- Without doubt, the world is in terrible shape. Wars are continuous; poverty is on the increase. The threats to our environment grow daily but its defense is effectively blocked by the self-interest of corporations.
It's enough to get really discouraged.
At the same time, there are many people all over the world working terribly hard to build a better world. The work is difficult, it demands tremendous energy and there is usually no time left for publicizing these efforts. Many people do not know about them. They think they are all alone and can’t do anything by themselves, except to sit home, grumble, and be discouraged.
I have done a great deal of grumbling in these blocks and intend to continue to do so. But it is, of course, also very important to know what you and I and all of us together can do to make it a better world.
Here is one suggestion:
This world -- and probably any world we can imagine -- is full of conflict. But there are different ways of dealing with conflict and the dominant models we have are really destructive. In foreign policy we rely on a military that is larger than the military of all other countries combined. In sports we watch ice hockey or football which are glorified fistfights. In the business world, the goal is to put the other person out of business. Destruction is our favorite way of solving problems. The great captains of industry – such as Bill Gates – stand out because they are more competitive and more ruthless than others. The prize goes to the most hardhearted.
But there is a whole set of different techniques called “mediation” where some impartial outsiders will sit down with the parties in conflict to try to get everyone to find a solution acceptable to them. The goal is not to injure. The goal is for persons in conflict to find a solution that seems fair to all, that is not imposed by some outside authority like a judge or some judicial tribunal but is the creation of the people themselves.
Suppose you have a disagreement with your landlord, or your mechanic. Or suppose a set of brothers and sisters disagree about what to do with mom and dad who are too old to continue to stay in their house. You can acquiesce to the demands of the others even though you think they are being totally unreasonable. You just end up feeling bad. Or you can hire a lawyer who will get as much for you as possible regardless of what is fair. Before the judge, your lawyer will present your case in its most favorable light, even if that involves half-truths, massaging the facts deceptively, or manipulating witnesses and a jury. You may get what you want but at the expense of having made a lifelong enemy--your opponent in the law suit. And, of course, you have contributed in a small way to a social climate of hostility, of deceptiveness and greed.
The mediation project aims at a solution that is as pacific and conciliatory as possible. The solution is not imposed by judge or lawyer. It is the creation of the parties discussing their disagreement. The mediators make no suggestions, they only try to provide a quiet and reflective atmosphere in which difficult conversations can be held fruitfully.
The conflicted parties gain some control over their own life by solving their own problem and by, perhaps, learning how to solve problems in the future. What is more, they get a solution they can take some pride in. Their mind can be at ease that they have not taken unfair advantage of another person but have been as fair as was possible under the circumstances.
In most cities and towns in the United States there are a lawyers and others who are trained to do a good mediation. In many places there are organizations that mediate for free or for a low cost. Elsewhere, mediating lawyers will charge you whatever they would charge you if they went to court, except, of course, mediation will involve a lot less time and a lot less paperwork and will thus end up being cheaper. It will also not pollute our social atmosphere with enmity, manipulativeness, and greed.
Think of that the next time need to settle a conflict.
I will talk about other ways of making it a better world in future blogs.