* Beyond traditional conflict resolution to values based resolution.

In response to a conversation ….

I agree that with the feeling, that traditional rights-based or interest based mediation or adjudication approaches, is not the final word on the subject.  Current approaches often lack heart.  They may decide on matters, but do not necessarily create a positive future, in terms of relationships or closure.  I am suggesting that processes based on competing rights or interests, seeking overlapping consensus, still involve a dimension of winning and losing.  They do not require a suspension of beliefs, any changes in bias, or changes in self-interest, or power.  I think a better way is still out there.

 So what is next?  I am suggesting a values-based resolution approach.  An approach that advocates a discussion of shared values, of seeking an objective and sympathetic understanding of the issue and of others, of setting aside fixed views and looking at the issue in terms of values and moral possibilities.  I think we must change our view from typically western notions of  “minimizing harm and neglect” to actively seeking to “promote harmony, well being and the public good.”  This suggests a different conversation between involved parties.  What values are important here?  How can these values inform the issue and relationships at hand? What is the voice in the middle? What are people trying to say here?

 In cases of individuals this sounds workable, but in large and complex issues involving communities or organizations with such as long standing ethnic or religious differences, in conflict zones or post-conflict zones, other perspectives must be added.  The main issue becomes one of managing expectations.  The expectations of seeking to manage the issues over a longer time frame, of seeking to balance “controlling corruption” or wrongdoing, with building integrity frameworks, with respecting culture, ethnicity and religion.   I suggest that managing expectations can be framed in terms of direction, engagement and results

Direction;  In the near term, all we may be able to accomplish is to establish direction that has hope in the long term, that is positive.  The intent may be to steer the culture  from a negative bias, and seek to create a bias for a future that reflects high moral standards and will resist undesirable behavior.  In a culture with an ethical bias, people have a predisposition to speak up or “push back” when concerns arise.  A culture with a neutral bias towards wrongdoing or moral behavior is insufficient, in that it has a certain vulnerability to any corrupt or immoral predispositions of people with power who enter or reside in the culture.   In this respect, we have the need to identify what we truly care about and how we choose to define the best of human existence in the culture or relationships at hand.

 Engagement:  Once direction is settled, the question of action arises.  The best approach may be to seek engagement wherever possible and feasible, in parallel with whatever larger studies or longer-term activities are envisioned.   Involvement and action engenders change.  The question becomes one of finding entry points for engagement by everyone.  Awareness of, and participation in, strengthening the “ethical climate” or ethical relationships is a good start point.  We need to talk freely and safely.  An ethical climate that consists of relationships of ethical “language, space and bias” is essential.  Also relationships based on shared values, risk management and communication are important.  Also decision making and moral reasoning based on ethical awakeness, reflection (balancing laws, consequences, care for others and values) and action.   

 Results:  Only now can the question of results become relevant.  What is the collective progress of this growing collection of individual effects?  What progress has been made in relieving suffering and improving well being, of the level of ethical agency and capacity to maintain and sustain their own well being, of living with dignity, of the ability to “live well in the company of others” and ultimately in the capacity to establish, respect and guarantee rights and freedoms.

 The future:   I believe there is hope.  If the so-called “promise of mediation” has not delivered, then the courage to explore or create new thinking is a task for us all.  Only by not locking ourselves into rigid paradigms of western philosophy can we move forward.  We must “empty the glass”, and truly ask ourselves, “What  moral possibilities exist here?”   

 I would be interested in hearing your views on this subject.

 Paul Maillet

Reference: Paul Maillet CENTER FOR ETHICS, “Values Based Resolution Handbook” in advanced draft.

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