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Q & A With Internationally Acclaimed Mediator Kenneth Cloke

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

I am honored to present an interview with international mediator Ken Cloke, who has just published his 10th book: Conflict Revolution: Mediating Evil, War, Injustice, and Terrorism (Janis Publications), a book which takes the constructs of mediation and writes them large upon the world. Ken is a founding member and President of Mediators Beyond Borders.

Q: Why do you call this the “riskiest” book you have written?

A: I had to approach this book with genuine humility, yet also with (for me) unbelievable audacity. It was risky trying to write about how mediation might contribute to saving the planet, redesign economics, politics and the state, and tell us how to change the way we change.

Q: OK, you have to expand on that!

A: I started from the premise that every conflict takes place within an environment, a context, culture, and system. This environment or system, whether it is familial, social, economic, cultural, organizational or political, is not conflict-neutral. I realized that chronic conflicts must come from chronic sources within a system, so the question became how to change the system. I identified the “meta-sources” of chronic conflict that can be seen over the course of centuries as social inequality, economic inequity, and political autocracy, each of which is grounded in adversarial power and rights-based processes.

In mediation, on the other hand, we look at underlying interests to determine how to resolve disputes. My next step was to look at social, economic and political systems to determine what the underlying interests were, how power and rights based solutions were causing chronic conflicts. I then had to figure out what would happen if we used interest-based processes to tackle those conflicts, and apply conflict resolution systems design principles to each one.

Mediation has taught me that every large-scale conflict has a small-scale expression that can be seen in conflicts between two people. Small-scale conflicts start with language. For example, once we begin talking about how “they” are the problem, we distance ourselves from others, create stereotypes, and offer a justification for genocide. The question then becomes: How can we construct language so as to bring people together? Even deeper than language are intentions and attitudes. For example, respect is a very large, important idea that is expressed in the way we treat people who are different from us, or people with whom we disagree.

The same process works in reverse, from small to large-scale conflicts. For example, most people are highly sensitive to criticism. Yet on an organizational as well as a personal level, we know that every criticism simply represents something that is not working for somebody that can make organizations more effective and successful. Listening to criticism is something we can learn to do on a small scale, and if we can do it on a small scale in our interactions with others, why not apply it on a larger scale in organizations and political institutions? This would require us to switch from the language of “they” to a language of “we,” as if other people’s problem were ours.

Q: Are you suggesting a different approach to change?

A: Yes. Every mediation can be seen as a small-scale change process, and as mediators we all take an interest-based approach to conflict resolution. I am suggesting that we also take an interest-based approach to change, not only between two people but in social, economic, and political institutions.

Since this is an election year, let’s look at how we might create an interest-based approach to elections that would allow us to find out more about the candidates and identify solutions that might work. Rather than debates, which are adversarial, negative, defeating and ultimately useless, why not redefine elections and shift the paradigm by encouraging dialogs? What if we had mediators facilitating discussions among the candidates instead of scandal seeking journalists? What if we had mediators facilitate small groups of citizens brainstorming solutions and the audiences included experts in the topic? I came up with a list of 30 ways we could transform the electoral process so as to reduce chronic conflicts. This is just one example of creating change in one type of system. I examine ways to change many different systems in the book.

Q: The subtitle of your book is “How Mediators Can Help Save the Planet.” Can you give us a preview?

A: As mediators, we are also global citizens and have both a responsibility and multiple opportunities to spread our craft by building conflict resolution capability around the planet. The problems we now face, from global warming to species extinction and nuclear proliferation, cannot be solved by one nation, but require collaboration, which entails listening, informal problem solving, collaborative negotiation, and conflict resolution. We can help build a global culture of conflict resolution. This is the mission of Mediators Beyond Borders, which is working person-to-person, from the bottom up, to enhance conflict resolution skills and cultures in the US and around the globe. Every mediator can offer technical assistance to someone somewhere in the world.

At MBB, we are recruiting mediators to volunteer to do assist on many levels, from research, dialogue, and preparation of materials to conducting trainings in conflict resolution. Currently, for instance, we are training child soldiers in conflict resolution skills in Liberia and at the Bududuram refugee camp in Ghana. We are also working in the US in Mississippi and New Orleans and will soon be working with Indigenous Native American youth. Our goal is to create a global culture and political systems that encourage resolution rather than conflict.

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970’s. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class actions. She has settled and mediated thousands of cases. In addition to civil litigation mediation, she also co-mediates divorces with John Duda, a marriage and family therapist.


Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class… MORE >

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