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Aesthetics in Negotiation:
Part Two—The Uses of Alchemy
Michelle LeBaron & Nadja Alexander
Editors’ Note: The authors here pursue the logic of their Part One chapter further. Showing how negotiators tend to concentrate on a limited range of skills and stimuli, while overlooking others, they argue that the ancient concept of alchemy works in conjunction with modern concepts of neuroscience to unlock a whole series of aesthetics-derived, embodied strategies and approaches. These, they contend, make it possible to advance “stuck” negotiations in which progress is stalled, as well as to improve a whole range of less complex negotiation processes.
In Part One, in this volume, we discussed the four classic elements—earth, water, air and fire—as paths via which beauty can infuse negotiation. Another way these four elements can be explored is through the organizing concept of alchemy. Alchemy, historically concerned with changing states and physical properties, including turning one substance into another, is essentially concerned with transformation. Given that negotiation—when optimal—may also yield transformation, we examine what alchemical concepts may have to offer here.
Alchemy has a long history, appearing in the myths and legends of ancient China and texts from Egypt dating back to 1900 BCE (Cockren 2016). Western ideas of alchemy, as a process that blends the four basic elements of earth, water, air and fire in different ways to create change and transformation, trace their origins to the Egyptian god, Hermes Trismegistus, with whom the ancient Emerald Tablet is associated (Conniff 2014). It also has roots in ancient Greek philosophy (Ball 2004) and Buddhist and Hindu teachings in India (Gurmet 2004). Centuries later, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung associated alchemy with the process of individuation, integrating inner and outer aspects of our beings (Jung 1980). He imagined the four elements of earth, water, air and fire as symbolically associated with differentiation and transformation (Jung 1980).
Drawing on Jung’s and others’ work, this chapter explores how integrating understandings of alchemy via natural metaphors into negotiation can change our embodied experiences of processes, of each other and of negotiation outcomes themselves. We use the four elements—earth, water, air and fire—and their corresponding alchemical processes of coagulatio, solutio, sublimatio and calcinatio to open a path towards a deeper, more holistic and aesthetically-grounded understanding of negotiation. Just as humans individuate in the process of maturing in ways that are still not well understood, negotiators and negotiations may mature. An understanding of how alchemical processes help us think about the maturation process is the subject of this chapter.
Jungian Perspectives on Alchemical Processes and Individuation
According to Carl Jung, individuation involves the integration of internal and external elements toward maturation or, in his words, “coming to selfhood” (Jung 1966: 266). This individuation always has collective elements, as Jung acknowledged when he wrote: “As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation” (Jung 1966: 266). Individuation both has predictable patterns, and is unique for each individual. Thus, normal babies learn to form sounds into words and walk within predictable bands of time, but the processes by which they do so are still not well understood. As we progress, individuation continues cognitively, emotionally and physically. Jung believed that individuation or self-realization continues throughout life as we become more and more able to integrate internal and external aspects of ourselves and the world into meaningful wholes....
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