I recently read the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Competing Human Rights. One of the things that struck me was that they recommend mediation or some kind of facilitated discussion, even if it is clear from the outset that a complaint may have little merit. Why would mediation or discussion be a good idea even if no one’s rights are violated, or even when it seems obvious that one party is in right and the other party is in the wrong?
Some reasons why it might be a good idea to keep talking:
Even if it does not result in agreement, a discussion can clear the air. People involved in a conflict sometimes often have a need to express their point of view. They want the other side to understand their position, even though they realize that it may not result in any concrete change. A frank discussion, with or without the help of a mediator, can help them achieve that.
A discussion can be educational. Sometimes conflicts arise because people simply are not aware of the rules or of others’ rights. Just as crucially, people may have no idea how others feel, or just how important others might find something that seems trivial. A discussion can reduce the possibility of future misunderstanding and inadvertent offense.
Even if the rules are clear, the details of compliance might require a discussion. I used to live near a playground where a posted sign proclaimed a single rule: “Respect Everyone.” A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but what does that mean in practice? By their very nature, rules do not contain the details of their application. Two people might have very different ideas about what it means to “respect” others. A discussion of the specific actions that the rules require and forbid can go a long way toward preventing misunderstanding and conflict.
Considering a different perspective can help clarify your own. Even if you never change your mind about an issue, listening to a different perspective can be useful. It can remind you of the reasons why you hold your own view. It can make your own view clearer to you.
It is important to be heard. Just as it is important to hear another party’s point of view, it is important to have your own position heard. Even if no one changes their mind, it is important to have one’s own view attended to and acknowledged. This is impossible without discussion.
Mutual understanding and respectful acknowledgement is not a substitute for agreement, but it may be the next best thing. The next time you think to yourself that there is “nothing to discuss,” please reconsider.