Mediation in a Pluralistic Society

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“Mediation in a Pluralistic Society” was the vibrant topic that graced the walls of the third floor of The Law Society of Upper Canada this afternoon. The room was packed with Dispute Resolution Professionals. Most, of course, were Mediators but there were also many Family Law Lawyers, Divorce Coaches and Financial Professionals in attendance. Everyone was eager to learn more about how we can better serve our culturally diversified clients.
The panel discussion was lead by Mediators and Family Law Lawyers specializing their practice in the cultural diversities such as Ismaili, Muslim, Jewish, Punjabi, Christian and Aboriginal cultures. The panel discussed the answers to questions such as, “What does ‘pluralistic society mean?” “What are the opportunities of negotiating privately, within the shadow of the law?” “What are the costs?” and “What are the tools we, as mediators, can use to better understand communities?”

What is Pluralism?

It was unanimous across the panel that pluralism is a process. A pluralistic society goes beyond cultures, it’s an openness to accept the differences in one another. It’s an ongoing journey of acceptance and constantly weighing what you see as your norm and what you see in another person. Part of the process is the bringing together of people of different cultures, religions, and beliefs.

What Are The Risks of Negotiating Privately in A Pluralistic Society?

It was noted that it is important, as mediators, that we don’t fall into a cookie cutter profiling as a solution to move forward in mediation. People are not monolithic. Not all Muslims have the same beliefs or upbringings and they shouldn’t be treated the same. One mediator wanted her Aboriginal clients to feel welcome during the mediation and called her Aboriginal friend for cultural guidance. Her friend told her that everything is done in circle so the mediator set a circular table and began the story-telling in a circle. Her clients were confused as they were Mohawks who did not adopt the circular story-telling model. This example set the stage for further discussion.
The definition of culture is really broad. Sometimes there is a culture within a culture within a culture. How one sees their own identity and how they align themselves must be considered. Not only do we identify ourselves based on our heritage but we also align ourselves professionally, within our role in the family, as a woman, a man, gay, straight amongst other things. Each alignment can further narrow our field of acceptable practice when mediating with our clients. It’s important to be mindful that cultural differences can stem past our heritage beliefs and practices.

What Tools Can We, As Mediators, Use To Better Understand Communities?

All of the represented cultures stated that there is an existence of cultural communities that help couples going through mediation to understand the process and to work through the process based on the couple’s cultural beliefs and values. Some of these represented cultures have respected elders that help the couple make decisions around their mediation and these elders are large influencers in arriving at the final resolution. Ensuring that the couple do not make decisions outside of their belief systems these elders share their guiding principles. The mediator has to respect and work with these elders. In mediation training we all learn that mediation is a self- determined process. With the elders influence it is often not the case. In these cases, where the community elder is a large influencer, the competency of the Mediator and their ability to work with these influencers is in direct correlation of the sustainability of the conflict resolution.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There were three large ‘take-aways’ that were gleaned as a participant. One, it’s important to create rapport with your clients. Two, if you are not knowledgeable about your client’s cultural differences let them know and ask what you can do, as a Mediator, to make them feel comfortable. Three, we need to know more. We need to explore our differences and become better Mediators through our own personal growth and continually strive to be a step closer to being effective members of a pluralistic society.

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