John Sturrock: Ensuring ‘jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war’

John Sturrock is a mediator and a Distinguished Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators.
John Sturrock is a mediator and a Distinguished Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators.
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I write this in the aftermath of an extraordinarily uplifting conference which I had the privilege to host and chair recently in Edinburgh under the auspices of the International Academy of Mediators.

Nearly 120 mediators from more than 20 countries attended and shared deep discussions about how we as mediators can look outward and work towards a “new enlightenment” in the tradition of the great Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The conference was a seminal moment for Scotland and mediation in our country. The praise from delegates has been universal and unequivocal.

About 100 mediators signed the historic Edinburgh Declaration, setting out what we believe in and commit to as mediators. Signing took place in a ceremony in the Scottish Parliament on 12 May, following well-received addresses emphasising the value of principled negotiation delivered by negotiation expert William Ury (fresh from work on the Korean summit) and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. It is helpful to share the declaration with a wider audience, as often mediation is not well understood or is viewed restrictively.

Here are some excerpts:

- We believe that it is in the interests of our world as a whole and our own communities in particular that difficult issues are discussed with civility and dignity.

- We believe that it is very important to find common ground and shared interests whenever possible and to enable and encourage people to work out difficult issues constructively and cooperatively.

-l We believe that finding common ground and shared interests requires meaningful and serious dialogue which requires significant commitment from all concerned.

- We believe that understanding underlying values and addressing fundamental needs is usually necessary to generate long-term sustainable outcomes.

- We believe that restoring decision-making and autonomy wherever possible to the people who are most affected in difficult situations lies at the heart of good problem-solving.

- We believe that mediators have a unique role to play in helping to promote the principles we have set out above.

- We believe that it is a privilege to act as mediators in a wide range of difficult situations in our countries, communities and the world as a whole.

- We are committed to offering our services to help those in difficult situations in our countries and communities, and in the world as a whole, to deal with and resolve these for themselves in a constructive and co-operative way.

- We are committed to doing all we can to maintain our independence and impartiality in those situations in which we are invited to act as mediators and to build trust in our work as mediators.

- We are committed to maintaining and raising professional standards through training, continuing development and sharing of best practice.

- We recognise that it is important to exemplify the values that we seek to encourage and, in our work as mediators, we undertake to do our best, and to encourage others to do their best, to:

- show respect and courtesy towards all those who are engaged in difficult conversations, whatever views they hold;

l-enable others to express emotion where that may be necessary as part of any difficult conversation;

- acknowledge that there are many differing, deeply held and valid points of view;

l listen carefully to all points of view and seek fully to understand what concerns and motivates those with differing views;

l use language carefully and avoid personal or other remarks which might cause unnecessary offence;

l look for common ground whenever possible.

The Edinburgh Declaration gives Scotland an opportunity to show leadership in promoting co-operation and thoughtful solutions to difficult problems.

Doing so is not easy, of course, but it seems preferable to the alternatives.

John Sturrock is a mediator and a Distinguished Fellow of the International Academy of Mediators