Frontiers of Physics
I attended a "Frontiers of Physics" lecture at the University of Washington a week ago, presented by CalTech's Prof. Sean Carroll. Besides being a leader in his field, Prof. Carroll is also a very engaging speaker, who makes his subject extremely approachable for curious non-scientists such as myself. Indeed, if you are interested in the lecture, you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube.
You may be familiar with the thought experiment known as "Schrödinger's Cat": A cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat. Quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is in a "superposition" of being alive and dead simultaneously. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead.
One theory posits that the observer becomes entangled with the observation. While this leads to fascinating scientific interpretations, those are not relevant to this article. Instead, what stuck with me is the concept of observer entanglement in the context of mediation.
Mediators are charged with facilitating dialogue between parties in conflict. Mediator neutrality/impartiality is one of the highest guiding principles of this work, as is party self-determination.
And while a good mediator employs excellent listening skills and empathy in drawing out each participant's narrative, what if our own stories, perspectives, and biases get in the way? In other words, what if our own narrative as the neutral "observer" of the conflict becomes entangled with that of the parties?
Curiosity and Empathy
Attorneys are cautioned not to become personally invested in their clients' cases, as this may lead to a loss of perspective. However, both professional pride and sympathy towards a client can make this very challenging in practice. Similarly, a mediator may find herself sympathizing rather than empathizing with a party's narrative.
Whether as attorneys or mediators, it is always a good idea to refresh our understanding of our respective professional codes of conduct and to to approach our clients' narratives with genuine curiosity, all while checking our own egos and biases.
After all, we can only be effective practitioners if we can remain mindful of our obligations to our clients. This includes preventing entanglement, quantum or otherwise.