2020 has been a difficult year for many of us. From the pandemic to shutdowns to political chaos, it has been challenging to find any sure footing. Every time we think we've got the last crisis under control it seems a new one popped up in its place. I'm guessing that our great-grandkids will one day ask us what it was like to live through the covid-19 crisis, and we’ll just shake our heads and say, “Well, it was a pretty rough time.” I suspect that we will eventually see 2020 as a seminal marker in our lives, one that shaped much of what came after.
But each New Year gives us a new opportunity for a fresh start, and I am optimistic that 2021 will be the year we're all able to get our groove back. My friends who work in healthcare have already started receiving the vaccine, and even though infection rates remain terrifyingly high I feel like I can see a faint light at the end of this tunnel. As the vaccine is more widely distributed and we slowly emerge from our isolation, we’re going to get the chance to reconnect and recommit to each other as friends and colleagues. I’m sensing a hunger out there for a renewed commitment to rationality, empathy, and resolution. And we in the mediation field have many of the skills and much of the wisdom that people will be looking for during this period.
I really miss seeing all of my colleagues in the global mediation field at face-to-face conferences, trainings, or even just going out for a shared meal or a cup of coffee. Zoom is fine (thank goodness we had Zoom through this period) but I want to share hugs and shake hands with my friends again. Originally we scheduled the next ODR working group meeting to take place in Dublin in June 2020, but we obviously had to cancel that because it was right in the middle of the first surge. Now we have scheduled the makeup date in November 2021, and I'm feeling optimistic that we will all be able to get together there in person. I’m already smiling thinking about seeing old friends and catching up with everyone over a pint of Guinness.
When I was at eBay we would often invite individuals into our User Experience Lab to ask them questions about how they used our website and if some of our proposed changes made sense to them. One thing we tested was the creation of a Resolution Center, where our users could find solutions to any disputes that arose within our Global Marketplace. But when we brought in people off the street (who didn’t know much about eBay or dispute resolution) and asked them if they were interested in using a Resolution Center, many of them were not thinking about disputes at all; the main association they had with the word resolution was New Year's. So they would ask us, why do I need an online center to track my New Year's resolutions? Are you telling me I need to lose weight?
We mediators don’t often suffer from that misunderstanding, because we are in the resolutions business. If we have a bias, it is a bias in favor of resolution. The reason why parties invite us in to help them with their disputes is because they want us to be biased in favor of resolution. They expect us to zealously use our skills to help them find a resolution to their dispute. One of my best friends observed to me that he couldn’t do my job because it must be hard to work with disputes all day “because of all that negative energy.” But I responded, “I'm not in the disputes business, I'm in the resolutions business. And resolutions are about eliminating the negative energy and trying to create a positive vision for the future.”
So maybe looking back on the chaos and disruption of 2020, and with the fresh start offered to us by the entry into the new year, we should embrace the confusion between the different types of resolution. I figure if everyone is already planning to pick a resolution for the new year, why limit ourselves to only picking one? Let's work together to make 2021 the year of many resolutions: sure, to lose weight and exercise more, but also to find resolution to the conflicts and misunderstandings that divide us within our communities and countries, as well as a resolution to the pandemic that has kept us away from our friends and family members.
As we emerge from the tunnel and into the light the importance of our work will be clearer than ever. I can’t wait to work alongside all of you to put this difficult year into the rear view mirror, and to move boldly into a brighter future in 2021 and beyond. So have a joyous and peaceful celebration at midnight on the 31st, let’s commit to our resolutions for 2021, and the first Guinness on me when we can finally see each other in person again.