Can I be a facilitator and stand for justice?

An excerpt from a conversation with a recent mediation training participant. She wonders: How can I approach situations of injustice as a facilitator, when my strongest impulse is towards fairness? Does mediation in situations of injustice imply giving up on our own sense of justice? My thoughts on this below – curious to hear yours.

I see two major ways of engaging with a problem: as an advocate, or as a conduit. An advocate is someone who takes an active stand on an issue, and seeks to further a specific agenda. A conduit is someone who attempts to help to clarify the interests of an advocate, and bring divergent voices into conversation based on those interests. If the problem/goal here is ‘fairness’ or ‘justice,’ I think the question you are presented with is how best to achieve this goal.

There are many people who fight for a concept of justice in the social arena, and this has produced extremely important gains (in women’s rights, civil rights, labour rights, etc). The limitation of advocacy is that the participants in the unjust relationship may never set out on a journey of re-humanizing their relationships. They are told how to behave in order to align with more ‘just’ values, but they able to remain at arm’s length from the important internal exploration of these values. Their behaviour may change for a time, but the risk is that in the absence of another person or group of people correcting their behaviour, they will revert to their ‘default’ behaviour.

The hope ingrained in a ‘conduit’ or ‘facilitator’ mindset is that through good process, parties will come to increasingly see their own humanity and that of the other in a new light. It is by bringing the characters in the unjust or unfair scene into dialogue that they begin to expose the impact that the arrangement is having on them both. From this perspective, a person who is fostering injustice stands ultimately to gain by a release from that arrangement, not to lose from it.  And they are most likely to see these gains and act accordingly by virtue of being shown, rather than told.

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About Aaron Lyons

Facilitator, trainer and mediator in restorative justice, peacebuilding and conflict transformation.
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One Response to Can I be a facilitator and stand for justice?

  1. Dorothy Vaandering says:

    I think your insights are very wise, Aaron. The participant’s question is intriguing and points to the challenges inherent in engaging with restorative justice. The paradigm shift required is so great and so difficult that even if we have the best of intentions our default is to do what we can to ‘manipulate’ a situation or a person into what ‘we’ or social norms expect. Any time we try to ‘manage’ or ‘manipulate’ another we fall back into the adversarial scenario we are seeking to escape. Yet we are encouraged daily to think it is possible to ‘manage’ people. From my perspective (heavily influenced by Paulo Freire, Martin Buber and bell hooks) only objects can be managed, people are made to be honoured. In our society we are constantly encouraged to treat people as objects to be measured (think of advertising, education evaluations, etc). This is the barrier we need to break through in restorative justice.
    In order to do this, I would like to suggest that we problematize the word ‘fair’. Whenever this word is used, we put ourselves in a situation in which we permit ourselves to measure ourselves and each other. ‘Fair’ is a word that sets us up for confrontation. More effective questions might be, “what can we do that is best for all involved?” OR “What can we do to nurture our humanity so we don’t become objects?”
    The role of conduit nurtures this move from dehumanizing to rehumanizing.

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