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Australian Of The Year

I was lucky enough to be present last week at the Australian Consulate to hear 2009 Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson, speak. Very special thanks to the Consulate for the invitation, especially Fiona Gosschalk. (pictured left is me far left, Mick Dodson, near left. Photo by Michelle Lee, Australian Consulate).

Mr. Dodson is described as follows:

Fifty eight year old Dodson is a Yawuru man from the Broome area of Western Australia who now lives and works in Canberra. He is widely recognized as a proud, courageous and humble Aboriginal leader who has spent his adult life trying to explain to people why and how they can help his people. He has pursued justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.

While his official roles tell only a small part of the story of what he does, Dodson has served in a variety of challenging and highly sensitive roles at community level, with governments, the United Nations and in academia. He has also actively mentored, nurtured and promoted young Aboriginal leaders and encouraged respect between people of all cultures.

His brief speech was very moving. As a conflict resolver, he touched on many topics that are a part of my mediation and negotiation practice, both in the NYPD and outside of it.

He mentioned the United Nations and stressed not only how its role is important but it is also necessary. One of his powerful quotes was, “The United Nations is the official platform for listening.”

Potentially an easy comment to forget for some so I ask you to think about it. From the mediator’s perspective, how important is it for the parties to be given that time to talk (I tend to call it ‘uninterrupted time’)?

In addition to being given that opportunity to speak, how powerful, and many times grateful, are the parties knowing they are not just being heard but also they are being acknowledged when we use simple tools like summarizing, reflecting and validating feelings?

Now as you picture that in a previous mediation or negotiation, expand it. Not by a handful of people but by millions of people. Mr. Dodson stated there are over 400 million indigenous people on this planet. Having the opportunity, at the very least, to speak at the forum when the ‘official listeners’ are present to record and acknowledge them is not something that should be overlooked.

Again, think about if you never allowed parties to have that opportunity to speak and tell their story in mediation. What would the chances of success be? Would they feel like they are part of the process? And now again, think of it as 400 million people. What comes to your mind? For me, it is something that is powerful yet beautiful that can be easily overlooked yet so necessary.

Mr. Dodson then went on to talk about “The Apology”. The apology I am referring to is when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, back in 2008, spoke of the “mistreatment” that inflicted “profound grief, suffering and loss” on the country’s Aboriginal people.

From the CNN article, “For 60 years, until 1970, the Australian government took mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families and put them in dormitories or industrial schools, claiming it was protecting them.”

Read the full CNN article [HERE]
Read the full speech [HERE] –

The issue of apologizing, and its potential power, is also a major topic in mediations. When questioned on the power and effect of the apology and if it was symbolic, Mr. Dobson included the comment, “Even Symbolic gestures have power.” He also added that the apology was a move in a positive direction.

He equally stressed the importance of not just powerful, symbolic words but also meaningful and measurable results. One of those results are the gap between Aboriginal life expectancy compared to all other Australians went from being a 17 year difference to now 11 years.

The last comment I would like to add is that after hearing the Australian of the Year speak, it really gave me a greater appreciation of the power that communication can have on a global scale. Mr. Dodson shows that words are powerful and when combined with action is where progress is achieved.


Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School… MORE >

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