JANET M. POWERS
June 11, 2015
THE ULTIMATE IGNORANCE
Not long ago, I came upon a quotation by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (whoever he might be), but the truth of it struck me as saying a lot about mediation: “The ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about yet refuse to investigate.”
In many communities across the US, citizens know nothing about mediation, at least in part because the legal community rejects it. We are fortunate in Adams County in having a handful of lawyers who are trained in mediation and willing to practice it with their clients. But “handful” is the optimum word here.
Those of us who understand and practice true mediation, which has nothing to do with deciding the outcome of a dispute for the disputants, wonder why it’s not more popular as a method of conflict resolution. Are we so deep into the notion of winning and losing that we are afraid to try a method in which both parties win? Are we so in love with power that we would rather find a high-priced lawyer who will sue the other guy for big bucks, rather than schedule an inexpensive facilitation? Or are disputants so lazy that they want someone else to do the hard work of finding a solution?
“Just listen to us and decide.” That seems to be the attitude of many people who are embroiled in conflicts. Not too long ago, Mediation Services of Adams County had a human resources director take our Basic Conflict Resolution Training and discover that she was doing just that – failing to empower the disputants. In fact, police departments and corporations often talk about “taking a problem to mediation,” when they’re not doing any such thing. If the “mediator” listens and makes, the decision, that’s arbitration. Mediation is a whole different ball game.
With its roots in the Bible, as well as Confucian and Native American thought, mediation involves forgiveness, reconciliation and community. The very act of coming together in the presence of a trained facilitator is a huge step in the direction of reconciliation. Agreeing to listen respectfully to each other — without interruption — means recognizing each other’s dignity and beginning to re-build trust. Working together, with help in thinking outside the box, is a lesson in how to create community. Although forgiveness doesn’t always happen, disputants nearly always hug or shake hands at the end of mediation, and often there is an apology.
The outcome of mediation is usually an agreement, but sometimes not. Or it may be a partial agreement, which disputants will take to a lawyer for further action, after having done much of the difficult work inexpensively, with the help of a mediator. But mediation offers some stunning by-products as well. Particularly for individuals who share the same workplace or have adjoining backyards, mediation may establish trust and strengthen relationships. Or if a relationship is being terminated, mediation can help to make that happen in a way that minimizes costs and emotional harm.
Janet M. Powers is MSAC Presiding Officer and Professor Emerita at Gettysburg College.