Editor’s Note: In this article series, seven leading mediators and conflict resolution practitioners share their unique voices on three pressing issues: the impact of COVID-19 on their practices, workarounds being attempted, and their visions for the future in a post-COVID (or on-going COVID) world. These contributors are speaking for themselves with their own original thoughts. Their compelling words come from both their heads and their hearts. Each essay is unique, yet each essay also confirms universal experiences and travails. Oddly, collective challenges and painful experiences may stimulate progression within the conflict resolution community. They may also lead to mediators taking action to familiarize the general community with the benefits of mediation. Sharing personal experiences and truths, it is hoped, will inspire fellow practitioners to consider the new world and to re-invent their conflict resolution practices and services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread court closures and limited operations, promoting ADR suddenly and squarely into the forefront as the primary method of conflict resolution. Perhaps the modern “conflict revolution,”[i] beginning in 1976 with community dispute resolution programs in the 1960’s to address civil rights issues and continuing with the 1976 Pound Conference,[ii] is about to undergo another phase. If conflict resolution practitioners step up to the challenges, ADR may well come to the fore in the minds of the general public and not only with lawyers, insurance companies and commercial enterprises. This may require re-thinking of old paradigms and becoming unstuck from old notions. Mediators and conflict resolution professionals are being asked to adapt–and quickly–to the issues and circumstances of the day. The seven contributors bravely take a giant step forward by providing a chronicle of current conditions and by offering visions of the future.
~ Articles Assembled and Edited by Gregg Relyea
This article discusses the “Community Spread” of Mediation in a Post COVID-19 World.
Author’s Note: I would like to express my personal respect and condolences for anyone who has lost someone during this time. This crisis reinforces my commitment to the life-long mission in helping others resolve their conflicts in the best way possible: either creating more value or at least trying to diminish losses through mediation.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has historical predecessors, it has the potential to be, by far, the largest pandemic since the 1918 Influenza Virus. It may not be the first serious health crisis in the Internet era, but COVID-19 is undoubtedly the most widespread and dangerous.
Pandemic illnesses during the Internet age are quantitatively and qualitatively different. Information flows instantly around the globe: numbers of deaths, rate of infection, public policies, scientific papers about new vaccines or medicines, misinformation, hate speech, fear and hope. It all permeates the public debate in the internet world. Indeed, the COVID-19 is the most popular topic in the history of televised news programs.
COVID-19 is distinct from other pandemics and world crises in other ways, including the ease and speed of transmission and symptom development. For instance, global warming will take decades to show its results. Leaders making decisions today will not deal with mass migration, hunger or war caused by global warming. With COVID-19, we are all watching the same movie in real time. If a leader denies it, in a month reality arrives with a roar.
Social isolation is the predominant policy recommended to save lives, but it comes with high emotional and economic costs. It is particularly challenging because it requires a fast change in our daily routines, which leads to an increase in conflicts. Just to list a few, in times of the Corona Virus, people are renegotiating rent, mortgage and job contracts. There are sudden and dramatic changes in consumer relations such as gym memberships, credit card payment policies and personal loan forgiveness. Professional sporting competitions have all but shut down. Banking and commercial trading have been, for the moment, severely impacted. Public institutions, including schools at all levels, from pre-school to Ph.D. and professional programs, have been all but shut down. Government agencies are scrambling to create new ways to provide services. The transportation industry has sustained severe losses, including airlines companies (tickets are being canceled or postponed), Uber ridership (drastically declined), and public transport (buses and subways are largely empty). The entire events industry, including conferences, music performers, and other artistic presentations will be affected for the following six months at a minimum. Companies are declaring judicial recovery and bankruptcy. Even something as fundamental to a democracy as voting has been modified to protect voters, poll workers and the entire foundation of one person/one vote.
Along with the impact on public and private sectors, COVID-19 has yielded significant personal impacts. People are spending more time indoors, which increases both family and neighbors’ connections as well as conflicts. The sudden convergence of public, private and personal conflicts has major potential to create lose-lose relationships.
Not all of those emerging conflicts were caused, at least initially, by the intentional wrongdoing of people. Nevertheless, people around the world are all in the same boat and are more willing to negotiate disputes to diminish their losses.
Mediation is one powerful tool for these times, especially compared to going to court. Online dispute resolution (ODR) is especially suitable for the challenges we are facing. I own an ODR company called Mediar360 and the number of companies interested in ODR has increased substantially in the past two months.
Over the past five years, Brazil has been building a statutory framework authorizing mediation. Since 2015, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of cases resolved through mediation. The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating changes in Brazilian culture and people are exploring online methods to communicate and resolve disputes. Many institutions, such as the Brazilian Courts and the Bar Association of the State of Rio de Janeiro are designing recommendations for the use of ODR as a governmentally-recognized form of dispute resolution. On April 24, 2020, a new law was enacted that allows online conciliation of small claims occurring in the judicial branch.
In my personal life, quarantine has changed everything. I am used to having a very busy schedule, always dealing with several different projects and going from one part of the city to another and frequently traveling internationally. Quarantine is giving me time to enjoy my family and slow the pace. I am cooking for my son and spending more time with my mother, for which I am very grateful. I am also using my mediation skills to make the overall environment around me a little bit lighter.
Last week, one of our neighbors, a music disc jockey, started performing in the playground of my building. Almost everyone was delighted and expressed their happiness in our internal condominium WhatsApp group.
However, a few other neighbors started complaining and there was almost a serious argument in the group. Suddenly, I found myself mediating the disagreement, which included a number of long-standing and complex emotional issues.
I predict that mediation will play an exponentially greater role in every part of our lives due to the broad spectrum of conflict presented by COVID-19. In a curious parallel with the evolution of COVID-19 from a direct transmission process to community spread, mediation will jump from specialized areas, such as law, family relations and insurance claims to the community at large. Public awareness of the benefits of mediation will grow and the usage of mediation will expand. COVID-19 may be a dangerous pandemic, but, paradoxically, it offers mediators, peacemakers, and other conflict resolution practitioners the opportunity to develop their practice in new and innovative ways. The only limit is the imagination.
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