Comments: The End of Mediation: An Unhurried Ramble On Why The Field Will Fail And Mediators Will Thrive Over The Next Two Decades!

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Jane Schaverien, Wellington NZ     06/30/10
Great article, thank you, Peter. I wish I shared your optimism that mediation as a separate profession is on the way out, and that the freedom to use mediation skills is spreading freely. I don't like the way the profession is entrenching itself in statute and may succeed in stifling the free use of the skills. I do hope you're right and I'm not.

Carie Fox, Portland OR   02/11/10
Rambling on
My thanks to Chris for sending me here! What a lovely essay. I love the voice The interweaving of threads from numerous disciplines with peronsal experience and original insights was just right. "The end is coming" mimette in our field has made me itchy for two reasons: that somehow we owned the beginning, when this is something much bigger and older than us; and the sense it would be a good thing if we could declare success and stop the meme from dancing and morphing on beyond us. Thanks for adding some good fiddle music to urge the dance on and remind us to have fun doing it. So... no good essay goes unpunished/rewarded by suggestions for further reading: 1. John Holland, a professor of Psychology AND Electrical Engineering, writes in "Adaption in Natural and Artificial Systems" about 'genetic algorithms.' You kind of veer between memes as bundles and memes as atoms; if they are bundles then I think you would enjoy adapting Holland's work as 'memetic algorithms.' Though Holland's book is slow going, it's well worth it. (Not dense because he's a bad writer; dense because it's incredible stuff that stretches the brain.) Memetic algorithms would be about the testing of sticks in the bundle, the formation and reformation of different combinations of sticks, and the testing of hybrids against the particular pressures and needs of the environment (which is itself tending to change, hence the need for a larger bundle than we actually use at any one time). The second recommendation is Laszlo Mero's "Moral Calculation, Game Theory, Logic and Human Frailty." After the first few chapters I did find myself sort of struggling for air, but those first few really influenced me. As I recall, in the first chapter he talks about the ways animals are designed to "stand down" from most unconstructively harmful conflicts--i.e., avoid killing or maiming one another unless there is a caloric payoff at the end of the process. He talks about the ways humans, in all their complexity, have this feature less well figured out, and he uses the fascinating story of the dollar auction as an example. His point: Big Horned Sheep would not get suckered by the Dollar Auction. Maybe a meme in mediation is that our function is to help mitigate for bad programming (or anyway, an emergent property of good programming that has not been sorted out yet--and probably never will be). But at a minimum, if you really want to ramble, it might be interesting to include anecdotes from other species: it turns out they, too, have a mediation meme--and not only primates. Ok, I think I am probably guilty of some of that density I referred to earlier. Off to get my second cup of tea... and thanks again for a wonderful, satisfying, eloquent read.

Bill , Victoria BC   11/06/09
Thank you for the truly "out-of-the-box" thinking that Mediation needs to move forward, to expand rather than focus on constructing the definition box that the practice of Mediation has become. This article was provocative and inspiring.

Mark , Tallahassee Fl     06/19/09
If Mediation isn't a profession, what have I been doing for the past 25 years?
Peter, I thoroughly enjoyed your article, but I differ with you when it comes to your analysis of the status of mediation. I have been riding the crest of Florida's innovative mediation developments since 1984, and have seen it progress from a part-time experiment to a court-recognized profession with experienced full-time practitioners. We are certified by the Florida Supreme Court to use our unique skills to resolve legal disputes in Family, Circuit-Civil, Dependency,, and County Court cases. I practice mediation full-time. Granted, there aren't many individuals who have the training and experience to mediate for a living, but I strongly believe that we are a profession with a proven track record of resolving disputes. After all, mediation is a higher calling than the practice of law.

paul  , Knoxville TN   05/12/09
Bravo to you. It is my belief that mediation as a process is eroding,albeit very slowly, into a mediator strategizing his way to their solution. Maybe we should all agree that the result of our craft in mediation is to free the parties of their burden so they can face the future. To do that is to realize the ending of a successful mediation is in two parts- the agreement and the resolution. The party needs both to be truly free to face the future. Getting to the end of the process is also to recognize the emotions play a major role. And there in lies the erosion, mediator's that merely evaluate, overlook the fact that party's need total freedom from the conflict. Those "ancients" didn't do more than listen and ask a question or two. In our training we quote an ancient, "that which you think you know, prevents you from learning something new". Thank you for inspiring me to pursue"the craft". Practice and read, read and practice leads to a premier level of skill and results.

John  Cleary, Brisbane, Queensland,Australia     05/12/09
Hello Peter Thousands of hours of practice; Gladwell would report 10,000 hours but 3 or 4 thousand is enough I think, allow a mediator to know you are right and that mediation is a verb not a noun: its a way of going about things. The traditional societies you talk about probably allow people to lay back and look at the stars at night: anyway, something which keeps you profoundly humble. Humility sound like the common denominator through the stories. Kind regards John Cleary

Chris , Portland OR     05/06/09
Kudos to Peter for this piece. My response won’t be nearly so eloquent. Reading this reminded me of a speech Craig McEwen gave at a mid-90’s meeting of the Environment and Public Policy Section of then SPIDR. Craig was asked to talk about what mediation would be like in ten or twenty years. He described two alternative futures – the first, “mediation is captured,” that is it would become professionalized with all the attendant results. As a profession, it would admit to practice only those people who possessed a body of knowledge and a repertoire of behaviors and skills that could not practiced by nonprofessionals. Craig’s second alternative posited that mediation would “go native,” that is it would spread throughout the culture. His analogy was to teaching. There are professional teachers, but many other people also teach albeit informally – parents teach children, managers teach new employees, nurses teach patients, etc., etc. I think Peter’s piece supports the view that mediation has taken this second path. I like quotes and one of my favorites is as follows: “With all due respect to the ancient arts of law and diplomacy, the recent development of systematic, teachable techniques for getting at the roots of conflict, and engaging multiple parties in disciplined and voluntary collaborative problem solving, represents something new in 5,000 years of recorded history.” John W. Gardner, Founder Common Cause, Former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John Gardner was a respected, some might say a revered public leader --President of the Carnegie Corporation; Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector; as well as the author of numerous books on improving leadership in American society. Based on John Gardner’s observation, I’d make two friendly amendments to Peter’s thesis. The first is to acknowledge that there really are teachable skills associated with managing conflict, negotiating and communicating, and collaborative problem solving that, at least in our culture, are being taught in schools of planning, public administration, law, and in public schools and many other venues. From PCI’s perspective, I’d also give more recognition to the role that public leaders, are frequently called on to play, mediating among conflicting and contending political interests. It’s the very nature of politics to have these kinds of differences and to need leaders skilled in helping work them out. In fact, leaders are often elected or chosen because of their innate communication and mediation skills . PCI has been working to help leaders understand how they can effectively play their role as conveners, and they have been very receptive. They get it when we talk about their power to bring people together to work towards resolving issues collaboratively. And they also can understand the difference in what they need to do to be effective. Rather than bringing people together to tell them what to do, as a convener they have to take a different approach, to be inclusive, to be impartial, to listen, and to provide citizens with a safe forum – all the elements Peter describes as the common elements that underlie our “work.” In our democratic system, we believe more acknowledgment is needed of their roles as “catalytic conveners.” Chris Carlson and Greg Wolf

Peter Adler, Denver CO   05/04/09
Response to Davod Bogan
David, I agree about Colin Rule ruling the world. In fact, I think he already does! John the Baptist got his head cut off if I remember right. I'm in Poland at the moment. Maybe I'll just lay low over here! Thanks for your good words of encouragement. A lot of others have also responded with interesting ideas and thoughts. I'm going to try and write moreon some of this! Best, -Peter

David Bogan, Auckland NZ     05/03/09
Why the field will fail
Hello Peter, Glad to see you're still fighting the good fight and as eloquently and persuasively as ever. I thought that at Keystone we all agreed that Colin Rule would go off and 'rule' the field for the farmers and the rest of us hunter gatherers that didn't like gates, fences and regulations, would simply continue to wander around in the wildnerness? Given the way the world is at the moment perhpas we should stay with our counter intuition and all agree to meet again in Mexico City? Whatever the process or where we're at or where we're going your article is very thought provoking and gives comfort to those of us that never got to be farmers. Keep up the good work, and I hope you don't get to feel too much like John the Baptist wandering around the desert.

John Folk-Williams, Sacramento CA     04/30/09
Pushing in the Right Direction
Peter - I too hope you're right. It seems the debate has gone on forever as to whether mediation is a movement for fundamental change or a service adding a little bit to the current system. I'm hoping to see the cultural and societal shift you're describing. But another voice tells me that the cultural habit of conflict is just as deeply rooted as that of consensus-based resolution. However, we have a long way to go before the tendency toward resolution becomes as strong and widely used as that toward conflict. Great work! John

Deborah Sword, Calgary AB   04/29/09
May you please be proven right
Dear Peter, As usual, it is a pleasure to read whatever you write, but this one in particular. When you ask, "So is all of this reconcilable or is the end upon us?", I'd point out what you already know: it need not be reconcilable and still all the different options could be true; and there may be more than only those two choices. The question I always ask of those who want to talk up professionalization is "whose interests are being served?" Thanks for the great article. best wishes, Deborah