Monday, September 20, 2010

The fourth path: Nonviolence is mediation

Yesterday I co-mediated a conflict that had reached that fateful point of three-way choice: does it descend into violence, does one of the parties surrender to save the relationship, or does the relationship end? Fortunately, the parties (eight of them) all chose the fourth path, mediation, which is the nonviolent alternative.

The descent into violence is self-explanatory.

The abject surrender of one party is analogous to structural violence or negative peace, that is, peace for the sake of peace, with a sacrifice of justice and respect.

Ending the relationship is not violence but neither is it nonviolence.

Mediation is one of two of the strongest nonviolent alternatives.

The other is highly skilled assertion. This is for the rugged individuals who are talented and trained and can handle the abuse that often accompanies such initiatives. It works for those who possess the self-confidence and competencies to stand up to any party, no matter how asymmetric the power relationships, and assert rights and the expectation of respect in a manner that also cares so well for the other's rights and respect that the assertions are not so threatening that they elicit a defensive escalation of conflict. Some people seem capable of doing this at all times. Some of us can do this sometimes, and there are those of us who have falsely believed we could do this under all circumstances. Most of us cannot.

All mediation is, in a way, is the inclusion of another party into the conflict negotiation environment, another party whose role is simply to help keep assertions from becoming aggression, and to help reframe situations so that no one feels that they are required to surrender. The mediator is on hand to help carve a line of sight toward a workable arrangement so that the benefits of the relationship between the two parties can continue in some fashion and the highest costs can be lowered. Mediation can stop or avert violence, structural violence, and the sad end to a relationship that has benefitted both parties (or in the case of yesterday's mediation, the eight parties in the room).

We gained or saved a great deal for the parties as we worked together, and the costs were quite low to all parties. This is the same dynamic as nonviolence, that is, we learn to wage conflict without the high costs of violence but with many of the gains we hope for. One of the big differences, of course, is that social conflict nonviolent struggle is transparent whereas mediation must remain confidential.

So, I cannot prove to you that the mediation was a success, but the track record of mediation is a good one, and it replaces the high-cost, zero-sum adversarial methods without creating more victims along the way. It is not a method for those who wish to wage conflict in a triumphal, winner-take-all manner and it cannot produce the revenge that some seem to need, but, like nonviolence, it saves everyone from destruction and is based on respect for all. And it gives you a glow for the rest of the day...

No comments: