Fifty years ago, the Beatles launched the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the world – and the world was changed forever. 1967 was quite a year. It was the “Summer of Love”. Revolution was in the air, a revolution as much of consciousness as of physical uprising. Apparently the drug LSD heightened the awareness of many artists as they reached new levels of musical virtuosity. They could see so much more, they said. Visit the Pink Floyd retrospective at the V&A in London for a brilliant exposition of the psychedelic era and what followed.
Fifty years on, many of these musicians continue to perform. Recently, I attended a concert by some of the remaining members of the Beatles’ main US rivals, the Beach Boys. In 2017 they present as pleasant participants in an exercise of nostalgia. In 1967 one of the biggest – and most memorable – songs was A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum. A few weeks ago, I watched the same vocalist and pianist perform that same song in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. Memories of a bygone age came flooding back. I was gripped by nostalgia.
Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.” Apparently the word nostalgia has its origins in a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, meaning “homecoming”, and álgos, meaning “pain” or “ache”. (It seems to be particularly strong when associated with the music of teenage years.)
This has got me thinking about our continuing reluctance to use mediation, even by those who have had successful personal experiences of it. It seems a puzzle that we are still trying to promote mediation, 20-30 years after it began to show itself, world-wide, to be a really useful process. It is a puzzle that, in many jurisdictions, it takes “encouragement” or even penalties imposed by courts to ensure that mediation is tried.
Perhaps, though, this is explicable. Decision-makers are, after all, professionals and clients who might also yearn for the old days. There is a pain or ache in changing the habits of your job, in which you have been educated and trained, or in accepting an outcome which doesn’t seem to fit into a worldview which you have believed.
So, our job as mediators might often be to help people overcome that nostalgia. In thinking about how to do so, I recently overheard a bit of advice which struck me as useful: “Kiss goodbye to the missing sock.”
That’s what the man said. He meant that life is too short to worry about the little things. You’ve got to let stuff go. How many of us has a sock drawer in which there is one sock (or more) awaiting reunion with its missing other half? You can replace them. Throw it out.
That made quite an impact on me. Not only because I have socks like that but because the metaphor is apt too. Personally, I have things I need to let go of. It’s not easy.
This also applies to participants in disputes. Often, we are carrying stuff, baggage, which can distract us from the real issues, causing frustration and disappointment. Letting go in order to move on can seem to be a weakness, to expose vulnerability. Professionals can experience that too. When you have invested so much time and intellectual energy in a case and its presentation, it can be hard to accept that there is another viewpoint or that, after all, your client needs to stop now.
The mediator can help parties and their advisers to let go in a way which seems sensible and fair. Frequently, this can be achieved by sitting down with the principals in the same room and letting them talk, after some preparation. I’ve seen this work really well. Conversations between those most affected can provide real turning points. For some, these are genuinely life changing or career defining. For others, they prompt significant institutional or other modifications. Overcoming nostalgia? Breakthroughs, in any event.
Readers may note an apparent discontinuity in this article, with an attempt to knit together two seemingly different ideas. In fact, this started as two pieces, which have been joined together in the manner of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s construction of the extraordinary song, A Day in the Life, the last track on Sgt. Pepper. It worked for them.
John Sturrock, Core Solutions.