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Woody and Pop Urge Mediators to be Compassionate Peacemakers

A reflection from the ACR 11th Annual Conference – October 2011 – San Diego, CA.

ACR Conference key note speakers Forrest ‘Woody’ Mosten and Father Greg ‘Pop’ Boyle both spoke inspiringly and in distinctly different ways about the power of compassion in the work of conflict resolvers. Despite their contrasting styles, the core message from both of these pioneering entrepreneurs was the same; that compassion is a fundamental attribute of successful mediators.

Mosten, well known for his book ‘Mediation Career Guide’ among many others, shared important lessons learned during more than three decades as a practitioner committed to seeking mutually acceptable ways to resolve disputes. This self professed dreamer was very clear about how he has turned those dreams into reality, and even into a comfortable living: ‘Every aspect of my work is consistent with my core life values and the strengths of my personality’.

Everyone engaged in ADR work, Mosten urged, should challenge themselves by asking ‘Am I a peacemaker or am I just a deal maker in mediators clothes?’ He demonstrated that the defining characteristics of peacemakers is their commitment to improve themselves as well as those they touch and to use their work to make a difference. Whatever models of mediation we choose to use, our core values of not blaming, being of service, self determination for the parties and compassion for those in conflict are baseline requirements.

The central importance of compassion was also highlighted by Father Greg Boyle, the driving force behind Homeboy Industries, who wove together illustrative stories from this book  Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion’. Homeboy Industries is a youth program founded in 1992 intended to assist at-risk youth and gang members with a variety of services, such as counseling, tutoring, and employment. The most distinctive feature of Homeboy Industries is its small businesses, which give hard-to-place individuals an opportunity to be employed in transitional jobs in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn both concrete and soft job skills. Boyle described his goal as kinship especially with people standing on the margins – those who are easily despised and readily left out. He described service as the hallway that leads to the ballroom of kinship.

The tag line for Homeboy industries is ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job’. Boyle was emphatic that gang violence is not about conflict – it is simply violence. Gang violence, he argued, is a symptom of the lethal absence of hope. As a result he considers violence ‘interruption’ to be like a cough suppressant, with only a temporary impact on the cancer that is violent gangs.

Considerable congratulations should go to Lou Gieszl, outgoing President of ACR and his colleagues for attracting two such stimulating speakers. Standards and organisational frameworks, while important and necessary, will only take the developing mediation profession so far. As Lang and Taylor point out ‘The Making of a Mediator’, we need to think about and discuss the underpinning values which drive our individual practices and influence our diverse community of practitioners. The evidence suggests, anecdotally at least, that compassionate consideration for not only parties around our mediation tables but also for our professional colleagues is likely to steer us towards success and fulfilment in our endeavours.


Ewan Malcolm

Ewan Malcolm, Ll.B, NP, MSc is a full time mediator, trainer and researcher. His diverse practice usually involves emotionally charged conflicts which are of high value to the disputants. His recent research has focused on how groups of mediators experience disputes with other mediators. After nearly two decades as a lawyer,… MORE >

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