Summary of "Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution"

Summary of

Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution

By Kenneth Cloke

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Kenneth Cloke. Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001, 252 pp.

Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution offers new and experienced mediators a fresh vision of mediation practice. The central aim of the work is to examine the essence of the process, rather than the procedure itself. The challenge to mediate on the edge is posed by the author, as he asks readers to question their own assumptions about how conflict should be handled as well as analyze the structures around them that may restrict the approaches available to them in addressing conflict. Cloke explores the deeper underpinnings of the transformational process of mediation in order to illuminate what exactly happens when people engage in the risky practices of forgiveness and honesty, and reveal their "authentic selves" to one another.

In the process of discussing how to take risks and mediate dangerously, the work addresses a wide range of conflict types, including families, communities, schools, businesses, governments, societies, and nations. When Cloke speaks of "danger," he is referring to taking risks that defy the ways one normally would proceed in helping resolve a conflict. With this work, Cloke is challenging mediators to search their souls and take the field to new and previously unattained levels of effectiveness. The ultimate goal of the work is to teach mediators how to clarify the issues involved in a conflict, identify the full range of options for resolution, create openings for the disputants to communicate about possible outcomes, reach the center of conflicts, and catalyze transformation.

The book is divided into two major parts. The first section explores inner frontiers, or "the hidden personal recesses that limit [mediator] effectiveness" (xv). Part Two examines what Cloke calls, the outer frontiers or "the systems and structures that restrict our capacity to act on what we learn internally" (xv). Each chapter throughout the book looks at a different type of danger.

Part One consists of Chapters One through Ten and covers a wide variety of the personal attributes that tend to prevent mediators from being dangerous and getting to the true heart of a conflict. Chapter One explains the dangers of mediation, which stem principally from the creative exploration of conflict. Chapter Two discusses the issues of suppression, settlement, and resolution. Cloke states that oftentimes true resolution is never reached because mediators are too eager to make the conflict go away, thus never actually getting to the heart of the matter. Chapter Three focuses on honesty and empathy and allowing oneself to speak the truth straight from the inside, in spite of increasing one's vulnerability or challenging one's identity. In Chapter Four, Cloke discusses the dangers of the "helper" mentality, which can hinder mediators' ability to really perceive what is happening in a conflict. This occurs when internal, subconscious motivations within the helper (mediator) begin to cloud his or her judgment in a case.

Chapter Five advises mediators to explore the conflicts within themselves, so that their clients will be willing to do the same. Cloke suggests that knowing oneself is the key to seeing what is occurring between disputing parties and being able to come up with the right questions. Deep honesty on the mediator's part should translate into deep honesty on the disputants' part. Strategies for mediating fear, apathy, insanity, and dishonesty are offered in Chapter Six. Chapter Seven discusses the common desire for revenge and ways mediators can attempt to breakdown that desire, so that the potential for mediation success will increase. Though often questionable in the eyes of disputants, and thus a highly dangerous suggestion on the part of the mediator, Cloke strongly supports encouraging forgiveness in Chapter Eight, because of its transformative effects. Chapter Nine looks at what spirit is, how it factors into conflict, and how it is affected by the transformation that takes place with successful resolution. The final chapter regarding inner frontiers attempts to convey the notion that conflict, if dealt with constructively, can be a spiritual journey in which personal understanding of oneself and others is enhanced.

Part Two includes ten chapters regarding outer frontiers, which take mediators deep into social issues and the structures that produce them. Thus, outer frontiers are extremely dangerous, for they plunge mediators into a realm that is simultaneously repressive, economic, and political. Chapter Eleven discusses specific types of conflicts that put the worthiness of mediation to the test and looks at whether or not it can be applied in those situations. The two types of conflicts focused on here are domestic violence and Fascism, both of which involve intensely oppressive relationships and take the principles of mediation to the edge. In Chapter Twelve, Cloke looks at ways mediators can deal with power struggles, and espouses that dangerous mediation in these situations "consists of opening a path from power to rights to interests" (140). Chapter Thirteen focuses on the interest-based, power sharing approach to building responsible communities where problems are solved collaboratively, rather than those in which blame is a prominent occurrence. With Chapter Fourteen, the author considers "the rule of law" and the how adversarial processes, such as litigation, limit possibilities for truly learning from the lessons inherent in conflict.

Chapter Fifteen examines possibilities for improving the way that people fight, namely shifting from debate to dialogue. Dialogue is strongly advocated by Cloke, as he believes it is ultimately how every conflict gets solved. Chapter Sixteen considers times when dialogue and interest-based processes will not do, and suggests ways to fight constructively and humanely. Conflicts spurred by systemic dysfunction are looked at in Chapter Seventeen. Oftentimes such conflicts are initially seen as personal in nature, but eventually lead to a much broader context, which the mediator must then address by facilitating conversations that allow people to change the system. Chapter Eighteen discusses the politics of conflict, specifically the implications that certain resolution processes may have for broader power structures. For example, when a person in a high position of power, such as a CEO, is brought into an interest-based mediation with someone with much less power, such as a cleaning lady, the entire hierarchy is challenged because they are all of the sudden thrust into a very egalitarian situation. This power shift makes such mediations dangerous.

Chapter Nineteen delves into the theory of conflict resolution design and cross-cultural mediation techniques and how they may be applied at the international level. At the end of this chapter, Cloke offers a "14-Point" strategy on how to improve the United Nations' effectiveness in international mediations. Lastly, Chapter Twenty wraps up the work through a discussion of how to integrate inner and outer frontiers.

Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution is a thick exposé for mediators, about pushing oneself and taking mediation to new levels. Cloke's main point is that conflicts are not just to be solved, but to be learned from-when mediation becomes dangerous, is when mediation becomes truly enlightening and transformational.