While this book was written in 2001, it was recommended to me by two American mediator friends of mine and leading bloggers (namelyVicki Pynchon & Diane Levin) as essential reading so therefore I took the opportunity to buy and read it.
What did I think of the book?
The author Kenneth Cloke is a Director of the Centre for Dispute Resolution in Santa Monica, California and is an experienced author, writer and his book is a call for action for mediators.
It represents a call to shift the boundaries of how to approach and deal with the mediation and to explore what really lies behind the conflict.
He writes ”The greatest danger we face is our tendency to retreat from conflict, to accommodate and adapt to it. We quickly learn to expect nothing from our conflicts, to tolerate or anticipate them in our lives, to engage in them without self-reflection. This adaption to conflict means abandoning all possibility of growth, awareness, learning, improved relationships, deeper intimacy, better results, and personal or organisational transformation, all of which are lost when we are unwilling to risk open communication.”
Essentially this book is about the way that the mediation process can represent a source of growth, increased consciousness and spiritual growth for the disputing parties and the mediator.
As he observes “Most people think of conflicts as disagreements over what they think, feel or want. Yet most arguments have little or nothing to do with the issues over which they battle.”
Cloke provides 18 definitions of conflict which represent a completely different way to see them.
Here are 2 of them which grabbed my attention.
“Conflict is a way of opposing someone who represents a parent with whom we have not yet resolved our relationships. If the parties can recognise that the other person resembles or is behaving like someone from their family of origin, they may see they are really angry with someone else.”
“Conflict is a lack of acceptance of ourselves that we have projected onto others, a way of blaming others for what we perceive as failures in our own lives. It reveals a need to hide behind roles or masks that do not reflect our authentic. As they accept themselves more fully, they become more accepting of others.”
As he concludes, “What is common to all these definitions is that our conflicts begin and end with us, as well as the systems in which we operate. They have little to do with our opponents. As mediators, we can assist the parties in defining their conflict in alternative ways that allow them to perceive its deeper, more accurate meanings.”
And how does the mediator do all this?
“In our experience, mediators need to elicit, conciliate, and facilitate, yet also to evaluate and direct parties in seeking resolution or transformation. They need to inquirer about deeper underlying issues and relationships. With the tacit permission of the parties, mediators can recommend concrete steps that will break the participants’ systems. While directive and facilitative styles rarely result in transformation, transformational and dangerous styles easily produce settlements”
And the reason for taking such steps?
“Through these efforts, we can assist less-empowered parties to become more productive, intelligent ,and successful in completely ending their conflicts by addressing the underlying reasons that created them. In the long run, we will end disputes quicker with less damage and at lower cost than if we push for compromise, conciliation, and settlement for settlement’s sake.”
This book is real challenge for the way in which we mediate and invites us to push the boundaries to a new level.
The contents of the book are split in two parts with the first section investigating the inner frontiers, the hidden personal recesses that limits our effectiveness and the second half examines our outer frontiers, the systems and structures that restrict our capacity to action what we learn internally.
Part One: the Inner Frontiers
1. The Dangers of Mediating
2. Suppression, Settlement and Resolution
3. Honesty and Empathy: Speaking the Unspeakable
4. When Helping Becomes a Hindrance
5. Exploring the Conflicts Within Ourselves
6. Mediating Fear, Apathy, Insanity and Dishonesty
7. Dismantling the Desire For Revenge
8. The Magic of Forgiveness
9. The Significance of Spirit
10. Conflict as a Spiritual Path
Part Two : The Outer Frontiers
11. Mediating Fascism and Oppressive Relationships
12. Power, Rights and Interests
13. Creating Responsible Communities
14. What’s Better Than The Rule of law
15. Shifting from Debate to Dialogue
16. Improving the Way we Fight
17. Transforming the System
18. The Politics of Conflict
19. Conflict Resolution System Design and the United Nations
20. Where Inner and Outer Frontiers Meet
The book really does give you food for thought on some of the key ethical issues which mediators face.
For example, Cloke explores spouse battering as an issue where as mediators we run the risk that by superficially resolving them, we run the risk of actually creating a new dispute.
He writes “If we recognise that the batterer’s apology is the first step in a new cycle of violence, it becomes clear that a precondition for the success of the mediation is that the cycle be broken at or before the point of apology. Yet most mediators, on hearing an apology, are likely to encourage the other accept it as a positive step toward resolution when in fact, acceptance merely allows the perpetrator to reveal their self-loathing and deny their contempt.”
A more dangerous form of mediation would be to stop the apology before it is accepted and inquire into whether the apologiser has a pattern of apologising that cycles into repeated battering and to ask a series of probing ”dangerous” questions.
For us, the penalty of “peace at any price” is exacted from our spirit for having colluded in the continuation of potentially deadly behaviour.
Whilst this book does provide practical questions which a mediator can apply, it is one which invites us to redefine what we are trying to get out of the mediation process for ourselves and the disputing parties.
As he writes “Mediators do not always approach conflict resolution, or their own conflicts, as opportunities for learning or journeys of transformation. Yet dangerous mediation requires us to do so……Doing so means practicing what we call “The Zen of Mediation,” which includes:
· Being as empathetic with both parties as possible, without losing ourselves
· Being as honest with both parties as possible, without being judgemental
· Being as committed as possible to revealing choices involving resolution and transformation, without caring one bit what either party chooses”
This latter point is important is that one theme that I have noticed about mediators(and indeed ADR organisations), it is that often they will market themselves on the number of successful mediations that they have done yet should this be the role of the mediator?
According to Cloke this should not be so and invites to take the mediation as a spiritual path in which the mediator and the parties are fully engaged.
In summary, this is probably the best book that I have ever read on mediation not due to its practical knowledge that can be applied but because it really challenges you to think about what conflict is really about for the parties and for the mediator.