As someone who was present at and an active participant in the beginning of the modern development of mediation in the early 80’s I would urge that we maintain a perspective on the growth and evolution of this field in the past 25 years. This does not in any way mean we should be any less committed and active in our promotion of this paradigm for conflict resolution. We should be careful to channel our passion into strategic action rather than anger.
I have simultaneously worked privately as a divorce mediator while developing an agency which in 1995 became a funded community mediation center using primarily volunteers. I have seen the natural development of this profession similar to social work which shifted society’s response to the poor from the use of debtor’s prison to a more supportive and empowering approach. Don’t forget that the social work profession still suffers somewhat from their initial manifestation as religious volunteers.
Having had both perspectives I want to add a couple of insights as to the value of both. First and foremost the community mediation movement is premised upon the empowerment of the people in a community. It seeks to have the means of dispute settlement mirror the values they wish to promote among themselves. It substitutes respectful communication and thoughtful problem solving for the power, inefficiency and costliness of the legal system and offers a seamless connection between the best values in the disputants and the healthiest response to conflict. These ideals represent the very best in this movement and community mediation has cultivated and nurtured these values to this date.
The private mediation movement has been a vanguard in directly challenging the legal system. It has struggled mightily to inject this approach into the institutions that deal with conflict. It also is driven, of necessity, by an economic system based upon outcomes and profit. While the values inherent in mediation are not incompatible with the...