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  Recent musings (Oct 04)
IN SUMMARY... John Paul Lederach's keynote was one of the best I've heard on any subject, period. This and the panel on Righting Unrightable Wrongs opened possibilities for those who wonder, "Yes, but what can I do about all this?"

Three ideas resonated with me, two from speakers drawing on their aboriginal heritage. The third arose from reflection on how transformative mediation is a meaningful signpost for a profession at a self-admitted crossroad.

First, mediation has deep roots in spirit. One might well consider mediators to be those through whom spirit moves while they work. Kalani Souza observed of that magical moment, that turning point in a mediation when the parties decide they want to understand each other, want to reach an agreement, “You can’t tell me spirit isn’t there.” Afterward, Souza agreed with me that other aboriginal healing practices, including shamanism, can complement and inform the work of mediation.

Second, many aboriginal cultures' traditional approaches to conflict resolution have much to offer. Robert Yazzie's presentation emphasized that these approaches have survived for centuries because they satisfy profound human needs for reconcilation and healing that many judicial processes do not.

And third, transformative mediation may be poised for growth. Several conference sessions pondered what might help people to better understand the ways that mediators can be vital resources (see below). The transformative model describes the goal of mediation as "to help people have a conversation." As third-party roles go, that description is remarkably unburdened with objectives of settlement or other expectations. It has intrinsic appeal to people who are considering mediation for the first time, but are uncertain of what might happen if they involve a third party in their situation. In other words, come on out, let's talk, see what happens. The term "conversation" itself -- a natural kind of interaction for nearly everyone -- is relatively un-threatening word that can suggest, even to someone skeptical of mediation, "Well, how bad could THAT be?"



"Whither the profession?" was a recurring theme, and a question is consistent with advice I got when learning about this work: "Honey, keep your day job". Why haven't conflict resolvers been eagerly sought out in the post-9/11 world? "This is not about a marketing shortfall; rather, we don’t have product that meets the needs," said Bernard Mayer. More>>

Do people instinctively believe that neutral third parties can help them get what they want? Many people would prefer not to admit that they'd like a playing field tilted in their favour. Speakers noted roles other than "3rd party" for which people might more eagerly turn to mediators: advocate, coach, or process designer.

How ready are members of this profession to hear what people in communities want, rather than to assume what we think they need? Lederach and Mayer, among others, noted that resolution of conflict isn't always what people want. Sometimes, people need to explore or deepen the conflict; sometimes to halt it temporarily, to get time to re-consider.


The past 20 years have developed rich theory and lexicon for conflict resolution as a profession and academic discipline. Practitioners' success stories I heard suggest that that lexicon can discourage rather than encourage people from working with us.

Mediators described client engagement made possible only when the clients were able to use their OWN terms to talk about what they wanted to do, and the process they wanted to use. "About the title for the training: can we take the word 'conflict' out?" they would ask.

J. Bradt, Summit Insight LLC, 10 October 2004

Peacebuilding Notes
Notes from sessions at the conference of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) - 29 Sep- 2 Oct 04.

J.P. Lederach: The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace

Righting Unrightable Wrongs: Panel

Life Way vs Law Way: highlights of remarks by Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus, Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation

Conflict Resolution at the Crossroads: a panel explores issues raised in the book by Bernard Mayer

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