Editor's Note: In this article series, seven leading mediators and conflict resolution practitioners share their unique voices on three pressing issues: the impact of COVID-19 on their practices, workarounds being attempted, and their visions for the future in a post-COVID (or on-going COVID) world. These contributors are speaking for themselves with their own original thoughts. Their compelling words come from both their heads and their hearts. Each essay is unique, yet each essay also confirms universal experiences and travails. Oddly, collective challenges and painful experiences may stimulate progression within the conflict resolution community. They may also lead to mediators taking action to familiarize the general community with the benefits of mediation. Sharing personal experiences and truths, it is hoped, will inspire fellow practitioners to consider the new world and to re-invent their conflict resolution practices and services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread court closures and limited operations, promoting ADR suddenly and squarely into the forefront as the primary method of conflict resolution. Perhaps the modern "conflict revolution,"[i] beginning in 1976 with community dispute resolution programs in the 1960's to address civil rights issues and continuing with the 1976 Pound Conference,[ii] is about to undergo another phase. If conflict resolution practitioners step up to the challenges, ADR may well come to the fore in the minds of the general public and not only with lawyers, insurance companies and commercial enterprises. This may require re-thinking of old paradigms and becoming unstuck from old notions. Mediators and conflict resolution professionals are being asked to adapt--and quickly--to the issues and circumstances of the day. The seven contributors bravely take a giant step forward by providing a chronicle of current conditions and by offering visions of the future.
~ Articles Assembled and Edited by Gregg Relyea
Seeing the World "From the Balcony" in Times of the Pandemic
If I had to explain to an alien what occurred on Earth in March, 2020, I would say that the citizens of the planet were suddenly compelled to view our world from the balcony. Before then, many of us had encountered great difficulty going to the balcony--even in our work as dispute resolution professionals--although some of us had been encouraging it for a while[i].
From this new perspective, from the balcony, we are now able to get a collective 360-degree view of the world in its complexity. Seeing one country after the other facing the same challenges, most with their own egocentric, constricted vision and united only by their short-sightedness, has been very revealing.
We have seen rolling images of cities from one end of the planet to the other,
all equally empty, silent and hurt.
We have found ourselves walled in at home, separate and distant from each other,
stopped in our tracks with the luxury of time, and with few alternatives.
We have seen nature breathing and flourishing again, freed of our presence.
In the deafening silence, numerous demonstrations of solidarity have filled the void.
We have witnessed how even the largest and most powerful countries have suffered a meltdown, like snowflakes under the sun, in the absence of a global strategy to defeat a microscopic germ.
We have seen that we cannot save ourselves on our own and that borders, rather than protecting us, have weakened us.
We have seen that when one of us loses, all of us lose
and that the time-worn cliché about only being as strong as the "weakest link" is a timeless truth.
We have seen, at least in Italy, courtroom justice in quarantine.
What’s still standing, however, is alternative dispute resolution, perhaps in modified forms, based on solid pillars of consent and our creative ability to reach solutions that satisfy the interests of all.
If the same alien were to ask me, “And now what?” I would reply that, before stepping away from the balcony to dive back into the flow of life - it would behoove us to take a moment to prepare ourselves for an existential move. It is as though we were leaving a large old house with heaps of belongings amassed over the course of a lifetime, objects from a different era, yet so hard to discard, to a new, smaller home with no room or use for the old trappings.
We will have to choose what is essential, the best and worth the most.
We will have to create space for the new, in order to build a wholesome and sustainable future.
To thrive in our new world as an individual, we will have to first find a way to thrive in it as a community.
Humankind has been given an unprecedented opportunity, radical, sudden and traumatic as it may be, for change, based on a new mantra - in collaboration lies the cure. This moment is a call to action for those of us who have been involved in dispute resolution to spread the culture of interest-based negotiation, mediation and collaboration well beyond the confines of our professional areas.
This is the most effective vaccine, one that has been successfully tried and tested over the years, and now is ready to be shared for the benefit of the world at large.
If we succeed in grabbing this opportunity, we must thank the thousands of people who have lost their lives in this transition, as well as the survivors who, by facing the future with curiosity and courage and making the momentous changes that this time demands, ensure that the sacrifices made will not be in vain.
To advance these changes is our responsibility.
[i] William Ury, Getting to Yes--Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In ((Penguin Books, 1981), Getting to Yes with Yourself (and other Worthy opponents) (Harper One, 2015), p. 21.