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Why Mediation? Why land?

Land questions can no longer be ignored – from climate change, displacement, migration, water, populism, and declining trust in institutions, answers to questions of who we are, where we live and how we access the resources we need are increasingly fundamental drivers of conflict, and peace. Is this an issue that is zero sum or positive sum? Do we exclude, grab and protect, or do we collaboratively, create?

Dialogue across difference

In an era of increasingly isolationist rhetoric and the questioned effectiveness of multilateralism, dialogue across difference offers possibilities to develop collaborative approaches that listen to, hear and take seriously the interests and needs of the people affected.

This is a revolutionary politics, an anarchists’ revolution… or is it?

It turns thinking that would divide on its head. It says ‘we’ not ‘I’; it risks trust over fear. It turns towards, not away. It meets, it greets, it learns, it tries, it fails, it gets up, it tries again. It is imperfect yet it is enough. It is who we are. It is creative, poetic, dreaming as much as pragmatically down in the dirt, with the daily struggle, the paradox of thinking now, and not yet. Without trust, without a belief in a shared future, how can such moves be made? This is where the inner work, the courageous leaders who dare to look in, to summon courage to move beyond position, self-preservation and ego, to embrace the shared humanity, the mortal coil on which we all shuffle. In this seemingly desperate, runaway move, moments of magic can occur - of listening, hearing, seeing, of knowing our future is intertwined, connected and dependent on yours.

Yet this is in itself neither negative or positive until it has meaning. And what might the meaning be? What is your response. Fear, excitement, both…? And if that is your response, then what of those you lead, represent and embolden?


At the core of us, of conflict, of peace lies the presence, or lack, of dignity. Humiliation reversed, traversed to that deep knowing of self, and the sense that others accept, respect, enable, allow and encourage, you and your identity. Dignity, or its absence, is found in the headline issues and the daily trials, the ability to be safe, secure and sheltered. Beneath these fundamentals, literally, is land. We know this. Making the connection between land, territory and violence, political upheaval, is nothing new. It is obvious. So obvious we don’t bring it into our crisis response. So obvious we leave it out of our peacebuilding, our peacemaking, our humanitarian engagement. So obvious, that it can too readily be rooted essentially in politics, power, control; the outworkings of fear and a worldview that of scarcity, lack.

Accepting, not controlling, complexity

In sum, we need to approach crisis response, be it as a mediator, peacemaker, NGO or humanitarian, with an openness to dialogue, seeking opportunities for dialogue, seeking occasion for parties to a conflict, and those subject to or impacted by violence, to be creating solutions. Technical responses which deny the voices of those affected, dwell only briefly on the context, and often through a particular lens, can miss the pertinent chance for longer-lasting sustainable solutions. This relates to both process – the need for listening, to be heard, to co-create solutions, and also to focus – that issues relating to land, relate to so many others. Within each of these are myriad nuances, perspectives and complex, interlocking, interconnected actors, interests and possibilities. The challenge posed by such complexity is also the key to effective solutions. Accepting the complexity means accepting the impossibility of controlling and managing every aspect, of finding the silver bullet, the magic or miracle cure. Only then can a process reliant on emergent, created steps forward be supported to develop locally owned, respected and relevant outcomes.

To manage a crisis or conflict response in this way, means essentially to hold it lightly, trusting the parties, searching out voices, relying on the process. This is no easy task, not commonly encouraged, nor without risk. Yet, it is this risk, the ability to help parties understand their interests, their needs, and to dare move towards empathy, that can deliver truly transformative outcomes. This will require an embrace of creativity, the discomfort of learning about our own fears, our hurts. Yet the more fully aware we become, the more able we are to see the ‘other’ as brother or sister with needs and interests that, in our mutual interest, we can collaborate around.

Some call this an embrace of the feminine, that beautiful dance that can bring life and unlock the most intractable violence.

©2019 by Jim Robinson, PhD.