Having just returned from a meeting of the Association for Conflict Resolution in Baltimore, I have come to the conclusion that we do not do enough with mediation in Iowa. While there are a few individuals with private practices in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, here in the Quad Cities there are very few people who practice mediation at all, and those are largely volunteers. When I teach mediation, both at St. Ambrose University and also in the local schools, most people don’t know what exactly they are in for. So I thought it might be good to have a primer on what this method of conflict resolution is and, more importantly, what are some practical tips you can take away from it that could help in your day-to-day life.
The reason why this is useful for people in conflict is the number one practical tip mediation can offer you. When we are in conflict -- or more generally, when we are in a situation we don’t like -- it is very common for us to focus on what we don’t want rather than on what we do want, what outcome would be acceptable as the next best alternative. We had an outcome in mind, an obstacle to that outcome has presented itself and now all we can see is the loss of the ideal situation for which we were aiming. There is a term in German that I think beautifully captures this condition: weltschmerz. The despair that results from comparing the world as it is to the world as we wish it to be. Once we are “weltschmerzed” it is difficult for us to move out of that despair and into being an active part of the resolution. It is as though once we know we won’t get the desired outcome then NO outcome is worth pursuing. We let the perfect become the enemy of the good or the acceptable and in the event that we see inevitable imperfection we halt all forward progress.