‘Jezebel!’ or just Jane next doors?

One of the things you rapidly pick up as a mediator is the degree to which one easily gets hooked into one person’s image of the other. I was reminded of this recently when I visited two individuals who were part of a conflict situation. Up to that point my ‘knowledge’ of them derived from speaking and talking to others involved in the dispute. It was surprisingly unsurprising that the two people concerned were rather different from the picture I had framed. I had been there before. On one occasion two neighbours were in dispute over noise issues. The new flats had been built with insufficient insulation so sound travelled rather freely. On visiting the first neighbour we were regaled with tales of ‘the waitress’ in the flat above coming home long after midnight, loud laughter and loud sex! There unfolded the tale of a brazen hussy coming home nightly with a man in tow and… well, you can guess the rest.  When we finally met this brazen ‘Jezebel’ and rather found ourselves taking to a demur Jane whose story was rather different. The two neighbours did meet and the matter was duly addressed. But i never forgot the stark contrast between the two images.

We do tend to buy into other people’s takes on the other person and, to some extent, their own agendas simply by hearing their side of the story. This may be subtle, especially when listening with a degree of empathy. But this process can be tempered with a degree of self awareness and recognition. When we hear a story and a compelling image of the other person emerges for us, it is important to bracket that image, acknowledging it is there lodged in our imagination. It is also important to have that image at the  ready for a severe editing upon meeting other person. We all carry prejudices. But prejudices become destructive only when they are not submitted for critical evaluation and reality checks.

An insight not only vital for mediators but also for anyone who wants to see beyond appearances and connect with the other person.


Ways4Ward Ltd is now Go!

For some time I have been contemplating setting up a vehicle for continuing to support individuals and groups facing challenging issues around conflict at work, in the community or in their personal lives. We (my wife Rose and I) have now set up ‘Ways4ward Ltd.’  I am currently doing some consultancy for a school in south London, the first under the new company’s  banner.  The blurb regarding our services briefly highlights what we offer:

Benefits of our work:

  • More efficient and clear communication within organisations and between individuals
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships & team work
  • Higher morale and productivity.
  • Clarity and energy for pursuing individual and organisational goals.


How we can help:


  1. By facilitating group processes to work through conflict issues that impede relationships, communication and morale and supporting individuals in using conflict as a positive energy for change and moving forward.
  1. By building the capacity of individuals and groups for healthy communication, conflict resolution skills and team work through training.
  1. By providing one to one coaching and support for individuals facing challenging situations in personal and work contexts.
  1. By providing structured sessions aimed at helping organisations clarify their vision and aims  and identify the optimal and realistic strategies for realising them.

I am looking forward to putting the 25 years of experience as a consultant / mediator and trainer at the service of third sector, faith and statutory organisations. Thanks to all those with whom I have worked over the years for offering the following endorsements of my work:


‘Conflict and Change was the first mediation scheme in the UK which I helped to establish in 1984. Chris McDermott has been an inspirational member of staff working in the education team and doing sterling work with schools at primary and secondary level. He is one of the leading educational practitioners in the field of mediation..’   Paul Regan,  Vice Chair of Board of Directors at Citizens UK, Chairman at East London Community Land Trust, Trustee at London Catalyst

Chris is generous with his time and talents. He motivated two very diverse churches in Newham, with a wide range of ages, cultures, and education, to develop their vision for their churches. His skills have in both instances released a lot of energy which has enabled rather fragile communities to move forward.” Fr. Pat Mossop, Rector of Parish of the Divine Compassion, Plaistow, London E13

“Chris has many years’ experience as a trainer and facilitator for community and voluntary groups. In fact I first met him when attending one of his trainings about 14 years ago, when I was impressed by his ability to combine subversive humour with deep and genuine learning. His participative approach to training ensures that the experience is always lively and involving, while his extensive understanding of interpersonal communication skills (from anger management to conflict resolution) means that he always has something new and relevant to offer.”  Mike Shallcross, Counsellor and Psychotherapist

“ Chris is a gifted mediator. His professional experience and warm personality support those who are looking for a safe space for mediation to take place. He has the ability to hear what is being said and connect with others on the level of human needs.” Natalie Mahoney, Community Mediator and Development Officer, Conflict and Change Ltd.

 “Chris worked as the team leader for Conflict and Changes school work for a number of years. He was a creative, energetic trainer and empathic supervisor. He wrote many excellent courses and materials for a number of different groups.”   Ruth Musgrave, Peace Worker for MCC in Bangladesh and Coordinator, Conflict & Change 2000-2010

 “Chris carries with him at all times an air of calm and the ability to lift spirits and motivate people, both of which are infectious. He has extensive knowledge and experience in conflict resolution and community development, working with both adults and young people, and is always willing to talk through ideas patiently and share his wisdom. Chris would be a real asset to any team.”  Lucy Hawthorne, Faith Project Assistant at National Union of Students

“Chris is a very skillful facilitator being able to spellbind trainees and engage the team members. Having been both trainee and team member I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him in action and being in action with him. He has an eye for the individual in the group and takes very good care of everybody – trainees as well as team members. Chris is very empathetic and his positive mindset influences everybody around him in a very positive way.” Lisbeth Galtung, Evaluation Consultant at Ineva, Denmark

 “Chris is a totally professional practitioner with the right life principles, excellent experience and empathy, and robust qualifications to plan and deliver high quality outcomes.”   Dan ZamoyskiOwner, Advantage Management & Marketing

 I had the pleasure of co-facilitating several training projects with Chris, and found him to be an excellent and very inspiring trainer. Not only did he have a fun and effective way of teaching conflict resolution and mediation to adults and teenagers but as his colleague, I learned a lot about facilitation and training skills from him. Intellectually curious and full of humour, Chris always sought to incorporate his own learning from philosophy, psychology, spirituality, education, et al, into the conflict resolution training programmes, creating a vivid and highly engaging atmosphere for skills learning.”  Jenny EngströmTrainer, Independent writer/researcher at Engström Unlimited

Maturity in Public Discourse

Maturity in Public Discourse

Yesterday, during a radio debate on Wales, the Tory MP David Davies lost it with a Welsh caller over differences on the importance of Welsh language. He told the woman her views were a ‘mad, chippy, anti-English’ view of the world and that she should go ‘join the BNP (a far right party in the UK) where you belong’.  Last week this same style of debate was role modelled by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, during ‘Prime Minister’s Question Time’ when he referred to the leader of the opposition as ‘a muttering idiot’: thus the level of public discourse and political debate. Nor does it fare any better on the other side of the Atlantic. One anticipates a surfeit of similar engagement as the Presidential contest ensues over the next months with innuendo and jibes aimed at Romney’s Mormonism and corporate interests and further allegations made about Obama’s citizenship.  Nor is this style of ‘debate’ the exclusive domain of politicians.  From Rush Limbaugh’s lambasting of a young woman as ‘a whore’ for taking a different position from his on the question of funding for contraceptives to the round of email circulars and facebook posts demeaning one or the other contenders for the 2012 presidential race, there is a failure to really communicate what is at the core of people’s concerns and a tendency to demonise and polarise differences rather than explore their worth as a resource.

It has been said that ‘violence is the last refuge of the incompetent’. This may also apply to the ‘violent’ character of discourse where the object is not to edify, clarify, abet understanding or otherwise illuminate but to caricature, vilify, protect entrenched positions and pursue special interests regardless of truth.

What we need on both sides of the Atlantic is more conversation rather than debate, at least as the latter is currently practiced. Such a conversation would be one characterised by what Pearce and Littlejohn call a ‘new form of eloquence’. Some years ago in the context of conflict around divisive issues like abortion, the Public Conversations Project modelled an alternative way for polarised groups to engage with each other. ‘Transcendent discourse’ is the name for this kind of engagement, which goes beyond merely stating positions and talking (or shouting) past other the other’s perspective.  ‘Transcendent Discourse’ aims at understanding even when there are immense differences; it promotes the sharing of experience and considered reflection on why people think and believe what they do and what has led them to their particular set of values and priorities. It is grounded in respect.

It would be good to see standards of public debate enhanced by a few new rules of engagement that will enable communication and thinking.  Imagine a debate between political opponents where each one is required in the first instance to say what they value about some of the ideas contained in the other’s platform; where differences are communicated without casting aspersions and grounded in clear thinking; where listening takes place not simply to repudiate the other’s views but to understand them; where politicians and others are free to admit to grey areas in their own positions and can acknowledge shared concerns; and where there is freedom to adapt to what new understanding one discovers through genuine listening without fear of cries of ‘U Turn’ and ‘flip flopping’. (What we least need is politicians and leaders committed to hard fast and unbending agendas.)

Such a sea change in standards of public discourse will require a level of maturity and character in our leaders all to rarely seen.

Hello World

Hello World

As a new inhabitant of ‘blogger land’ I will introduce myself. I am an Anglican priest who has worked in east London as a trainer in non-violent conflict resolution skills and community mediator for nearly 25 years. My own practice as a peace builder draws on different models but is rooted in a spiritual practice which emphasises mindfulness, compassion and love and is nourished by the rich resources of the Christian tradition and the insights of Zen Buddhism. I am originally from Niagara Falls, NY, worked in Zimbabwe and South Africa for many years as a lecturer in theological colleges and have lived in London, UK since 1987. My academic background combines theology, cross cultural research and communication and philosophy. I currently have permission to officiate in the Diocese of Chelmsford.

The framework of compassion and insight drawn from my engagement with Christian and Buddhist spiritual practice provides a lens through which I experience the world and will colour the commentaries offered on this Blog. I am committed to non-violence and view the growing gap between rich and poor and the ever increasing power concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few as bad news, not just for the poor but for everyone – and a recipe for escalating violence in our world. These values and priorities will be the filter through which I share my perspectives on a variety of issues while also contributing in what ever ways I can to the practice and understanding of others.

I look forward over the coming weeks and months to engaging with the ‘blogosphere’ – once I get the hang of it!