“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
― Seth Godin
Volunteering is a great thing.
Volunteers built the prohibition movement and the feminist movement that sprang out of it.
Volunteerism has driven the establishment of non-profit organizations and associations that perform good deeds every day in this country.
Volunteers marched on Washington and had dogs and hoses turned on them to break Jim Crow.
In the interests of full disclosure, the principal consultant here at HSCT volunteers for two great local organizations in the Southern Tier.
But, at a certain point, for certain things, no one wants a volunteer to show up.
No one wants their case taken by a volunteer lawyer, though local Legal Aid societies do tremendous work for people who cannot afford legal protection in any other context.
No one wants a building constructed by a volunteer architect, engineer, or construction worker. Oh sure, a couple of college kids showing up to build a Habitat for Humanity house is fine, but having them design the build is another thing altogether.
No one wants a volunteer psychiatrist prescribing psychotropic drugs or recommending therapies for severe mental health issues.
We hire professionals in all of these areas.
So, the core question becomes: Why do organizations, businesses, associations and individuals continue to recommend, advise and, in some cases demand, that the only way to successfully resolve a conflict is to “get a volunteer mediator?”
The mediation process is at least as intense and involved as the legal process, the mental health process, the building and design process or the surgical process.
Mediation is about reaching inside the most intimate process a person can go through—a conflict—and helping guide two people toward whatever resolution they desire to get to.
|This is Art. Worthy to be paid for.
So, why are there over 20,000 volunteers in this country alone, doing work that—if it were in another field—would be highly paid for?
Is it because everybody knows how to resolve conflict?
Is it because no one needs conflicts resolved?
Is it because people and organizations don’t know that mediation and conflict resolution exists?
We here at HSCT postulate that the reason there are a plethora of volunteers in the field of mediation is for two reasons:
Too many people think that they can mediate a conflict. This is best summed up in the phrase “Well, how hard could mediation be,” or “Can’t Judy in HR do it? She’s pretty good at resolving conflicts?”
Which leads into the second reason: The skills of a professional mediator, active listening, finding a third way, developing a negotiated agreement, etc., etc., are seen more as being a subsets of other professional skills and not as true artistic skills to be learned and practiced—and paid for—on a regular basis.
We here at HSCT believe that the combination of skills, training, education, experiences, and—well, life—is worth paying a pretty penny for. And we believe that more organizations, institutions, associations, corporations, businesses—and even governments—would do well to pay a salary to either a consultant with the specific mediation skills to help them. Or, create positions that will allow individuals to facilitate the development of the mediation field, both now and in the future.
And, mediation as a field should begin to make the argument—as fast as is humanly possible—that the skills of mediation are worth paying for. Before too many more graduates from Masters and Doctoral programs are compelled to volunteer to practice their art, and work full-time doing something else to feed their families.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)