Helpful or unhelpful mediation - you decide

(First published on my blog at

Geoff Sharp of New Zealand has pointed me to a very well-made short film, The Mediator, that has been shown in a number of American regional film festivals. In the post on Geoff's mediation firm's blog, the writer states, "it's so good you could even chalk it up to CPD [continuing professional development]...but it's fair to say it doesn't have the ending that most of us aim for." My guess is that what he means is a mediation that culminates in a settlement between the parties. Those of us, trained in transformative practice, aim for something else entirely. But first, have a look:

The Mediator from Phillips Pictures on Vimeo.

SPOILER ALERT: Please watch the video before reading my comments below.

From a transformative practice perspective, this is what may happen, at least metaphorically, when parties can't or won't talk to each other directly with the support of the mediator. A transformative mediator is trained, however, to follow their conversation where they decide to take it. She doesn't supplant it by taking it where she thinks it should go. Back to the video, the cowboy mediator has the boy consider what he asserts, in a somewhat racist fashion by contemporary standards, are the likely consequences of non-settlement. There is no effort to reflect back to the indigenous elder his own words about settlers' taking what is not theirs, including his daughter, nor his anger with this. And these sentiments and emotion are not conveyed back to the boy for him to ponder. An opportunity for something like genuine human communication is lost. Instead, the boy, after 'agreement' seems to have been reached, recalls how the elder earlier had chopped off his hand. What would have happened if the boy had had the opportunity to consider how his hand was taken from him by force just as he had taken the daughter from her father! In the event, the resolution, a purely commercial transaction, ultimately satisfies neither of the parties, even though they both agreed to it. When the parties decide what to talk about and how to talk about it, with the support of a transformative mediator, recent research has demonstrated that agreements reached have greater sustainability.

But that's just my opinion. What do you think: was the mediator helpful or not?

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