Sunday, April 26, 2009

Taking Our Part in Public Dialogue

I had the privilege of watching a screening of "The Soloist" at Sony Pictures in celebration of one of the co-Producers' birthday this weekend. (We've been friends of Russ Krasnoff's for over a decade.) The movie captures the story of a Los Angeles Times' reporter, Steve Lopez, friendship with a schizophrenic, homeless, but nevertheless brilliant musician, Nathaniel Ayers. At the end of the movie, the producers urge their viewers to get involved with homeless causes, public housing and the mentally ill. It's a call I've heard before personally, but had not really put together with mediation until this week.

I'm also reading Bernard Mayer's new book: "Staying with Conflict", which urges conflict professionals to think of their role as going beyond conflict resolution. After all, not all conflict can be resolved. Instead, he invites us to consider facilitating the dialogue that is central to competing values, including limited resources, to manage conflict without a view towards solving it, but living with it in our communities, and internationally. This was/is a bit revolutionary to me, as my practice revolves around litigated cases: all of the conflict which I presume to resolve will come to an end in court if I'm unable to resolve it before then.

Finally, I was inducted into the International Academy of Mediators last week. One of my fellow inductees (not an American) spoke eloquently of taking our stance among other international leaders in committing to engage in the dialogue on the global climate crisis.

More and more, I see our profession as a social science not unlike psychologists, historians, and yes, even filmmakers with a message. I congratulate Russ Krasnoff for having the courage to make this excellent film and deliver this crucial message. I will report on the Mayer book once I've completed it. In the meanwhile, I welcome your comments on the role that mediators can or must play in moving beyond living as "Soloist" towards a better, more sustainable and ultimately more fulfilling duet or even orchestra.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thumbs Up at the G20

Yesterday I had a difficult mediation which I sensed was heading towards an impasse. I suggested, after 4 tough hours of negotiation, that one of the attorneys (a smart, attractive woman) take a walk outside with opposing counsel--who had remained staunchly committed to his position all day. I won't say it fully resolved the case, but it definitely served to break the impasse and get both parties returning to the negotiation with "thumbs up". So it was with great amusement that I read today's L.A. Times article, "Obama makes a point with 1 word" and was shocked to find that the photo on page 24 appears to have Obama's thumb up, but my google image above appears to be Berlusconi's thumb up!

This, of course, only strengthens my point in this entry: diplomacy comes from small measures of partnership, not grand gestures of dictatorship. In the G20 yesterday, apparently the world's leaders were "stuck" over whether to "recognize" a list of tax havens being published by the Organization of Eceonomic Co-operation and Development. Obama tapped Sarkozy on the shoulder, huddled in a corner, and suggested they "note" the list, without "recognizing" it. Sarkozy concurred, and later so did Hu, resulting in a simple agreement and handshake.

Obama said: "We exercise leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."

In this case, as in my mediation, the best answer was a small gesture of partnership and a large dose of humility, leading to "two thumbs up".