[The following is an updated version of the February 2011 edition of Resolution Strategies]
On November 5th, three days before this year’s Presidential Election, those attending the 28th Annual Conference of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) had the privilege of hearing the keynote address of Senator George Mitchell, former Majority Leader of the United States Senate and recipient of SCMA’s 2016 Cloke-Millen Peacemaker Award. In his remarks, Senator Mitchell noted how divisive the two presidential campaigns had been, and emphasized the need to change the political climate:
“Our politics are polarized and dysfunctional. One devastating consequence is that many Americans don’t trust their leaders, and especially including the two major candidates for President today. Our newly elected President must address that reality, and many other issues, early and aggressively.”
“We simply must act to offset the corrosive distrust of our political leaders if our democracy is to function. Public service as a public trust must be more than a slogan. It must be a reality.”
“The winner, I hope, will take the high road before entering the Oval Office and make sure that everyone in the new administration takes — and stays on — that same road.”
“In organizing the new administration, in formulating policies and in drawing up the budget, the President-Elect should invite and consider — seriously and in good faith — all points of view. Each is the candidate of one party. The winner will be the President of all of the people. I don’t suggest they surrender principal, but in our large and diverse country, no one — not even a newly elected President — gets 100% of what they want.”
Politics is often described as “the art of compromise” — an equally apt description for mediation. Just as incivility, name-calling, finger-pointing, a lack of empathy, hubris and distrust make for a toxic political climate, often rendering compromise impossible, they are likely to poison the environment in mediation, as well.
It never hurts to be reminded, especially by the architect of the peace accords in Northern Ireland, that all points of view deserve to be heard and seriously considered; that no one gets 100% of what they want; and that changing the climate in mediation can be the difference between perpetuating conflict and resolving disputes.