Winning isn’t everything

I have a son who went to the Rudolph Steiner school in York where they stressed that children need to develop at a pace that best suits them, rather than having an imposed curricula. He grew up in a school where there was great freedom of expression and lack of the pressures of exams and assessment. Steiner children developed into extremely imaginative and rounded adults. I was intrigued by this dumbing down of competition and individual attainment such as becoming top of the class or becoming a school monitor. My friend Qasim has just reminded me of a quote from that great Olympian Pierre de Coubertin "the important thing … is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity." The ideals of the early Olympians have to an extent been diluted by creeping nationalism and an absolute determination to win as whatever cost. But look again at more mundane events like the Eurovision song contest and you can see the sheer fun of running something done for the hell of it – after all it’s the taking part that counts. How can we apply the Olympian ideal to what we do in mediation?

In years of getting involved in dispute resolution I have seen countless contests between parties absolutely determined to beat the person sitting on the other side. But often winning and succeeding are subtly different. A success might for instance be a negotiated truce, or a disengagement on terms that might otherwise have been seen as an outright loss. So when many of us were trained as mediators one of the great advantages of mediation was to achieve a win win solution – everyone won. Well I never really liked using the word win with all its connotations. In lay terms parties often found the concept of winning by paying out a lot of money or by offering an apology they didn’t really want to give. We seemed to be trying a way to make the servient or paying party feel better about themselves by selling them an outright porky that they were really winning by paying less than they could have done had it gone to court. So rather than both winning why shouldn’t we dress it up as both succeeding in terms of achieving a satisfactory outcome. So the next time we talk about giving the parties ownership of the outcome, give them the confidence to make those difficult decisions that involve loss and compromise, but looked at positively they have ‘got to a deal’, they have succeeded

27th June 2016

Ubuntu – Shifting sands – healing rifts

Today 24th June I gave blood. The act of donating a bit of you to help someone else has always struck a chord with me, and when I hear about those who have donated organs to others, I feel humbled and proud that so many people can demonstrate their shared humanity and inter dependence in such a personal manner. Of course we all make sacrifices at so many different levels, within the family, the work place, friends, neighbours and even people we don’t know at all. We appreciate that everything becomes inter connected particularly now as the world has become a smaller place. The Africans have a lovely word for it ‘Ubuntu’ recognising that in our shared humanity we are who we are because of us, and that we are all bound together in so many ways. Friends and enemies meet, listen to each other’s stories, understand each other more and maybe forgive each other. So Mandela not only struck up an unexpected relationship with his jailers, but once freed he gave them prominent seats at his presidential inauguration. I also remember the immensely moving sight of a South African judge who served under apartheid providing meals on wheels to elderly people who he had imprisoned in the apartheid years in that lovely documentary film ‘One day after peace’. If we are able to give of ourselves and as Mandela did recognise the power of both forgiveness on the one hand and genuine remorse on the other, we can all play our part in making something positive out of an otherwise dire situation.

Now where does that take us today – the day after the referendum. I have had friends ringing and emailing me using phrases like ‘it’s a total disaster’ and ‘I have let the younger generation down’; I have had French friends ask me simply ‘Why?’. Had it been the other way round no doubt there would have been similar comments the other way round. Life has to move on and politicians now have to heal the rifts left behind by a very angry and at times vicious debate. Amidst all the political and economic turmoil with political heads rolling, a crash in the value of sterling, and the prospect of a very uncertain future, there needs to be a small voice of calm, a period of quiet reflection and restoration. Talk of retribution and dire consequences, of UKIPs plea encouraging other European countries to join the exit, all this excites and exacerbates the hurt on either side. Respect for politicians and institutions has to be earned, and frankly of late that has been wanting on either side. In the campaign politicians like litigants in courts attempt to damage each other below the water line; in Europe they warned constantly of the awful consequences of the UK withdrawing.

There have been some encouraging signs from the Brexit camp with Boris Johnson urging moderation and reconciliation. Undoubtedly good grace and moderation by the winners will encourage the healing process with those that have lost. Choosing the right words sets the tone for conversations and meetings to come. Personally I would encourage all politicians to take time out informally and together to take what William Uri calls a walk from NO to YES. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t looked at his TED talk to do so – and I apologise for constantly mentioning it – . The healing process shouldn’t begin with the formalities of official meetings in the public gaze. Time to reconnect informally, it it’s allowed, and only once the relationships have got back onto an even keel should the very difficult areas for discussion be tabled. Giving formal notice under Article 50 of the European Convention should be delayed. Quiet deliberation encourages understanding – it’s just as much a problem for UK Plc as it is for Brussels. Maybe I am being over optimistic, but peace and reconciliation and maybe even apologies all round may follow. Giving blood is painful – but its worthwhile remembering that we are all in this world together like it of not. But I still think I shall need something stronger this evening than a cup of tea to get over my shock. Maybe its still too raw, or maybe taking the dogs for a walk will assist. At least they can tell the difference between a Biscuit from a Brexit.

24th June 2016

Bigotry versus Engagement

The past week and the upcoming referendum on Thursday has seen the debate between inners and outers twist and turn. On the same day as the appalling murder of Jo Cox MP we say the advert showing Migrants queuing up at the border with the caption ‘EU at breaking point’. True the language on both sides had become more vitriolic and splattered with half truths and suppositions. Then suddenly out of tragedy comes calls for a more benign less aggressive engagement of those in and on the outside of the debate, and indeed within politics generally. We should learn to respect if not love those whose views are very different from our own, and when all’s done and one side has succeeded and one side lost, we should continue this aurora of positive engagement as we are interdependent on each other – as families, communities, regions, nations and continents. Whilst I make no bones about my standing as an advocate for remaining in the EU, what can mediators learn from these runes.


I have over the years been following the conversation that Scottish mediator John Sturrock has had with his readers. Before and at the time of the Scottish referendum on independence the binary nature of the choices produced such diametrically opposing choices such that the rhetoric we see now in the current referendum became more viscous and disrespectful of each other. Given a choice of yes or no isn’t ideal; some of us thought that in the Scottish referendum a middle option of more devolved power outside outright independence would have romped home. Similarly realpolitik to me sounds as if in this debate there ought to be such a third option; Europe needs to reform itself to survive in the long term, and that needs the courage to change the status quo. But of course we don’t get that – binary questions refer to binary positional answers – in or out; yes or no. Doing deals behind smoke glass windows is what I imagine generates most executive decisions; essentially that’s undemocratic particularly where big choices in life are concerned. So a yes or no to Trident might be of immense importance to some, and to others it becomes something that governments get on and do, or undo whatever. Parliament provides the checks and balances here against the activities of the executive far more effectively than for instance Congress does in America.

So on Thursday we will get the opportunity to stay or leave the EU. This is such a big question effecting so much of our lives and those of our children the debate has generated more heat than at times genuine enlightenment. Had we in Europe all been able to work together to achieve the reforms that the EU needed we may well have never got here – back to doing deals in smoke filled rooms. Had the Syrian migrant crisis not broken as it did last summer, the pictures of thousands of would be new entrants to the EU wouldn’t be on our TV screens and on Farage’s adverts. It is apparent that migration has risen up fivefold in the list of priorities topping the financial arguments. Mass movement of people connotes visions of invasion, changing the national identity, of having to support the stranger in our midst and share valuable national resources. This encourages colourful language and exaggerated claims. My cousin stands for UKIP in the last elections; he’s a good chap and I get on well with him. But he uses language that is intended to shock like the EU as a ‘disaster zone’ and ‘getting our borders back’ (as if we had somehow lost them. Sadly similar language has been used by the Remainers as passions run high, and very healthy it is because it gets people engaged in the sort of debates that goodness knows the English haven’t really been used to. I bet that turnout will be 75-80% far more than with general elections. So engagement in argument is a plus; but losing the plot and using language intended to incite, or mislead, or set the fear of God in people listening to it – all that is a negative result. It is often the same in facilitation work where people are asked to state their case, and they are oft inclined to do so in such a way as to irritate their opponents who then respond with interest. So you can have a binary debate on very difficult questions, and still have it without the sting in the tail.

So where does the debate leave us. Obviously on Thursday some folk are going to be cock-a-hoop and others will be appalled. But the positive quality of the debate and level of engagement must be nurtured. That’s where the middle men can be extremely useful – the supporters of the Third way, there to facilitate a possible solution to any given problem. So in the current debate these may not be those making the extreme remarks; they might be politicians and administrators, bankers and businessmen who want certainty and a degree of finality whatever the result. Mediators are not prone to use the word ‘facilitator’ as often as they should. There are facilitators at all levels of society – in the workplace, in local government, in the civil service and indeed even amongst the politicians as when all is said and done and the banners are rolled away, the word bites forgotten, and the red lines blurred, those in authority need to get off their high horses, and sit around the table to agree mutually acceptable solutions whether that be reforms within Europe, or relationships determined outside Europe. We and indeed they must recognise that we are interdependent in making important decisions that affect all of us in the ways we conduct business between countries, in the way we run politics, fight international terrorism and crime, protect the environment, conduct wars and assist those affected by wars – the list goes on. There needs to be a massive cultural shift from narrow nationalism and independence to strategic partnerships and sustainable interdependence. The opportunities will be ginormous for anyone involved in the conflict resolution world. In this new world whatever it is, politics economics and social relations need respectful dialogue – listen, be genuinely informed or respectfully different, leading I hope to more holistic less partisan decisions. If the appalling murder of Jo Cox has a lasting legacy, this will be it.

21st June 2016.

With very best wishes

Kind regards

Anthony Glaister FCIArb

Mediator, arbitrator, and adjudicator

Hawk Creative Business Park



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