Beer Summit as Mediation Primer

[Here’s a revision of a pre-hack blogpost. And now it has a pic! JB.]

As a mediator, there’s a lot of powerful symbolism in just holding the Beer Summit.  It shows that talking about our differences has value.

The press was not allowed in for more than a few seconds to take some pics and see that it was actually happening.  But even that little bit allowed us to see that there’s more to be learned there.  Take a look:

First Lesson.  Beforehand we’d been hearing about the three who would be there:  Prof. Gates, Sergeant Crowley, and President Obama.  And almost as much about what they’d be drinking (Professor Gates with the Sam Adams is my man).

But who’s this fourth person?  Vice President Biden.  You might think Joe heard there was a party and just couldn’t pass up a beer — but you’d be wrong — he had a non-alcoholic Buckler.  Doesn’t do alcohol.

So why is he there?  There’s one good reason that’s so good — good enough all by itself to be the only reason: to balance the ethnicities at the table.  Don’t underestimate it — that could be huge for Sgt. Crowley.

And here’s another reason that’s just as good: to balance the ages at the table. That could be just as huge for Professor Gates.

And yet another reason: to balance the President himself.  He had made an early statement of the situation, expressing a judgment of it, several days before issuing the Beer Summit invitations.

Looking for balance in the room is something we mediators are always looking at, and if you’ve got the option of having a co-mediator you’ve got a lot more options.

Next lesson to learn: look at the photo.  Both POTUS and VPOTUS took off their coats and rolled-up their sleeves.  Now you know a sneaky secret mediator trick — they’re modeling a constructive attitude that now we’re dropping projected images and getting down to work.

If all that came out of the Beer Summit were press releases all around with the standard diplomatic “we had a frank exchange of views,” it would be enough.  But just these two indications show it was convened with a lot more intention and forethought than just that.  From the mediator’s corner, I say, “masterfully done.”

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