Power: about a Mouse and a Lion.


Do mediators have an obligation to correct power imbalances between parties? No and for many reasons by Robert Angyal SC

I enjoyed this article because it raises core issues re conflict resolution. I’ll comment on one of them.

The article commences with two questions

Q1: ‘Where the parties to the mediation have unequal power, should the mediator exercise his or her power to affect the substantive outcome of the mediation?’

A1: Q1 is both unaskable and unanswerable first because mediators are not omnipotent and additionally because of the nature and the seat of interpersonal power.

The article goes on to

Q2: ‘In other words, should mediators use their power to attempt to correct imbalances of power between parties?’

A2: See A1 ie the ethical dimension has no anchor

Q3: Who does know that ‘parties to the mediation have unequal power?’

A3: The parties… each believes that ‘parties to the mediation have unequal power’ and furthermore that the other party has more power.

Q4: So what is power?

A4: Adam Curle says ‘power is anything that makes the other party think twice’.

Q5: So what is a concrete analogy for power?

A5: The slime that children play with mimics power: as soon as you grasp it it slip through your fingers; it changes shape by the moment; it has as many dimensions as it has moments.

Q6: So how does the mediator work with power?

A6: The mediator works with power by working with interests throughout the mediation. Parties work with power when the mediator conducts an interest-based reality testing session after a multitude of options has been generated

Q7: What happens if there is a settlement conference in which the transactions are premised in power?

A7: An orchestrated positional power struggle takes place along the line of capitulation or beneath it. A brittle compromise is reached at the weakest point.

eg 1 see ‘Mediation mindset: not tonight…’ series in which you and your friend get positional (a heady mix of power and rights) and then get interests-focused, summarised in ‘What mediation is…’

eg 2 see Aesop’s fable ‘The Lion and the Mouse’

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. “Pardon, O King,” cried the little Mouse: “forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?” The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. “Was I not right?” said the little Mouse.

pic above from the Write Sisters