peacemaking

Peacemaking: The fulfillment of the legal profession

Michael Zeytoonian Collaborative Law, Collaborative Processes, Mediation

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. – Matthew 5:9

Earlier this week my daily meditation focused on this Bible verse, spoken by Jesus as part of the Sermon on the Mount. The meditation narrative was a dialogue between the meditation author and his lawyer friend about the basic legal standard we learned in law school: “What would a reasonable man do?”

The lawyer explained that to win his case, he had to show that his client did what any reasonable person would have done in his place. The meditation asked where this “reasonable man” is these days, when it has become harder to come across reasonable people than finding a buffalo nickel. Today’s public debate has become a shouting match in which complicated issues are reduced to memorable sound bites, in which everyone is blaming the other and few people hold themselves accountable. In the political arena, our so called leaders belittle and oppose each other just because an otherwise good or reasonable idea was proposed by the other side. People are quick to anger and are driven by a desire to “demolish” their opponents, “destroy” their arguments and “win” at all costs. It is an atmosphere where a reasonable man, or one who can see both sides of the argument, is not only hard to find, but also has no role to play.

In this adversarial and partisan atmosphere, we have three choices as people. We can fight back with more anger, just pouring more fuel on the fire. We can withdraw from the world, go off the grid and distance ourselves from the fray. Or we can be peacemakers.

Jesus spoke to a society not very different from ours today: tyrants vying for power; corruption, greed and immoral behavior; terrorism; suppression of public discourse; political and religious scandals and disagreements; Jews vs. Gentiles, Romans vs. subjects, free men vs. slaves, rich vs. poor; those in power vs. the disenfranchised (women, foreigners like Samaritans, lepers, poor and homeless). His response was neither to fight fire with fire nor to withdraw – indeed he directly challenged the hypocrisies of those in power and the shortcomings of those around him. But he did so without being adversarial; indeed he admonished one of his followers for fighting back with a sword. Instead his response was what Stephen Covey would refer to as “the Third Way”, a better way, as a peacemaker with compassion and comfort for all people. Note that the notion of peace – shalom – was not a world of calm without disagreement, but the ideal of working toward one’s highest good. Likewise, the Arabic word – salaam – expresses a wish for the presence of all good things.

As mediators, settlement counsel and collaborative counsel working with people to help them resolve disputes in a non-adversarial way, holding ourselves out today as peacemakers is risky and probably bad marketing. Emotional clients seek revenge, a pound of flesh from their opponents, and want to beat the other side or at the very least get their “day in court”. They don’t often see beyond their “emotional due process” needs to recognize the value of legal counselors who advocate a reasonable, non-adversarial approach to achieving a good resolution. Our name-calling culture sometimes labels peacemakers as being weak or soft or unwilling to take up the “scorched-earth battle” to defeat an opponent who must be wrong simply because he/she is on the other side of the argument. Recently at a bar association holiday party, I suggested to a young lawyer that it would be good for her to train in Collaborative Law and mediation. Her response was that those things were for retired judges and older lawyers.

I have spent 25 years of my legal career litigating everything from child abuse, civil rights, discrimination, environmental, business, wrongful death, negligence and all kinds of employment cases to dog bite cases and disputes over $30,000 parking spots and condo rights. But in truth, the work of a peacemaker calls upon us all to be stronger, more centered, more patient, more flexible, more creative and more committed to reaching the best possible resolution than the exercise of fighting a zero-sum game, the latter of which ironically ends up getting settled 97% of the time. Dispute resolution work is more challenging, more likely to achieve the best result for all those involved, more likely to also serve the public interest, and restore that which makes for our highest good.

Peacemaking in conflict resolution is work that the world desperately needs today, to restore the notion of being “reasonable men” and to achieve our highest good. Maybe that is why peacemakers are given the nametag that matters most: the children of God.