For years, I’ve been passing on the three most important words in mediation to my students. I say “passing on” because I was taught these three words by my professors, Randy Lowry and Peter Robinson.
In those special moments when I share this valuable advice, I’m met with one of three reactions. The most prevalent response is laughter — some deep-hearted, others just a nervous giggle. The second is a look of disbelief. And the last, is a knowing nod.
Yet, these three words comprise one of the wisest sayings of all times. Like many other bits of wisdom, the message can be heard as being trivial or dismissive or arrogant. Dislike them if you must. But the advice is universally applicable for the reasons I’ll share.
Oh . . . the three words?
ACT AS IF
When you reach that impasse, that obstacle, that seemingly unanswerable question, act as if. When you have no idea what you should do next, act as if. When others look to you for leadership and you are searching for the end of the line, act as if. When you realize that there are no easy options, act as if. When someone you love betrays you, act as if.
But why would you do that? Why should you do that? Is “acting as if” anything more than self-indulged ego?
You should do it because it works. And here’s why:
- “Acting as if” offers a ledge to stand on, even if it’s for the briefest of moments.Turmoil comes when individuals lose their bearings. With a bit of firm ground below, most of us can pause and look around for more stable territory. “Acting as if” injects confidence into almost any situation — particularly if it’s done with humility and sincerity.
- “Acting as if” is not a shot in the dark. You have life experience. You have trained for moments like this. You have benefited from the experience and knowledge of mentors, friends, and wise sages who have prepared you. Listen for their voices.
- “Acting as if” is not blindness. Always look for a place in the process. Not every situation can be handled in cookie-cutter fashion. But processes are there as your framework. Build on them, redirect them, let them serve you. FInd a familiar point and grab hold of it. Most conflict stems from a loss of process.
- “Acting as if” buys time. Difficult situations only become worse when the momentum of conflict reigns. I’ve often said that one of the greatest gifts a mediator brings to her or his peace table is the gift of space. With a little space, even the most ardent opponents have the opportunity to reassess and make peaceful adjustments.
- “Acting as if” can trigger decisions and movement in a conflict. The real essence of conflict is its inherent ability to bog down life. The principle of inertia is not just a principle of physics. Getting people to move is the first step toward reconciliation — even if the initial step seems to be in the opposite direction.
- “Acting as if” is born out of your desire to help others. Good things happen when people put others first.
- “Acting as if” prevents you from thinking and accepting defeat.
So, no matter what you face today . . . ACT AS IF!
And, even if you giggle a bit at first or have some doubts or even accept the proposition, don’t just sit there . . . ACT AS IF!
Do you have some ACT AS IF stories? I’d love to hear them.