The Logic Behind the Magic of Mediation
By Albie M. Davis
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "The Logic Behind the Magic of Mediation," Negotiation Journal, 5:1 (January 1989), pp. 17-24.
Davis recounts an example of mediation "magic". She describes the community mediation of a case involving the burglary and vandalism of a woman's home by a group of neighborhood youths. Within mediation the woman was able to express her loss. The youths came to understand the harm they had done. They apologized and agreed to make restitution. In addition, the oldest youth shared his prior prison experience with the younger children and urged them to avoid his mistakes. Davis identifies the elements of mediation which help such "magical" events to occur.
Elements of Mediation
The mediator's attitude of respect for the parties is an important element in effective mediation. The mediator should respect the parties' dignity and competence, and respect the parties' ownership of the dispute. This respect may be shown in a variety of ways, including handshakes, polite behavior, attentive listening, patience and acceptance. The mediator must also exercise self restraint, keeping her own sense of self-importance in check.
Another element of fruitful practice is to keep the process simple. Davis says, "Keep your beginner's mind." [p. 20] Parties will find simple approaches more accessible. Often a simple approach to a complex problem is the most effective.
The mediator also needs to have and model a positive attitude toward conflict, emphasizing its potential for rejuvenation. By being non-judgmental the mediator will free the parties from the need to be defensive. The parties can then devote their energies to reflection and to developing a better understanding of their own interests.
Mediators should allow for the "safe and productive expression of feelings" [p. 21] Drawing on a reevaluation co-counseling approach, Davis says that humans are naturally creative, intelligent and cooperative. Repressed emotions and suppressed hurts will make it more difficult for parties to think clearly, creatively and cooperatively. Humor and laughter can be especially helpful in recovering from hurt.
Lastly, the mediator must always keep the hope for forgiveness and reconciliation alive. Davis cites sources ranging from poet Maya Angelou to the Buddha, who noted "Hatred does not cease by hatred. Hatred ceases by love." [p. 22]
Mediation works best when it "is simple and it's designed to go with, not against the grain of humanity." [p. 23] Davis expresses her hope and belief that mediation may be part of the development of a new ethic which can support a more generative view of human life.