A day for this and a day for that! Can we take such days seriously? There are so many now, some we have never heard of, and some that truly resonate. Why should there be a Conflict Resolution Day celebrated worldwide when so many countries are embroiled in long-standing conflicts, to say nothing of personal disputes that nearly all of us have managed to become entangled in, whether intentionally or not?
In the case of Conflict Resolution Day, the answer is hardly hypocritical. It is precisely because we are involved in conflicts that we to be reminded that alternative forms of dispute resolution exist and should be used. On the international scene, one day of negotiations with Iran recently accomplished more than eight years of saber-rattling by the previous administration. Similarly, personal conflicts can be solved at minimal cost by sitting down, talking with the other party and respecting both sides.
Of course, it’s much easier to let disputes fester, to send poisoned pen messages back and forth or give the other party a cold shoulder. We never stop to consider the psychological cost of being involved in constant warfare, even at a low level. The nagging feeling of anger or righteous indignation nurtured by such behavior takes its toll on the mind, heart, and body. Similarly, at an international level, conflicts inflict wounds on our patriotism, national budget and sense of well being.
Alternative dispute resolution takes many forms. It can be an informal intervention by a colleague in the workplace who takes the time (and risk) to set things right between two employees who “aren’t getting along.” It can be a more formal intervention by a Human Resources Manager who has gotten wind of a situation in a particular department that needs his/her attention. Or it can be a formal mediation conducted by volunteer mediators from a Community Mediation Center such as Mediation Services of Adams County.
Often we talk about “negotiations” at the international level when describing mediation. Frequently, what are referred to as “mediations” are actually arbitrations: an outside party called in to do more than just facilitate a resolution between disputants. If the outside party makes the final judgment and imposes a solution on the disputants, then he/she functions as an arbitrator, not a mediator. Arbitrations are always legally binding, but so are mediation agreements facilitated by volunteer mediators.
If a mediation agreement is signed by both parties, as well as the mediator, it can be offered as evidence in a court of law. Volunteer mediators, however, cannot be called upon to give testimony in court, as mediation sessions are always confidential. Indeed, any notes taken during a mediation session are always destroyed at the conclusion of the mediation. Only intake details and a copy of the agreement are retained in MSAC case files. Whether or not an agreement is reached, mediators can legally affirm that disputants have tried to resolve their problems through the Community Mediation process.
Janet M. Powers is Presiding Officer of Mediation Services of Adams County and Professor Emerita at Gettysburg College.