An acquaintance of mine was given the task to serve as a ‘Shemagele’ or an elder in a family matter that required mediation to avoid the issue from escalating into a court case. Before getting the request, he had already sided with one of the parties to the conflict. In fact, he was not excited about the idea of serving as one of the mediators, since he had concluded the matter a closed case, having decided who the troublemaker was and that there is no use of starting a long process of mediation.
The funny thing is he took a side only after hearing one side of the conflict, which of course, happened to be a family member that is closer to him than the other side was.
Once the mediation process started, he was tasked to talk to each side of the conflict separately. What was surprising to me was, after the first encounter with the other side, he had already changed his initial stand. He himself was simply marveled by how people can take sides and reach twisted conclusions without hearing the other side of the story.
The one thing he came and said to me was that the family member, with whom he had sided with at the beginning, did not in fact, try to talk directly with the people on the other side of the aisle. They made their claims based on their subjective perceptions of the story and did not bother to make confirmations by consulting the other side.
When my acquaintance finally brought the two conflicting parties to a roundtable, all apologized to the other for making unsubstantiated claims about one another and forgave each other the Ethiopian way, by kissing one another’s knees.
Roundtable discussions can do wonders in resolving conflicts, if only one is willing to appear on the discussion.
While scrolling through TV channels, I suddenly stopped to watch a live transmission of the UK Parliament, discussing reports concerning UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s attendance in a party amidst strict lockdowns.
I must say, I was simply astonished by the level of freedom Parliamentary members had when speaking to the PM. It was just a wow moment for me! Thoughts and opinions were laid bare. I envied such freedom. The other thing that struck me was the difference in the seating arrangement between the UK and the Ethiopian Parliament. I never understood why the Ethiopian parliament had a classroom like seating arrangement.
The classroom setting of the Ethiopian Parliament does not give people the chance to talk to each other face to face. One has to turn their head 360 degrees to watch a person seating at the backend speak.
I thought I should say something about the Ethiopian parliament because I believe the way people sit during discussions also determines the extent to which the conversation is dynamic and engaging. Simply put, dynamic and meaningful discussions take place on roundtables; a setting where people can see each other and engage in a conversation, where both physical gestures and words are seen and understood.
I believe we Ethiopians need to cultivate the culture of roundtable discussions more in conflict matters. People need to practice to get their points across face to face, more. After all, the best person who can explain the other side of a story is the party on the other side of the story himself!!