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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On Separation

I have just been reading a great article on walls in the New York Times by John Washington (11th May). He highlights the work of installation artist Richard Misrach calling into question the haunting absurdity of Donald Trump’s masterplan to build a 2,000 mile wall so those darn Mexicans can’t come in. It would rip through the desert landscape like a scar, separating communities and damaging a pretty fragile ecosystem. He talks about the collective alienation of people from the landscapes where they live.

Misrach focuses on the geography and the proposed wall’s collision with it, doubling up the alienation of peoples trying to cross it. Does this have resonance with our current debate to stay in or leave the EU?

Looking at the current commentary just this last week – we have had Cameron stressing the positives of staying in to reinforce maintaining the peace within Europe responded to by Boris Johnson saying of course leaving Europe doesn’t mean we run the risk of going to war again with countries within it and that staying together has made us more grouchy with each other than leaving – take the rise of right wing parties in Europe.

The language of extreme positions continues whether you are talking about economics, migrants, preserving our NHS whatever. The man in the middle is left bewildered by the imponderabilities of what staying in or leaving entails. I am no fan of Brexit, perhaps as I don’t like little Englanders who proclaim like Trump ‘let’s make Britain great again’. This in an age of globalisation sounds a tad Victorian.

I find the debate about migrants particularly disturbing, and that’s my connection with walls – that desire to be separated, to be ‘sovereign’ and ‘independent’. With one of the lowest rates of unemployment within the EU we should claim to be proud of our society of many colours and creeds, and that ought to flourish within the current limits, knowing for instance that London is the third largest French city.

So our ability to live anywhere in the EU without restriction, our ability to employ other Europeans, the transferability of everything from medical care to pensions, the richness of Ideas and creativity that the EU brings – all this and a lot more adds to our freedoms – that is a price that is worthwhile paying if it means losing some of our independence to act alone.

I accept that the current awful situation in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa is creating enormous challenges to the way we accept those outside our little island who are less fortunate from outside into our society. We must not at the end of the day lose our humanity, and we ought to recognise that walls and the language of alienation hurt our humanity and that is no price worth paying. So Mr Trump how about building some of those darn bridges?


Of mice and men – thinking outside the box

I never really liked the folksy drawl of John Steinbeck’s novels. But I think that it was somewhere in his novel of the same name that Lennie says to George ‘I remember about them rabbits, George’ to which George respond ‘To hell with them rabbits Lennie. That’s all you ever remember – dem damned rabbits!’ Sometimes it’s difficult to deflect someone from whatever they are fixated with, and the conversation has a habit of returning to the well trodden mantra.

Some of you may have listened to Nicky Campbell on the Big Questions on the 1st of May if not you can listen to it on . The discussion supposedly answered the question is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic? It’s currently very topical with the Labour Party tying each other in complete knots over the issue. Now I had just got back last week from a tour of duty in both Israel and Palestine for a UK charity so I was hooked as it was bound to produce totally impassioned uncompromising positions. It didn’t disappoint in that respect. It wasn’t until bishop John Lowe declaimed quietly that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, with commentators here totally stuck in their narrative. He rightly said that dissolving into a totally positional rant simply devalues anti-Semitism, demonising many who might otherwise have perfectly sensible opinions about finding solutions to an otherwise seemingly intractable problem.

If I can say outright that I am appalled by both the Israeli government’s outright colonisation (howls from the back about the land not being owned by anyone) and the complete failure of Palestinian politicians to deal with either the reality of Israel as an entity and those self same politicians’ profligate inefficiency and corruption (howls from the back as to how I would feel if my village and land had been nicked). The attached picture shows me holding a certified copy of the chap on the right’s grandfather’s title document to a farm underneath the second runway of Tel Aviv airport taken in 1948. That needs acknowledging at least even if that wrong may never be correctable.


After 1948 the facts on the ground were accepted for years by the international community bar some Arab countries. At that stage somehow Zionism seemed to be containable. The facts on the ground after 1967 and now are largely not accepted by anyone bar a couple of basket case island states in the Pacific.

This isn’t the place to enter into a discussion on the application of the fourth Geneva Convention as it applies to the fruits of war. Put it this way I have my views which I would gladly share with you in a separate forum. Certainly here putting parties into the limelight with diametrically opposite views turned this TV programme into a shouting match so the quiet voices of reason and self reflection were drowned out in dogmatic rants between Zionists and anti-Zionists, with anti Semitism rather sidelined as the B side of a very important debate. Whilst I respect the genuine and heartfelt views of some but not all of the shouters, the loudest ones were really the mice, and the ones that brought logic and above all humanity to the table were the real men.

There’s a lesson there for anyone wanting to sup with those they would otherwise seek to demonise.

Too Hot to Handle!

Someone once gave me a cup holder with the words ‘Joe Bloggs never mediates anything too hot to handle!’ Well apart from my usual distaste for American glitch it got me thinking what sorts of disputes we might not wish to handle. Therefore Joe Bloggs might have been telling a few porkies if there was something that he ought not to accept. We all like challenges and there is hardly a mediator I know who is a shrinking violet when it comes to saying ‘nay thank you’. So what guidelines should I give?

I start from the premise that parties always should be willing to negotiate no matter how awful the other side may seem in the eyes of the first. We have seen what I call seemingly intractable disputes (what Peter Coleman in his book calls the 5% – Finding solutions to seemingly impossible conflicts). Well we have all seen how parties tend to demonise each other, and far too often one is left wondering how the hell two or more perfectly normal level headed and seemingly nice people got thus far. Maybe it is that demonization which takes them beyond the pale so that in the mind of the other they become untouchable and far too irrational to sit around the table doing deals with in a mediation. Take for example a mediation I recently did between two brothers both farmers and farmers of the same jointly owned farm. Incredible though it might seem, neither had actually spoken to the other since 1988. You need to take it back to the play pen almost to see how the dispute might have developed, with the parents doing something that perhaps acted as the trigger point. Anyway the real bone of contention wasn’t the 400 odd acres which ultimately were easily dividable; but it was a small patch of ground known as the ‘pound’ that in times gone by had been used as a village pillory. That little piece of ground owned by brother B was in brother A’s garden. Giving it up meant giving up control that B might have in the future over his elder brother. Suffice to say they did meet and they did talk about uncontentious things leaving the nitty gritty stuff to be dealt with elsewhere.

My point is that time is both the great healer and also the receptacle of greater memories of hurts long gone by but not forgotten or forgiven. I suppose they were within the 5% that Coleman talks about. It’s worthwhile remembering five basic questions that are useful for most conflicts :

· What are A and B’s interests?

· What are both their alternatives to negotiation?

· Would a deal satisfy both parties interests better than those alternatives to negotiation?

· What are the costs implications of negotiating or not negotiating?

· If they reach some sort of deal what would be the prospect of it being implemented?

So even in the most intractable self-perpetuating disputes like that between Israelis and Palestinians there is a golden rule never say no to the opportunity of negotiating as the answers to these questions shouldn’t be looked at negatively because the other side are perceived as so awful that nothing agreed will be implemented anyway. The alternative just isn’t worth thinking about and won’t satisfy those base line interests – unless your principles are akin to those of Isis. I may dwell a little on this theme of being too hot to handle during my forthcoming trip to Israel and Palestine or Judea and Samaria or Land of Caanan – whoever thought history wasn’t complicated!

Musings on empathy

I am due to travel shortly to Israel and Palestine. No my mission isn’t to resolve the conflict there. It is for a small kid’s charity called ABCD Bethlehem. I wanted to digress a little and discuss empathy particularly in mediations. I was at a trustee meeting for a mediation charity last night and our CEO said that he had an offer he couldn’t resist from another charity rescuing animals and he showed us lots of cuddly pictures of animals, with commensurate responses from all my co-trustees. It is easy to be empathetic to what you see that’s nice and cuddly whether that is for animals or disabled children in a conflict zone; it is more difficult to be empathetic about people having difficult discussions within a mediation. Look at the website and you will see starchy lawyers and smartly dressed clients around the table – maybe they are shaking hands. Some websites go all natural with pictures of flowers, trees or rolling fields – maybe that is supposed to make us feel all cosy about conflict resolution. In reality conflict is bloody and a messy business.


So like the box of chocolates we tend to show the end result the handshake and the glow of contentment following the settlement over the stresses and strains of actually getting there. I have always thought that we are terribly lucky being mediators as we briefly enter into the very private lives of those in conflict; we exude confidence patience and empathy with a firm handle on controlling the process. Being empathetic means the ability to understand and share the feelings or experiences of others by putting yourself in their shoes. That rapport building with each party is one of the essential skills if not the essential skills that make mediation work. But I often ask myself where empathy ends and sympathy begins. We are told that being sympathetic to the views and opinions of one party is a cardinal sin – absolutely verboten! But like the cuddly animals in the picture it’s so easy for some of us to turn that impartial rapport into something akin to bias.

Suspending one own bias and stopping that internal evaluative tendency isn’t as easy as it seems. Getting inside the dispute into the eyes ears and minds of each party, and getting the message across that you do understand how they feel without going over the top isn’t as easily learn skill. If party A tells you privately that he absolutely cannot stand party B in the other room and gives you a very grisly story, your tendency is to gloss over the grisly bits and tell it differently in the other room – we called it reframing. Of course it is easier to let the parties lose in a joint meeting when they can expound their emotions at will. Tempering those emotions and extreme positions into digestible messages whilst acknowledging the strength of each parties’ feelings in an empathetic way is the balancing act we all have to achieve – and sometimes it is easier to be a referee in joint caucus than being the messenger twixt one room and the other.


I recently stayed the night in the Tower of London in the same tower as Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More. It was an enormous treat of course, but it made me think about ‘incarceration’ in the sense of separation from ordinary life. We live in an age where communication is incredibly easy – at the flick of an IPhone you can communicate with the world. Having that freedom is easily taken for granted. When I think of prisoners in the Tower or wherever I am reminded that freedom to talk to those we wish to communicate with gives us the choice of not only who to communicate with but the quality of that contact.

Hitler’s Loo

Although we have a very much shared humanity, we tend to become typecast by race, creed, religion, background, economic resources, nationalism and all those other facets of nature and nurture than destiny throws at us. So all of us come with our own value systems and prejudices that may or may not colour how we look at those who are not like us – so much for the neutrality of mediators! Outside the extremes of fight or flight, we can communicate our views or our responses to the views of others as we are able to do so – we are free to do so. Where conflict arises there is a tendency to adopt positional stances as we categorise these as either right or wrong, perhaps more so given our legal training where we are governed by rights and obligations. In reality most of the time there is no absolute right or wrong, but variations of the truth and of course loads of other issues and concerns in the background. The resolution of conflict is more about acknowledging and appreciating each other’s differences and finding a solution that fits. We often use the words ‘we have agreed to disagree’ but that doesn’t mean that the dialogue wasn’t constructive. You are still left with the question – well what are we going to do about it?

We hear a lot about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians about which we all no doubt have very firm views and opinions that I am not going into now. That takes me back to ‘incarceration’ where you are locking in or locking out the views of others – in other words you are emasculating constructive dialogue. If you lock the door and throw away the key, the quality of communication between you both is hardly likely to be productive. In Nelson Mandela’s years of incarceration he couldn’t have had many opportunities to communicate – I believe he talked about the close bond he developed with one of his prison guards. That may have been one small step on the way to changing hearts and minds, but it was nothing compared to the power of brilliantly articulated forgiveness and reconciliation after his release.

Walled in Warned out

Locking out Jewish Israelis from Palestinian areas and locking in Palestinians in increasingly smaller areas, and the adopting of gradually more and more extreme positions destroys what Jonathan Sachs calls the dignity of Diversity in his book of the same name. As someone outside looking in and experiencing the generosity kindness and genuine humanity of those on either side, with no holds barred as to where I went and who I talked to, I really felt that this surely reflects God’s goodness. If they could be as nice to me as a stranger in their midst, what prevented them from experiencing the same warm feelings as I did. I could if I wished voice an opinion and I have many, in a principled sort of way – so I was adopting sides when I did. But that shouldn’t stop us all as mediators and facilitators from standing up for solutions over adopting sides. So out there the message should be not I am pro-Palestinian or Pro Israeli and encouraging dislike and disrespect for the other side, but I am pro-Solution which means enormous sacrifices of principle over pragmatism and energised humanity. So this blog begins with a simple plea that blessed are the peacemakers. Bring back compassion understanding and forgiveness over retaliation and incarceration.