced deep healing and resolution from dialogue processes points to the way that ‘something’ that was majorly obstructing peace of mind was dissipated or moved out of the way. We might not understand what that ‘something’ is, but we do know from research that profound shifts can be palpably felt by parties and facilitators. And since many of these parties considered each other as former enemies or people not to be trusted, might not a greater understanding of these dynamics open up new strategies for resolving larger, even global-level conflicts in the future?
With these exploratory questions and more, the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota has been advancing the use of energy language to help not only theorists but practitioners and participants of dialogue processes to deepen their understandings and practices. To that end, the resources below offer a starting point for what may well become a major exploration in years to come.
Resources Related to the Energy of Conflict
Dancing With the Energy of Conflict and Trauma: Letting Go, Finding Peace in Families, Communities & Nations by Mark Umbreit (2013)
This set of stories about healing and reconciliation shows how people have learned to "be" with the energy of conflict and trauma in ways that help them find deeper peace. Examples draw from Mark's family and his work with people both nationally and internationally. See this flyer for more information and to order.
The Energy of Forgiveness: Lessons from Those in Restorative Dialogue by Mark Umbreit (with Jennifer Blevins and Ted Lewis (forthcoming in 2015 from Wipf & Stock Publishers)
These case narratives demonstrate that people who enter into resolution processes do not have to use the language of forgiveness in order to truly experience forgiveness. Examples range from post-murder dialogues between family members and the offender, to community circle processes to heal conflicts within workplace and school settings.
Being With the Energy of Forgiveness: Lessons from Former Enemies in Restorative Dialogue (2013)
In partnership with the Fetzger Institute in Michigan, Mark Umbreit co-produced this film with Emergence Pictures. Featured are cases where victims of serious crimes and communities in conflict have found ways to move forward in life with the help of restorative dialogue facilitators.
A Humanistic Approach to Mediation and Dialogue by Mark Umbreit (2014)
This 14-minute instructional video captures the essence of a humanistic approach that humanizes both the process and the participants. While parties have inherent strengths that can be called forth, mediators have the capacity to be a calm, centered presence that allows parties to connect with each other deeply through uninterrupted conversation. Watch A Humanistic Approach to Mediation and Dialogue.
The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: More Than a Metaphor (Part 1) by Ted Lewis (2013)
This exploratory article presents numerous examples from energy usage in the sciences, and then draws parallels to the field of conflict resolution. But the connections are not simply illustrative. A case is made that heart and brain energy fields are likely at play when people experience emotional energies amidst conflict, and this is most notable when they experience a shift or transformation from negative to positive energies. Read The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution (Part 1).
The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: More Than a Metaphor (Part 2) by Ted Lewis (2016)
This sequel article continues the discussion of energy dynamics by exploring how negative energies are generated in conflict situations, then mixed with positive energies in a mediation context, and finally "grounded out" by various positive sources in a resolution process. Analogies from electricity help to better understand how excess negative charge, as in a storm, has to transfer toward positively charged objects in order to bring about a final state of balance and peace. Read The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution (Part 2)
Humanistic Approach to Mediation and Dialogue: An Overview by Mark Umbreit and Ted Lewis
Twenty years after Mark Umbreit’s first major article on Humanistic Mediation (1994), this article provides an up-to-date overview of this intuitive approach. While fully harmonizing with transformative mediation, humanistic mediation emphasizes the humanizing possibilities within parties and mediators with their capacity to connect deeply with each other. Read Humanistic Approach to Mediation and Dialogue.
Peacemaking and Spirituality: Touching the Soul Within the Energy of Conflict and Trauma by Mark Umbreit
This article describes how the journey of peacemaking is also a spiritual journey, one that enters sacred territory, prizes the power of storytelling, and seeks deep healing for all involved. Indigenous traditions offer spiritual wisdom that is fully integrated into the art of resolving conflicts which brings relational healing. Read Peacemaking and Spirituality: Touching the Soul Within the Energy of Conflict and Trauma.