In this interview with Jane Gunn and Ken Cloke (Mediator and Author), Jane and Ken discuss how mediators can help save the planet.
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Jane: Hello this is Jane Gunn, The Corporate Peacemaker and author of How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom and Boredom in the Bedroom, and this podcast is about how we can gain a better understanding of some of the aspects of conflicts that help us to lead happier and more productive lives. Well today I’m speaking with Ken Cloke, who is a fellow mediator and Ken is also the founder and first president of MBB which stands for Mediators Beyond Borders and Ken will tell us a little bit more about that in a minute. Ken is also the author of Conflict Revolution: Mediating Evil, War, Injustice and Terrorism. Wow, Ken welcome.
Ken: Thank you very much Jane.
Jane: So Ken, tell us a little bit firstly, about you and how you come to be doing what you are. You’re a mediator as I am, but you have some very specific interests and areas that you’ve gone off to work in. So tell us how you got there.
Ken: Well I began, now, a little more than thirty years ago when mediation was just beginning and as a result there was a great deal of interest in the possibilities of mediation but not much understanding of what it really was and so I began to work in many different areas. One of those was internationally and so I’ve worked in about twenty different countries, in a variety of different ways. With Armenians and Azerbaijanis, with Georgians and Russians and Ukrainians, in Mexico and Brazil and Cuba, in a number of different countries. And it has finally come to dawn on me, it took many years to realise that the problems we’re now facing as a planet can’t be solved, except through the use of conflict resolution processes and methods.
Ken: So there’s actually a very profound and deep and shocking way of seeing this, which is that the nation state, as a problem solving institution, is no longer capable of addressing issues like global warming, climate change, species extinction, even issues like possible pandemics as a result of bird flu really can’t be addressed by individual nation states. At the same time the United Nations isn’t nearly strong enough to be able to handle the kinds of issues that might arise in the event that there were some events like this, and in addition the United Nations has been kept relatively, well, powerless by the nation states that haven’t wanted to cede their sovereignty to it.
Ken: So that’s the first piece I think, is that, just the recognition, that the nation state just isn’t large enough to do the job.
Jane: And Ken, do you put the sort of economic problems that we are all experiencing around the world into that space as well?
Ken: Yes, absolutely. The financial crisis that we’re facing is global in scope. And really can’t be addressed using adversarial, national interests. What we require is a form of global collaboration in terms of finances. But another way of saying the same thing, which is equally shocking, is that market principals and capitalism can’t solve these problems either. And therefore what we require is a movement in the direction of increased economic collaboration. This can be seen regionally within the EU but it can also be seen globally. Because no nation states themselves are being challenged by the presence of a group of traders who owe allegiance to no nation state and are interested only really in expanding their profitability and that’s how the system has been set up. So that we now have approximately two to four trillion dollars that change hands every day and no-one’s watching, no-one’s regulating.
Ken: So when we add to this the idea that military force can’t solve these problems and that litigation and the rule of law can’t solve these problems, the question that we’re left with is what can? The answer is mediation, collaborative negotiation, informal problem solving, dialogue, communication, all of the things that we practice as mediators, that’s the thing that can solve these problems. Therefore, what we’re looking at is a global shift in the direction, of what I like to think of, as the collaborative arts and sciences.
When you ask about the financial system, there’s a woman whose name is Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for showing in contrast, orthodox economic principles, that groups of people are completely capable of managing their common economic interests and natural resources and she’s identified eight conditions that are necessary in order for that to happen; That the group and it’s purposes are clearly defined, that the costs and benefits are shared equally, decisions are made by consensus, misconduct is monitored, sanctions start off very small and escalate only as they’re needed, conflict resolutions is fast and fair, the group has authority to manage its own affairs, and relationships with other groups are structured and collaborative. And out of these we can see that the majority have to do with conflict resolution and collaboration. So, in the first instance, we have to recognise that the old system isn’t working anymore and is going to reveal it’s incapacity to solve problems through the increase in the number of conflicts that it generates. So it won’t necessarily, a sign won’t pop up somewhere to say this isn’t working.
Ken: The sign is the conflicts that will arise as a result of it not working.
Ken: Except the system doesn’t show up in the conflicts, so it’s a certain amount of interpretation to see that that’s the case. And the second point is, there is something that will work, and the thing that will work, and this is why I call it a conflict revolution, is the shift, and it is a revolutionary shift, from adversarial, to collaborative processes, methods and techniques.
Jane: So, I mean, this is great Ken, in theory, isn’t it? So we should use more collaborative tools and so on, but where do we begin, how do we begin to do that and what role, specifically do those of us who are trained in mediation skills have in this revolution?
Ken: The short answer, to where we begin, that’s not very satisfying, but what I mean by that is top down, bottom up and sideways, from the inside out and from the outside in. So the inside out piece is the fact that our neurophysiology as human beings is now recognised to reveal two, what are called dual pathways. The first is the pathway of adrenaline and that leads to the fight or flight reflex and the second is the pathway of Oxytocin. Both are neurotransmitters, and Oxytocin leads to bonding, collaboration and increased pleasure in sexual relationships and so, in the first instance we have to work on ourselves, individually and collectively to defuse the fight or flight reflux which gets us into so much trouble.
Ken: The second thing that we have to do is we have to work globally, to build conflict resolution capacity. Not only in political representatives and leaders of nation states, but in communities, so that we begin to shift the culture of conflict. And I think what the current occupy movements that are taking place around the world, are pointing out, is first of all, that there’s a gigantic gap between the 1% who own most of the wealth of the world and the 99% who basically take a second position to them. And the second point is because of the way we have structured politics, certainly in the United States, the ability of very, very wealthy people to control the political process, makes it very difficult for anyone in a political power to be courageous enough to take on the, or to challenge, the interests of the very wealthy in that society. There are many forms of corruption and this just happens to be one of them. So the difficulty is not that we need to throw out politics, but that politics, as it’s presently constituted is another limitation on our ability to solve problems.
So, what is a revolution that might take place within politics? And if we think about this as I try to do in the book Conflict Revolution, we can come up with a series of answers, and one I came up with was what I call a conflict resolution algorithm, which is based on what works in mediation, what works in collaborative negotiation, what works in dialogue and informal problem solving and that is, bring everybody together who’s impacted by the problem. That’s the first piece in the algorithm. The second is, we shift from debate to dialogue, that is, debates are concerned with scoring points, with winning, but not with learning, not with solving problems. And what we require now are dialogues and not debates. So, what would it look like, if instead of the way that current debates take place, either in Parliament or in the Congress of the United States, with two sides facing off against each other and trying to score points against the other one, there was a collaborative problem solving process that brought in experts? Which is a third point, that the problems that we’re facing today are so complex, that the idea that someone like the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, or any of the Republican candidates that we’re looking at, or any individual, no matter how brilliant they might happen to be, could conceivably solve these problems by themselves just doesn’t make any sense. The problems are escalating, both in terms of their timing and in their potential for catastrophic impact.
Jane: Ken, do you think there’s any awareness amongst politicians, of the concept of collaboration and mediation and how it might help them? Or do they not want, yet, to know about it?
Ken: I think the answer is yes to both. It depends a little on who we’re talking about.
Jane: Yes, of course.
Ken: President Obama is quite collaborative in his approach, although he has been extensively criticised within the United States for not having sufficient, kind of, adversarial advocacy skills
Ken: So, that might be true, for example, of him. But it’s not individual people that I’m mostly concerned about. It’s how the political systems themselves are set up. And they’re set up on the basis of what we know as conflict resolvers, is a win lose outcome process. That is, they’re set up on the basis of power. And in the best circumstances, they’re set up on the basis of rights. But there’s always a winner and a loser in power and rights based contests. So, the true task for us, the real revolution, is to turn politics, economics and society, in an interest based direction. And to see that these are not just nice to do. It’s not that we’re doing them simply because we enjoy them more, we’re doing them because they’re the only methods that are capable of solving this order of problem.
Jane: Fascinating. I think you’re saying that we have maybe a couple of roles as mediators, maybe we have a role as role models, we can model what ought to be happening wherever we happen to be going and working. And perhaps we also have a role in stimulating dialogue rather than debate about some of these things? And in influencing those who need to be influenced, if we happen to get near enough to them?
Ken: Yes, exactly.
Ken: So, what I think we need to be doing is reaching, on a multi-track basis, reaching wherever we can reach people. And that includes, of course, people who are in positions of political, economic or social power. But it’s very difficult to convince someone of something, when they are making a lot of money not being convinced of it. So, the nature of the system itself has to change, and the closer we get to that, the more difficult that will become because there’s a great deal of vested interest in this. The advantage of interest based processes is that they help us work through resistance.
Jane: So there’s a lot of resistance in the system at the moment that needs to be overcome in some way before the interest based approach, the collaborative approach, will be accepted?
Ken: Um hum, that’s right. But what we’re doing now is we are demonstrating through our daily practice as mediators that this stuff works.
Ken: It’s actually highly successful. For example, I have 2 friends who are involved in creating a mediation project in a women’s prison. Most of the women in the prison are, in fact, they’re all felons, most of them are murderers, and they have been incredibly successful in taking this group of women and doing fifty hours of training with them and turning them into some of the best mediators that you have ever seen.
Ken: They have stopped riots in the prison, they have stopped murders, they’ve stopped rapes, they’ve stopped fist fights, they have brought the women in this prison together, based on the idea that we’re going to be spending decades, if not our entire lives in here, how do we want to live? Do we want to be hating each other this entire time or can we figure out how to live together? And they have been doing something so remarkable and so exciting that the prison system in the entire State of California is now beginning to take notice.
Jane: That’s amazing.
Ken, So, things like this have a profound impact.
Jane: Yes. And actually, we’re all in a prison aren’t we? And that prison is called Earth. We need to all work out how to live together on Earth, so it’s just a larger example of your Californian prison I think.
Ken: Yes. I think that’s exactly right. There’s nowhere left to go. We have to sooner or later come to terms with the fact that there is no them and us.
Ken: It’s just us. And it doesn’t matter whose end of the boat is sinking. Well, let me say it a little bit differently. If we take a look at this in a slightly different way, we say, what are the problems that we are now required to solve? There’s the size and density of human populations, there’s C02 and Methane emissions that result in global warming, there’s nuclear proliferation, the destructive power and availability of advanced military technologies, there’s species extinctions and the loss of rainforest and woodland, the disappearance of drinkable water and arable land, there’s increasing resistance to antibiotics and growing costs of medical care, increasing numbers of natural catastrophes and severe weather conditions, unregulated economic transactions, you know, etc, etc. We can go on and on, on this, and what we can see is that what takes place in a tiny little corner of the globe, what we used to think of as not involving us at all, now all of a sudden can easily have a global impact.
There’s terrorism, there are cycles of revenge and retaliation, use of torture and cruelty, there’s the incredible impact of poverty and the ethnic cleansing, sexual trafficking, organised crime, all of these issues are massive in scope and they are genuinely international. So, the individual governments just can’t solve them on their own. I’ve watched over several months as we’ve tried to address some of these problems, particularly in terms of the financial crisis, that are extremely difficult so far as the Euro is concerned, right now.
Jane: Yes, yes.
Ken: But what is happening in Greece and what is happening in Italy, is impacting the entire global economy. So, people in small towns in California are going to be impacted by decisions that are made in Italy, directly, immediately impacted. Families’ lives will be affected by them. So, these problems are going to increase as we go forward into the 21st century. And in order to be able to solve them, we have to increase our capacity to work together, to communicate and resolve difficulties. In order to really do that, we have to also address a series of problems. I think of these, as what I call, meta-sources of chronic conflict and those are: social inequality, economic inequity and political autocracy.
Without solutions to those, it will be extremely difficult also, so solve these problems. And the one big advantage that we have is that what we are learning, what we are doing in our daily lives as mediators, is, my phrase for this is, it works on a scale-free basis, meaning it doesn’t matter whether the conflicts that are taking place are between children on a playground or the heads of nation states. They’re human beings, and what we are learning are human techniques, of course there are lots of cultural differences and lots of opportunities to use diversity to create a series of small scale revolutions. But there is also a very, very large scale revolution that needs to take place. We have to shift the relationship between self, other and community.
We have to shift attitudes, behaviours and cultures. And we have to do so at the level of content process and relationship. All of these are going to be essential. So, how exactly do we do this? Well, I think that we begin with where we are. So for me the beginning was the creation of Mediators Beyond Borders, which is not the solution to any of these final problems. It’s simply a way of mobilising mediators to work internationally and to recognise that they are global citizens.
Ken: We have a responsibility for what happens in the rest of the world. So what we’re involved in is a fundamental paradigm shift. Like the paradigm shift from the idea that kings rule by divine right, to the idea that democracy and elections are the way to select leadership, to a new idea, which is the idea to some extent that isn’t being expressed in the occupy movement. Which is there is a possibility to expand the scope of collective leadership, of popular leadership. I wrote a book several years ago with Joan Goldsmith and the title is: The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy. And there’s a chapter in there on what we call ubiquitous leadership, but it’s about, how do we create democratic organisations. If you think about this for a moment, management as a technique, only works to solve certain kinds of problems, just like military force exists to solve certain kinds of problems. And with certain problems it works quite remarkably well. If someone is attacking you, with guns, you know, aeroplanes, military force is one approach that might be successful. But at the same time there all kinds of negative consequences of the use of negative force. And there are all sorts of problems that you would never want to use military force to address, for example, your relationship with your spouse.
Jane: Yes, not often anyway.
Ken: Right. So if it doesn’t work in your relationship with your spouse, if you’re not gonna sue your spouse and if you’re not going to shoot your spouse and if you’re not going to do any of these other things, what are you going to do?
Ken: You’re going to have to sit down and talk about your problems and negotiate solutions and we’re all married to each other on the planet.
Ken: That’s the paradigm shift I think.
Jane: Yeah, it is and I guess it is, you know, it’s something which as you say, you’ve been mediating for thirty years, it’s obviously an evolutionary process and one that isn’t going to happen overnight, but we can all be part of it. And I think that’s the exciting thing that you’ve shown us today, is that as mediators we have the opportunity, a real opportunity now, with where the world is, to be both mediators and revolutionaries in the sense that we can help to revolutionise the way people see these problems. Whether it’s at a community level within our own communities, within schools, or whether we get involved in these problems at a more global level through an organisation like Mediators Beyond Borders. But all of us have an opportunity to make a contribution right now.
Ken: I think that’s right and the contribution can be very large, and it can be very small.
Ken: One of the small pieces, and those are the ones that interest me the most, the large pieces I think, we can all understand relatively easily, but if we take, for example, what happens in political language, we can see that simply the way that politicians talk contains an element of the problem. They are telling adversarial stories, and within their adversarial stories, and of course we know about adversarial stories because we hear them every day in mediation.
We also know how to transform an adversarial story in a direction that is collaborative. We learn how to refrain the demonization and victimisation that we hear in peoples stories. We learn how to shift from a kind of learned helplessness, a kind of victim attitude that assumes that change is impossible, resolution is impossible. How to move that slowly in the direction of concrete practical agreements that people can live by. And this is why mediation is such a powerful thing, is that it gives us the opportunity to address these things. The larger issue, and particularly in terms of politics, the larger issue is the problem of evil. And that’s why I talk in the book about the problem of mediating evil, war, injustice and terrorism. Because we have to be able to come to grips with these things and that’s what I try to do in the book. But the interesting piece for me is that there is a direct connection between the very large and the very small. So that large scale evil is simply the organisation of small scale hatreds.
Ken: And so if we can begin to approach it on a small scale, one by one, through our mediations, we can have an impact on it. That’s the bottom up piece and the top down piece, is also to look at how the possibility for evil, I define the smallest piece of evil in the book as ‘the inability to find the other within the self’. And this corresponds to, I wrote this several years ago, but it’s reinforced by a recent book by Simon Baren-Cohen at Cambridge, on evil, where he describes it as a failure of empathy. But what we can then see is, on a large scale and on a small scale, creating dialogue with others, with the people who we form stereotypes and prejudices about, defeats those stereotypes and prejudices and allows us to recognise the possibility of some collaboration. But it’s not the small, the petty collaboration that’s based on everything that we agree on. It’s the collaboration that’s based on our diversity and our differences, on our disagreements and that’s what makes it synergistic and powerful.
Jane: There’s a wonderful book, I don’t know if you know this one, called The Dignity of Difference which talks about really the power of us being different and you know, one of the things that we’ve done historically is to hate difference and find that a threat which is where a lot of evil and war and terrorism comes from, is a fear of the other and a fear of the difference of the other.
Jane: What you’re saying is very powerful. So Ken, as always I’m very inspired by what you say and particularly inspired that the message you’re giving us is, that everybody who listens to this can find a role if they want to, in revolutionising the way we communicate, even if it’s only within their family, but that’s a piece of the work that you’re doing.
Ken: Yes, that’s exactly right.
Ken: That’s the butterfly effect. And we’re beginning to see that one of the most important elements in any social change is the shift in attitude that happens really kind of person by person. And we can begin to feel how this takes place as we watch attitudes shift. But in the shifting of attitudes, the media plays an important role and yet the media just isn’t aware of its role. And it isn’t always playing a positive role in helping people figure these things out. So we have enormous difficulties that are facing us, but if we ask the question, who exactly is going to be doing this, who exactly is going to be bringing about these changes? The answer is there isn’t anyone except for us. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.
Jane: It’s us, yes. So Ken, as always, we could talk forever, but we have to bring this call to an end. Do you have one piece of advice, or one thought that you’d like to leave the listeners with?
Ken: Yes, as opposed to many of the revolutions and change efforts that we’ve participated in, it’s necessary for us to change the way that we change. Not only do we have to bring about these changes, we have to change the way that we bring them about.
That means beginning, I think, by creating a context of ethics, values and integrity, of watching our own attitudes, of really listening closely to critics and dissidents. It consists of subtly altering the ways that people succeed and fail. So in mediation for example, a traditional simple measure of success and failure is did you reach a settlement?
Ken: But because, for the mediator, the mediator isn’t in charge of the settlement, that belongs to the parties, the real test of success and failure for the mediator is, were you able to create choices that didn’t exist before this conversation? Were you able to really make it clear to people what their interests were? And how their interests might play out, either through settlement or non-settlement? And so we have to simultaneously change ourselves and as you said earlier, model what we want from others or in Ghandi’s phrase ‘we have to be the change we want to see in the world’.
Ken: And simultaneously we have to be audacious enough to imagine that what we know works on a human scale, can work also globally. And that’s pretty audacious. So there’s a final piece of this I guess and it’s a quotation from the beginning of the book and the quotation is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Who wrote The Little Prince, Le Petit Prince.
Ken: And he said, and I don’t have the book in front of me, so I’m giving you a rough quote on it. He said: ‘If you want to build a boat, don’t divide up the tasks and send the men out to cut up trees or gather wood, instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea’. Isn’t it beautiful?
Jane: It’s a wonderful quote Ken. One of your many, but that’s very appropriate to finish with I think, yeah.
Ken: Yeah. So we need to learn to yearn. Teach people to yearn for the vast and endless sea of community, of collaboration, of genuine, deep, profound communication.
Jane: Yes. Ken, thank you very much for your time. I’ve enjoyed it enormously and learnt a lot, as always, from you, and I am sure everyone else who listens will do too. Thank you so much Ken.
Ken: Thank you Jane, It’s wonderful talking with you.