Last week, the New York Times published an article by Jane E. Brody titled “Frank Talk About Care at Life’s End.” The article covered some of the thorny issues surrounding “the medical, humanitarian and economic value of helping terminally ill patients and and their families navigate treatment options as they approach the end of life.” Leaving aside the politics (politicians) and the political (New York State’s medical society), this topic raises fundamental questions from the perspective of elder mediation.
In any conflict, complete and accurate information is essential for good decision-making. If one or more parties is using inaccurate information or partial information, it is difficult to reach a good resolution — even if no emotional impact is involved. Add the emotional strain of end-of-life decision-making by families and a good decision-making process is very difficult even in a conflict-free family (if such a family exists.)
From the perspective of preventing, reducing, and resolving conflicts, more and accurate information for families means better decisions.
The upcoming “direct talks” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are in the news. Some stories reference “mediators”, some “negotiators”, some “diplomats”. So what’s in a name? Does it matter what the people are called?
In these high profile situations, it seems at times that the connotation of a word can mean as much as the denotation — a strict dictionary definition isn’t enough. Ultimately, the parties’ perceptions are essential, including the perceptions of the representatives in a direct talk and those representatives’ constituencies, however that might be defined.
Most important is that the neutral, whatever that person is called, is exactly that: neutral.
A few days ago, NPR’s “Morning Edition” ran a story called “Tourists Seek Real Berlin on Bridge, Find Controversy.” As reporter Eric Westervelt summed it up, the residents who live near the bridge want a good night’s sleep and a better plan to manage the city’s “growing tourist industry and the local conflicts that success can sometimes provoke.” A romantic 19th century bridge, the Admiralsbruecke, was recently listed on a tourist website as a place where the locals go, prompting young tourists in search of an authentic experience to flock there. The problem is that as the night wears on, the noise and mess of the crowd on the bridge wears down those who live nearby.
What’s refreshing is the local authorities’ approach to this conflict — a genuine attempt at conflict resolution. As Westervelt reports, they “have brought in a team of professional mediators to create a dialogue…. [T]he mediation team spends three nights a week on the bridge mediating between residents and tourists…as well as the police, and local businesses.” Most of the tourists are open to discussing the problem, but a resolution to the conflict is not yet achieved. Nevertheless, a commitment to mediation with a team of professional mediators is an encouraging start.
We don’t always think of Russia as a nation with a strong emphasis on enlightened dispute resolution processes or a desire to craft conflict resolution procedures that embody respect and equality for participants. So, a recent online article in “The Voice of Russia” caught my eye.
According to the July 30, 2010 article, a new law creates “a basically new institution, namely mediation, as well as a new profession, – a reconciliation expert. Experts feel that mediation will be able to drastically change for the better the performance of courts and improve Russia’s moral environment. Special-purpose mediators will help the parties to a conflict thrash out their differences and forget about their problems. Experts also believe that the law on mediation will relieve the courts of a great many cases and enable them to concentrate on really involved matters. Reconciliation experts will certainly prove much in demand in divorce suits, as well as in labour disputes.”
There may be some unintended changes in the translation, but it is interesting to read the idea that mediation could “improve Russia’s moral environment.” Mediation’s benefits are many, and its boosters are not shy in naming them, but this idea may be a first.