In the short span of thirty years, the idea of mediation has gone from “interesting new idea” to “movement” to “mainstream.” Mediation is well described in books, taught in schools, embedded in business transactions, and irrevocably married to the courts and our legal culture. Like many marriages, it isn’t always a perfect one but it functions well enough to satisfy both partners. I am honored and proud to have been a part of this odyssey but also frustrated and unhappy with what we have become. In fact, I would like to see us take up the far more grueling challenge of changing our seemingly dysfunctional political culture. Mind you, I don’t want to harmonize political differences. I just want to see us handle them more intelligently.
Mediators like to talk about “the field” and “the profession.” Actually, much as we hunger to be taken seriously, we are neither. Mediation is a passion, a calling shared by many more people in the world than those who have the word “Mediator” engraved on their business cards. This far larger group of people have never been formally trained and don’t know what we are talking about when we slip into mediator-speak. Nonetheless they share the same emotional and intellectual impulses we have about the need to find agreement on important matters, the power of good negotiation processes, the inclusion of diverse voices, and the ability of ordinary people to forge their own solutions.
Many of these same people love the idea of collaborative problem solving and are in positions to make changes in our political and popular cultures. They sit on library boards, church councils, education commissions, and get elected or appointed to public office. They are civic minded and coach soccer teams, run local fairs and festivals, and have radio and TV shows. These are the people we need to spend our time with. It is not more formally trained “mediators” we need but rather a new generation of people who can make the obvious links between mediation and leadership without all the preoccupying yearnings for professionalization.
This book tries to take up that challenge. In the pages that follow, you will find the word “mediation” used exactly once (Idea #62 – “Names”) and in a not so flattering way. In its place, I want to take the very best of what we know, keep the usual mediator “babble” to a minimum, and offer our skills and insights to people who can use them in new ways. My highest hope is that some of the 150 ideas described here will find their way into the working lives of thought leaders who share the same quiet aspiration we have for making the world a little better place than we found it.
Peter S. Adler
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