Friday, April 14, 2006

Facilitation: a Key Distinction

Here's a conceptual challenge for students of facilitation. You can't tell people, "Make sure to have fun at the party and laugh a lot." That's nonsense. But you can tell people, "Walk around these chairs, and when the music stops, find a free seat quickly."

Likewise, on a more serious note, a mediator can't tell people in conflict, "Get over it." But she can tell them, "Each of you, tell me how you see the issues, and please don't interrupt each other. Then I will help you make a list of your issues. Then you will come up with many ideas on what to do about the first issue on your list, then the second..." and so on, all through the six steps of a mediation. Which may finally help the parties get over their conflict.

How do you express this difference in general terms? What is it that a facilitator can and cannot do?

One of my teachers, Poul Bjerre, said that you cannot will love (or, presumably, fun, friendship, reconciliation), but you can will the conditions for love. So, you can plan the best party and hope people will have fun, and you can go through many elaborate steps in a mediation and hope people will make up.

Likewise, his intellectual brother, Villy Sørensen, dismissed the conventional translation of Leviticus 18:19: "Love thy neighbor as thyself", pointing out that the laws would never demand the impossible--feelings one cannot control--but mere behavior. He suggests the translation, "Show friendliness to the stranger you meet, for he is a human being like yourself."

How is this difference conceptualized within the field of facilitation? Is it behavior vs. feelings? Form vs. content? At a deep level, how does this distinction, however phrased, relate to our view of human nature and social processes? And why is it that this makes facilitation a superior approach (if indeed it is)? Hints, please.

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