Media (John Grassby)

Mediation and wellness, anyone?

September 24, 2000
Section: PER
Page: L-02
John Grassby COLORADO VOICES Steamboat Springs

It’s immeasurably better to settle an argument, and especially to do so early on, than have it escalate and fought to the bitter end, right? And, how could anyone not prefer to prevent illness in the first place rather than try to treat it after the fact, right?

Why, then, do most of us give mediation and wellness lip service, but actually put them to use so infrequently? In his best-selling book, “Love Medicine and Miracles,” Bernie Siegel, M.D., made the point that, given the choice between implementing modest changes in lifestyle or submitting to major surgery, 80 percent of the population opt for surgery.

And countless studies (let alone common sense) show mediation to be a vastly better, faster, easier, cheaper, less destructive, more healing approach to resolving conflict than litigation. Given the choice, however, most people never even consider mediation , instead opting to pay (a lot) to attorneys to just sue the dirty, low-down, no-good so-and-so.

Certainly the legal and medical industrial complexes have nicely feathered nests to maintain and protect and consequently little interest in changing much of anything. About 16 percent of our gross national product goes to health (really disease) care. Yet, according to recent studies, even though we spend more per capita on doctors, hospitals and pharmaceuticals than any country in the world, we rank 30-something in terms of overall health.

And the approximately 900,000 practicing attorneys in the U.S. (two-thirds of all the attorneys in the world) plying their conflict-dependent trade have little incentive to actively push mediation . They see mediation as a grave long-term threat to their livelihood – which it may well be – to the incalculable long-term benefit of their clients. In the late ’70s, President Jimmy Carter made the observation that we were over- lawyered and over-doctored. If true then, how much more true today.

Society cannot lay it all off on doctors and lawyers. The fact of the matter is “they” (I being one of ‘ em ) are in many ways, and mostly with very little thought, simply responding to the market by delivering exactly what the market wants and demands. And what is this seemingly insatiable market? It’s relieving (or appearing to relieve) people from otherwise onerous responsibilities for self. Put another way, pellmell rushing to escape self-responsibility by millions creates irresistible financial bonanzas for those capable of creating the illusion that such a thing is possible.

Wellness requires exercising moderate intelligence about what we eat, drink and otherwise ingest (garbage in, garbage out), staying physically active (use it or lose it), managing the inevitable stresses of life (don’t sweat the little stuff and, oh, by the way, it’s mostly little stuff), and seeking out lives that are meaningful, rewarding and, most important, right for us, not what we think someone else thinks is right for us. Hardly rocket science, but strictly a do-it-yourself-or-it-doesn’t-get-done proposition. Mediation , admittedly, requires moreparticipation by all parties to the conflict and the involvement of an outside mediator. But prior to that it requires a recognition that at some level we participate in creating most of the conflictsin which we find ourselves. No one’s participation in successfully resolving conflicts in win-win ways instead of harsh win-lose or lose-lose ways is more essential than that of those involved in it. In the final analysis, taking responsibility for self is just as important in conflict resolution as it is in wellness .

In a highly complex and technology-dominated world, we routinely hire specialized experts to fix, make and otherwise do things for us, many of whom spend entire lifetimes honing their skills. This is certainly true of lawyers and doctors whose services are unquestionably essential in countless situations. The point here is not that they aren’t; it’s that by taking greater responsibility for our personal health and conflicts we would save untold amounts of time, money, effort, aggravation,pain and suffering, not to mention getting the job done far more effectively.

John Grassby practices law, is finishing a novel and pontificates about the world from his home in Steamboat Springs.