What can mediation teach us about civility?
In the life of our nation, public discourse seems to be at an all-time low. People of different political persuasions have a very hard time listening to each other and demonizing “the other” is rampant. The ties that bind us together appear to be fraying. What are we to do? I think the approach we use in mediation has a lot to offer in response to this question. One of the key elements of the mediation process is respecting the experience of each of the parties, understanding that their experience of the same event in the life of the conflict has been shaped by their life history, their interpretation of what things mean based on their values and beliefs. Two people can see the same thing and interpretations of what took place, even memory of what took place, are diametrically the opposite. By respecting how each party has experienced the conflict and what impact it has on them, the mediators are able to understand and empathize with each person.
The mediators really deeply listen to the parties and encourage the other side to do so as well. This not only helps the person being listened to feel acknowledge and heard but also can allow them to move forward from a position of being stuck in a fixed position or perspective. This deep listening could help heal the division we feel in our public sphere.
Lastly, through the mediation process, the parties come to see that “we are in this together”. Their finding a workable solution is dependent on the others in the conflict buying in to a plan to make things better. By working towards collaborative, win-win outcomes, mediating parties find lasting solutions to intractable conflict. Doesn’t that approach sound like what we need in our broader world?
Let’s work to bring mediation’s core values, respect, listening and collaboratively working together for solutions to our broader world. We all could use a bit more civility.