Published October 2018
By Theodore A. Deckert
October is recognized around the world as Conflict Resolution Month to promote and celebrate peaceful conflict resolution practices worldwide. The Association for Conflict Resolution ( ACR), in 2005 established the third Thursday in October as “Conflict Resolution Day” and this year is October 18th. ABA Mediation Week this year is October 14-20. For history of these events see prior October issues of The Bar Bulletin, which can accessed on the Bar Association Website at http://www.palmbeachbar.org/adr . My article this year focuses on the current state of “public discourse” in our country, with a suggested tool anyone can use to help de-escalate the emotions that inhibit civil social discourse, and what our ADR committee is doing to promote ADR in our community.
I recently learned about a tool to encourage “civil discourse” called “Non-Violent Communication” (NCV) developed by Marshal Rosenberg, an award winning internationally recognized American psychologist, mediator, author and teacher. It has been internationally recognized as a tool to eliminate negative emotions and transform confrontation into collaboration. It utilizes some very simple techniques that can help lead to better understanding in any high emotion discussion, be it about politics, sports, religion or family. I urge you to find out more about NCV and how you can use it at the website of The Center For Nonviolent Communication at https://www.cnvc.org/.
“In recent years, public discourse has turned increasingly sour and contentious, and is getting worse. Reason and orderly debate all too often are giving way to invective, distortion, and gamesmanship. Once the art of compromise and statesmanship, political debate is now too commonly a battle between extremes, where power, not reason, prevails, and where closed minds simply seek to impose a point of view rather than listen respectfully to others and work with the legitimate issues they raise.”
“Lawyers play many roles in modern society. We serve as advocates for clients, as members of our community boards, and as judges sworn to uphold the rule of law. We are career public servants and elected officials, political advisors and media experts. We are even journalists, business leaders, and sports figures. In all these walks of life and more, lawyers are leaders in our society. This gives us a unique opportunity, and obligation, to make important contributions at important times.”
“Now is such a time. Contemporary political discourse continues to spiral to unprecedented levels of acrimony and venom, thereby endangering not only the quality of decision making about important public issues, but also the very lives and safety of public servants and citizens. A true and free democratic society cannot long endure in such a toxic environment. It is time for lawyers as leaders in our society, and the ABA as the leader of leaders, to stand and take action.”
The preceding three paragraphs are excerpts from American Bar Association Resolution 108. What makes Resolution 108 noteworthy is the date it was adopted by the ABA House of Delegates, August 8-9, 2011. The full text can be found at ABA 2011 Resolution 108. The resolution urges lawyers and bar associations to take meaningful steps to promote a more civil and deliberative public discourse. The ABA Dispute Resolution Section established Mediation Week in 2011 as one such step and has declared the theme for Mediation Week 2018 to be “Mediation, Civil Discourse, and ABA 2011 Resolution 108” to remind us that the current toxic environment did not arise suddenly.
Our ADR Committee has for many years promoted the practice and purpose of ADR in our community. During Conflict Resolution Month and Mediation Week, the Committee has provided speakers, obtained government proclamations and sponsored student essay and arts contests. Proclamations are being presented this year by The County Commission, School Board and over ten municipalities. This year’s essay contest invites public school 10th and 12th graders to write about the topic “Mediation – A Civil Way to Resolve Disputes.” Winning students and their teachers will be recognized during Mediation Week. The Committee has speakers available to speak to groups about mediation and ADR in general, not just during October, but year round. Anyone who knows a group that would like someone to speak about ADR should email Bruce Blitman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeff Marcus at email@example.com. Please check out the ADR Committee webpage at http://www.palmbeachbar.org/adr for other resources about mediation and ADR.
Political and public discourse has devolved to “us versus them” tweets, social media posts, negative political advertising sound bites, rallies and at times even violence. As resolution 108 stated years ago, democracy “cannot long endure in such a toxic environment” and “lawyers are leaders in our society.” The situation has only gotten worse since 2011. We lawyers have an obligation to do more to promote civil and deliberative public discourse. As Resolution 108 reminds us “Key elements of civil public discourse include dialogue, respectful communication and informed public decision-making.” Please consider what you can do to encourage civil public discourse whenever presented with the opportunity to do so, and do it. Remember: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil over good is for good men to do nothing” – Edmond Burke