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Book Review of Evolution of a Field: Personal Histories in Conflict Resolution

Originally published in:
FAMILY COURT REVIEW, Vol. 59 No. 4, October 2021 831–839, doi: 10.1111/fcre.12612
© 2021 Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
Contact: [email protected]

This book review of Evolution of a Field: Personal Histories in Conflict Resolution, co-edited by Howard Gadlin and Nancy A. Welsh, presents an overview, with snippets of personal and autobiographical material, of this penetrating collection that comprises the “personal stories” of 23 leading practitioners and scholars in the field of conflict resolution. The editors asked the authors to reflectively tell their stories about what factors led to their interest in conflict resolution, how their career paths flowed, what pleasures their journey gave them, and what they have learned. Organized into 23 chapters and four themes that emerged from the stories, this book is an inspirational contribution to our field.

Video interviews with these practitioners available here.

Key Points for the Family Court Community

  • This book offers a probing view into the minds and career paths of leading scholars and practitioners of the conflict resolution field.
  • The authors reveal their personal “stories” of what motivated them to pursue their work, ranging from personal early trauma to intellectual curiosity, with a healthy dose of serendipity in the mix.
  • This volume will inspire new conflict resolvers and will give hope and expanded views to experienced practitioners.   The reader will easily relate to the authors’stories and feel roused and awed by the accomplishments of this esteemed group of colleagues.

Conflict is inevitable. Conflict is ubiquitous. Conflict is perpetual. So, why, on earth, would any one even want to try tackling it? THAT is the story behind this book. Editors Howard Gadlin and Nancy Welsh assembled some two dozen of the top leaders and prolific writers in the field of con flict resolution and offered them the mission to capture the essence of why they thought spending their professional lives trying to resolve conflict was a worthy enterprise. The remarkable range of their responses is displayed in this book, Evolution of a Field: Personal Histories in Conflict Resolution.1

The short answer to this motivational question of “Why tackle conflict?” is that conflict also is alluring, seductive, and compelling. For some (including the public, writ large), it cannot be resisted and is the headline “Breaking News” and biggest money-maker for Cable News and other media outlets. For some, conflict demands a resolution. For others, it generates an opportunity to feel an acute sense of agency and accomplishment in helping to resolve it. And yet, for others, it elicits intense curiosity to simply understand its roots. Each of these motivations are represented by vari ous authors (from practitioners to academics) as reasons for their entry into the field. However, to effectively round off the scope of responses to conflict, I must make mention of those who are pro pelled to flee from conflict. Those folks are not represented in the views of this ensemble of authors, although, interestingly, a number of the authors did acknowledge the paradox that they, and many others of their colleagues in the field, self-identify as being conflict-avoidant. In fact, in his chapter, “A Mediator’s Path,” David Hoffman, writes, “I have asked other mediators about their scores on this test [the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode test] and found that a surprisingly high percentage of the people in our field have similar stories of family tensions that caused a part of them to recoil from conflict. Like moths drawn to the flame, however, those mediators and I found our way to a profession in which we plunge daily into the fire of conflict. This no longer seems para doxical or perverse to me. I think many people choose occupations that address core conflicts or traumas from their childhood. This is the narrative I hear, for example, from many psychothera pists” (p. 318).

The leaders of the conflict resolution field are much more like “first responders,” than like those who run from conflict. First responders, by their very nature, approach and engage with crises (whether they be natural disasters, crime incidents, or medical emergencies). Similarly, conflict resolvers must actively engage with conflict; avoiding it is simply not an option.

The Editors designed this book for its authors to present their stories:2

…we asked each author to tell their story in their own words but to consider certain questions about their careers, their practice, and the general field of conflict resolution and address these directly or indirectly. We asked our authors to discuss their personal and professional development in a way that rev ealed what first attracted them to conflict resolution, what pleasures and satisfactions this focus provided and continues to provide, what values and passions it addresses, and how their lives have been trans formed by their profession—or not (p. 4).

However, since some sense of organization is needed for a volume of such expansive personal inquiries, they arranged the submitted chapters into four major sections that embraced the themes that emerged:

  • Conflict Resolution as (Noble) Craft to End Discord;
  • Conflict Resolution as Forum for Voice and Connection;
  • Conflict Resolution as Creative Exercise;
  • Conflict Resolution as Bridge to a Socially Just, Democratic, and Inclusive Community.

While some of the authors had rather traditional domestic careers as master practitioner media tors, the careers of others spanned international disputes and the development and implementation of conflict-resolution designs and trainings for large inter-group social and global political disputes. In outlining and detailing their career paths, these authors present for the reader entertaining and educative cultural and biographical histories of many races, ethnicities, and cultures, which were inherently embedded within their stories. This amounts to a bonus for the reader of gaining access to relevant mini-history lessons and cross-cultural perspectives that all converge on the “big picture” of social justice work.

For some authors, the values and principles for living that permeate their cultures of origin were already comfortably congruent with the philosophy and practice of mediation. For example, in her chapter, “Finding Joy Through a Mediation Clinic and Asian American Identity,” Carol Izumi, writes:

A typical Sansei, I was highly assimilated into majority American culture but also infused with Japanese customs, culture, and values. On New Year’s Day, we ate traditional Japanese dishes with a half-dozen other JA families. Shoyu (soy sauce) and rice were on the table every night, even with turkey and yams on Thanksgiving. To this day, I take koden (money in an envelope) to funerals for the deceased’s family. I was raised to respect elders, excel academically, and bring no shame to the family or the JA commu nity, a sentiment captured in the phrase “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” This philosophy infused a certain skill development: cautious listening, reading situational cues, and reflection before action (p. 341).

For other authors, certain principles and precepts within the very fabric of our traditional North American mediation models were incompatible with the particular approach to dispute resolution of other cultural venues. For example, in her chapter, “A Conflict Counter-Story: How a Puerto Rican Woman Ended up in a Field Dominated by Anglo Men,” Jacqueline Font-Guzman, writes:

My experiences in the Caribbean and Latin America showed me that the mediation models imported from the United States did not always fit those environments, a disconnect that flagged the lack of diver sity in our field. Why would I expect US-centric processes, developed by people who were probably completely unaware of the cultural nuances of the Caribbean and Latin America, to be effective in those regions? Nonetheless, many of the US mediation models seemed to assume “universal truths” in terms of appropriate conflict intervention skills (Lederach, 1995). One example of these “universal truths” in mediation training programs across the United States is the value of using “I statements,” which are sup posed to send a clear message of your needs in a non- threatening manner so that the other person will be more receptive to hearing what you are saying. In one training I co-led in Puerto Rico, a participant had great difficulty using “I statements,” which she considered to be rude and confrontational, in addressing the person engaging in unwanted behavior. She experienced cognitive dissonance between what the statements were supposed to accomplish and what she was feeling. It turned out that within her cultural context, sharing a story was less confrontational and more effective. So we changed the exercise. We substituted “I statements” with storytelling. The trainee told about a time she had witnessed some one engaging in the unwanted behavior that she wanted the other person to change, and she talked about how the behavior had hurt the protagonist of her story. This took longer and was more indirect than any “I statement,” but the trainee was heard, and the other person understood why changing the behavior was important…As we debriefed about this trainee’s experience, I remembered my own similar feelings in my first mediation training. My pushback, like hers, was not about the process itself or the trainers but about a clash of world-views (pp. 286–287).

In another example, which involved an attempt to mediate a highly volatile and violent dispute between different student organizations in an unnamed Latin American country, Font-Guzman further writes:

The meeting with the students took place in a house in the Andean mountains. We ate lasagna together and shared stories about who we were and where we came from. I talked about what growing up in Puerto Rico had been like, and about my culture and political challenges. The students talked about growing up in their country, their culture and their political challenges. We shared what mattered in our lives. We connected through our similarities and our differences. Because I wanted to be in a mental space that would allow me to flex my conflict intervention style based on what the student leaders needed, I was especially interested in participants’ interactions with each other. As it turned out, they did not need mediation; they needed a dialogue. This was not the type of conflict that would be resolved, but it could be de-escalated…I realized through our conversations that what they needed was not to problem-solve but to have a safe space to name the problems, regroup, and brain storm ways of escalating conflict constructively and peacefully (Kriesberg, 2003). As a result of this conversation, relationships strengthened and new stories could emerge. Eventually, these conversa tions could lead to the systemic changes the students were demanding. Sometimes all you can do is support people so they can constructively stay with conflict—for the time being—and this is fine (Mayer, 2008). And that is what we did as we ate lasagna and enjoyed the local beer. This experience taught me that mediation has its limits and every problem cannot (and should not) be solved in the moment. Sometimes our role as conflict practitioners is to support those who are navigating life’s mysteries. This was also a reminder that I am at the service of those who ask for my help, not vice versa. I refused to use my conflict intervenor role to deprive the parties of self-determination (pp. 289–290).

When trying to mediate a longstanding, seemingly intractable large group conflict conducted in South Central Asia, Johnston Barkat writes:

In this case, as often in my practice, I struggled to adapt my Western mediation training to a culture that understood mediation differently. As much as I tried to minimize my role and have the parties negotiate their interests, it became evident to me that they saw the mediator as similar to a village elder. In such situations, the elder might try to ensure that interests are expressed and met, but ultimately the parties want the elder to approve their agreement. In essence, this gives them permission to forgive, to save face, and let go of the conflict. So finally, when the parties had crafted an agreement that met all their interests, they came to me and said it was acceptable—provided I agreed it was a good solution. After much internal struggle, I told them what I felt it addressed and what I felt might still need to be worked on, and then I indicated it was a good resolution. It was all they needed to hear, and they happily embraced their agreement. There are times, such as in this instance, that people need permission to move from fighting to détente. For the mediator, knowing when and how to differentiate the moments when the parties decide from those when the mediator directs or gives permission can be critical. In this case I was looking for an approach that addressed their interests while also finding a way for them to move on from the conflict and save face (pp. 161–162).

As a psychologist, I was particularly interested in the very personal, autobiographical stories presented by many of the authors that revealed fascinating paths from one’s personal psychology through their subsequent career meanderings in the diverse fields of conflict resolution. Personal vignettes graphically illustrate how the dynamics of their families-of-origin led to, or enhanced and excited their practice of mediation and other alternatives to litigation.

All the authors had a natural curiosity about people and how they solved conflict. Many had a special interest in social psychology and an enduring fascination with how people live with cognitive dissonance, and how some eventually resolve it. Most authors reported feeling some thing akin to a dopamine high at being able to solve complex interpersonal or inter-group prob lems by being curious, listening, and persistently showing respect for all people. As Carol Izumi put it, “I’ve found my ADR colleagues to be an inquiring, reflective, moral, and unfailingly sup portive bunch” (p. 353).

Many of these authors, frankly, were rebels and non-traditional in their thinking from the start. Some as young children in their families, some beginning in their teens, and many became rebel lious activists while in college. Having a moderate to blatant rebellious attitude seemed almost nec essary in order to pursue the level of social and societal change achieved by these authors. And most of the authors noted having a natural talent at mediating, many from a very early age within their families and among friends.

There were some exceptions, however. Ellen Waldman, in her chapter, “Seeking Justice in the Shadow of the Law,” writes of her mediation training:

I’d like to say that the training I took was transformative and that I was a natural. But it wasn’t, and I wasn’t. It wasn’t transformative because I had already come to many of the course’s conclusions about conflict and human nature through my litigation activities at the law firm. And I wasn’t a natural because I had already, as a young associate, taken on many of the characteristics that impede lawyers’ capacities to mediate. I was better at speaking than listening, at formulating judgment than facilitating conversa tion, and at identifying the “sensible solution” than letting the parties come to their own conclusions at their own pace. It took a while to break those habits. (pp. 475–476).

So often, the motivations for entrance of these authors into the field of conflict resolution came from their experiences of early personal and professional injustices which fueled their incipient fighting spirit and motivated their study of the law to learn advocacy and, ultimately, how to empower the disenfranchised. The motivation for some came from an intellectual curiosity about conflict and the sense of pride in being able to effect positive change within the participants in a dispute. And some approached the field motivated by their natural ability for viewing conflict from a grand systemic viewpoint—gaining profound pleasure in always seeking the big picture and mak ing changes directly on the larger social system that manages the participants.

There were many twists and turns in the lives of these authors, leading many, who began their aca demic careers in traditional “Departments” (e.g., Law, Psychology, Community Studies, etc.), to con vert them into Inter-Disciplinary Studies of various sorts, as their study of conflict evolved from the traditional “Departmental” boxes of knowledge into broader, more organically connected perspectives. With these broader views, they found greater possibilities for creating peace, de-escalating conflict, and sometimes simply “…helping people have better disagreements” (Gadlin, p. 314).

Some authors told stories about profound early social and psychological influences that contributed to their interest in conflict and its resolution. For example, in her chapter, “The View From the Helicopter,” Lisa Blomgren Amsler writes about the traumas in her early life, including physical abuse, feeling like an “other”, and wondering at a young age about the nature of family and other interpersonal conflict:

The first home I remember is Mobile, Alabama—and the first place I felt like an “other.” Mom hid the fact she was part-Jewish, and Dad hid his serious leftie leanings. On November 22, 1963, I was in third grade when the principal announced that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. All my classmates clapped. I cried, because I knew my parents loved the Kennedys. Disapprovingly, my teacher said, “Go to the ladies room and compose yourself.” I did not understand—why was I crying and everyone else clap ping? While I did not realize what it meant, I was in an all-White segregated elementary school in the Deep South. (p. 254)…That fall, I moved away from Grace [a Black friend] to a nearby suburb, Syosset, where I again felt “other.” I remember being embarrassed in fifth grade—I tried to defend the Deep South when we talked about the Civil War. I prided myself on being a good student, but I was wrong in school. It was traumatic. I did not want to mediate between North and South. I just wanted to understand…In moving to Long Island, we suddenly had close contact with all Mom’s extended family…

I loved meeting my first cousins, but we became separated after our family boycotted my cousin’s bar mitzvah in a dispute Mom never explained. There was something called the “Mandel Madness,” in which people would “ghost” each other, as it is now called. Things also became challenging at home. Dad, working as a pilot, was away a lot for days at a time. Alone with us, Mom was physically and ver bally abusive. I later learned that Grandpa Bonacio had hit her a lot. In an “accident” before age 2, I had ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull and broken collarbone. I think my sister bore the brunt of it because unlike me, she had no medical record of previous injury. I have survivor’s guilt for not protecting her. I did not try to mediate—I was afraid of Mom… Grandma Carrie, who was of German ancestry, did not like Mom because she was a Jew (although Mom, like her children, had never practiced any religion). The summer that I was 12, Grandma Carrie and Aunt Lou had my sister and me baptized in a Boise Episcopal church. This irritated Dad because he was an atheist. The family conflicts over cul ture, religion, and ethnicity made me want to understand why people cared about all this stuff. Why was there so much drama? (pp. 255–256).

A number of the authors noted the serendipitous aspect of finding their chosen career path. One author in particular, Andrea Kupfer Schneider, in her chapter, “Bashert: How I Found Dispute Res olution and It Found Me,” writes about the concept of “Bashert”:

My story of how I got involved in negotiation and dispute resolution began in my first year of law school with a class in negotiation. I don’t recall why I chose this elective in the first- year curriculum. Perhaps I thought it fit with my interest in international law. Perhaps it seemed close to a business school course, which interested me because I was still contemplating trying to get a joint degree (an idea I later dropped). Perhaps I signed up for the course because I subconsciously thought it fit my personality or family background. Perhaps, as in so many choices students make, first impression and convenience played a part: the course sounded interesting and fit perfectly in my schedule. Whatever the reason, I am confident that at the time I had no idea it would change the trajectory of my career. In retrospect, I think it might have been bashert, which is Yiddish for “destiny.” Something I was meant to find (pp. 211–212).

Kupfer Schneider goes on to describe the long and circuitous path of her many opportunities, jobs, and choices, with little understanding as to why those choices came up for her. However, embracing her notion of “Bashert,” she made the choices that created a full, rich, and rewarding career path in dispute resolution.

I have had many opportunities that seem like luck, and I have also been prepared to embrace them to create my own destiny. I have found mentors all along the way; through my choices, tried to open doors rather than close them; and have been willing to take risks or try new routes. Sometimes, I’ve responded yes to an invitation that pushed me in a new direction. Other times, as in creating the Indisputably blog or the dispute resolution works-in-progress conference, I’ve created the community I desired. I’ve tried to practice what I preach to my students—to listen, be open, be curious, and assume there is more to learn—while also being prepared to persuade and assert myself to move forward and take advantage of opportunities. I feel blessed to have found my bashert in dispute resolution. (p. 230).

Others found their path to be more self-determinative, by choosing among opportunities offered to work in areas of their strengths over areas of their self-recognized weaknesses. For example, in his chapter, “How I Found My Groove,” Howard Bellman writes:

Eventually, arrogance suggested that if I could have success as I defined it (i.e., voluntary agreements on a broad spectrum of environmental conflicts), I could probably transplant my doctrine and skills, with my ability to flex and accommodate a little, to pretty much any sort of dispute. I decided that I would not involve myself in the divorces of others, but otherwise I was ready to wade into any subject matter, and I did. (It was my presumption that family conflicts were not only beyond the scope of my training but exceeded my capacity to deal with overt emotions.3 Much later, this presumption was tested when I provided mediation in a number of clergy sex abuse matters. I believe that I can claim some success in those cases, but I also experienced a sense of burnout that was new to me.) My thought was that media tion, like writing, was a cross-cutting process and skill and that there was nothing particularly environ mental or labor-related about it (p. 44).

Through their journeys of self-exploration, some of the authors offered personal and poignant insights into their enjoyment of the field. In particular, I was struck with the metaphors for media tion observed by Howard Bellman and by Johnston Barkat. In his chapter, “How I Found My Groove,” Bellman writes:

What about the pure enjoyment—the psychic payoff [of mediating]? What else has done that for me? I’d say playing jazz in college. There seems to be a real analogy there. Or a metaphor. Or an explanation. On the surface, neither jazz nor mediation is subject to a consensus definition; but both are mainly ensemble performances, and, in my experience, they are both essentially improvised performances. A jazz musician draws in the moment from what bandmates are playing and a repertoire acquired from years of performing and listening to the performances of others. To that is added the musician’s skills with an instrument, mood, and taste. A mediator also has a repertoire of responses learned from training and experience that is called upon in the moment with-out much cerebration. (The rests are as important as the notes.) In mediation, perhaps “taste” is better referred to as “judgment,” and like taste, it is aug mented by perceptive powers, mainly listening. I think talented jazz musicians and mediators have an “ear” that takes them beyond what may be gained from training, study, and practice. I think that gift has its origins in their early environment and even genetics. Perhaps it should be referred to as intuition. How many superb musicians come from unmusical homes and neighborhoods? They may sit down and play without a lesson or the ability to read musical notation. (As I mentioned at the start, I think my mom had a fine “ear,” and maybe that was one of her gifts to me.) I think training comes from all of one’s experience, not only so-called formal training and mentoring. Among jazz musicians and media tors there are those who are “natural,” those who are “technical,” and those who enjoy the excellence that comes from both talent and training. There is valuable work to be done by all of these mediators, and I hope they are deployed optimally. I worry, though, that some mediators, talented and otherwise, have become “over-trained”—that their intuitions have been smothered by lessons, doctrine, “recipes,” and the fear of “errors.” … Both jazz and mediation are creative processes producing unanticipated new outcomes, even for familiar undertakings. The tune has been played a thousand times, but never quite like that. It’s just the latest collective bargaining agreement, but it responds very well to the present environ ment. The success of the ensemble performance, in both cases, depends on a shared understanding of underlying structure (chord progression, negotiation principles). That explains why we must smuggle train ing into our discussions with some parties, and why working repeatedly with some is such a pleasure. We anticipate them, and that augments our capacity to respond artfully. (I understand that some great jazz musicians, known for their rapport while performing, have had no use for each other off the bandstand.) At their best, both performances capture the ironic potential of orthodoxy and discipline combined with freedom. They are artistic, creative, informed by study and practice, and elevated by talent. My belief that my work has features that exist in art elates me (pp. 48–49).

Adding another metaphor for mediation, in his chapter “Three to Tango: Reflections of a Mediator,” Johnston Barkat writes of a significant influence on his love of mediation:

If a new mediator is like someone learning steps to a dance, the accomplished mediator is more like an Argentinian tango dancer. Argentine tango came to me later in life, after salsa and swing dance. Other than its obvious sensuality, it did not initially appeal to me. It seemed slow and a far cry from the overt energy and excitement of salsa or swing. But in 2015, I was finally persuaded by instructors and friends to give it a try and began to see another side of it. It is the most intellectual dance I have discovered. In tango, you don’t just walk up to someone and invite them to the floor, as you might in other social dances. Rather, you start with a mirada, a scan of potential partners from across the room. If your gazes meet and are held for a moment, then the invitation, or cabeceo, the slightest nod of the head, is initiated and responded to in kind. The leader then walks around the dance floor and approaches the partner, who does not stand until she is sure no signals have gotten crossed and the invitation was indeed intended for her…. During the dance itself, a leader in tango—like other social-partner dances—must navigate the floor to ensure their partner and others are not injured and must be a choreographer to initiate the part ner’s moves. However, in tango, the leader must always be aware of what foot the partner’s weight is on relative to one’s own. You are leading the movement of four feet…The mediator is like that leader in Argentine tango. Essentially this means being fully and intuitively aware of what is going on with each of the other parties—down to the slightest, almost imperceptible, shift of weight. Mediation, as in tango, requires that deep sense of mastery of subject, artistry, and improvisation. It requires that degree of intui tiveness. A mediator must sense the situation, but, more important, must know how to seamlessly respond when the weight shifts occur, to guide the next steps toward something that advances progress. It can be hard to perceive movement toward resolution from the outside, but these elements of mediation have served me well. However, unlike in tango, the mediator has the added complexity of being the leader of at least two partners—the disputants—at the same time. You are essentially balancing the weight and trying to coordinate the dance of six feet. In mediation, it seems, it takes three to tango (pp. 164–166).

In addition to describing their personal and professional journeys, the authors also provided insightful perspectives on the field of dispute resolution at large. For example, in his chapter, “What Am I Doing Here? Field Notes on Finding My Way to Mediation,” Ian McDuff writes:

If I think about the intellectual and literary influences I referred to at the outset, they largely turn on finding the familiar in what is different, the normal in what might seem alien, and even the comfort in what might seem dangerous. Equally, the value of the network of colleagues and friends is that it served to support what was, at least at the outset, seen to be a delinquent form of professional activity. Does it stretch the analogies and metaphors too much to say, with Lederach and others that, unlike law’s render ing of what is normal and normative, mediation becomes an exercise in constructing a Batesonian “pat tern which connects?” Watch an experienced mediator at work, if you can, and observe the pattern of questions and interventions that disentangles the messed- up version of the net, and—ideally—mends the rips and tears in that net, which may then restore or reconstruct a pattern of connection between the parties, even if only sufficient to arrive at a working and workable outcome (p. 88).

And Co-Editor Howard Gadlin writes:

My new-found appreciation of disagreement expanded my thinking about what we call the conflict reso lution field. Before going to NIH, I was so accustomed to people asking help resolving conflicts that I had taken to seeing conflict as an indicator that something was broken and needed to be fixed—rather than understood and even appreciated. But as Bernie Mayer pointed out in his wonderful book Beyond Neutrality, people in conflict don’t necessarily want resolution. That admonition, along with my understanding of the necessity of differing views in science, helped me see my work as helping people have better disagreements. It also helped me be more relaxed about resolution and more concerned about helping people understand how often they are so caught up in their conflict that they cannot understand how anyone could possibly see it in any way other than their own. Early in my career, I thought I was working toward a conflict-free world. How wonderfully naïve. Now I find a certain pleasure in appreciat ing both the inevitability and desirability of conflict. When I was first learning about mediation, I remember being told that we, mediators, do not resolve disputes. The disputants do. I sort of understood that, but I had a hard time not seeing failure to reach agreement as a failure on my part. It took a career of more than 35 years to get to the point where I fully understood what I had been told at the outset: set tlement is up to the parties. Unless people, at some level, actually want to settle, they can resist almost any techniques, or tricks, a mediator has to bring them together. If we understand the circumstances in which differences lead to destructive and unproductive conflicts, we should be able to create circum stances in which those differences can be harnessed cooperatively. I am no longer naïve. I do not believe we will ever get to the point where differences will not be the basis for conflict. But we need not capitu late to destructive conflicts, and we can work toward expanding the sensibility needed for cooperative action. This seems like a good project for retirement (pp. 313–315).

While this review covered only a smidgen of the stimulating and profound experiences and per spectives of the authors in this volume, I tried merely to whet your appetite and encourage you to dig in and learn. Great wisdom abounds within this book, and it will remain as a testimony through reflections on the multitude of ways that the pioneer thinkers and leaders of our field entered and navigated their ways through the minefields of conflict, and established influential and respectable careers that have helped change our world for the better.4

Spanish Philosopher George Santayana is famous for his line, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, in the case of the rich history of accomplishments by the authors in this book, that ain’t a bad thing…if the new generation of dispute resolvers could just repeat this very same past, the world would be even better off!

“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg 


1. This book, so generously, is available for free at as an Open Access pub lication by DRI Press, the scholarship dissemination arm of Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s Dispute Resolution Institute. It is also available as a paperback book on Amazon, at: link

2. To keep in the spirit of the Editors’ intent for authors to “tell their stories,” I am presenting in this review many quoted segments from the authors’ stories to give readers a flavor of the style and content of this book.

3. I agree with Bellman’s assessment about family conflicts being an outlier among the field of conflicts. While I think that most interpersonal or inter-group disputes can be resolved or managed using generic mediation skills, in contrast, family disputes, and particularly divorce disputes, are unique, especially when they involve the custody of children. I believe that these disputes require the mediator to have a specialized knowledge base that includes understanding of marital dynamics, divorce dynamics, child development, reactions of children to divorce, adult and childhood psychopathology, and others. Additionally, it is critical to have the personal qualities of being able and willing to deal sensitively with the pain experienced by divorcing spouses and their children; see Saposnek, D.T. Style and the Family Mediator, in D. Bowling and D. Hoffman (Eds.) (2003). Bringing Peace Into the Room: How the Personal Qualities of the Mediator Impact the Process of Conflict Resolution, N.Y.: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.

4. Another perspective on the history of mediation leaders, in video form, titled “The Mediators: Views from the Eye of the Storm,” can be found in the interview series produced by “Mediate.Com.” See: link


Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D

Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D., is a clinical-child psychologist, a child custody and family mediator and a national and international trainer and consultant in child psychology and mediation since 1977. He is the author of the classic text, Mediating Child Custody Disputes: A Strategic Approach, and co-author of Splitting America: How… MORE >

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