This chapter talks about the pros and cons of the storytelling metaphor of Mediation, in which a story is told by each side. Work is done by the mediators and disputants to weave a new tale that none would dispute.
This chapter talks about the potential issues with mediation’s storytelling metaphor. Cobb argues that the practice of storytelling and the content of each disputant’s story can be managed through mediation to be a powerful record of a more complete record of the truth between divergent disputant stories. The issue is that if the mediator is to stay outside of the realm of content building, how can they both shape the stories being told, while not being a storyteller themselves? I personally feel that this is the necessary balance that a mediator must be aware of and respect.
This chapter makes note of the idea that the truthful reality, the story as it appears in the mind of each disputant, and the way that it is mentally or verbally practiced and then told in mediation may all be completely different stories, and so it is the task of the mediator to be aware of all of these contingent potentialities, and to work to passively engage disputants in the task of aligning reality, their own story, the story of the other, and the stories being told in the mediation session, so that they all achieve commonality in the majority.
Of the utmost importance are coherence, or the common understanding and agreement of each story, closure, or the filling of gaps in stories, interdependence, or the ways in which disputants might feel the need to have mutually divergent stories in order to fulfill their role of disputant, and that mediation must be seen as a way of clarifying and commonizing stories on opposing sides of conflict.
It provides a way for each disputant to have a voice, participate, and reconstruct the individual’s tale into a relational, collaborative story. Through conflict stories, the individual view that precedes any sort of collaborative mediation work, we can find the differences between realities, and by knowing these differences in reality, we can begin to construct more whole, encompassing views of the conflict, in order to find commonalities, establish coherence, and reframe conflict stories into an acceptable narrative for all involved (pp. 52-54).
The reluctance for disputants to part with their ‘closed, written’ conflict stories and opt for an opened up, bidirectional, relational narrative makes sense. In opening ourselves up to question, alter, or reveal our inner reality for scrutiny can be emotionally dangerous, relationally imbalancing, and potentially conflict increasing, but it is also possibly essential as a process for digging down to the whole, acceptable reality of the conflict, one that shows and describes all sides of a disagreement (pp. 54-56).
Mediation’s place in narrative building is not as editor, but more I think as fact checker. The facts are checked by the disputants themselves as part of the inquiry process of mediation (pp. 58-61). If disputants can open up to see more than their own world view, and can further be engaged to the degree that they can realize and accept not only all of their own experience and narrative, but the experience and narrative of the other side(s), then mediation can be seated and see what agreements will come (pp. 61-62).
Cobb, S. (1994). A Narrative Perspective on Mediation. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 48-64). Sage Publications, Inc.
Personal experiential application:
I wonder if it would work to go beyond the idea of storytelling in conflict narratives to an idea of poetry writing in conflict narratives. I’m not talking about injecting rhyme or rhythm into conflict narratives, but rather an emphasis on the poetic premise of the emphasis on sense based, concrete, nonabstract imagery in order to provide a recording of an event in an unbiased way, so that the reader can in effect experience the event for themselves. For instance, if I were to say:
/I loved her hair/
it would not likely be very telling, or convey what love is, because love is something I might feel differently than others do. I might define my own sense of love in an unbiased way instead:
/her hair was dark, down to her elbows, very straight, and smelled of lavender./
You might despise long dark hair, and not care for lavender. Do you love her hair? It’s up to you.
I also wonder about the potential for an electronic coop caucusing feature where the disputants could still be in content visually and aurally, but in a more comfortable physical space, maybe the room next door, by way of videoconferencing, closed circuit TV, or even just a phone. This way the face to face feature of mediation would be preserved, but in the case of a physical dispute or one in which violence took place, there would be no danger of any violence taking place during the mediation, despite all parties being ‘present’.
What might the introduction of a discussion board or a wiki do, where the narratives get told in written form, saved and recorded each time for posterity and progress assessment, but then is given to the other disputant so that they could edit the story to make it ‘more realistic’ according to their own reality?