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Have you ever wondered what it is about certain conversations that make them so difficult to have? Even when a skilled negotiator is present there are some situations that just seem unworkable.

What if I told you that part of the answer is actually tattooed on Brad Pitt’s bicep. It’s an excerpt taken from the poetry of 12th century Sufi mystic, Jalal al-din Muhammad Rumi. Roughly translated from it’s original Persian it means, “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I will meet you there.”

The quote urges those caught in confrontation to see that their idea of ‘right and wrong’ stems from a single perspective, from a lone story in a sea of countless others being told. The greatest challenge in polarized conversations may just be the ability to recognize one’s own attachment to stories of the past. Positions that are viewed as the best and often only acceptable outcome for the future are rooted in these stories, as well as the stories about who the person at the other end of the table is. If the conversation is solely about who is ‘right’, then the distance between each side will only grow.

For those at odds with each other stepping into Rumi’s field is not an easy feat and once there, resolution is not a surefire thing. It is a journey through that must be revisited time and again, rather than a fixed destination. Even having the mantra inked permanently onto your body doesn’t guarantee adherence to it, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s marital strife has shown. I do not advocate this principle because it’s easy or a sure thing, I do so because it’s the only game in town. The option of who has the bigger stick is volatile and unsustainable, no matter the domain.

In Rumi’s field the choice is to instead share stories for understanding rather than to establish who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Through dialogue, not debate, exploration of each party’s interests makes a resolution possible. This results not from compromise, not from “meeting in the middle”, but instead by co-creating a future in which both sides occupy a position that sees their needs met.

David Gould (LLB, QC, C Med) has helped hundreds of lawyers and their clients – business and government organizations, and individuals – in conflict situations to co-create solutions for the future. For more information, contact: or visit