I expect a reasonable level of gusto when mediating legal disputes, and see more of it now I am mediating full-time. I guess I have always made a hobby, however of wondering how to apply the best insights of mediation to our politicians’ public discourse. It does appear to be an accurate observation from the IBA panel of speakers that toxicity is getting worse in political debate, and not only down to Brexit and Donald Trump.
I would suggest that one cause is that we have been culturally freed up by the ease of social media’s climb up the hierarchy of communication tools. Just like drivers are encouraged subliminally to lapse into ‘road rage’ by being isolated in the fortress we call a motor vehicle, so have smartphones and home computers allowed the individual’s primitive brain to fall prey to the isolation of the small screen rather than the natural inhibitions and intrinsic source of modifying influences in a physical social gathering. ‘Toxic emissions’, however defined are surely worth monitoring and regulating at the level of social communication as well on the motorways?
Of course, there is more complexity to the endeavour of improving democratic dialogue, as one of our leading politicians Dominic Grieve recently reminded me when I asked him whether he thought we could improve parliamentary processes to create more respectful discourse. He cautioned against the tendency of lawyer’s tidy minds seeking to over-control the chaotic ‘bear-pit’ that is what we call political democracy.
What’s more, politicians’ toxic utterances are not confined to social media, though often worst when staring at the lens of a camera, or penning a ‘leadership’ (‘me too’) piece, or tweeting remorselessly to other rocket men. But, while politicians may still behave badly across a range of media, I suspect that the culture of civility may have been influenced negatively too by the recent ascent of social media and the easy route it offers to the household equivalent of road rage.
Call me a patient and persistent mediator, but I am still of the view that the project of improving public dialogue is still well worth undertaking, and will be working up some ideas on this.
Dr Karl Mackie CBE is CEDR's Founder President and one of the most experienced mediators globally. To learn more about Karl's mediation practice visit his website and to book him as a mediator contact the CEDR Commercial Team on 0207 536 6060 or email email@example.com.
In this podcast, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Carla Hills, the 10th US Trade Representative, and Judge Thomas Griffith of the US Court of Appeals, assess the loss of compromise, collaboration and civility.