How will the future of mediation matter if a new generation of young mediators is not encouraged and carefully shepherded into our profession?
Dialogue and healthy debate about our field’s evolution has focused, deservedly, on mediation’s fundamental purpose, varying approaches, techniques, forums, and core values. Leaders in the field deeply consider the essence of self-determination and empowerment, and propose successful mediator strategies and processes. Continued discussion of mediator qualifications and certification is vital. And yet, a threshold question remains: without our full commitment to the purposeful engagement, improved training, and professional support of new young mediators, how can there be any meaningfully sustainable future of mediation at all?
The future of mediation depends now upon our collective realization and acknowledgement that the next generation of mediators is the future of mediation. Young mediators can and should be trusted to carry the torch of elevating expectations of professional excellence. We will continue the spirited dialogue of advancing our field at all levels. We will contribute innovative ideas about better engaging our communities. We can offer perspectives about how to expand our services to the wider mainstream. We are positioned to level and connect with our thirty and forty-something peers, upon whose understanding and embrace of mediation, our future also depends.
Led by this next generation, our society is rapidly evolving away from “Burger King” and the “daily grind,” towards a lifestyle of “Whole Foods” and “mindfulness.” Never before has there been a more opportune moment to present the universal appeal for moving away from the courts, toward mediation. Harnessed strategically, our generational credibility, could serve to motivate a sweeping movement for people in conflict to make healthier choices. Still, young mediators are a rarity at best, and this deficit hurts all practitioners everywhere, and places the future of mediation at risk.
You—the interested dispute resolution professional, the solo practitioner in your community, a leader in the field, experienced trainer, or professional organization—hold the key to the future of mediation. You can champion the acceptance, inclusion, and proper support of young mediators within the dispute resolution field.
Mediators can assist young professionals with dedicated mentorship. When local mediators shed misconceptions or fears about producing new “competition,” and openly share the basic necessities of practice with new mediators, the partnership can be mutually beneficial and more congruent with our values as peacemakers. Transparency will come back to help you, not hinder you. Your support will generate loyalty from those you assist when it comes to future referrals, partnerships in your community, and increased awareness of mediation due to younger practitioners, that in the long run, will help your own business. Leaders in the field can help create an environment where the inclusion of young mediators is not a matter of if or how, but simply a matter of yes, and now.
Academic training programs can help young mediators by focusing curriculum on more practical, in-the-trenches mediation skills to better equip new mediators for practice-ready know-how. An organized mechanism that connects students with serious mentors during schooling, as well as in their hometowns, would create a revolution of young mediators blanketing the country with the skills and support to actually succeed. This proactive approach would also effectively quiet the chorus that exists, even in the institutions themselves, that young mediators need a thirty-plus-year legal career or former seat on the bench to realistically sustain a mediation practice.
Professional dispute resolution organizations are poised to inspire these waves of change. Organizations can reach out to young aspiring mediators in law schools and advanced psychology programs. By welcoming those still forming their professional ambitions into the field with meaningful fellowships, scholarship opportunities, and engaging new organization members and leaders, the entire field will follow in shifting its attitudes and actions. Family mediation organizations at the national and local levels are beginning to understand this need. Even the American Bar Association has placed its toe in youthful waters by introducing a new fellowship program this year for young dispute resolution professionals.
Beginning my own journey to build a private family mediation practice was met with a fair share of naysayers and less than supportive professionals at the local, academic, and organizational levels. With time, and a great deal of persistence, I was lucky enough to find those inspiring few, at each level, who gave me the courage, perspective, and the tools move forward and keep me going as a young professional mediator. It is amazing what can happen when some dedicated support is matched with a dream.
Welcome to the future of mediation. If I could shake the hand of each and every mediator in America, I would. Here’s to a future where we all may learn from one another, unite to overcome our profession’s greatest obstacles, and create the future that we imagine.
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