I do like a good argument on a fundamental issue. There, I have said it! However, I only tend to like it if I am fairly sure what I think is right and think I stand a chance in “turning” the opposition. If this is not on the cards then I simply revert to full Neanderthal mode and accuse the other side of being “stupid” or “ignorant” or “not knowing what they are on about” and get generally rather grumpy.
At this point it is worth setting the record straight in that I only do this in my head or, at worst, in the comfort and confidential space of my home. Only my poor, long-suffering family actually hear my opinions of those who clearly do not understand and have not my wit and knowledge or intellectual capability to draw the same conclusions as I do. The fact that I might be “wrong” and the others “right” does not feature!
Having spent 30 years or more as a “professional” I have long learnt to express a general air of agreement to those that, secretly, I think are clearly misguided. This proves to be a useful tool in mediation so I can maintain my complete neutrality and, hopefully, do not disclose any hint of disagreement or scepticism to any of the various parties’ thoughts and points of view.
However, my enjoyment of “Sunday Politics” or “Any Questions” underlines a major problem that besets the traditional way that conflicts or arguments run – there has to be a “right” or “wrong” and there must be a hint of the possibility that the other side might change their views.
In real life things are not as clear-cut. In addition, the viewpoints of the two (or more) sides can be set in stone or simply are not capable of change. This is surely never more obvious than altercations over religious theology and the media are currently all over the subject of “gay marriage in the Church of England”. For traditionalists the answer is that there can be no such thing. For those personally affected, especially in the LGBT community, the Church is out of step. There is no manifestly “right” answer and the chance of those with heart-felt views changing radically is probably unlikely.
The recent Anglican Bishop’s report on the subject instead of helping seems to have polarised standpoints further and Archbishop Welby is keen to embrace the concept of “radical inclusion” – the idea that the Church should welcome everyone without exception, seeing the person not the issue.
This is where mediation in its widest sense might help.
Mediation does not aim to impose solutions but rather provides a forum in which points of view can be expressed and acknowledged without any form of judgement. It is a process that recognises the here and now without the baggage of the “before” and looks to the future. Very much “we are where we are and how do we function best going ahead?”. Unlike debate and argument it does not depend on one “solution” or “right answer”. As the Archbishop suggests, it values the person underneath the issues and does not try to rank them on their “correctness” or ignore them if their views are different.
Mediation in this context can help participants appreciate the many areas that parties agree on and then focus on how they can carry on working (or worshipping) together respecting their differences. It does not necessarily require people to change their views but, perhaps, change their focus. See the things that keep us together rather than target those that drive us all apart. Definitely inclusive and perhaps a bit radical!
David King, ASM PlusTeam Member and Civil and Commercial Mediator
ADR Accredited Civil and Commercial Mediator, Certified Accountant and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (former Chair of the East Anglia Branch), university lecturer and trainer and a member of the CIOT Dispute Resolution and Litigation working group.