Use Caution Using Labels in Mediation
With all of the press about President Trump's calling out "neo-Nazi's" and "white supremacists" v. "Alt-Left" and "Alt-Right", it seems we have lost the courage and will to examine what is beneath the labels and instead content ourselves with some (probably mislaid) confidence that we know who we are dealing with when we label "them" as part of a group (or "clan"). In mediation, this translates to "good" v. "not good" or "right" v. "Wrong" in ways that can polarize, rather than heal the divisions between us.
It seems to me that our politicians could learn something from our diplomats about asking questions before speaking out. For example, I still can't understand who Trump is referring to as "the Alt-Left"? Was the young woman who was killed by the young man who came in support of the march representing a political party that was "Alternative" or was she merely protesting a protest against a public decision to take down a Confederate monument? Are there really just two sides of this issue? And what are they? Those that stand for the Southern States who lost this civil war and want to see our Country go back to pre-civil war days and those that continue to embrace the liberties and values we've publicly held for the last 150 years? The March was dubbed "Unite the Right", which implies that within itself, there are many "right winged" groups seeking to come together, but thus far still disparate in their views and mission.
In litigation, it is all too simplistic to overlook and de-personalize the interests of the parties. We often refuse to call the parties by name! Instead, we refer to the parties as "Plaintiffs" and "Defendants" or "Perpetrators" and "Victims", sometimes as "buyer" and "seller" or "employer" and "employee", as though by labelling them, we know what drives them and triggers them. In mediation, there is the chance to knock down those barriers to honest discussion and attempt to meet the needs of each stakeholder's interest, without resorting to a formal declaration of "winners" and "losers".
It's true (and probably obvious) that I can't see the "other side" of the marchers in Charlottesville. But was James Alex Fried really just a White Supremacist or is a young man who threatens bodily harm to his wheelchair bound mother also deeply disturbed and mentally troubled? I can't condone his behavior, nor that of the other marchers, but I can't assume that his actions on that day were driven by his politics either.
What is, in my view, deeply disturbing is that there is apparently no attempt to engage in civil discourse such that the marchers could begin to understand how frightening and threatening their marches were to those of us who are students of history of Nazi Germany, for example or children and grandchildren of African-born slaves who came to these United States as chattel without any human rights at all. And perhaps those young men "on the right" might be able to articulate how threatened they feel about their job security and social status by the influx of well-educated, ambitious immigrants and ethnic minorities, who have enjoyed the liberties protected under our Constitution. There is plenty of room for civil discourse, if only we could ratchet down the labelling and violence for long enough to assemble in the same park without the megaphones and torches.