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Cultural Resistance to Mediation in the Asia-Pacific

Cultural Resistance to Mediation in the Asia-Pacific

What’s an example of a cultural barrier to mediation in the Asia Pacific region?



Full Transcript

We’ll say Malaysia. It’s largely a Muslim culture there but it’s also got an Indian population, a Chinese population, so you don’t just need to know about Muslim culture but Chinese and Indian and they have a lot of cross- cultural disputes. And one of the things I learned, and one of the correct ways of mediating is thinking about the way we greet people initially, the way we bring them in to the mediation, the choice of mediator. It may be totally inappropriate for a westerner to work on their own. They may need to work with somebody from a particular cultural background, or not be involved at all.


In traditional approaches, and this includes our indigenous community in Australia, typically people use their elders as mediators, or elders in their community, or elders in their tribe, or elders in their village. And because their cultures are hierarchical, they’re used to being told what to do. They’re used to people making decisions for them. Their taught, they feel very uncomfortable about having to make decisions for themselves. And so if you look for an example at what happens in our indigenous aboriginal Torres Strait Islander culture, you’ll have a whole group of people come together, not just one or two, and you may well sit in a hall or under a tree in a much more informal way, and the chief or the head, the elder in the community or the elders, are trained not to speak very much. This is also true in African communities. Elders don’t talk much, they listen. They listen, and listen, and listen. And the younger people do all the talking but they talk indirectly. They don’t speak directly to each other because that’s rude. So if I want Johnny over there to hear what I have to say, I talk to somebody else over there about it and hope that Johnny will hear. So it’s a very indirect form of communication and this will happen for quite some days, maybe. Until the chief in Africa or the elder in the tribe, whatever, begins to hear consensus views, and then in the end the elder seemingly makes the decision but will in fact, often reflect the consensus view, having listened for a long time. I’ve had a lot of African elders in my classes at the university and one of the things that repeatedly said to me, ‘Now I’m an elder, I have to learn to shut up and listen.’ Which I think is very interesting.

About the mediator

Dale Bagshaw Profile Pic

After 36 years as an academic, Dale is now an adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia (UniSA) where she was previously a Head of School, the Director of Postgraduate Studies, the Program Director for the Masters/Graduate Diploma in Mediation and Conflict Resolution (since 1993) and the Doctor of Human Service Research. From 1993 to 2009 she was also the Director of the ... View Mediator