By: John Sturrock, IAM Distinguished Fellow

Posted:  January 5, 2016

Questions About Where We Are Right Now

There is danger when speaking in generalities as if one had access to some sort of universal truth. What I say here is a reflection of how I see things. I’ll pose questions and not answer many of them, and may not even coherently join up all the dots. In a sense, however, that is being true to our mediator calling; I invite you to make links with your own work or field, and ponder your own conclusions. Not everything will apply to, or work for, everybody.

For me, the really interesting question is this: Can we take what we know as mediators and turn it into practical steps for making the world – or at least our part of it – a better place?

As mediators, we have the understanding and experience to bring competence to collaboration and to turn rhetoric into real action. Perhaps together we can begin (or continue) a process leading to some sort of an action plan, or prospectus, if you like.

Let me begin with a number of questions:

  • What if the way in which we have sought to resolve difficult disputes is not conducive to effective resolution of problems, whether personal, local, national or global?
  • What if the way we have done and still do politics is not effective in dealing with the big issues of the day?
  • What if the distribution of income and wealth in our societies is so unbalanced that it risks our economic futures and overall security?
  • What if our general approach to equality, to justice, to rights, is seriously flawed and based on the wrong model and wrong ways of thinking?
  • What if, throughout the world, people are tired of having things done to them rather than with them?
  • What if, as Jeremy Rifkin suggests, we are approaching the eclipse of capitalism and a new age of near zero marginal cost economics?
  • What if there is a significant likelihood that our species is facing its own extinction?
  • What if environmental degradation, pollution of the oceans, soil erosion, adverse changes in climate, really are as bad as 90% of the world’s scientists say? What if we really are, as we are being told by credible voices, already well into the sixth mass extinction of species on the planet?
  • What if more than 50% of global carbon reserves need to remain unextracted to have any hope of holding global warming to the maximum 2° C increase needed for a sustainable future, much less the aspirational 1.5° maximum in the recent Paris Climate Accord?
  • What if large parts of our capitalist economic model and future shareholder value and pension funding depend on extraction of that 50%? Indeed, what if our economic system and our planetary system are now effectively at war?
  • What if mass migration will become the norm and what we see now is just the beginning of decades of movement of displaced peoples to places of perceived plenty?
  • What if our conventional, binary, right/wrong, black/white approach to resolving our differences is insufficient to deal with the realities of modern existence? Indeed, what if it is conducive to species failure?
  • What if we are close to the point of no return?
  • What if the way we handle many of even our own day-to-day conflicts is unnecessarily and disproportionately costly in time and money, detrimental to wellbeing and damaging to relationships?
  • What if . . . we need to change our approach to how we work together in order to survive? 

For an increasing number of people, there is only one response to these questions. And that is this: Things are not as they should be, not as they need to be in the future, indeed not as they need to be right now. We need to act, to do something different. To change, to shift the paradigms. . . .

For some people, I know, this is all nonsense, fantasy, intellectual claptrap. Resistance is a natural reaction. I recognise and respect that, but don’t have the time or the energy to seek to persuade you. All I can ask is that you examine your assumptions. 

For others, this is all obvious, you already get it. I don’t need to spend time or energy seeking to persuade you, but please help . . . a movement needs people who are prepared to be brave and to take a risk or two. 
My focus in Parts 2 and 3 is on the rest of us, that 70-80% in the middle who are not quite sure and can see arguments either way. Or who prefer not to engage because, frankly, it all appears too difficult. 

Coming next . . . Part 2: Overcoming Our Inertia and the Status Quo
Part 3: A Call to Arms for Mediators?

Adapted from an address to the annual conference of the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand in July 2015.

    © 2016 John Sturrock