Can Mediation Do Harm? And, Other Stories
During this week’s online sessions in our Rotary Peace Center course (September 6th -12th 2021), our professor Roxana Cristescu introduced us the principles of mediation ethics, such as impartiality, voluntariness, confidentiality, self-determination, honesty, informed consent and the principle of “Do No Harm”.
Our professor gave us a task to choose the three most important principles for us, personally. This task made me realize how difficult it was for me, as a professional mediator, to choose some and leave other principles. Each one of these principles plays a key role in the process and protects both the mediator and the parties from choices that might harm those who are involved, the mediator or/and the parties, on different levels.
With these thoughts in my mind, on the same day, I came across the work of an artist called Miss Buggs. Her Specimen Series (2021) was displayed during this same week in an art exhibition in Saatchi Gallery in London, England. It contained 21 unique PU resin medical lollipops placed inside of 9 cabinets. What intrigued me was that the lollies appeared harmless and colorful, even delicious from afar. But, if you looked closely, you’d realize their harmful content: syringes, blades and pills. Something that appeared so harmless, could actually do you harm, if you were not careful.
We usually think of mediation as a process for peaceful conflict settlement. A process that has a positive impact on the parties involved. It gives them the freedom to decide for their case by themselves, it encourages and empowers them to do so, away from Courts, with minimum psychological stress and economic burden. But is it possible that mediation can do harm? In order to answer whether and when mediation can do harm, we have first to understand what the principle of “Do No Harm” means in mediation.
The principle of “Do No Harm” in mediation is borrowed from the Greek Hippocratic Oath doctors agree on before they are appointed in order to offer their services. Adapted to mediation, it requires mediators to conduct the process in a way that will not cause harm to the people involved or “add fuel to the fire” and worsen the dispute. People who choose to come to mediation are, sometimes, in a sensitive and vulnerable psychological state. They may feel insecure, worried, stressed, reserved and anxious as they engage in mediation in order to solve a serious and conflicting matter. A dispute, no matter how peacefully resolved is never taken lightly. A mediator has to be vigilant for signs and always try to empower the parties, enlighten them about the process and instill them with trust and security about their authority, impartiality and professional competence when handling their dispute.
Furthermore, harm may be caused by a mediator’s inapt handling of the conflict, resulting in the creation of undue antagonism between the parties involved. For example, a mediator may allow a party to overpower the other in a discussion, or realize their inability to handle a participant’s anger or breakdown in a divorce family dispute.
Mediation is definitely a process that offers participants a way to resolve their conflicts amicably and peacefully. However, it is the mediator’s job to know, develop and utilize the skills required, including their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, limits and biases, in order to help the conflict parties and to “do no harm”.
Theodora Syriou – Greece
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31