Mediation is a Common Good

Almost everything I know about mediation and its diverse manifestations (i.e. farmer/creditor, divorce, victim/offender, community, workplace, peer mediation in schools, etc.) and about mediation’s varied schools of thought (i.e. facilitative, directive, transformative, narrative, etc.) as well as the manifold structures in which mediation is applied (i.e. courts, personnel boards, labor relations, etc.), I have learned as a Swiss citizen in the USA – and much of it by many a mediation pioneer.

However, what I have learned about mediation’s philosophy (albeit without realizing it), I was taught in growing up in the Swiss political culture. Just think of our executive power that is constituted by seven personalities representing four different parties and speaking with one voice. One aspect of this challenge consists in striving for ongoing conversation and compromise. And learning that early on has been my privilege.

As my thinking developed, I became more and more convinced that mediation does not only belong to well trained, highly qualified and sophisticated mediation specialists in whatever field of practice. I became convinced that mediation in its essence should easily be understood by everyone, as a service become accessible to all, as well as doable by many, if they so wished and showed some talent for it.

Above all, I realized that mediation–as a philosophy of life–is for the common good: mediation values all human beings and holds their autonomy and self-determination in pursuing their purposes high, while always considering other issues around their concerns of equal importance. This, I believe, is the essence of mediative thinking.

In the U.S. the thought that mediation is a common good has somehow been reflected in the establishment of community mediation centers, offering varied services by community mediators to persons from all walks of life. It has no doubt also been reflected in the expansion of peer mediation programs in the schools, in practically all 50 States. While this latter movement also expanded in the 1990ties into Europe and elsewhere, community mediation services in the modern sense generally were rarely realized outside the U.S.

On the other hand, mediation training options on all levels (up to PhDs) expanded massively and the formation of mediation and conflict resolution associations proliferated all across the world. This movement is most promising in regards to the refinement of flexible mediation approaches and techniques, as well as in the search for scientific support for best practices in dealing with and understanding the ever growing complexity of our entangled worlds.

Yet, if it is possible that grade- and high-school students learn to mediate in some 12 hours, become familiar with the mediation process, get the hang of it and are generally very pleased with what they can do with it (helping fellow students, assisting friends and family outside of school, understanding and dealing with their own conflicts better, etc.) – I wonder why this enormous capital cannot be built on to continue the expansion of mediation skills – not only in schools, offering the training to all students, but throughout many more societal and commercial institutions – in this “light” and practical fashion?

This initial investment in some 12 hours is priceless in order to create what Raymond Shonholtz, one of my pioneering teachers, called a “Mediating Future” in a keynote address delivered at the Oregon Mediation Conference, in November 2011. (See:  Shonholtz meant to create mediative competence in the public arena. Working for the common good is inherent in the profession.

What Shonholtz called „Mediating Futures“ I would prefer to call a mediative future as a common good and for the common good. The structures are generally prepared and can be strengthened by persons who think mediatively and act accordingly.

And thus it is that “first aid” mediators, such as students and community mediators, prepare the ground for highly qualified mediators, comparable to a medical referral system.

A mediative future? Could it happen over the next 20 years? If all students learn the basics of mediation and are continuously encouraged to apply mediative thinking to all their decision making and future leadership assignment, no matter where and how they live or what job they may have–why should it not be possible? Surely they would form a large enough pool from which the next generations of gifted, qualified, sophisticated and scholarly mediators can easily emerge.


Noa Zanolli

  Noa Zanolli, Ph.D., is a Swiss social anthropologist, teacher and mediator living in Bern, Switzerland. In the U.S., she worked for several years as a mediator in a community mediation center in Ames, IA, was Director of Education at the Iowa Peace Institute, and has been working internationally as… MORE >

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