For a while in the evolution of the ADR field, when two neutrals met they would sometimes ask what the other’s “profession of origin” was. What they meant was, “what did you do before you were a mediator?” There were some unspoken questions packed in there, too. They wanted to know, are you a full-time neutral or are you really from some other profession and trying to break into this one? And mostly I think they wanted to know, are you like me? Are you a lawyer, a therapist…?
I haven’t heard this question much recently. Maybe that is partly because ADR really is sinking into our society. Kids are mediating on playgrounds and deciding in college that they want to be mediators. Young adults are getting Masters Degrees in conflict resolution and looking to change the world. More people see mediation as their first career of choice, not the one they move to when they are tired of their original plan.
Even as conflict resolution increasingly becomes part of our everyday life, I would like to pay homage to a profession of origin that seems to be lost in the haze of ADR history. Thank you to the mediators and arbitrators who came from the labor relations field. They paved the way for those of us who follow in their footsteps in ADR. They made a living as neutrals and established mediation and arbitration as professions. The labor-management mediators and arbitrators distinguished between the two processes and figured out which ones worked in which situations. They launched national organizations, like the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution. (I remember attending national SPIDR conferences in the 80s as a community mediation executive director when SPIDR was almost all labor-management folks and there was nowhere else for ADR folks to meet.)
So, happy Labor Day! As you enjoy the holiday, stop and think for a moment about those labor-management arbitrators and mediators who paved the way for us and for those playground mediators who will follow in our footsteps. Labor-management neutrals are a big part of the origins of our profession and they deserve recognition.