I remember getting a letter from my stepmother in the 90s. She was eager to share her new discoveries of dysfunction in our family. She said, “I will speak for myself only. I will no longer pass messages among family members — this is called triangulation, and it is toxic.”
I agree that there is no substitute for direct, honest, caring communication between family members, and that in the absence of such communication, triangulation can hurt rather than help. However, many cultures have built-in ways of handling conflict that involve others — conscious triangulation, if you will. And more complex shapes as others get involved. An organically formed human neutral zone that allows transformation to unfurl.
This makes sense to me. Others around us get impacted by conflicts, why shouldn’t they help to resolve them? As William Ury details in his book The Third Side, in some such cultures, no one is allowed to walk away from a dispute until things get resolved. He talks about ways we can learn from those cultures, and make use of the “third side” in this culture:
The third side is the surrounding community, which serves as a container for any escalating conflict. In the absence of that container, serious conflict between two parties all too easily turns into destructive strife. Within the container, however, conflict can gradually be transformed from confrontation into cooperation.
In this culture, we tend to think of individual, rather than collective or cooperative solutions to problems. Perhaps as an artifact of this reality, nine out of ten people reading the word “mediation,” a word that means a group activity, think they’re reading “meditation,” a word that means an individual activity, instead:
I would love to see mediation become a household word, and a readily available resource for dyads and groups to use before things get intractable. Often, it doesn’t take much to get back on track!
When I work with couples, or do mediations (as opposed to meditations, though I use those tools, too) for folks in conflict, sometimes the mere presence of a third person helps heal the connection before anyone says a word. I have been working in my own life to both use and make available mediation tools for everyday relationship and community conflicts. Both myself and other mediators I know regularly show up and reach out to each other rather than stay stuck or try to muddle through something ourselves when we’re too triggered to show up effectively.
I think we need each other — in triangles, squares, and dodecahedrons of skilled, caring community. This is a dodecahedron, or 20-sided figure. Buckminster Fuller used it to create a more accurate map of the world. But I digress.
The amazing thing about the kind of mediation that I do is that it always works. Yes, I said that — it always works. When two people come together wanting and willing to make things better, things get better. Usually the challenge is getting both people to agree to come together. The willingness is the largest part of the work.
What about you, is there a relationship in your life that wants some conscious triangulation? I would love to be your point person. Book a complimentary initial session with me. Or find out more here.