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

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