Mediated Agreements are Like Handmade Pottery?

An imperfect berry bowl

I made a berry bowl at my pottery studio last week and picked up the completed bowl today. I’m still a beginner potter after three years. I try to make each piece as perfect as I can and they are never perfect. My berry bowl is not quite round. It must have been tapped while it was drying. The glaze I carefully applied to the top of the bowl was intended to run down the side in beautiful cascades. Instead, it was too thick at the top and some of the glaze ran from the rim creating patches of bare clay. Notwithstanding all of these imperfections, the piece is interesting and very functional. In fact, I sort of like it and plan to wash some fresh berries in it tonight for dinner.

Just like a mediated agreement, making a berry bowl is hard work

So how is this berry bowl like mediation? To start with, it was a lot of work. I first had to prepare the clay by kneading it until it was the right consistency. Then I had to weigh it, center it on the wheel, open the clay without throwing the piece off center, pull the sides, shape it, let it dry to bone dry, trim it, and punch the holes. Then it was thoroughly dried for several days and bisque fired in a kiln. At this point the bottom of the bowl was waxed to resist the glaze and the bowl was dipped in a cream colored base glaze, dried and then the rim was dipped in three different glazes, one after the other, to create the cascades of color. At last the piece was ready for the final firing in the glaze kiln. While in the glaze kiln, the magic happened – the glazes ran, mixed together and sometimes misbehaved. This piece emerged imperfect but very functional. The saying among potters at my pottery studio is, “If you want perfect, go to Walmart.” Truth be told, I sort of like my imperfect berry bowl and imagine I will enjoy using it for many years.

Mediated agreements are also imperfect

You may be able to guess from this description why mediated agreements are like my berry bowl. Mediation is hard work. The parties to mediation have to leave behind a lot of emotion and sometimes bad feelings. They have history that is painful in some respects. It’s also a meticulous process that involves dissecting the problem, identifying common interests, helping the parties figure out a way both of them can get most of what they want, and capturing the agreement in a written document. At the end, if the mediation is successful, magic happens. An agreement emerges that is functional, perhaps different from what each party initially wanted, almost always different from what a court would have come up with, but that is pleasing to the sensibilities of the parties and, best of all, enduring. From my experience the parties to mediation almost always walk out with ear to ear smiles. The relief from a resolved dispute is immense. There is also the pride that comes from having fashioned the solution yourself.

Imperfect is okay as long as it works

I love making pottery and also love being a mediator. I hope the agreements I mediate, like my berry bowl, will last for years and will be pleasing to the parties.