As we move towards the New Year, I was looking at what has happened in the last year and what a year it’s been. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
The first event that came to mind was the Ukraine war which commenced on the 24th February. Whilst there had been some indications that something might happen, I don’t think the scale of it had been anticipated and neither had the way the shockwaves from the war would spread around the world. That at present there does not appear to be a likely exit route to war is both tragic and concerning for the future. Although there are many efforts to promote mediation in an effort to secure a peace it is clear that it’s not going to happen soon.
Despite the continuation of the war, mediation to support Ukrainians has made a significant impact. Projects like “Family Mediation in the Time of War” where Ukrainian Mediators are supporting families often living apart and having to deal with difficult situations have been very welcome. I’d also highlight to the work of mediators like Hanna Dushkova in Dundee who has been helping Ukrainians deal with the impacts of conflict and how they can live a full life in Scotland.
The impacts of the war have been more far reaching. Some see it as contributing to the current cost of living crisis and the high inflation levels that have led to many employees finding themselves in conflict with their employers over pay. That the industrial actions which have been triggered have included dissent about other, more long-term, issues suggests to me that in some areas employer and employee relationships can be improved. In many cases issues such as a lack of trust are apparent and perhaps better, more consistent dialogue and systems to support those relations are needed. Some of that could be helped by more consistent use of mediators but even by embedding mediation skills across workplaces and building systems that use it would seem to be a start.
I’ve been thinking about the future too and one very positive thing has been the significant step up in Scottish Mediation’s work with schools. When I look at that work, I think it’s partly an investment in the future in modelling how better relationships can be developed from a young age. We’ve been working across Fife Council training school students in the skills of mediation, helping them to resolve the conflicts that arise on a day-to-day basis and embedding the training skills with teachers and support staff to ensure that the work continues. It’s the first time we’ve worked with a whole local authority and its been a privilege to do so. They say that mighty oaks from little acorns grow and I see our work with schools in that vein. With skills learned at an early age supported throughout life I think there would a great benefit across the whole of society. Equipping people to resolve their own disputes and in many cases not letting them become as corrosive as many do would be a great step forward.
Although we seem to be living in what is a very conflicted society, I do think that recognition of this has led more mediators to want to help people to have better conversations. Conversations that look beyond the binary yes /no, for/against options into allowing people to understand why others might not see the world their way. I see one of Scottish Mediation’s tasks for the next year being to equip more people to help in those conversations and to identify how we can best help that to happen. In some cases the stakes are too high for than not to happen.