The single most neglected truism in mediation, whether virtual or in person, is that it does not happen without bodies. We do not mediate with beings in other realms (unless we attach a very different meaning to mediation than is contemplated in this collection of articles on the future of our craft). Thus involving those with current corporeal substance, we mobilize to engage and reach toward understanding while literally standing our ground.
The challenge we face is how to be adaptable, but still focused and effective. To meet this challenge, we need to remain clear about our fundamental purpose, to keep working on refining our skills and enhancing the range of approaches we can take to achieving those purposes, to commit to diversifying our field, and to maintain a clear hold on our values and ethical principles.
The divorce rate began its sharp increase in the early 1960's and more than doubled by the end of the 1970's. This was accompanied by dramatic changes in cultural traditions, societal expectations, and divorce and child custody laws.
Had I written about the future of family dispute resolution in the late 1980s, when I was a young and enthusiastic child custody mediator working for a Wisconsin family court agency, I would probably have focused exclusively on mediation rather than considering the current broad spectrum of family dispute resolution (FDR) processes that I did not anticipate at the time.
The Future of mediation hangs on several factors. Probably the most important is Trust. If mediation is not widely trusted by users, it has a mediocre future. This is simply because mediation depends on the parties, who usually do not trust each other, fully trusting the mediator and the mediation process. Unfortunately, mediation appears to stand some way down the trust stakes.
Robert Benjamin recently interviewed Kenneth Feinberg for Mediate.com about his career over the last 30 years. He has managed the settlement of complex and difficult claims in the wake of some of the largest catastrophic events we have faced as a society and has pioneered an approach that has altered, not only the legal landscape, but also our culture. Read the interview in this article.
For us and the colleagues we’ve worked with for many years, our first premise has always been that self-determination, or what we call empowerment, is the central and supreme value of mediation – a premise probably shared by many in the field.
Several times in the course of my life I’ve been involved with a cohort of people who envisioned themselves as a possible vanguard of fundamental social change even while they were pursuing professional careers In fact, many of the early mediation practitioners were also veterans of civil rights and anti-war activities who were drawn to ADR as an alternative path to justice, equality, and social change.
There is room in our field for a broad spectrum of mediation approaches. We should celebrate innovation and a greater diversity, rather than disparage the methods of others. This article rebuts Bush and Folger’s article: "Reclaiming Mediation’s Future: Getting Over the Intoxication of Expertise, Re-Focusing on Party Self-Determination."
Mediation has been part of the story of mankind. The word mediation may be part of the 20th century English vocabulary, but the meaning behind it has roots and seeds that have been developed as long as mankind has existed.
We evolve, not only as individuals, but as couples, families, groups, organizations, societies, economies and polities, both in the nature of our conflicts and in our approaches to resolution, moving from simple to more complex, nuanced and skillful forms. But in order to evolve, it is necessary for us not merely to settle or resolve the particular conflict we are facing, but also its hidden coda, essential nature, or binding principle, by learning the secret lesson it took place in order to teach us.
I began this article on the future of mediation practice at what I thought, reasonably enough, was the beginning. Discussing how I came to New York in 1985 to train with John Haynes on a new approach to managing disputes that at that time had not yet found its way to the United Kingdom where I practised as a solicitor. However, In the course of writing and reviewing this piece, it began to dawn on me that while the trip was my conscious recollection of the beginning, it was not the actual beginning of my attraction, engagement and investment in what has become a personally and professionally fulfilling career.
It is impossible to talk about the future, present or past of mediation without putting some sort of definition to that term. Clearly, mediation as dispute resolution has been around as long as disputes. When defined as a process that involves a designated third-party to assist in the resolution of disputes, mediation can be considered an old process.
The author is hopeful that mediators, participants, and attorneys will re-examine the trend of late intervention, lawyer-centric mediation and bring pro-active, early mediation back as one of the important focuses of the mediation field.
I should know better and follow the advice a friend once gave me when he said: “Peter, a shut mouth gathers no foot.” On the other hand, who in the world could possibly resist an invitation from www.mediate.com to opine on the future of something near and dear to my heart and happily rekindle some old quarrels with colleagues?
Conflict is not unique to humans, but it can be said that the involvement of third parties in conflict, for better or worse, is a distinctly human activity and it has been around since Man began speaking and walking erect. Given this history, it is unsurprising that over time, innumerable styles, techniques and customs have come into play, and it is further unsurprising that the relative merits, and applicability of of these techniques have become the topic of scrutiny, study and academic debate.
A recent discussion among a seasoned group of neutrals about the struggles of the professional mediator caught my eye. Some complained that the trend in litigated cases was to reduce the value of the mediator to a commodity, due to the constraints put on them by the litigants who were not process oriented.
The current complexity of our problems, at least in the U.S., is close to the point of overwhelm; for the individuals involved, for the governments that rule them, for the courts that adjudicate them, for the economic systems that support them, and because of the corrupted values that guide them.
For some reason, beyond my understanding, the decades old debate continues. How should mediation be defined? The better question is, “How can the practice be applied?” And herein is the genesis of the divergent paths upon which mediation has developed in the last thirty years.
The future of policing must incorporate mediation. No other profession places its practitioners more in the middle of challenging situations; police officers are regularly expected to make difficult conversations work on the spot.
Bush and Folger recently contributed an article to this “Mediation Futures Project” series that advocates strongly for “Refocusing on Party Self-Determination” but also suggests that mediators should conform to orthodox Transformative Mediation practices. This partial rejoinder, while acknowledging the important contribution of the TM focus on self-determination to mediation practice, also recognizes the value of other mediation practices.
It seems I have reached the point in my career when those who would be historians ask for my recollections, assessment of the state of the art and vision of the future. Here is my polite reply, including my very personal description of our earliest days, some aspects of our evolution and the future as I would prefer it, not how I predict it. I would only add that I don’t know the dimensions of the learning curve we are on and I prefer to believe that despairing over unachieved goals is premature. Optimism, patience and tenacity ought to come naturally to mediators.
There is a lot of talk nowadays about the apparent failure of mediation to live up to its potential. Reports published on paper and online, presented before institutions or at various conferences, point to the relatively low number of mediation cases compared to the number of lawsuits filling the logs of the courts and then draw the inevitable conclusion that mediation has missed the opportunity of (be)coming mainstream.
Diversity matters! For mediation to develop in fresh and vibrant ways, we need to think and act creatively. Some of the best ideas come from making connections – for example, between mediation, sciences, and the arts – and through using these connections in practice. Bernie Mayer's article in the Mediation Futures series struck chords with me, with its references to complexity science, chaos, and the importance of adapting the ways we mediate to meet diverse needs, instead of expecting participants to fit in with the particular way we choose to mediate.
My own work has taken me into the legislatures of many of the assemblies and parliaments in the countries of the United Kingdom to train and coach members in “scrutiny skills”. I believe that many politicians do understand the real value of this training at an individual level. I believe that they wish to move away from the time-consuming, energy-depleting, morale-sapping and often futile game of positional politics. They sense that this change is what their constituents want too.