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Civil mediation from ASM Plus – “How to fix America” in one not necessarily easy lesson

by Paul Sandford, director, ASM Plus.

In the New York Times briefing published on 4th December I noted an article entitled “How to fix America” (1)

The article comprises a number of short pieces written by a range of U.S. citizens including academics, educationalists, industrialists, social activists and commentators headed:

Not least because there is a U.S. President elect in waiting, “How to fix America” is at the very least a thought-provoking article that should stimulate meaningful debate.  It should give Joe Biden and his new administration considerable food for thought.  The authors of these pieces, look at issues that in many respects have universal significance and it could just as easily have been entitled “How to fix the UK” or any other number of countries.

Particularly at a time when a body of influential U.S. mediators is pressing its Federal government to recognise the importance of mediation rather than just pay lip service to it (2), I was disappointed that there was no specific reference to mediation. Nonetheless, I was particularly interested the in last item on this list “Listen to the people you disagree with the most”. (3)

This particular piece was written by an anthropologist, Heidi J Larson, in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic. With her previous experiences firmly in mind she considers how to satisfactorily address any attendant conflict issues particularly at a time when it is possible that vaccines will be made available.  However, particularly in the context of “fixing America” this very short, punchy piece has even wider significance.

Some of the other “how to fix America” suggestions would necessarily require some sort of governmental action, possibly legislation.  This particular piece gives guidance on how to deal with conflict and disagreements when they arise and places the onus on individuals and all types of institutions to address conflict in an open minded and even-handed manner.  The very powerful concluding paragraph reads:

So here is my proposed solution, to be applied one conversation at a time: When confronted with a different view, try to find something you can agree on. You don’t have to change your views. Just be open to the fact that others have theirs, too. It may sound counterintuitive. But it’s the only place to start.”

What wonderful, apposite words!  Ms Larson does not purport to be a mediator as such but it is quite apparent that she has significant experience in conflict resolution.  She has not only very successfully summed up what mediation is about but also how people in their everyday lives can take steps to avoid significant conflict arising in the first place and to deal with it simply but effectively.

Because Ms Larson’s excellent piece resonates for mediators, I will return to it in a future blog.  Pending that I suggest that with the U.S. President and Vice President elect having committed themselves to addressing the toxicity that they consider to be currently pervading American politics, if they adopt the guidelines specified in this piece then they be able to go long way to bringing about real change and genuine reform – even if they ignore all the suggestions made in all the other pieces mentioned above.

  1. Sorkin AR. Dealbook:How to Fix America.  The New York Times, 4 December 2020

2.  APFM, NAFCM, MBB & ACR Co-Sponsor National Mediation Policy Act” an article in the influential US Journal Mediate.Com which includes the following extract.  “Our recommended policy simply states:

“It is the policy of the United States that, when two or more individuals or entities are in protracted dispute, it is preferable that such disputants actively and voluntarily take part in solution-seeking mediation, rather than allowing the dispute to remain unresolved or result in costly litigation, continued conflict, and elevated risk of violence”

3.  By Heidi J. Larson, Professor of anthropology at the University of London and University of Washington, and the author of “Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don’t Go Away”

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