Senator Max Baucus (D) of MontanaAs a mediator, I have a hard time watching how our country is operating right now, both internationally and domestically.  I see this every day in the micro context of my mediation cases and in the macro context of our headlines.  And yet people just keep trying to get ahead by attempting to suppress each other without recognizing that they are actually working against their own best interests.

For example, in “Obama Offers to Use Some G.O.P. Healthcare Proposals,” New York Times reporter David Herszenhorn writes, “Mr. Obama announced his plans to work on the Republican suggestions in a letter to Congressional leaders of both parties.  But his main point was one Republicans did not welcome:  that Democrats would press ahead with comprehensive legislation over the minority party’s objections.”

The reason we have so much litigation in America (especially in California) is that defendants so rarely understand that their actions often guarantee a lawsuit.  When one party suppresses another to the point of pain or powerlessness, the injured party feels he or she has little choice but to retaliate.  Plaintiffs choose litigation because it may be the only legal way to inflict suffering – loss of control, unfavorable publicity, monetary awards, punitive damages, etc. – of the caliber the defendant will understand and respond to.

As a result, defendants are often responsible for creating the emotional monster on the other side of the table. When plaintiffs believe every other door has been slammed in their faces, they become enraged enough to flex their muscles in the only remaining venue where they stand a chance of having a level playing field.  Of course, the same is true in the other direction, with plaintiffs sometimes overreaching, leaving the defense with no choice but to go to trial, and fight back with a vengeance.

What makes mediation work is the introduction of a neutral third party.  Having an unbiased person at the table can bring big picture perspective into the room when all others are mired in the fog of their power games and can’t or won’t see another approach.  Perspective is a mediator’s greatest qualification.

That’s why President Obama can’t be the mediator of all the controversial congressional reforms:  healthcare, job creation and financial system accountability, to name a few.  He has a dog in the fight and he’s one party’s (read: extreme’s) leader.  If he were serious about leading, he’d appoint a neutral person who could bring with them reason and perspective.  A real neutral, who wouldn’t be a politician campaigning for re-election, would turn off the cameras, close the door, and encourage everyone to disclose his or her needs, pressures and underlying interests in the privacy and confidentiality of the mediation process.


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15 Responses to “Real Political Reform Requires Adding a Neutral to the Mix”

  1. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    From reader Carl Botterud:
    Paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 spot on. 1, 2 and 6 are less apt. They are part and parcel of the democratic (very messy) process and are working pretty much as intended . . . save for the utter corruption of the system by corporate $$, but that’s another tale.

  2. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    From reader Lori Lucero:
    Good read. The utter corruption of the system by corporate $$ is the tale and sadly the happy ending is not in sight without a neutral vehicle to drive us there. So I agree with you. The extremists have caused the divisive gap to be so great that so much effort is wasted on filtering out the differences rather than finding what is agreeable and beneficial and finding the solution to our true ailments and working to fix them.

  3. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    From reader Floyd Siegal:

    Nicely done, again. How cool would it be for the government to actually hire a neutral to help the parties work together?? What a great concept.

    Two blog updates in less than a week — very impressive! Careful though . . . you might be setting expectations you won’t be able to meet!!

  4. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    From reader Linda Bulmash:

    Maybe that should be part of their oath of office.

  5. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    From reader Michael Daniel Williamson:

    #1, the 80 year old me will not be drinking tea. The system is designed to come to a standstill when this occurs to prevent any one side steamrolling the other. Regardless of your loyalties this will ultimately be to our benefit. I hope. You do write well, however. A breath of fresh air.

  6. Debra Healy Says:

    Hi, Jay –

    Your article expresses exactly what I was thinking as I watched and listened to the healthcare summit – there was simply no way, no matter how much President Obama wished (or tried) to be impartial – or, even “all-partial,” that he could come across that way.

    In the first place, as you point out – he is one side’s leader! I sensed the President struggling to restrain his reactions and responses to the comments of the various Republicans who spoke. What a difficult thing to do with any credibility when you are the champion for one side of any set of differences that have been perceived as mutually exclusive. The summit provided an invaluable lesson in the impact of reactive devaluation.

    What would it take for our government to begin using neutrals to facilitate discussions in Congress? It seems so clear that the adversarial, two-party battles taking place every day are not in the best interest of our country. Are we so jaded to believe nothing else could possibly work better?

    It always comes down to fear – the fear of not having power, of not having needs met, of not being enough of something to go around. And so, we fight like children in a school yard, never getting anywhere.

    We need to get past all of this.

    Thank you.
    Debra Healy
    Healy Conflict Management Services

  7. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    What do you do with children? It’s not that different. When they are willing to stop taking extreme positions with the introduction of a neutral person (parent, teacher, much older sibling), then the neutral’s job is to teach, train, and coach. If they keep taking extreme positions to the neutral, or in the neutral’s presence, then the neutral must become a referee and insert themselves more directively. If congress is bluffing with their extremist rhetoric, we’ll know once a neutral is introduced because they will become more pliable. If the rhetoric continues, then the neutral will need to be inserted more forcibly, by directive, and probably for a longer period of time until their behavior changes. It might take 40 years in the desert – with a true neutral – to unlearn their current behavior.

  8. Michael Pollack Says:

    Nothing helps to settle a case like a jury in the box. Do you think the November mid-term elections are equivalent to that? Unlike a trial, the elections will happen regardless of whether the parties reach an agreement on any legislation.

  9. lori williamson Says:

    […] of Marianne Williamson, Neale Donald Walsh, and Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith. Lori Daniel Falk …Lee Jay Berman's EYE ON CONFLICT Blog Archive Real …From reader Lori Lucero: Good read. The utter corruption of the system by corporate $$ is the tale […]

  10. Kylie Batt Says:

    Нет, я не смогу сказать Вам….

    Perspective is a mediator’s greatest qualification…..

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  12. Cherlin Says:

    I feel so much happier now that I understand all of this from a different perspective. Thanks!

  13. Nettie Pham Says:

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  15. Lee Jay Berman Says:

    Share away! And thanks!

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