The Compassionate Middle – Territory of the Mediator
BY JOHN STURROCK
Argument, dialogue and compassion. How do these words relate to the mediation process? John Sturrock muses on their connection to the concept of the “compassionate middle, the territory of the mediator”. Do you agree with his view on the mediator’s role?
The former British politician (and leadership contender when the Conservative Party was choosing Boris Johnson), Rory Stewart, is making a mark as an even more independent thinker than he was in the British Parliament.
Recently, he hosted a three-part series on BBC Radio 4 entitled A Long History of Argument. It is worth listening to the series on BBC Sounds if you have access to that app. He traces the history of argument from the Greeks to modern times and notes a marked change from about 2014 when public discourse became much more polarising as the echo chambers of social media began to dominate our communications. The future of democracy “may depend on rediscovering how to argue well” he says. The whole series is fascinating and, here, I focus on some of his conclusions and suggestions.
Stewart promotes Citizens Assemblies which can take issues out of the polarised setting of parliaments and enable people to make decisions at local levels of democracy. He favours a different type of conversation with people talking to each other in small places, encouraged to think more slowly, and to think together rather than separately. He hopes we can regain a sense of empathy, respect and trust, finding ways to persuade without pandering to or manipulating others. Listening, engaging back and forth, navigating the space between, as he describes it. All good mediator territory.
The answer to bad arguments, he says, is not to avoid argument but to argue better, to speak beautifully as he puts it, returning to the ancient Greek art of rhetoric. We should be educated in imagery, metaphor, the poetic analogies that can capture the ambiguity and tension of the world in a way that a simple recitation of mere facts cannot.