Resolving Interpersonal Disputes through Mediation

Mediation is the handmaiden of conflict, it doubtlessly emerged whenever some bystander was prevailed upon to persuade contending stone-age parties to compose their disruptive differences. Thus, mediation has been around about as long as human beings, although its use and acceptability has varied widely among different cultures and at different times. In Africa, it was the cardinal means of resolving disputes of both civil and criminal nature.

Modern formal use of mediation has long occurred on the international scene. Americans beamed with pride when President Theodore Roosevelt successfully mediated the Russo-Japanese war in 1950 and more recently watched with admiration the mediation efforts of President Jimmy Carter at Camp David in the Israeli-Egyptian crisis.

The rise and legitimisation of labour unions offered a new and fertile field for the application of mediation in the collective bargaining process in the middle third of the 20th century. Contract negotiations over a variety of issues between parties with reasonably equal power led often to impasses and the major device rapidly developed to meet this was the independent neutral and mutually acceptable mediator.

As urban living pushed people relentlessly into even closer and more frequent interpersonal contracts, many of which were unwelcomed and fraught with unpleasantness, sociological changes introduced new opportunities for the application of mediation. While interpersonal conflicts once might have been referred to sensitive and caring members of an extended family, a local clergyman, or even a friendly policeman, these institutional and personal resources for handling disputes now seemingly have lost their relevance and effectiveness.

People are turning in alarming rates, to the courts. The search for solace within the judicial structure often is disappointing not because the courts are indifferent to the problems presented but because the adversarial system, which is the cornerstone of our criminal and civil court structure, is ill-equipped to handle interpersonal disputes.

All over the world, courts of law are overloaded and overburdened. Invariably there is usually considerable delay in the resolution of the disputes submitted to them. Court procedure is very formal and very technical and is therefore inflexible. This greatly reduces the ability of litigants to participate directly in the resolution of their grievances. Presently litigation leaves the parties exhausted, embittered and often impoverished.

Partly out of dissatisfaction with the litigation of these types of conflict and partly out of the conviction that mediation offered a more relevant and promising approach, people began to experiment with programs that applied mediation to interpersonal dispute in the late 1960s. There is today an expanding use of mediation and conciliation in resolving disputes in all spheres and sectors including family businesses, communities and international relations.

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