Wednesday, February 7, 2018
From the Field is a recurring column written by current clinical students where we get to hear their perspective on their own experiences with clinical education. This post is from Ayisha McHugh, a current 2L at Columbia Law School. Ayisha was a student in Columbia's mediation clinic and is now taking the Advanced Mediation Clinic.
There are two things I have never particularly enjoyed and have always tried to avoid to the extent that I could: being involved in a conflict and talking about feelings. My apprehension towards conflict was more about my desire to foster and maintain amicable relationships than fear of confrontation. When conflicts arose, I thoughtfully aimed to resolve them by confronting the issue(s) head on. However, my awkwardness towards feelings, talking about feelings, seeing people I did not know well become incredibly emotional was an internal barrier; that may have been rooted in the same desire for a base level of peace and happiness. My awkwardness towards feelings did not prevent me from consoling those in pain. It was more of an internal discomfort, which usually did not manifest externally. If I did not share my thoughts, most probably would not know how uncomfortable highly-emotional situations made me feel. They were not situations that I would willingly place myself in.
The relevance of me talking about my self- analysis of my reaction towards conflict and feelings is that participating in Columbia Law School's mediation clinic was a willful decision to place myself in scenarios in which there would be conflicts and a lot of feelings. As someone who prefers peace and base-level of positivity, working with people in a conflict was not the least bit easy, but it felt more natural. I wanted to facilitate effectively so that parties could reach their self-determined outcome. Talking about feelings, on the other hand, I felt the film between the internal awkwardness and external expression dissolving. I felt externally awkward thinking about how to deal with other people's feelings. Thankfully, the skillfully executed Mediation Clinic training transformed my understanding of the importance of talking about feelings and addressing them in conflicts.
My pragmatism had previously prevented me from understanding the relevance of mining through feelings/emotions. I did not see the purpose of the exercise because it seemed like more of a diversion than a critical element to reach a resolution. Through training and application, I gained insight into the ways that feelings can create cemented barriers to progress, which is why they have to be addressed first before attempting to move forward. Feelings can create an impasse and can prevent parties from actively listening to one another, In other words, addressing feelings serves a primary function in conflict resolution. In my internal awkwardness towards feelings I could appropriately identify or categorize feelings, but I was missing a true understanding of their function. Columbia's mediation clinic not only transformed the way that I understand conflict, emotion, and the steps that can lead to resolution, it also helped me understand people better.