I was listening to the anger, accusation, and judgment from mom: “you little X-Y-Z, don’t you ever do that again.” There was the opposition of interests between the determined child, and the mom working hard to raise the family. At a first level you could hear her saying “you scared the heck out of me just then.” Realistic or not, you can also hear the mother’s wish for the child to understand her feelings. Beyond the initial shock, perhaps at deeper level she was saying, “If anything ever happened to you . . ..”
From there it is not so far to seeing the mother’s outburst as “I love you very much,” perhaps tinged with the deeper and unvoiced fear of “I hope this kid turns out alright!”
Mediators do try to practice a talking cure, albeit one for curing conflicts rather than people. This outburst in the parking lot got me thinking about all that goes on when a mediator re-frames dialog.
There are so many variables. There is the need to recognize and preserve meaning from the speaker’s perspective. This has to be done while picking out the interests, and focusing on an appropriate depth and level. Context is key. Sometimes detoxification is the urgent need, while at other times definitional re-reframing can take negotiations to a constructive level. The chosen language has to be appropriate in the discussion. Sometimes a whole new metaphor can be introduced to elevate the conversation.
The knack of course is doing this in real time. In the parking lot the child was not talking back: it is tougher to do when everyone is talking at once. Mom and child drove away to live another day.