The National Mediation Conference opened in Canberra yesterday and it has already given us memorable experiences.
From the opening plenary sessions the tone was set for us to experience the ‘Over the Horizon’ conference theme.
Christopher Honeyman gave us some language that was repeated throughout the day – ‘no tools and no rules’. His humour encouraged us to engage with his message that part of mediation’s value lies in the difficulty we experience with definitions and rules – offering us the opportunity of being infinitely flexible (within ethical boundaries) whilst also delivering a process that is situation specific. His parting encouragement for ‘keeping a sense of doubt about the right thing to do’ is something I am still reflecting on.
Honeyman was followed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO of the Australian Human Rights Commission who introduced herself to us as a proud Bunuba woman.
Commissioner Oscar gave us a warm Bunuba welcome and then explained (in what she described as her second language) that her welcome to us was in support of her intention to support our understanding of indigenous ways of being and governing. The ceremonial welcome is part of keeping us connected and supports the cultural imperative of actively keeping peace and avoiding disputes.
She spoke of a ‘web of being’ which reflected a whole of life approach to mediation where everyone and everything in the community is accountable – providing lessons to sustain ‘societal health and wellbeing.’
Connection was a continuing theme and Oscar talked about ‘song lines and stories that keep us connected’. She shared her own important stories of mediating in her community at Fitzroy Crossing. She used her stories to introduce us to what she views as the basis of indigenous mediation – ‘deep listening’.
This phrase has struck a chord with the mediation community gathered for the conference and it continues to be a reference point of presentation after presentation.
Naming is powerful and now that we mediators have been given this powerful naming, we can be sure that when we use it we recall Oscar’s words:
‘Deep listening stops us from imposing our own ideas and imposing the outcome we want – it creates an important space so we have the opportunity to be exposed to the thoughts and feelings expressed by others.’