A really, really interesting blog post by Brian Ganson on the HNMCP blog site. I have known Brian since my earliest days in mediation, and he has reliably challenged many of my assumptions about just what it is we do and how we ought to do it.
An excerpt (but really you should read the entire thing):
When we acknowledge the role of mediation in shaping parties’ own critical evaluation of normative standards as they exist today and should change tomorrow, we then see – and can celebrate – that all good mediation is advocacy on behalf of core human values. To remain true to the values of mediation we must only admit to the parties and ourselves that we are part of the process of learning and growing, and maintain our own openness to being challenged and shaped as we explore the nature of those core principles.
Seen this way, mediation and dialogue are not anathema to activism; they are at the heart of the most effective advocacy the world has known. The most important acts of peace and justice that I have witnessed involve someone reaching across a conflict line to insist that, in essence, “we must talk about who we are and what we believe in.” In post-war Sierra Leone, violent and abusive relationships often persist between army units and the communities around them, undermining prospects for enduring peace. Despite fear for their own safety and the possibility of reprisals against their families, one group of women approached military officers in their district. Taking at face value the military command’s assertion that it was reforming, the women said, “we are here to symbolize that new relationship.” Whereas before the military had argued that “people trained to kill shouldn’t interact with civilians,” it progressively moved towards social activities with the community and eventually to dialogue about the care of detainees, bringing fighters out of the bush, and even holding officers accountable for their misdeeds. Dialogue created space for a new definition of national security that could also embrace human security.
As mediators working amidst seemingly overwhelming challenges and grave injustices, we can be inspired by such examples to be strong advocates: tirelessly advocating that we as human beings are never so different that we cannot in the end understand each other; courageously advocating that our fundamental interests are not so different or distinct that we cannot find solutions consistent with the security and dignity of all; and vigorously advocating when our inner voices tell us otherwise that it is a failure of imagination and not of possibility that make us feel so. Only in doing so can we be at peace with the parties, with difficult and often heartbreaking situations, with our roles as mediators, and with ourselves.
TOTH to Bob Bordone via @BobBordone