A Different Kind of Mediation


I came across this beautiful essay by Zenobia Barlow from the Center for Ecoliteracy. It is her address to graduates of their sustainability leadership academy in 2009/10, the year of the Transocean/BP Oil spill on the Gulf Coast. In the address, she refers to the Okanagan Four Societies Model or En’owkin. The model is a collaborative, community building, whole-systems process. I wondered how quickly the current BC teachers’ strike would be over if both government and the union leadership adopted this approach, or brought in a mediator adept in this model. Barlow provides a good sense of how the model is practiced in the excerpt below, but you can read more about En’owkin, which is in Jeanette Armstrong’s essay, Let Us Begin With Courage, also found on Ecoliteracy’s excellent and resource-full website.

It’s true that leadership calls for clarity of vision, but vision needs to be accompanied by a healthy respect for conserving traditions from the past, the capacity to nurture networks of relationships in a community, and a willingness to champion practical strategies that are manifested in concrete action.

The Okanagan Four Societies model presumes that all four perspectives must be present for a community to genuinely practice sustainability. Although leaders may not be able to embody every dimension in their own leadership, they do need to be aware of cultivating these multiple perspectives in their communities.

Just as there are multiple learning styles in a classroom, there are multiple points of view in organizations. We need our leaders to affirm the validity of diverse perspectives. In the Okanagan tradition, the challenge is to request that the person with the point of view furthest from one’s own be encouraged to share that perspective as forcefully as possible. The second challenge is to ask, how can I change myself to accommodate the other? This is the opposite of our tendency to manipulate or force others to adopt our point of view. Communities who live on a scarce resource base for long periods of time learn that their resilience demands consciously eliciting and honoring the minority point of view as well as nurturing a spirit of cooperation that extends beyond necessity to encompass caretaking for one another and other life forms.

As I reflect on the disaster on the Gulf Coast, I really doubt that the decision makers at conference tables in their wood-paneled boardrooms making plans for offshore deep-drilling operations challenged one another to state the points of view most opposite from their prevailing assumptions. Nor did they care to take into consideration implications beyond extractive efficiencies. Can you imagine what might have happened if their technical and financial considerations had been tempered by a deep ecological understanding of the interconnectedness of ocean ecosystems and Gulf Coast communities?                     – Zenobia Barlow

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