I was on the bus this afternoon when I witnessed the following series of events. A disabled man with a walker boarded the bus and then sat down. A woman sitting next to the disabled man suggested that a woman sitting across the aisle move to make more room for him. As the man got up to move to the other side of the bus, the bus started rolling and the man fell. I and another passenger caught him on the way down and he landed fairly softly. As we were helping him get back in his seat, the woman who had suggested for him to move started yelling that the bus driver shouldn't have taken off when she did. A middle aged man came to the bus drivers defense and got into an exchange with the woman who was being critical of the bus driver. I'm not going to take sides about what happened next. I don't think either person communicated very well.
The woman who was critical of the bus driver said to the middle aged man at one point, "I don't know why you are telling me this and you'd better get out of my face." The man made an unkind counter remark and went a few rows back to sit down. The bus driver gave the man who had fallen down a piece of paper and asked him to write his name and phone number down so that someone from the transit company could follow up with him. It was at this point that the middle aged man who had intervened earlier decided to re-engage with the woman who was being critical, and things went from being tense to violent. After a hostile exchange, the man called the woman a sociopath and the woman called the man out for a fight. When he did not take her up on it, she spit in his face twice. The bus driver asked the woman to leave, and as she was leaving the bus she continued to hurl insults at the man, question his manhood and challenge him to a fight. She finally got off the bus as the driver called the Transit Police.
There is a TV show in its first season that is called "Fairly Legal." The star is a beautiful young mediator who, when she is not mediating high stakes legal issues intervenes when she sees people on the street who are about to get into a conflict. She solves an issue between a bicyclist and a driver and also (the most far fetched) between an armed man and a convenience store clerk. For the bicyclist and motorist, she chided both of them for focusing more on drinking their coffee than watching traffic and sent them on their way. For the clerk and the would be robber, she led them through a quick negotiation and reality tested what might happen to each of them if they fail to resolve the conflict. I have to say that I was not thinking of the fact that I was a mediator as I watched the two people I described earlier argue on the bus. I was watching the trajectory of the young woman's spit and trying to stay clear of it. I was also watching the way the man was trying to shame the woman into seeing the error of her ways and how this approach was failing. Could this issue be mediated? I don't think so. Mediation, at least the model that I have been trained under, doesn't fit into scenarios like this one when people aren't really playing by any rules. Mediators are all about rules. We suggest where people sit and make them agree to all sorts of things, such as one person talking at a time, not using "hot button" words etc., and usually have them agree to these rules and the confidentiality of the process before anyone says a word.
I don't think we should scrap the eight stage interest based mediation model. It works well, especially in work place mediation. I am becoming more aware of the model's limitations though. If mediators really want to make a difference in the world, and I think we do, we need to look at models that can help us intervene when people are out of control and not able to play by the rules. I'm not sure what these new models might look like, but it is an interesting question to ponder, don't you think?