In the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Balian, the illegitimate son of the Baron of Ibelin, is a blacksmith with a forge set upon a remote hillside. Engraved in Latin on a wooden beam over his workspace are the words: “What man is a man if he does not seek to make the world a better place?” I sometimes consider these words as a practicing mediator and ADR advocate. What people are we as ADR professionals if, through our work, we do not seek to make the world a better place? In a world where rights so often seem to triumph over responsibilities, and litigation appears to take the spotlight all too often, I believe it is the duty of ADR professionals to seek to use their gifts, skills and belief in the value of ADR to make the world a better place. It was President Barak Obama who, in early 2009, said in one of his speeches, “our children will judge us not by what we tear down, but by what we build up.” I agree. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it is time for the proponents and advocates of ADR in all its forms to step up to the plate and take centre stage, making their mark on the big society, as Prime Minister Cameron refers to it in the UK.

Why is now the time? Because there are tough times ahead and tough times always precede conflict and dispute. Globally, there are paradigm shifts taking place economically, politically, sociologically and religiously. The impact of these shifts will affect billions. As the global population heads towards the seven billion mark, the inevitable shortages of food and water in the years ahead, combined with the effects of environmental changes and mass migration, will create challenges for individual nations and continents alike. In Western cultures, the litigious society with its blame culture continues to thrive, creating an opportunity for us to both educate and implement the alternative forms of dispute resolution we know and believe in.

As emerging economies find their feet on the world stage, and weaker economies have to take a back seat, changes are inevitable. But, as creatures of habit, humans resist change. When running management training courses one of the greatest challenges is encouraging leaders to be courageous by adopting a chameleonic approach to leadership, adapting their management styles to meet the needs of their people. Without the use of different leadership styles, conflict will arise due to the mismatch in needs. Likewise, the need for courageous and principled ADR specialists will therefore increase as we seek to help parties – whether they are individuals, communities, governments or nations – to find resolution through reconciliatory interaction and mutual problem solving rather than conflict.

As Fanny Lou Hammer, the American civil-rights activist wrote: “whether you have a Ph.D, or a D.D; or no D, we’re all in this together. Whether you’re from Morehouse or No house, we’re in this bag together.” So as we begin a New Year and new decade, let us all commit with one heart and mind to be not only the best ADR practitioners we can, but to commit to making the world a better place.

by Howard Stern

Operating primarily in the UK and Europe, Howard works exclusively in conflict and dispute resolution. His work follows a 25 year career in project management, training and development. Howard is a member of the British Civil Mediation Council, accredited by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution as a mediator, and affiliated with various NGOs. His love of travel and the great outdoors has taken him to many places, sometimes in pursuit of his wider professional interests in international politics, and to explore the global pressures facing society as it copes with rapid population growth.