A few weeks back I had a very interesting experience. I was sitting in a meeting with Africans and Westerns discussing ways to reconcile a conflict. We were all Christians, but the differences in the approaches of the Westerners and the Africans was stark.

I went away thinking about the conversation and trying to understand the different points of view. I did a little research on the web and found a very pertinent article by Mark Davidheiser: Special Affinities and Conflict Resolution: West African Social Institutions and Mediation. It turns out that he teaches both cultural anthropology and conflict resolution. In part of the article, he tells of research he did among the Mandinka people who are found in Ivory Coast and Guinea. He writes:

The Mandinka generally view mediation as a matter of persuading disputants to end their conflict and reconcile, rather than as a structured process of facilitated problem solving and negotiation.

There was the answer! We Westerners were engaged in problem solving. We went straight to trying to find a common way forward through the issues that separated the two parties. In hindsight, it seems obvious to me that we did that without even thinking about what we were doing. The Africans just wanted to produce reconciliation and they did not need to deal with the underlying issue. I don’t think that we or them could have described our different approaches, much less understand how the other’s was different.

I’m not yet sure if or how this insight will help me, but it sure explains a lot.

3 thoughts on “Mediation

  1. It sounds like the African approach with a great focus on relationship reconciliation is more Biblical! We westerners, what to get the project done, with less concern for the impact on people in the process, except to facilitate the project. Perhaps discovering how a different response to the project could better strengthen their relationships as co-laborers in the His Kingdom would be more receptive direction. james


  2. And yet, it has taken so long to gather this understanding. And what do you do with it? Reconcile, agree to disagree, and do nothing? One side defer to the other based on status or determination? And what if the facts are unclear? More work to do. You are a good man to do it.


  3. Hi! This is a cool revelation indeed! As I literally pray through the history of my state, I see numerous such culture clashes. In Minnesota, some very influential cultures are: Ojibwe, Dakota, French, English, etc. How do you settle a land dispute when group A believes in privatebproperty, and group B believes in communal ownership? Look forward to hearing more and what this means to you in time.


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