I had to keep pinching myself to realize where I was. 4 days of presentations from all over the globe on mediation practice. British Columbia was well represented with 5 practicing mediators from BC. In addition to myself there was Arlene Henry QC, Joseph Boskovich, Norm Smookler and Martyn Westermann. Although the conference was quite intimate with only about 40 participants, 27 countries were represented and with 5 speakers a day. About half of the participants were also speakers.
The WMO is the brainchild of Dr Daniel Erdmann of Berlin who had the theory that we all have the inclination and in fact some native ability to solve the problems that we encounter around us. He began to gather a group around this idea to develop these abilities into practice. When these groups had come into existance in 4 or 5 countries he merged them together into the WMO. Since then the group has held conferences in several locations in Europe, Asia and Africa. In contrast to the International Mediation Institute in Den Haag which is mostly composed of ex-jurists, the WMO tends more towards the idea that conflict resolution is not in the sole jurisdiction of the legal profession. There was however an impressive list of mediation professionals present.
Dr Erdmann had teamed up with the German Mediation Academy to run this event and Patric Illigen and his wife Sylvia orchestrated our days. The presentations typically of about 90 minutes each were then interspersed with networking breaks that were long enough that by the end of the four days I was starting to know everyone a bit and some people very well.
The presentations illustrated a wide and diverse view of what mediation can be in different situations from our familiar interest based model to evaluative and facilitative. Perhaps the most unusual was a Rumanian presentation from Nicoleta Munteanu on mediation in classified information scenarios. While I am sure that this is a necessary level of certification in some jurisdictions I felt like I had suddenly dropped into a John LeCarre novel.
Mordecay Cristal was at Camp David talks with Clinton, Arafat and Barak and presented a fascinating account of how even these international level talks have a huge human component that ultimately can determine how it all turns out. I thought of Helen of Troy.
Maria Theologidou a lawyer from Greece presented a fascinating review of dispute resolution techniques in antiquity and mythology.
Sarah Blake spoke about intercultural mediation from her perspective working with Indigenous Australians. Her work has aimed to shift the dominant society view of cross cultural mediation as one that uses the interest based models of the dominant society to jurisdictional convergence mediations that seeks to respect the dispute resolution traditions and methods of both parties equally.
Prof Andrew Goodman a very distinguished lawyer and mediator travels all over the world helping governments and companies set up dispute resolution systems. He talked of our vaunted neutrality as something of an illusion as the mediator will not be able to resist a certain level of judgement about which parties are worthy or undeserving. His presentation method was delightfully and deliberately provocative and generated some good discussion.
And then there was the dynamic Beverley Tarr, a transplanted Brit in Chicago who seems to have single handedly changed the process of divorce in practice and in the legislation in Illinois. She developed a 2 day divorce mediation process that is integrated into legislation. And yes you read that right, 2 days. She has done over 1400 cases including many high profile and high value cases and the process has been successful in 99% of the cases.
Roland Wilson from George Mason University focuses on East Asian conflicts and Peace issues and is in the process of setting up a George Mason University school of dispute resolution in South Korea. His experience in Asia is extensive in military, government and academic fields. He spoke of the need to ‘people’ international conflict with grass root groups that interact and influence their cultural milieu.
Sandra Thaler an Austrian mediator spoke on the transfer of farms and businesses down through generations. Not only are there the issues of a farm or business being passed to only one descendent and how the other siblings are woven into that process there are also the dramatic differences between the values of generations.
Dr Inge Vanfraechem from KU Leuven Institute of Criminology in Belgium was project manager of a European project on restorative Justice in intercultural settings. The power of RJ while recognized academically is still in its infancy in actual practice.
Douja Elhajj a muslim mediator in Australia has taken on the brave (in my mind) and daunting task of bringing traditional Islamic law and Australian law into balance in her community.
Thalia Veintitimila works in LA with Mexican US immigration conflicts and family reconciliation issues.
Mario Appiano from Turin talked of a familiar subject of getting recognition for mediation as a preferred method of dispute resolution by introducing it at the school level.
Ana Maria Rocha talked about the use of mediation in domestic violence situations. With experience as a lawyer, Member of the Portuguese National Parliament and in international work in compliance with the International Human Rights Standards she brought an unbiased and thoughtful view.
Prof Anna Rosario Dejario Malindog spoke from the Philippines on various mediation practices of indigenous and ethnic peoples of SouthEast Asia since time immemorial. They certainly have similarities to North American practices and I felt encouraged to look more deeply into these.
Dr Ilona Németh-Kiss a Hungarian lawyer living in Moscow presented her thesis with WMO which took me back to why we choose to be mediators and the high satsfaction rates that mediation engenders.
I have missed some I am sure but you get the idea of the wide ranging experiences represented. There were a couple of speakers who were unable to attend and so one slot was filled with the BC mediation experience. Joseph Boskovich started with a bit of history of mediation in BC followed by Arlene Henry who talked about the present and MediateBC. I finished with an introduction to Journey to Empathy, the use of focused empathy and compassion as an impasse breaker.
In general the BC experience was viewed in high regard as some jurisdictions were just starting out. Afterwards we were approached with the possibility of presenting some courses so I think there is a market out there for BC experience. I specifically was interested in the response to Journey to Empathy. Several people said they were so glad to hear that empathy can be difficult at times. Andrew Goodman was sure that it was not for him and even went so far as to say that this ‘soft’ approach to mediation might actually put mediation into disrepute. I can certainly see where he is coming from with this as in ‘hard nosed’ mediations empathy can be viewed as a weakness to be exploited. However the neurological research on the use of compassion and empathy supports its use as a path to better solutions.
After I left Berlin I was planning to visit a workshop in Geneva on this very subject hosted by Olga Klimecki, François Bogacz and Jeremy Lack. Unfortunately I was not able to make the workshop but François kindly sent me the slides from the presentation.
I remain firmly convinced that Compassion and Empathy are the most powerful tools in our arsenal as mediators. The scientific back up for this is growing by the day. The historical evidence goes back thousands of years at least to the Vedas. Being able to suspend your judgement is more effective than using your judgement to manipulate a solution. Both methods perhaps have a place as many of the presenters showed but even in ‘hard nosed’ international peace deals the participants are still individual human beings.