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The Wisdom of Solomon and Expanding the Pie

I was thinking about the Biblical story about two women and their babies. In the night, one of the babies died. The mother of the deceased baby swapped her baby with the other woman’s living baby during the night and tried to claim the living baby as her own. The two women could not resolve their situation between themselves; so they went to King Solomon both claiming to be the mother of the living baby and asking the king to settle their case.

King Solomon, not knowing which woman was telling the truth issued a verdict, declaring that the women cut the child in two and each would get half. The real mother quickly spoke up out of love of her baby, pleading that he not kill the child, but rather give the child to the other woman. Solomon then concluded that the woman that wanted to save the life of the baby was the real mother and awarded the child to her.

What can be learned from this story regarding mediation?

Mediation is a facilitated conversation leading toward a resolution that is determined by the parties. There is no judge. What if Solomon did not listen to the woman’s pleas to save the life of the child? What if a judge reaches a conclusion that one of the parties doesn’t like? When disputing parties take their case to court, to a judge, and put the decision in the judge’s hands, the decision might not be a satisfactory decision. Someone is likely to lose all. In this case, the real mother was about to lose her child forever.

In mediation, the mediator does not make a decision at all. The mediator tries to help the parties see the situation in light of the facts of the case on both sides of the issue. The mediator helps the parties hear both sides of the story, and the mediator helps the parties identify multiple ways to resolve the issue. The parties can then agree to one of the ways or choose none of the solutions that were discussed.

Let’s look at the two women. There was only one baby. What might a mediator do in this case?

I, as a mediator, would have asked each woman to explain her side of the story, seeking to get to some sort of truth. In mediation, however, while truth might be exposed during such discussions, the mediator does not render a judgment as to the truth or truthfulness of the parties. The mediator might tell the parties whether their rendition of the facts is believable or not, thereby encouraging a settlement.

Additionally, I’d likely have asked the women to suggest ideas on ways to resolve the issue. They would have likely said the only way to resolve it is to give the baby to the mother and each would claim to be the mother. That is when I as the mediator might open the door to the emotional heartbreak that one of the women must be feeling due to the loss of her child through death. Perhaps that might create a sense of sympathy in the heart of the mother of the living child. Maybe her heart would be softened to the point that she could empathize with the mother. Often a kind word between disputing parties can move mountains.

At some point in mediation, ideas for resolution that are intended to expand the pie are either suggested by one of the parties or by the mediator. In the case of the two women and one living baby, maybe the real mother would be willing to let the other mother visit or help to care for the baby. Maybe a solution is to find separate living quarters, if in this case the women were wives of the same man and living in the same household. Sometimes separation is needed.

I don’t know if either idea would be satisfactory to these women, but they serve as examples of how mediation might expand the pie. There is an old mediation story about two siblings arguing over a single lemon. There was only one lemon in the house and both siblings wanted the lemon. Once the discussion turned away from the lemon and focused on the reasons for wanting the lemon, it was discovered that one sibling wanted the lemon peel for lemon zest for baking. The other sibling wanted to make lemonade out of the juice. Both needs could be accommodated.

That is how the pie is expanded. I, as the mediator, try to get the disputing parties to discuss the reasons why they need the solution they are hoping to get. By understanding the reasons why, we can often find a means to accommodate both parties, at least to some degree.

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