First, let me emphasis that I am very skeptical that there exists a theory of everything, much less one that explains human conflict. And I do not believe that there is a single protocol that resolves conflict. Nevertheless, research has revealed recurring patterns in a wide range of human behaviors. Can these insights be used to help people resolve conflict within the system we broadly refer to as mediation?

In a recent essay, When seeing is deceiving, columnist Craig Silverman lead me to The Ravenous Brain, by the neuroscientist Daniel Bor, and these quotes:

Perhaps what distinguishes us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ravenous desire to find structure in the information we pick up in the world. We cannot help actively searching for patterns – any hook in the data that will aid our performance and understanding.

One problematic corollary of this passion for patterns is that we are the most advanced species in how elaborately and extensively we can get things wrong. We often jump to conclusions – for instance, with astrology or religion. We are so keen to search for patterns, and so satisfied when we’ve found them, that we do not typically perform sufficient checks on our apparent insights.

I think these findings are critical to understanding the nature of any particular conflict. And is it not essential that a mediator understand (or at least have a working hypothesis for understanding) the conflict he is there to help resolve? This understanding may mitigate the mediator's urge to supply the parties with a solution but it begs the question how does a mediator apply these insights? What's a mediator to do with them? Are we educators? Isn't teaching a kind of coercion? Are we morally neutral and capable of removing the spectacles of tradition, prejudice, personal experience and dogma? Can we pretend to be Socrates and simply ask questions that will ultimately lead people to the truth? Or do we acknowledge that we all have an agenda, like it or not?

But is it really possible for such neutral communications to occur between men? Is not every human communication a conscious or unconscious impression of one temperament, attitude to life, scale of values, upon another? Are men ever so thoroughly insulated from each other, that the careful avoidance of more than the minimum degree of social intercourse will leave them unsullied, absolutely free to see truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, with their own eyes? Is this not an absurd conception of individuals as creatures who can be kept pure from all social influence... even that is, without the new knowledge of human beings that we have acquired today, as the result of the labours of psychologists, sociologists, philosophers? Isaiah Berlin, Russian Thinkers, Penguin Classics ebook location 5306,

Unfortunately, these patent contradictions between the mediation vocabulary (neutrality, party self-determination, exploring options, etc.) and what is actually happening in the mediation business are hardly talked about and I think it is time for that to change.