I’m in Europe right now, having taught last week in Spain, now in Milan, and later this week in Geneva. Anxiety about the development of mediation is running high here, yet the enthusiasm remains undimmed. What is most interesting to observe is the response of the legal cultures. In Spain, mediation has not reached the level where it is threatening to the bar, so mediation is not much on the radar. In Italy, there is a real struggle going on with much active resistance by lawyers to the old mandatory mediation law, which resulted in a court ruling finding mediation unconstitutional, followed by a new mediation law which provides for more choice.
As an outsider, what is most remarkable to me has to do with our relationship to coercion. As a mediator, I find myself wanting to persuade those around me of the value of mediation. Yet in that desire to persuade is the seed of the potential problem, of wanting to use coercion to convince people of the power of a process that is based on choice. When we behave in a way that contradicts the basic value that we believe in, everyone can feel that, and this undermines our effort. So what are we to do about our enthusiasm for mediation– pretend that it’s not there? No, the answer lies in making the effort to be congruent in our conversations about mediation with our belief about the power of choice based on understanding. What that means is that we need to not oversell mediation. As a matter of fact, we should not sell mediation at all. So we look for the moments that are ripe for engaging in authentic conversations about mediation where we speak as readily about the disadvantages as the advantages of mediation, and I have to remind myself, even within the mediation world, to do the same about our Understanding-based model in relation to other models of mediation. This is a humbling, but very interesting, challenge. Holding on to “the truth” is a dangerous and unproductive game and nowhere near as satisfying as a stance of curiosity to dig more deeply into understanding how we can deal better with conflict.