Part of the country has rejoiced in last Tuesday’s election. Others have described it as Black Tuesday. It is understandable that the candidate and its supporters feel dejected after such a defeat of a hard-fought campaign. However, unlike any other election this has created and continues to create emotions that will linger for a long time, create a barrier in reaching any common ground, including successful resolution of disputes.
The election revealed deep cleavages in American society, splitting citizens by region, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, values and education level. However, unlike past elections, this divide was fed by fear, fears of terrorism, of gays, of liberals. What should have been about the economy, healthcare, jobs, education, and the war, was instead about terror alerts, gay marriage, stem cells and who did what in Vietnam. With this fear the Bush campaign cornered the market on morality. Their moral code is based on the ideas that right or wrong are constants. There is no middle ground and concerned people do not compromise on moral issues. The election revealed an anxious electorate and populace. The nation is swirling with worries and resentments about terrorism, globalism, economic distress and cultural struggles. People are aroused emotionally and want to attribute their free-floating anxiety to something.
Those on the losing side of the election are finding it hard to take advice, concentrate and complete tasks. They have avoided discussions surrounding the election and avoided television and newspaper. People are still emotionally upset and are turning inward, instead of talking about it. Those people, who invested a great deal of effort and hope in the election and were disappointed, have descended into an anxious and angry kind of hopelessness. After such a loss, they are allowed to be angry and frustrated, however they should talk about it and move on.
What is a Mediator to Do?
The emotion that the populace is experiencing, after this hard fought election, makes resolving disputes a challenge. Not only is the mediator handling the emotions that have arisen from the dispute, but these other emotions, that are swirling around the nation. People are emotional, anxious about the future of the country, frustrated and angry. These emotions are turned inward and are being intertwined into the parties’ own personal conflicts.
The mediations that I have held a few weeks before the election and after the election have proven this to be true. At each mediation, it became obvious that the anxiety and anger did not center on the dispute itself. After the discussion of the facts of the case with the parties, the question came back to the uncertainty that faces the party itself, as well as the all-encompassing certainty that now faces the country. It was obvious, that this political anger and anxiety had to be dealt with before the immediate issues at hand, but how?
This is very difficult for a mediator. Mediators ideally are to be neutral and unbiased, whose objective is to bring the parties together on common ground. But how can a mediator, who is not apolitical, deal with this anger and anxiety stemming from a political election that affects all of us? How can this barrier and these issues be dealt with, in order to move the parties to a common ground? This becomes even more difficult in employment mediations involving discrimination issues where the anger is stronger, even to the point of vindictiveness, where the plaintiff is determined not to have his rights be done in at the hands of the moral majority. Can this emotional barrier that grips the nation and divides the country, be overcome during mediation in order to move the parties toward common ground?
How do you overcome such a barrier?
Validate their feelings that they are allowed to be angry and that they are allowed to be frustrated and let them talk about it. As mediator, refrain from giving your biased opinions on the election. However, many parties will press for an opinion before they can move on. So, as an attorney, as well as a mediator, sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States, I remind them of our constitutional rights. And on aside I say, be thankful you live in California. In the last month, all of the cases I mediated settled at mediation. Maybe in a way, it is this fear and uncertainty that we are faced with that are causing people to take control and to resolve their own personal conflicts, rather than leaving the decision up to a jury whose political orientation is unknown. . .
Guestbook for Ester Soriano The Associated Press Published: April 19, 2008 LOS ANGELES: Ester Soriano, a Filipino-American civil rights activist who was the jury foreperson in the civil damages trial...By Managing Editor